Monday, July 18, 2011

My Top 10 Stand-Up Comics of All Time

I enjoy the comedy, especially when it is of the stand-up variety. Having done stand-up briefly, I know that it is very difficult to do well. The men and women on this list are part of the most brutally honest and challenging genre of comedy. Please feel free to challenge my picks- discussion is always good. I have chosen not to rank order the list, so as to avoid the difficulty of picking a number one best comedian. That would be hard. Harder than stand-up comedy.


Before his career became a series of fart jokes in fat suits, this man treated us to two of the best stand-up comedy films/albums ever. Delirious and Raw both so raunchy and hilarious that even though they were made in the early 1980's, they still make you howl with laughter 25 years later. Murphy's stories and impressions show why he was such a big star. What happened to him?


No woman working in comedy today is as salty, dirty and insulting as the 'Queen of Mean.' She spares no race, religion or sexual orientation in her quest to get laughs. Just like the great insult comics before her, audiences hope that Lisa will call them out with some kind of absolutely offensive joke because it is an honor to have her mock you. You don't want to laugh because it feels wrong, but you just can't help it.


Offbeat and controversial, David Cross is a mixed bag of political, gross-out, and provocative humor. He goes off on rants that wouldn't be anywhere near as funny coming from someone else because he is so full of angst and quirky weirdness. One of my favorite things he ever did was naming the tracks on his comedy album after things that had nothing to do with his act, i.e. one of them was Batman vs. Superman vs. Wonder Woman on the rag. So bizarre, so hilarious.


Excuuuuuuse meeeeeeee, but this guy is wild and crazy, and ridiculously funny. Blending props, magic, oddball antics and banjo tunes, Steve Martin changed stand-up to include more variety than anyone before him. His act was like a modern-day vaudeville show with all manner of humor weaving through his stage performances. His book, Born Standing Up, is a great explanation of how he crafted his unique style over many years.


Perhaps the best observational comic ever, Jerry parlayed his everyday musings into the wildly popular show, Seinfeld. His humor was accessable to anyone because the subjects he tackled were universal. Laundry, food, shopping, dating were things anyone could relate to. I will never think about cereal or watching T.V. or many other mundane topics the same way again after hearing Jerry's take on them.


A master of words, George Carlin was not only crass and provocative, but also a master of getting people to think about things in new ways through his use of words. Almost as funny as his classic routines (see 7 Words You Can't Say on T.V.) are his books because the wordplay is absolutely sparkling. He was so cutting edge and set the stage for many comedians who used the medium to advance new ways of thinking while also making people pee their pants laughing.


Pryor set the table for many comics that came after. There would be no Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock or many, many others without Richard Pryor's groundbreaking stand-up. He pushed the boundaries of what you could talk about on stage and made himself the first really bankable mainstream black comedian whose name wasn't Bill Cosby. I'll never forget hearing Pryor's hilarious and yet scary story about burning himself while freebasing. He was one of a kind, that's for sure.


Anyone who knows me knows of my love for Patton. His comedy speaks to me as a nerd, a pop culture guru and a liberal. I can quote endless bits of his material, and will laugh like I've never heard his routines before, even though I have heard them again and again. I can never think of Carvell's Ice Cream or Cops or Robert Evans and not giggle at Patton's jokes about them.


She is what I would call "a hoot." Her comedy is similar in nature to Seinfeld's with it's smart observations and quirky takes on everyday subjects, but she does have a bit more conscience in her act, as she grapples with being gay without getting preachy about it. Ellen's stand-up peaked for me with her fabulous HBO special, Here and Now, which she parlayed into her daytime show. I say it was very, very well deserved.


The lone Brit on the list and self-labeled Klingon motivational speaker, Bill Bailey is about as weird and offbeat as comedians get. You might not know him, but you should because his routines of are a mix of philosophy, pop culture references, history and music that will have you howling and scratching your head at the same time. He is both deep and shallow at the same time, and he plays one hell of a cockney piano tune.

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