We’ve lost some good comedians this year. No, some frickin’ fantastic comedians. George Carlin and Bernie Mac are the first that leap to my mind (though I’m sure there have been others); no accident since they rank among my favorite comedians of all time.
Look, I posted about the 10 women who could get me to cheat on Mrs. Blue and I included a list of menfolk for the ladies a few days later. At some point, I’m sure I’ll post the list of the 10 items I’d take for my own if I knew I wouldn’t get caught stealing them and the 10 people or types of people I’d break the “thou shalt not kill” rule over. And so on. In other words, I’ll probably come clean about most of my proclivities on breaking most of the biggest and most infamous of the Ten Commandments. But in a more positive vein at the moment, how about posting the comedic performers who make me laugh the most? And since Las Vegas was once upon a time the place to be showcased for comedy, we’ll go with the magic number 21, for you blackjack fans. (I couldn’t narrow it down to 10 favorites, sorry.) I hope some of them resonate with you as well.
Yes, many of them use foul language, but then again, so do I. Some of them are anti-religion—so what…if I can’t laugh at my own faith at times, what kind of person am I and how am I going to stand up to real attack? Despite language and philosophy, what I think these people all offer is creativity, communication skills par excellence, and tremendous social and psychological insight. And they’re funny, damn it. Or at least I think so.
And in no particular order whatsoever (well, except for the first two being truly the tops), the awards go to…
A devoted family man who could talk major trash about family without ever losing his love for the importance of family and for his own kin. He also joked about a lot of other shit but it was his insights into his own life and those around him that made me love him the most. Wish he hadn’t died so young, both for his family’s sake and for ours as well. This man’s delivery, voice, attitude and personality were too unique and too powerful not to love him.
He’s always touted as one of the pre-eminent counterculture comedians of our times, but let’s face it: The man was just a genius about our culture in general, and the culture of humanity at large. He could break down bullshit like nobody’s business. Perhaps his own Web site puts it best: For more than five decades, the multi-award-winning comedian George Carlin used his razor sharp humor to point out hypocrisy in people’s actions and words.
Look, the man dresses up in women’s clothes but isn’t trying to look like a woman, really. And he’s got a British accent. What the hell more do you need? OK, it has been said that his style is rambling, whimsical monologue and self-referential pantomime and that he has focused on the creative possibilities of thinking through absurd situations in real time. Is that enough for you now?
For a long, long time, I figured it was the coke that kept him hyper. Little did I know then (though we all do now) that he’s just as hyper, maybe even more so, off the damn stuff. He even has dramatic acting talent to go along with his funny bone. Put him in a room, any room, and he can find comedy gold. No one improvises better (and few can match him) and it’s hard to find someone as quick of wit.
Most of his films have sucked, or at least been mediocre at best (Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop and 48 Hours will always be classics, though). His live performances have almost always rocked, though, and he is truly one of the direct heirs of Richard Pryor’s legacy. His career in recent years has been spotty, to be sure, but his overall career is worthy of major respect.
This man broke down too many barriers, opened up too many social issues under the guise of comedy and influenced more modern comedians than anyone else ever has. There may be people who make me laugh harder and think more, but Richard Pryor was the damn godfather of comedy as far as I’m concerned, at least in my lifetime.
Frankly, Sam Kinison, while a great comedian, annoyed me too much with his yelling. One of the other “Outlaw Comedians” that emerged around the same time, though, Bill Hicks, is one of my comedy heroes. In his official bio on the Bill Hicks Web site, it says his comedy was not about hate or pessimism. Bill was an unabashed optimist. He believed that most people were good at heart but evil forces were deliberately distracting us all from creating a better world using television, lies, tobacco and alcohol as opiates.
With masterful delivery and just the right amount of smarm and indignation in his voice, Chris Rock Rock can illuminate and skewer family, politics, romance, music, class relationships, and race relations with equal finesse. I also respect the hell out of him for what it notes in the Wikipedia entry about him: The comedian has also expressed discomfort with the notion that success in standup comedy—or, indeed, in any aspect of the entertainment industry—should oblige him to serve as a role model.
I put Bill Cosby here not for his more recent political diatribes nor for any of his most recent comedy work. I put him here because of his standup routines that got him his start, and which are marvels not only of comedy but of storytelling. I also put him here because he was part of putting together Fat Albert, a staple of my childhood, and for the first five or six seasons of The Cosby Show, which were amazing. He’s a grumpy old guy now, but that’s OK. He paid his dues and then some; I’ll grant him his time to be a curmudgeon.
Both his standup routines and his Chapelle’s Show are brilliant, and I don’t know anyone who can put the kind of spin on race relations in this country that he can. If race was all he ever talked about, that would still earn him a place here, but he also can joke about our friendships, about our vices, about the vacuous nature of most media these day. He can make us look at ourselves and laugh at ourselves no matter what. I would have liked to have seen him do more seasons of his show, but I respect the reasons he dropped out of the picture and turned away from a fat, fat paycheck. The man has integrity and honor, as well as being funny as hell. He’s down-to-earth, too. Man, I want to buy this man a cup of coffee or something just because.
He could be pretty funny in most of the films he did, and he could do great standup. But what gets him ultimate respect from me is that he could do those things and he could also make the Academy Awards shows entertaining every single time he hosted them. Anyone who can breathe life and humor into that snooze-fest that is the Oscars is a great entertainer. To me, he is the modern-day Woody Allen, minus many of the neuroses and the predilection for nailing underaged stepdaughters.
The Daily Show showcases this man’s brilliance. Even as a parody of news shows, it is often more honest in its presentation of news than are most of the mainstream media outlets. He has caustic wit and the ability to inform while entertaining. He can argue a point without comedy and do it better than most any debater I’ve ever seen, but I still like him best when he does it with a joke.
This woman is no-nonsense to the point that she can be blunt as hell about stuff, but I love her for it, because she’s hilarious at the same time. She has a certain presence even on the screen of “I am here and you will listen to me because I have something to say.” And we should. Because she does.
I often get Lewis Black and Bill Hicks confused because they are thematically similar in many ways, have some similarities in presentation, and are both snarky as hell. But I’ll let Lewis’ own Web site say it: Lewis’ live performances provide a cathartic release of anger and disillusionment for his audience. Lewis yells so they don’t have to. A passionate performer who is more pissed-off optimist than mean-spirited curmudgeon, he’s perfected expressing what the rest of us cannot say in polite company. Lewis is the rare comic who can cause an audience to laugh themselves into incontinence while making compelling points about the absurdity of our world.
Look, this woman is just so goofily unique in her delivery that she always makes me laugh. Not too many people can joke about their cats and put me in stitches. She may not have the sheer genius of many others on this list, but she still rocks.
From her early standup to all but the last couple seasons of her sitcom, this woman did more to put a spotlight on the working class, and do it with humor and insight, than almost anyone else. She had one of the most irritating voices around but her skill at comedy ensured that I never got annoyed hearing her—as long as she stuck to the comedy. Since then, I haven’t liked her that much, but she made too much of an impact when she was in her prime to demote her to hack now.
This woman is so dead-pan and so sarcastic and so cynical and so freaking smart as a whip and quick on her feet on serious issues that I have no choice but to love her. She may look a little goofy when viewed through the lens of how our society views beauty, but her comedy and brains, to me, make her drop-dead sexy like nobody’s business.
His sitcom about “nothing” was genius, one of the top sitcoms in my book. And I like his standup as well, which is funny as hell without resorting to profanity, which is a feat in and of itself, frankly. Unlike many comedians of his caliber and success, he didn’t try to make a movie career for himself, instead returning to stand-up after his sitcom came to an end and that tells me that he took his comedy seriously.
Many forgettable movies (as well as some gems; I still love The Jerk), but his standup, his time on Saturday Night Live, and every appearance I have ever seen him make on a talk show tell me this man was born to be funny. He doesn’t have the hyper-manic nature of Robin Williams, but I still often think of one when I think of the other. He strikes me as having a level of intelligence beyond even what most of the comedians on this list possess, and he’s always struck me as having a huge reserve of humility, despite his fame.
This man’s comedy was just so weird. Sometimes absurd, sometimes side-splitting, sometimes confusing. Sometimes all of the above. He was willing to push envelopes and he turned his comedy into something approaching performance art. You could never figure out who the hell Andy really was from his performances, except that the man was probably a genius.
I disagree with almost all of Bill Maher’s views on religion, most of his views on women and probably half of his views on politics, but I cannot deny that he is funny and that he forces a person to think about the jokes he makes, and thus think about the things in life and society that made those jokes possible. He pisses me off at least half the time, and maybe more, but I still respect his comedy, and his ability to get a rise out of me like he does.