Rob “Acidman” Smith has thrown down a Hawkins-like challenge:

Who do YOU think were the 10 FUNNIEST COMEDIANS OF ALL TIME?

Rob lists his.

Kevin Aylward lists his on WizBang!

John Lemon answered the poll before it was even a poll!

As with Kevin, I’m excluding comics I never saw (sorry, Lenny Bruce) and those who didn’t do stand-up, although stand-ups who’ve gone on to movies and TV qualify.* It’s hard to limit the list to just ten.

In rough chronological order:

Andy Griffith – Jeff Foxworthy before Jeff Foxworthy was born. “What it was was football” and several other priceless comic routines in the 1950s. “No Time for Sergeants,” one of the funniest movies ever. And “The Andy Griffith Show” is still the best–although not always the funniest–television program, ever. He’s also a pretty good dramatic actor and has even been successful as a gospel singer.

Bill Cosby – One of the most important entertainers in American history, really. An excellent observational humorist in the 1960s. Broke the color barrier as a dramatic actor in I-Spy. “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” was probably the best teach-you-important-social-lessons-while-still-being-entertaining program, ever. “The Cosby Show” was arguably the most important sitcom of the 1980s, although not as funny as “The Simsons.”

Richard Pryor – The black Lenny Bruce. One of the first “adult” comics.

Buddy Hackett – Absolutely hilarious. Very underrated.

Steve Martin – His standup was cutting edge, although I was too young for it at the time. A brilliant career in movies since.

Gallagher – I know, I know. The fruit smashing bit got a bit tiresome. But he actually did some great “make you think” standup around all the silly sight gags.

Robin Williams – I first encountered him on “Mork and Mindy,” but his standup routines are better. A Julliard grad, he’s also a pretty fair dramatic actor.

Eddie Murphy – The first “new” comic for me. He became a comic superstar while I was in high school. A brilliant career that’s still going strong.

Sam Kinison – While screaming obscenities is ordinarily not something I find amusing, Kinison managed. His classic turn in Dangerfield’s “Back to School” and his HBO standup routines were unforgetable.

Jerry Seinfeld – Dennis Miller before there was a Dennis Miller–and without the ability to use fifteen obscenities every sentence. His eponymous television program is the best live action comedy of the 1990s.

Dennis Miller – His SNL bits and standup routines are excellent. His turn on “Monday Night Football” was not.

Jeff Foxworthy – Not particularly cerebral in the Dennis Miller sense. But he re-launched family friendly standup.

Alright, that’s twelve. If I had to take two off, it’d be Hackett and Gallagher. But I don’t wanna.

Once again, a list bereft of women. Sorry, but this has been a male-dominated endeavor. There have been quite a few terrific comediennes over the years, but mostly in movies or television. Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett would make any short list of great comedic talents, but they’re not “standups.” I can’t stand Roseanne, arguably the most famous female stand-up. I really like several of them, notably Rita Rudner, Elaine Boozler, and Paula Poundstone (although not so much these days). But none of them would displace anyone in my top ten.

There are so many more that I really like that just haven’t made the impact. Emo Phillips had some great bits but seems to have disappeared. His line about “dehydrated water” alone deserves mention. Henry Cho was another terrific young comedian, but I haven’t seen much of him the last few years.

Gil Scott-Heron gets honorable mention for his classic comedy bit “The Revolution Will Not be Televised.” (Semi-private joke for PoliBlogger)

*Lucille Ball, Tim Conway, Don Knotts, and a host of others would certainly make the list otherwise.

FILED UNDER: Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Matthew says:

    Hey, if you’re gonna throw in comedic actors, you gotta list Peter Sellers. Blogwar! Blogwar!

  2. bryan says:

    Gallagher was great. I am actually in some crowd footage from one of his shows. I always wonder what he’s doing now. The shelf life for most standups is not that long.

  3. Steven says:

    Actually, if want to give an honorable mention, you need to give it to the guy who introduced us to that classic “comedy” bit. 🙂

  4. Kathy K says:

    Victor Borge.

  5. No Steven Wright? For shame!

  6. Anonymous says:

    What about George Carlin????????????

  7. wildon says:

    Not Lucy

    She borrowed all her routines from Red Skelton.
    Vitametavegimin vs Guzzler’s Gin.

    Laurel and Hardy never did stand-up, but they were funny.

    Jack Benny brought many a joyful tear.

    Best Comedic Actor nod goes to Cary Grant.

    Loved Bob Newhart.