Getting audiences to laugh isn’t easy, but the best comedians make it look that way. Being a successful comedian requires an impeccable sense of timing, a relatable personality and a creative mind. The best comedians utilize all of these qualities to create unforgettable comedy routines that endure for generations.
Richard Pryor Raw, uncensored and gritty, Pryor shot to the upper echelon of comedy with his honest and usually naughty take on life. 1979’s “Richard Pryor: Live In Concert” is one of the most hilarious and insightful stand-up specials any comedian has ever made and was an early indicator of the success he would have as a movie actor.
Jerry Seinfeld Famous for his neurotic take on everyday life, Seinfeld made a career out of the mundane. He brought his musings to the TV screen in his hit sitcom “Seinfeld,” which had a successful run of nine seasons. As a comedian, Seinfeld is the essence of class and professionalism, tackling every project with a whole-hearted enthusiasm that comes out in his work.
Rodney Dangerfield A the master of self-deprecation, Dangerfield is widely regarded as one of the best comedians of all time. His quick wit and scorching one-liners served him well throughout his career, also translating well to the big screen. With iconic films like 1980’s “Caddyshack” and 1994’s “Natural Born Killers” on his résumé, this comedian cemented his status as one of the greats.
Eddie Murphy Though he’s better known for his roles in classic comedies like 1984’s “Beverly Hills Cop,” Murphy’s talent lies in his work as a stand-up comedian. His 1983 concert film “Delirious” is nothing short of genius, featuring Murphy’s spot-on impressions and poignant observations that still apply today.
Chris Rock With a grizzly voice and annoyed demeanor, this comedian has made his mark as one of the best in the game. He’s had a long history on TV and in the movies, but Rock is at his best in the 1999 HBO special “Bigger And Blacker,” where his street-level humor and condescending delivery accentuate the hilarity.
Dane Cook As one of the best comedians to emerge from the digital age, Cook obtained his massive fan base through viral clips and college-age appeal. His success as a comedian was also fueled by relentless touring and concert videos. The 2006 special “Vicious Circle” is his best work, and is a perfect vehicle for his comedy-infused storytelling.
Sinbad Smooth, hip, and relatively clean, Sinbad is a comedian who appeals to every demographic. He found mainstream success with the TV series “A Different World,” but Sinbad’s strength is stand-up comedy. The 1990 special “Sinbad: Brain Damaged” is the decade’s best performance by a comedian. It’s stuffed with hilarious cultural and social references that are relatable to just about anyone.
Steve Martin As a major movie star and frequent guest host of “Saturday Night Live,” this comedian has endeared himself to millions with his offbeat, irreverent humor. Martin often incorporates music into his act, and he’s written some of the most memorable comedy recordings in history. The 1986 comedy special “Steve Martin-Live!” captures all facets of this comedian’s deceptively simple routines.
Bill Cosby Family-friendly and safe, this comedian has always been a symbol of integrity in the comedy world. Cosby achieved massive mainstream success with his sitcom “The Cosby Show,” which often overshadows his talent as a comedian. With classics like 1965's “Why Is There Air?” and 1982's “Bill Cosby: Himself” to his credit, his comedy albums are the stuff of legend.
George Carlin The dictionary definition of outspoken, this comedian made a career out of poking profane fun at stupidity. During his many years in show business, Carlin did pretty much everything a comedian can do, from movies to TV to audio recordings. His most famous routine, “Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television,” is captured in all its glory on the 1972 comedy album “Class Clown.”
- Andrew Jett