The 25 Best Comedians of 2016

Comedy Lists Best of 2016
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The 25 Best Comedians of 2016

2016 is over, long live 2016. With it died every good celebrity and Nancy Reagan. Gawker is gone and Green Room had a shitty third act. Global temperatures are rising, ice sheets are melting, water tastes just a shade more metallic than it used to. What slivers of light remain are those few beamed from satellite to iPhone, through fiber optic cables and network airwaves, bathing us all in the sweet glow of warm, buttery pop culture. If there was nothing else good about this year, at least there was good comedy, and plenty of it—in just about every form imaginable, from virtual reality to regular reality. Here, in the interests of nostalgia and ad revenue, are the 25 comedians who most entertained us this year, whether it be through stand-up, sketch or plain old acting. Obviously not everybody who made us laugh could make this list, so we looked not just for quality but also volume, and focused on those whose work was available for a large audience and not just whoever had the best live show we saw this year. Caveats aside, let’s relive (and relaugh!) the immediate past.

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25. Joe Pera

A recipient of the illustrious Andy Kaufman Award and staple of the NYC stand-up scene, Joe Pera made his cable and network debuts this year. First there was his dreamy meditation of an Adult Swim special, Joe Pera Talks You To Sleep; then, his tremendous tight five on Late Night with Seth Meyers offered a flavor of character humor unlike anything else on that show. Next week Adult Swim will air his newest special, Joe Pera Helps You Find the Perfect Christmas Tree. What a time to be alive.


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24. John Early

The physical manifestation of every meme about millennials, John Early lent his ever-charming support to some of 2016’s most interesting comedies. His episode of The Characters was one of the funniest of that bumpy anthology, if for this sketch alone, and his turn as the self-absorbed Elliott provides a source of unending joy in TBS’s Search Party. We’re especially looking forward to his return as the drama nerd Logan in Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later sometime next year.


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23. Michael Ian Black

Michael Ian Black had as busy a year as anyone on this last—he released a special, published a children’s book, starred in The Jim Gaffigan Show, and appeared in a tidy handful of films, tweeted back at a million trolls—but we’d give him this slot solely on the merits of his endlessly delightful turn as the butler Peepers in Another Period, one of the third- to fifth-funniest shows on TV.


22. Patton Oswalt

Twitter is a double-edged sword, and few people prove it as much as Patton Oswalt. His torrents of tweets can include some legitimately disagreeable business, but when he’s on he’s one of the funniest social and political critics on the internet. If he was just a social media invective machine he wouldn’t have made this list, though. He released another fine stand-up special, Talking for Clapping earlier this year, was a highlight of Funny or Die’s Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal: The Movie as Merv Griffin, and made another 100 or so memorable appearances on such shows as Archer, Lady Dynamite and Bajillion Dollar Propertie$.


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21. Jo Firestone

Jo Firestone hosts just about every third comedy show in New York City, and appears in perhaps every fourth web sketch worth watching past the first thirty seconds. In 2016 she also popped up in The Characters and Don’t Think Twice, while serving as a producer on The Chris Gethard Show. And we’d be remiss not to mention Womanhood, the lo-fi deadpan masterpiece of a web series she made with Aparna Nancherla. Very good and great!


20. Ali Wong

Baby Cobra, which Ali Wong recorded while seven months pregnant, was one of our favorite specials of the year. She hasn’t slowed down since, except for a brief break after her daughter’s birth: Wong is currently starring on ABC’s American Housewife, still writes for Fresh Off the Boat, and is in the midst of a sold-out tour. Don’t worry—she has a nanny.


19. Rachel Bloom

Call us crazy, but we’re kinda holding out hope that Rachel Bloom will do for network comedies what Louis CK did for cable comedies, and in two or three years every other show will be a musical. What if!! Can you imagine?? No, but, also Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is in the middle of a lovely second season, and the first earned Bloom a pile of awards on par with that treasure trove at the beginning of Aladdin—including the Golden Globe for Best Actress. More more more!


18. Fred Armisen

The more you do the higher we’ll rank you, basically, as long as what you’re doing is the good stuff. Documentary Now might have been the best stuff, and between that and Portlandia Armisen was responsible for two of the funniest shows of the year. He was legitimately touching as the pathetic sadsack in the Doc Now episode “Globesman,” and his turn as a pretentious art rocker sellout in that show’s Stop Making Sense parody was an instant classic Armisen character. Toss in a fine job hosting Saturday Night Live’s season finale and his regular appearances on Late Night with Seth Meyers, and you’ve got a big year for the former Mr. Sally Timms.


17. Scott Aukerman

As soon as Scott Aukerman wrapped the final season of IFC’s Comedy Bang Bang!, which concludes tonight, he leapt into a globetrotting live tour of the long-running podcast. But CBB is just one outpost of Aukerman’s network-spanning comedy empire: This year alone, he served as executive producer on Seeso’s Bajillion Dollar Propertie$ (created by his wife, Kulap Vilaysack) and Take My Wife, wrote for the Academy Awards, and produced Hillary Clinton’s comedy debut. He also told the AV Club yesterday that he’s got a hush-hush project coming out in February, which we’re all hoping has something to do with Mike Detective


16. Kyle Kinane

The gruff, no-nonsense Kinane released what might be the best stand-up special of the year with Loose in Chicago, and that’s no surprise—he’s been one of the most consistent comics throughout this decade. He’s a master storyteller whose surly exterior hides a pragmatic Midwesterner able to isolate exactly what makes any situation funny or absurd
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