The 50 Best Stand-up Comics of All Time

Comedy Lists Stand-up
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25. Robert Klein
Notable Work: An Evening with Robert Klein, Robert Klein on Broadway

The first comic to have a special on HBO, Klein is a strangely underrated legend whose longform explorations of his life and cultural commentary presaged the voice of today’s comic masterminds.—Robert Ham


24. Jonathan Winters
Notable Work: The Wonderful World of Jonathan Winters

A master improviser and a lover of absurdist bits that poked gentle fun at pop culture and his many personal foibles.—Robert Ham


23. Dick Gregory
Notable Work: In Living Black and White, Dick Gregory Talks Turkey

A rare crossover success in the pre-Civil Rights Act era, Gregory provided a finely-honed and often ridiculous take on sociopolitical commentary that only got sharper as he got older.—Robert Ham


22. Mitch Hedberg
Notable Work: Strategic Grill Locations, Mitch All Together

Hedberg’s surreal one-liners and one-of-a-kind delivery are the marks of a true genius, and unfortunately the brilliant comic had the personal demons to prove it. He might be the greatest joke writer of the last 40 or 50 years.—Garrett Martin


21. Albert Brooks
Notable Work: Comedy Minus One, A Star Is Bought

Probably the best conceptual comic of the ‘70s, Brooks connected the ribald joy of vaudeville with the freewheeling spirit of the hippie counterculture.—Robert Ham


20. Don Rickles
Notable Work: Hello, Dummy!, Don Rickles Speaks!

We believe that people should treat others the way they’d like to be treated themselves. We also know that Don Rickles, who never met a person he couldn’t insult, or a stereotype he wouldn’t embrace, is one of the funniest humans to have ever lived. There was no malice behind his insults, and as he aged the fundamental warmth and decency behind his harangues grew ever more obvious.—Garrett Martin


19. Garry Shandling
Notable Work: Alone in Vegas, The Garry Shandling Show: 25th Anniversary Special, Garry Shandling: Stand-Up

Freaks and Geeks had it right in its depiction of Martin Starr watching Shandling on The Tonight Show, relishing his formal experimentation alongside his unbeatable anxious wit.—Graham Techler


18. Bill Hicks
Notable Work: Dangerous, Relentless, Arizona Bay

We maybe wouldn’t have the comedian-as-vicious-social-satirist archetype today without Bill Hicks. No one ever hated the world with so much love.—Graham Techler


17. Redd Foxx
Notable Work: New Fugg, You Gotta Wash Your Ass

His were the albums that were listened to after the kids went to bed. All the better to appreciate his deliciously filthy bits about sex, drugs and bodily functions.—Robert Ham


16. Lily Tomlin
Notable Work: This Is A Recording, Lily Tomlin on Stage

Playing the exasperated woman just looking for a break, Tomlin used a no-nonsense style to tell lengthy stories that revealed the dark side of the human condition.—Emily Reily


15. Jackie “Moms” Mabley
Notable Work: I Got Somethin’ To Tell You (documentary)

With her gravelly voice and wide eyes, Moms Mabley never softened her brash, unrefined one-liners. Early on, Mabley turned the tables on gender roles, putting women in charge for once.—Emily Reily


14. Robin Williams
Notable Work: At The Met

Williams worked as fast as the speed of light, leaving you confused, dazed and introspective. He was perfectly psychotic and always a step too far in the right direction.—Becca Beberaggi


13. Lenny Bruce
Notable Work: The Sick Humor of Lenny Bruce, American, The Carnegie Hall Concert

Not only did Lenny Bruce pave the way for all artists to express themselves thanks to his battles against obscenity laws, he elevated nightclub material from countercultural clichés to sheer anarchic brilliance.—Graham Techler


12. Louis C.K.
Notable Work: Chewed Up, Hilarious, Live at the Beacon Theater

The definition of a modern comedian as far as most are concerned, C.K.’s work ethic and excellent run of late 2000s albums have helped elevate our understanding of the comedy album as an auteur exercise.—Graham Techler


11. Eddie Murphy
Notable Work: Eddie Murphy, Delirious, Eddie Murphy Raw

Let’s be honest: much of his material would be hate speech today, and he’s overquoted and overborrowed. But we deal with the man in his time, the man in full, and it’s fair to say that in his glory, there was absolutely nobody in the world as funny as Eddie Murphy. A short list of the way he moved comedy history: saving SNL; opening the doors to the wider, white audience that Bill Cosby had left shut; and knowing when to quit.—Jason Rhode


10. Dave Chappelle

Notable Work: Killin’ Them Softly, For What It’s Worth, Deep in the Heart of Texas

Dave Chappelle  is controversial, but what genius isn’t? And although that word gets tossed around like it’s nothing these days, if it applies to anybody doing stand-up today, it applies to him. His work is both personal and political, cutting and introspective.—Sara Ghaleb


9. Steven Wright
Notable Work: I Have a Pony, A Steven Wright Special, When the Leaves Blow Away

When every single line you say on stage is a joke, you’re allowed a few misses. It’s amazing that Steven Wright doesn’t have more of them, then. Like Hedberg, his best work is stuffed full of hilarious one-liners whose absurd twists are still unexpected even when you know they’re coming.—Garrett Martin


8. Mort Sahl
Notable Work: At the Hungry I, Sing a Song of Watergate

The conscience of the ‘60s and ‘70s and a social satirist who is, at age 90, still ripping our corrupt political system to shreds on a weekly basis.—Robert Ham


7. Bob Newhart
Notable Work: The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart, The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back

Bob Newhart gets more laughs as a straight man with an unheard foil than most comedians get with their best material. A master of deadpan and slow-burn frustration, his stand-up albums from the 1960s are absolutely timeless.—Garrett Martin


6. Andy Kaufman
Notable Work: appearances on Saturday Night Live, Late Night with David Letterman, and CWA Wrestling

You might argue that what Kaufman did wasn’t really stand-up, that it’s more performance art, but that’d be denying the long tradition of alternative comedy that he helped create and that still thrives today. None of his acolytes have surpassed Kaufman, though, whose post-modern deconstruction of comedy feels as fresh today as it did 40 years ago.—Garrett Martin


5. Joan Rivers
Notable Work:Don’t Start With Me

You knew Rivers’s jokes and punchlines were probably going to be racy and definitely hysterical. One might confuse her energy with a scorned woman’s. No, she was a woman who made herself heard.—Becca Beberaggi


4. Steve Martin
Notable Work: Let’s Get Small, A Wild And Crazy Guy

You could call him the original alt-comic: He was hilarious, musically inclined, prop filled, and absurd. Steve Martin is an enigma, but that’s why we love him. We can’t understand him, but we can’t help liking him. —Becca Beberaggi


3. George Carlin
Notable Work: Class Clown, What Am I Doing In New Jersey, Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television

Carlin was known for raw, offensive language, and railing on taboo subjects like politics, religion and censorship, but what made him great was his thoughtfulness and depth. He sparked a furor about voicing obscenities that still burns today. —Emily Reily


2. Chris Rock

Notable Work: Bring the Pain, Bigger and Blacker, Never Scared

Chris Rock’s bold, smart cultural commentary has been striking a chord with audiences for over 20 years. He’s equally insightful when it comes to both the personal and the political, critiquing the flaws of society and the ridiculousness of relationships on both a micro and macro scale.—Sara Ghaleb and Garrett Martin


1. Richard Pryor
Notable Work: Bicentennial Nigger, Richard Pryor: Live in Concert, Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip

Richard Pryor’s genius was not just his unblinking candor onstage nor his delightful use of his body and face to punctuate punchlines. What truly helped set him apart was how he was able to make even the biggest theaters feel intimate, using his loose, joyful delivery to draw an audience closer to his side. No matter how ugly the tale or goofy the bit, you were with him every last step of the journey.—Robert Ham

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