2011 gave us plenty to laugh at and plenty of reasons to need laughter. Thankfully, these 10 comedians brought the funny all year long—in person or via comedy album or TV special. Some of our all-time favorites were too busy being famous movie and TV stars, but that left room for some newer comedians to fill the void. Here are the 10 Best Stand-Up Comics of 2011.
10. Maria Bamford
Her surreal style and vocal talent make her one of the most unusual and creative comedians working today. She was part of the Comedians of Comedy with Patton Oswalt, Zach Galifianakis and Brian Posehn, but you may know her has the crazy overachieving shopper in those Target ads.
9. Wyatt Cenac
In 2008, Cenac joined a long line of talented stand-up comedians to join The Daily Show as a field correspondent. His hilariously understated style extends to his stand-up comedy.
8. Aziz Ansari
When MTV canceled his cult-hit show Human Giant, Ansari just found a new home on NBC’s Parks and Recreation. But as much as we love Tom Haverford, we love his stand-up even more, from his stories about cousin Harris to vents about thread counts like this:
7. Donald Glover
“Yeah! Yes I’m on top! I’m going this hard, and no I won’t stop!” shouts Childish Gambino, aka comic actor Donald Glover, in his song “Hero”—“Actor, writer, rapper. Nigga, I do all of it.” But it isn’t just typical rap-world bluster. Glover really does do all of it: He started writing for 30 Rock straight out of college, joined the ensemble cast of NBC’s Community in 2009, made a movie called Mystery Team that same year and showed it at Sundance, all the while performing standup and recording three full-length albums of his own distinctive brand of hyper-clever rap music.—Aaron Belz
6. Kyle Kinane
Of the 10 tracks on Kyle Kinane’s uproarious debut album, Death of the Party, released on ASpecialThing Records (Paul F. Tompkins, Jen Kirkman, Doug Benson) in 2010, only one of them is less than five minutes long. One, the epic “I Know What I Want,” an extended meditation on, amongst other things, Bob Seger’s “Night Moves,” moving to Los Angeles from the Midwest, how people relate to each other via food, and crashing a Ford Focus, comes close to 10 and a half minutes. To say that Kinane is a bit of a storytelling comedian is an understatement. But like any great story, from one told on the spot over drinks between close friends, to a well-worn and increasingly embellished tale told by an old timer trying to impress his grandkids, it takes some work, or at the very least, an inborn knack for this kind of thing, to make it truly pop.—Austin L. Ray
5. Tig Notaro
delivers her jokes in a quintessential deadpan. She can discuss anything—from vomiting in her mouth to the inexplicable ubiquity of Taylor Dayne to the comically misunderstood threat of hotel molestation—without faltering from it, a feat that’s both impressive and almost unnerving in its consistency. It’s this delivery that carries Good One, her debut album on Secretly Canadian (it’s the company’s first comedy record, too), and clearly, she’s developed it over time.—Austin L. Ray
4. Michael Ian Black
Since arriving on the scene with MTV’s half-hour sketch-comedy show The State alongside Michael Showalter and David Wain, Black and his cohorts have continued to make an impact on TV and film, but he hasn’t given up his stand-up roots, as evidenced by this year’s comedy album, Very Famous on Comedy Central Records.
3. Jen Kirkman
Jen Kirkman doesn’t know what she’s doing. On Hail to the Freaks, her new album released this past May on A Special Thing, she calls Obama a nerd, insists the American people haven’t seen the last of Sarah Palin, calls teenagers dumb and recounts her wedding preparation in which she had to continually tell people over and over that she didn’t care what her bridesmaids wore. While it certainly feels like she’s getting a lot off her chest, the comedienne/television writer insists she’s basically just winging it up there. That’s what got her started, after all. “I just loved comedy,” she remembers of her first attempts at stand-up. “It seemed like people who didn’t were like other grown-ups who had kids and worried about dressing nicely and all that. I wanted to stay a kid forever and this seemed like the right lifestyle for that. I’m very big into just feeling good and doing what I want; I’m not very calculated or thoughtful about my moves. I just sort of do it.” —Austin L. Ray
2. Marc Maron
Despite having both his shows cancelled, Maron’s time at Air America led to a career resurgence and his most successful endeavor to date, WTF with Marc Maron, the podcast usually taped in his Los Angeles garage. Before WTF was a known humor commodity, a deep-delving go-to source for comedy fanatics, amassing more than 170 episodes in a year and half and featuring a wide swath of stand ups who matter, it was a covert operation. “I was up against the wall,” Maron told Paste. “I was broke, I was losing this job at Air America. I didn’t know what else to do. My producer at the time knew that this was an option, to try podcasting, and that it was a good medium for me. We also wanted to do it on our own terms. I wanted to get away from political talk. We had all the equipment [at Air America], so breaking into the studio—because we still had our pass cards—was really easy, because it wasn’t even breaking in. We were just using them. When no one was around. To have that kind of freedom to feel it out was a great luxury.” If you have a favorite comedian, they’ve likely been featured on WTF. From Dane Cook to David Cross, Robin Williams to Maria Bamford, Janeane Garofalo to Louis C.K., Bob Saget to Zach Galifianakis, Maron’s ever-increasing guest list—he somehow finds time to produce and publish two episodes per week—is long, formidable and known for the emotional depth he frequently plumbs from its denizens. But, as his website states, he’s “first and foremost a stand-up comic,” as his 2011 comedy album This Has To Be Funny certainly proves.—Austin L. Ray
1. Louis C.K.
Last year, we said 2010 was the year of Louis C.K., but the comedian hasn’t slowed down. He sold more than 220,000 copies of his comedy special online at $5 each after another great season of his FX show Louie, where he offers a painfully real but hilarious look at his fictional, jaded version of himself, exploring the humor in divorce, aging and parenthood. The current king of stand-up will take his dark brand of humor to the Radio and TV Congressional Correspondents dinner next June.