5. Tig Notaro
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.