The funny business can be a hard job. Sure, it’s not exactly gonna break your back, but working as a touring comic means spending weeks on the road letting hotel rooms and greasy food gnaw away at your sanity and your stomach wall. Of course, sometimes that hustle pays off, as it did for these comedians in 2014.
Whether it was on TV, a comedy album or just working rooms, the 20 comics on this list all crushed it this year. And while you might see some familiar faces from last year’s list, there are plenty of fresh ones too. Or at least fresh-ish, given all that greasy road food.
20. Tig Notaro
is a modern-day master of the deadpan. She’ll kill you with silence. And she’s fearless—just ask the audience at her recent standup performance at The Town Hall in New York. A bit where she explained being patted down by security in an airport drew some “whoos” from some audience members, which prompted Notaro to take her shirt off and expose her double-mastectomy scars, drawing some laughter and lots of silence. That’s what makes Notaro great… that, and her love for Taylor Dayne.—Mark Lore
19. Joe Mande
This was a notable year for the Internet rascal that once caused former NBA star Gilbert Arenas to delete his Twitter account. In addition to writing for three critically-lauded TV shows (Parks and Recreation, Kroll Show, and Delocated), Joe Mande found the time to drop his debut album Bitchface and still maintain his comedy hijinks. The first comedy release from hip-hop label Greedhead Music, Bitchface was stylized as a rap mixtape with cameos from The RZA, Fabolous, Amy Poehler, and Aziz Ansari. To promote Bitchface’s release, Mande hosted the first ever “Ask Me Nothing” on Reddit where he implored fans to not ask him questions. And if you need further evidence of Mande’s prankster prowess, back in July he started a Kickstarter for “The Million Dollar Podcast,” promising to “interview comedians and musicians and shit like that” if given a cool mill. It reached $30,000.—Bryan Wallace
18. Nick Kroll
Most people know Nick Kroll for either his annoyingly hilarious characters on The Kroll Show, or as Rodney Ruxin, the self-absorbed, king of the douche-lawyer stereotype he plays on The League. We at Paste know him as one of the most eccentric, talented and multi-dimensional performers and writers in the game right now. And after reading her memoir, we’re pretty sure he’s dating Amy Poehler, so we give him mad props for that too.—Patrick Filbin
17. Jared Logan
Jared Logan’s gentle West Virginia accent does a lot to soft-pedal a caustic wit and a willingness to be loud about it. His first album, My Brave Battle, is a series of small situations Logan’s trapped in, taking them down somehow both cleverly and bluntly. Listening to Logan is like standing in front of a fan one notch away from top-speed—he keeps his voice just under a yell, crossing that line occasionally for maximum effect. It’s a sustained energy that makes Logan impossible to ignore.—Casey Malone
16. Jerrod Carmichael
Jerrod Carmichael’s stand-up special Love At The Store was momentous, not just for the big names behind it (the hour was directed by Spike Lee and aired by HBO), but also for its impressive reproduction the comedy club experience. The 27-year-old’s set was loose and shaggy, with him pulling bits out of thin air and his ever-present notebook. And the distinct edge he brought to his riffs on social and cultural politics was only amplified by the claustrophobic setting of the small room at L.A.’s The Comedy Store. Between that and his scene-stealing work in the otherwise unmemorable Neighbors, Carmichael is on well on his way to superstardom.—Robert Ham
15. Cameron Esposito
This L.A. by way of Chicago stand-up has had one hell of a year. Ever since a memorable TV debut that found her riffing with both Craig Ferguson and Jay Leno, Cameron Esposito has been an unavoidable presence in the comedy world, and we couldn’t be happier about that. Her 2014 release Same Sex Symbol is an unstoppably funny mix of social commentary, self-deprecation, and inspiring gay pride, and her regular work on websites like The AV Club and Buzzfeed have proved to be a perfect showcase for her cutting wit and empathetic worldview. Long may she run.—RH
14. Paul F. Tompkins
Is there any comic that seems more suited (and besuited) for the stage than Paul F. Tompkins? While he does great work on TV shows like Comedy Bang! Bang! and his thought-provoking web series Speakeasy, the man truly comes alive with a mic in his hand. His razor-sharp wit and laser-quick mind combine for some brilliant off-the-cuff moments, and some truly great stand-up.—RH
13. Louis C.K.
Although he didn’t release a special in 2014, this content juggernaut put out Season 4 of Louie, hosted SNL, and went on extensive Twitter rants about everything from standardized testing to the solar system. C.K. may has well have dropped the mic after he went on a nine-minute un-aided monologue about religion and how we still have the audacity to call tank-tops “wifebeaters.” If Louie’s standup special release pattern is any indicator, we’ll all be #blessed with another release in 2015.—BW
12. Andy Daly
Episode 3 of Review, a show where Daly’s character Forrest MacNeil reviews real-life experiences, somehow contains everything I ever wanted from comedy. Titled “Pancakes, Divorce, Pancakes,” Daly takes MacNeil through silliness, tragedy, and catharsis to an end that stands out as my favorite episode of television from 2014. None of it would work without Daly’s performance, which paints MacNeil as a character whose wide-eyed optimism and “aw, shucks” attitude hides a sea of rage. It makes sense he’s so good at it—Daly has showcased the ability to inhabit these kinds of innocuous-seeming weirdos and outright monsters for years on the Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast, recently tying all of them together into what can only be described as the dumbest version of The Stand in history. I don’t care what dark well of his personality Daly is pulling these characters from, I just hope it never runs dry.—CM