When we think of stand-up comedy we always remember (and attempt to recreate) our favorite one-liners or a particularly dead-on celebrity impression. But what about those totally original, fictional characters that are so skillfully developed by our most beloved comedians?
It’s one thing to temporarily morph into a persona that already exists, but it takes real talent and tenacity to create one from thin air and to sustain them through long sets on comedy club stages and concert-sized venues.
And so in celebration of those wacky, original characters, from short-lived ones to characters that have spanned generations and are still going strong, we’ve compiled a list of 10 of our favorite fictional characters from stand up comedy.
10. Andrew “Dice” Clay’s Diceman
He’ll be the most polarizing, controversial character on this list. You either hated his raunchy, politically incorrect jokes or you loved them. If you loved them, you weren’t alone. Andrew Clay’s Diceman, at the peak of its success, was able to sell out Madison Square Garden, making Diceman is one of the most successful characters on this list. And yet many people don’t realize that comedian Andrew Clay’s “Diceman” is a fictional character. A character that has even made its way into a hosting gig on SNL and bit parts in three movies, one of which was Pretty in Pink. The confusion is largely due to the fact that Clay’s Diceman persona, unlike many of the other characters on this list, is performed from the minute Clay steps onto to the stage and into his silent yet iconic cigarette bit, all the way to the end of his show. There are no visible transitions between personalities or third-person introductions. Clay’s stand-up shows are entirely based on one character.
You can watch another famous bit by Clay, the Diceman’s Nursery Rhymes, here.
9. Eddie Izzard’s Evil Giraffe
He’s known for his Death Star Canteen bit. And for his Cake or Death routine. But the face comedian Eddie Izzard makes when playing the Evil Giraffe is the stuff viral GIFs are made of. And that voice he does, that slow, sly voice actually sounds kind of convincing. Yes, that’s exactly how a giraffe would sound if he were trying to be evil to the other giraffes. It’s not a full-fledged character like some of the others on this list, but Izzard’s stand-up style is made up of short vignettes more than large chunks of time devoted to a single signature character. And we love him for it.
8. Maria Bamford’s Christy Coombs
Actress/comedienne Maria Bamford often features different characters in her stand-up and they’re usually based on the people who are or who have been in her life at some point. But not Christy Coombs. Ever had an arch-enemy in high school? That’s Christy Coombs. Ever had that same person question your success and talents years afterwards? That’s Christy Coombs. The genius of Bamford’s Christy Coombs is the simultaneous display of the Coombs’ eccentricities and her relatability. Everyone has met and dealt with a Christy Coombs at some point in their lives. And Bamford’s performance helps you laugh at that experience.
7. Aziz Ansari’s Randy
He’s loud, brash and (obviously) free with his money and his body. He’s Raaaaaaaandy! With eight “A”s of course. While Ansari’s Randy first debuted in the movie Funny People, and not on stage, it has since developed into a signature character that Ansari often features in his stand-up comedy. You can a view one of Ansari’s Randy stand-up routines, in its entirety, in the video below.
6. Jim Carrey’s Gospel Singer
With his high-energy, manic style and seemingly rubber face, it’s no wonder that actor/comedian Jim Carrey has a character of his own on this list. While his stand-up is known primarily for impressions and wacky facial expressions and body movements, Carrey also dabbled in creating his own characters, one of whom was an oddly optimistic (failed) gospel singer; every time he sang Jesus would “run away.”
5. Bob Newhart’s (Civil War-era) Madison Avenue Promoter
You know what? Bob Newhart’s the best comedic “straight man” in the business. Normally, you’d need at least two actors or comedians to appreciate the deadpan nature of the straight man in a comedy duo or sitcom but Newhart could play that character all by himself and still be funny. In his stand-up, a type of routine he’d often perform involved him talking on the phone to an invisible, yet often odd character. He’d basically play the straight man to someone that wasn’t even on stage. The best example of this was Newhart’s Civil War-era Madison Avenue Promoter character. In this routine, Newhart would act out a phone call with Abraham Lincoln: Newhart would play the serious, put-upon publicist who just happened to have President Lincoln as a client. The routine itself is called “Abe Lincoln vs. Madison Avenue.” You can listen to the routine in the video below.
4. Andy Kaufman’s Foreign Man
It was only meant to be a funny lead-in to his dead-on Elvis Presley impression. But comedian Andy Kaufman’s Foreign Man character brought him so, so much more. Most notably, Kaufman’s Foreign Man character landed him a role in the Emmy award-winning, early-’80s sitcom Taxi, as the immigrant mechanic Latka Gravas.
3. Flip Wilson’s Geraldine Jones
While Wilson’s Geraldine character certainly gained its fame from the comedian’s variety show The Flip Wilson Show, the character (or rather her voice) originated from an early stand-up routine in which Wilson recounts his version of the story of Christopher Columbus. The routine featured a character by the name of Queen Isabelle Johnson whose cheeky personality and high-pitched voice is widely considered to be the basis of the iconic Geraldine Jones character Wilson would later develop.
2. George Carlin’s Al Sleet
He’s the “Hippie Dippy Weatherman.” Comedian George Carlin’s Al Sleet was an often intoxicated, unprepared and unenthusiastic weatherman brought to you by Parsons’ Pest Control. Carlin’s Sleet sounds like the perfect hippie. A cross between Bob Ross and Tommy Chong, Carlin’s performance of the character seems like he set the archetypical standard for hippie characters everywhere. And who can forget Sleet’s final forecast? It’s the best forecast. No one can top it: “The weather will continue to change, on and off, for a long, long time.”
1. Richard Pryor’s Mudbone
Created in 1975, Mudbone was one of the most popular bits from comedian Richard Pryor’s stand-up. The character was an elderly (possibly also immortal) African-American man from Tupelo, Miss. who would share anecdotes, make fun of Pryor and wax philosophical about life in general during his long monologues. You can listen to one of Mudbone’s most famous monologue, the one performed during his 1982 show and later album, Richard Pryor: Live On The Sunset Strip in the video below.