The 20 Best Comedians of 2014

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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

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

11. & 10. Kate Micucci and Riki Lindhome

As folksy comedy band Garfunkel and Oates, Micucci and Lindhome have been producing cheeky parody songs for their YouTube channel since 2007. With sticky-sweet voices that never shy away from profane or taboo subjects, the duo’s most popular songs have garnered millions of views, cultivated a devoted fan base, and established the pair as a bona fide touring band. This year saw Garfunkel and Oates’ transition from the web to television, and the first season of their eponymous IFC series continues to highlight Micucci and Lindhome’s comedic prowess and unabashedly blunt songwriting that occasionally feels both telepathic and cathartic.—Maren McGlashan

9. Todd Barry

Many comics have tried, and most have failed, to emulate the brilliant deadpan delivery of sharpshooter Todd Barry. This year’s The Crowd Work Tour follows Barry from gig to gig as he strikes up free-wheeling dialogue with audiences. In addition to this pioneering special, Barry also had an amusing monologue on FX’s Louie about the perks of being a single comedian, hosted The Todd Barry Podcast and made appearances on Comedy Central’s @midnight in 2014.—BW

8. Chris Gethard

Most confessional comedians tend to use their stand-up as a kind of therapy, mining their self-hatred and embarrassments for laughs. While there’s a strain of that found in Chris Gethard’s work, the New York-based comedian seems more interested in using those moments to find common ground with his audience; to let them know (as he does on his wonderful debut album My Comedy Album) that he may be the one on stage with a mic, but he knows their stories and lives are just as important and interesting as his. His belief in the power of the communal comedy experience is felt even stronger in The Chris Gethard Show, his playful and surreal talk show that is quickly outgrowing its humble home on public access television. Not bad for a dude with a Morrissey tattoo.—RH

7. Kumail Nanjiani

It’s been a good year for Kumail Nanjiani, as he began splitting more time between his stand-up and other outlets, including parts on Veep and Silicon Valley, as well as his own show on Comedy Central, The Meltdown With Jonah and Kumail. His nerdy sensibilities and keen observations from the viewpoint of a Pakistani-American have served him well as both a stand-up comic and in his chemistry with other comedians. And speaking of chemistry—Nanjiani will always have the best explanation of what really goes into “cheese.”—ML

5 & 6. Abbi Jacobson and Ilina Glazer

Abbi Jacobson and Ilina Glazer’s stoner comedy Broad City has safely established the duo as a pop culture phenomenon, and with good reason: the series is one of the most hysterical shows on television. Broad City’s leap from cult web series to acclaimed television program mirrors the upward trajectory of Jacobson and Glazer, who have sold out venues across the country. Undeniably, the series resonates with its audience, making it no surprise that it was renewed for a second season. Glazer and Jacobson, whose content has been appropriately labeled “sneak attack feminism,” have brought ladies into the realm of slacker comedy—and we’re all better off for it.—MM

4. Mark Normand

It’s not unusual to see Mark Normand’s name appear on several comedy club rosters in one evening. Normand, who hosts the popular Hot Soup comedy show and Tuesdays with Stories podcast, criss-crosses New York City by bouncing from one venue to the next, constantly perfecting his hilarious observational set. Normand covers an array of topics—dating, boozing, race and religion—from a stance that’s neither personal nor detached, and his arsenal of knock-out punchlines prove his impeccable talent for joke writing. If his stints on popular late-night talk shows, status as a Comedy Cellar staple, or well-received special Still Got It are any indication, Mark Normand is one of stand-up comedy’s hardest working performers, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon—MM

3. John Oliver

I don’t think people appreciate how fast Last Week Tonight With John Oliver found it’s voice. Expectations leading to up to the premiere were largely “The Daily Show, With Swears, Maybe Boobs?” and they were dashed almost completely by the end of the first episode. Oliver immediately differentiated Last Week Tonight with a focus on global news, lengthier, in-depth segments and a lot of jokes about animals doing people things. Oliver uses that voice as an inspiration—his kind affability and constant exasperation at the injustices of the world have kept the show from ever feeling preachy, and the show’s hilarious (usually web-based) calls-to-action have provided inspiration for an audience that sorely needed it.—CM

2. Chelsea Peretti

A lesser comedian would named their first hour-long special One of the Greats ironically—Chelsea Peretti means it. The material in Peretti’s special exudes confidence, her delivery unwavering with none of the “statements that sound like questions” uncertainty that afflicts many of her peers. When combined with her comedic acting on Brooklyn Nine-Nine and her sketch comedy skills on Kroll Show this year, One of the Greats feels like a statement Peretti’s already backed up.—CM

1. Hannibal Buress

Hannibal Buress is funny. But no one—including the comedian himself—could have foreseen the reaction he’d get for a bit back in mid-October that called out Bill Cosby for his finger-pointing, saying, “But, yeah, you’re a rapist.” The past month has seen the longtime allegations against Cosby re-examined, and the cancellation of several of Cosby’s speaking engagements and even a new network show—all on the power of a joke that went viral. Buress, a former SNL and 30 Rock writer, was just doing his thing—telling jokes that pull no punches. And in doing so he landed a mighty blow. While Buress made huge waves on a single joke, he was ascending months before that. His third live album Live From Chicago is a hilarious look at drugs, his newfound fame, and religion. He’s also appeared as Lincoln on Comedy Central’s Broad City, and The Eric Andre Show on Adult Swim. It’s been a full year for Buress, and next year will likely only be fuller.—ML

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