The funniest stand up comedians of the past 100 years (kind of)

Okay, so we decided to rank the funniest stand up comedians of the past 100 years.

Then we realized what we were up against and decided to play video games instead. But after a while, we all started debating the topic again. Somebody has to come up with a list of the funniest stand up comedians, right? It might as well be us.

Well, as it turns out, a lot of folks have already tried. And what it turned into was a bunch of bickering. The comments sections are crawling with fanboys and girls. They want to know why their favorite comic wasn’t ranked higher. Or (God forbid) their pick didn’t make the list at all!

So that’s why we’re doing it a little bit different. We’ve got opinions and we’re not afraid to admit it. But we also know you do, too. Therefore, we aren’t going to pretend our list is anything more than the opinion of goofballs. But we hope you enjoy it anyway.

best stand-up comic, standup comedy, funniest comic, funniest stand-up comic, stand-up comedy,
This is a place where some comedians tell jokes sometimes. [Credit: Wikipedia, Texaswebscout]

Here’s what we were thinking when we made the list

There has to be a little more to it than just the men and women we think are funny. That’s true … at least in theory. We did all agree they deserve a spot among the funniest stand up comedians based on their jokes alone. But we also think they really changed the industry.

Whether it means pushing boundaries or introducing new concepts, other comics have built on the careers below. And we think everybody who loves live comedy owes them a debt of gratitude. But hey, what do we know? Check out our list and see if you agree. At the very least, we look forward to your angry comments below.

What is it that makes the funniest stand up comedians so legendary?

We should probably all agree on the definition of the word “funny.” Making a list of the funniest stand up comedians doesn’t make much sense otherwise. But frankly, if you don’t already know what it means to be funny, we’re not sure we can help. There are some signs that a comic is really funny, though. A good clue is if he or she makes people laugh a lot. Check out a few other factors we think make our favorite comedians hilarious.

  • They have a wide audience – A truly funny comic should be able to sell out a decent sized venue.
  • They aren’t too popular, though – At some point, comedians who try to please everybody end up producing some pretty unoriginal crap.
  • They force you to think – Not that we want a homework assignment, but the funniest stand up comedians give us a little more than just punchlines.
  • They stand the test of time – We don’t suggest being boring or playing it safe. But we favor comics whose jokes aren’t already dated by the end of the show.
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This is what it looks like when some people in an audience are laughing. [Wikipedia, Wikimania 2009]

The funniest stand up comedians we could come up with at the time

All right, we’ve stalled long enough. Here is our list of the funniest stand up comedians of the past century. Or whatever the title of this thing is.

1. Groucho Marx

Groucho Marx, Marx Brothers, funniest stand-up comics,

Most comedians in the last hundred years owe something to this guy’s influence. He went well beyond the hilarious Marx Brothers films. Groucho Marx mastered broadcasting, writing, stand-up and every other facet of comedy. And it certainly helped that he had one of the world’s quickest and funniest wits. We deducted points because we just don’t get the painted on mustache. But he ranked so high in the other categories that he’s still one of our funniest stand-up comedians. Groucho Marx also had a score of other talents, musical and otherwise. But his one of a kind sense of humor eclipsed them all – and we couldn’t be more grateful!

2. Jonathan Winters

Jonathan Winters, funniest stand-up comedians,

Until Jonathan Winters arrived on the scene, comedy pretty much followed a pattern. Don’t get us wrong, there were definitely original comics doing new things. But they all kind of stuck to a script. There were comics known for one-liners and others who told stories. Then, in a category all by himself was Jonathan Winters. He could riff off the top of his head and draw more laughs than most prepared sets. It all seemed so effortless and anyone who watched him realized it was a gift. Other icons like Robin Williams owed much of their style and success to the standard he set.

3. George Carlin

George Carlin, funniest stand-up comedians,

This one wasn’t an easy decision. Some of us thought Lenny Bruce belonged here. Okay, all of us thought that. Because we all agree he knocked down the door of censorship for a lot of comics who followed. But in the end, George Carlin barreled through that door right after him. And he continued pushing envelopes for decades to come. He’s often remembered for his iconic “Seven Dirty Words” bit. And yes, it did shatter some norms. But he revolutionized his craft with virtually all of his specials. His biting humor and rapid-fire approach left us in stitches regardless of the album. And he wasn’t always challenging society’s conventions. The everyday observations in his stand-up and books remains as relevant and funny today. Come to think of it, maybe it wasn’t such a hard decision after all.

4. Ellen DeGeneres

Ellen, Degeneres, funniest stand-up comedians,

Where do you even start with Ellen? Well, since this is a list of the funniest stand-up comedians, that is probably a good place. Her hilarious act was attracting loyal audiences back in the 1980s. Her observations and self-deprecating style won over fans of all backgrounds. Then came her television career, which is still going strong. Her brilliant sitcom “Ellen” broke the mold by working in her own personal coming-out story into the plot. And as a talk-show host, there is really no comparison. We don’t make a special effort to watch it. (At least that’s our official position). But what we have seen is funny, upbeat and engaging. Simply put, we’re like the rest of the world. We think she’s pretty great.

5. Richard Pryor

Richard Pryor, funniest stand-up comedians, standup comics,
[Credit: Wikipedia, Alan Light]
Richard Pryor wasn’t afraid to bring up some uncomfortable topics. Often they included racial themes that white fans might not have ever encountered. Then he opened up about his own substance abuse issues. And they were serious, by his own account. But none of that ever got in the way of his jokes. Instead, he was able to convince people that otherwise might not hear his perspective. Through humor, he exposed a lot of painful elements of our society. And many of his inner demons. He was also a gifted comedic actor, too. A series of big-screen pairings with Gene Wilder will go down as some of our favorite comedy films.

6. Bob Newhart

Bob Newhart, funniest stand-up comedians,
[Credit: Wikipedia, Alan Light]

For a comic with decent acting chops, sitcoms present a great transition from the stage. But long before Bill Cosby and then Jerry Seinfeld became known for their success, there was Bob Newhart. A series of hit sitcoms bearing some version of his name prove his success. And each one set new standards for what a stand-up comedian could accomplish on TV. His dry wit was already well known among audiences before his first sitcom. Then he was in millions of households every week turning his brand of comedy into hilarious situations. We love sitcoms around here. Seriously. Kevin James almost made the list based entirely on our affection for “King of Queens.” But of all the examples available, we don’t think anyone did more for the medium than Bob Newhart.

Well, that’s it. Let us have it.

We know you disagree with our list of the funniest stand-up comedians of the past century. Of course you do. You’ll wonder why we left one comic off in favor of another. And we have our reasons, okay? If it offends you, feel free to start your own comedy blog and tell us all about it. Or just let us know in a comment below. While you’re at it, share our list with your ‘friends’ on social media and start your very own debate.

RELATED: The best sitcoms of the ’90s that still make us laugh today


4 thoughts on “The funniest stand up comedians of the past 100 years (kind of)

  1. Ellen doesn’t deserve to be on this list. If you leave Lenny Bruce off for her, and put her ahead of Richard Pryor, then I seriously wonder what you really know about stand up comedy.


    1. An angry comment — exactly what we were hoping for! Thank you, sir. But we do believe it’s unfair to question our knowledge on the subject of stand-up comedy. We’ll have you know we’ve watched almost three whole episodes of the Garry Signfield show.

      And Carrot Face came to our college back in ’99. We were watching “Buffy” so we didn’t see the show. But we hear he delivered some really thought-provoking social commentary using a tuba and an old boot.


      1. Uncle milty, (Milton Berle) Red Skelton, Sid Ceaser,
        Jackie Gleason, Bob Hope, Steve Allen,
        And they were clean and they loved this country


      2. Very droll the way you continued the sarcasm of my previous reply with your own misspelling. We assume that’s what you were doing, at least. And when we create our list of cleanest comedians, we’ll be sure to consider your input.

        Thanks so much for reading and sharing your favorites, Susan!


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