#25…George Carlin: Probably the best stand-up comedian of all-time. He brilliantly satirized American culture, mixing his liberal social commentary with an often unapologetically coarse and dirty style of language. His penchant for obscenities was most evident in his trademark routine “Seven words you can never say on television”. No one was better at mocking the excesses of American culture than Carlin.
#24…Robin Williams: He had a manic energy and great improvisational skills. His hyper, free-form style inspired many comedians to follow, such as Jim Carrey. He shot to fame in the TV series Mork & Mindy, before breaking away to very successful movie career, appearing in films like Good Morning Vietnam, The World According to Garp, Mrs. Doubtfire and Popeye. Although he spent much of his career as a comic, he was also an excellent dramatic actor, and won an academy award for Best Supporting Actor in Good Will Hunting.
#23…Simon Pegg: Probably the best of the current generation of comedians. He can play a wide range of roles but is best at portraying guys who are caught in a perpetual adolescence. Pegg is best known for having co-written and starred in the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy of films: Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End. He frequently collaborates with Nick Frost, making them the closest thing in the biz today to the old-time Hollywood comedy teams. In 2007, he was named “Actor of the Year” by the British GQ Men of the Year awards.
#22…Peter Sellers: Although he appeared in many films, he’s best known for playing the clumsy, incompetent Inspector Jacques Clouseau in the Pink Panther films. He had a gift for doing a variety of accents. This verbal versatility enabled him to portray a wide range of comic characters, frequently embodying different dialects and nationalities. Sellers would often take on multiple roles within the same film, (such as playing three different parts in Dr. Strangelove) frequently playing characters who were completely different from each other.
#21…Art Carney: He’ll be forever remembered as wacky, dim-witted sewer worker Ed Norton from The Jackie Gleason Show and The Honeymooners. His “Sheesh, what a grouch!” catchphrase became a popular, iconic line. Carney was an excellent all-around comic, as displayed in the many routines he did alongside Jackie Gleason on Gleason’s variety show. He turned out to be a good dramatic actor but he’ll always remain in our hearts as the cheerfully loony Ed Norton from Bensonhurst, Brooklyn NY.
#20…Peter Cook: One of the innovators of the British ‘satire boom’ of the 1960s. He frequently partnered up with fellow comedian Dudley Moore. The comic duo appeared together on stage (Beyond the Fringe), TV (Not Only but Also) and films (Bedazzled.) Cook always remained the more popular of the two. After the act broke up, Cook continued to perform his anti-establishment humor alone. He was once voted “the funniest man to ever draw breath”.
#19…John Cleese: He was one of the creative minds behind two of the funniest TV shows ever. He co-created the classic sketch-comedy masterpiece Monty Python’s Flying Circus and also developed the hilarious sit-com Fawlty Towers. A brilliant writer, as well as a great comic (He wrote the script for the popular comedy film A Fish Called Wanda), he had a genius for physical comedy as well; which was best highlighted in his famous “Ministry of Silly Walks” sketch.
#18…WC Fields: One of the first huckster comedians, Fields mastered the art of making an unlikable character lovable. He played misanthropic and egotistical characters who somehow remained sympathetic, despite the fact that they hated children and puppies. His rambling, eloquent comic delivery is unique in the annals of comedy. He’s been one of the most frequently imitated people by impressionists over the years.
#17…Bill Murray: His career began on Saturday Night Live, before he hit the A-list, starring in films like Caddyshack, Stripes, Tootsie, Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day and Rushmore. He has a laid-back style which gives him more authenticity than most other comic actors. He reinvented himself late in his career as a semi-dramatic lead, winning critical praise and an Oscar nomination for Lost in Translation.
#16…Stan Laurel: One half of the beloved comedy duo Laurel and Hardy, Stan Laurel (along with his partner Oliver Hardy) gave birth to the movie comedy team. Stan Laurel was known for his childlike mannerisms, goofy grin and exaggerated crying fits. His dim-witted character forever caused trouble for his partner. Despite portraying such a simple-minded role, Laurel was actually the brains behind the team, managing their careers and overseeing all their scripts.
#15…Oliver Hardy: The other half of the original comedy team Laurel and Hardy, Oliver Hardy was the member of the duo who had to take all the falls. His stupid partner continually caused him endless trouble, and Oliver ended up taking the lumps. For a very large man, he was adept at taking a fall. His catchphrase was “Here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into”.
#14…Carol Burnett: The queen of the comedy-variety show genre. The long-running Carol Burnett Show was one of the greatest examples of the variety genre. The show had a wonderful supporting cast but the anchor of all the weekly chaos was Burnett herself, who was brilliant at burying herself in whatever wacky guise the sketch required her to play.
#13…Steve Martin: His decades-long career has gone through many phases and he’s reinvented himself many times, but through it all, Steve Martin has remained a relevant figure in the world of comedy. After moving away from his early, absurdist style of humor, he won critical acclaim for films such as Roxanne; Parenthood; Planes, Train and Automobiles and Bowfinger.
#12…Jackie Gleason: One of the greats of the early days of television, Gleason starred in the popular comedy-variety show The Jackie Gleason Show and its spin-off, the Honeymooners. He is best remembered for playing loud-mouthed, bombastic bus driver Ralph Kramden, although he had a whole repertoire of recurring characters on his variety show. He later became an excellent dramatic actor (most notably in The Hustler) but he will always be remembered and loved as comic pioneer of TV.
#11…Eddie Murphy: His career started with a meteoric rise to fame on Saturday Night Live but that was just the beginning. Murphy became one of the hottest film comedy stars of the 80s. His wildly popular Beverly Hills Cop was one of the top-ten most successful films of all-time when it came out. He later drifted away from the cool, edgy characters that made him famous and moved to family-friendly fare like The Nutty Professor and Dr. Doolittle, as well as his voice-over work in the Shrek franchise. He’s had many ups-and-downs but he keeps coming back.
#10…George Burns: One of the fathers of the American sit-com, George Burns and his partner (and wife) Gracie Allen made America love them for years, due to their popular George Burns and Gracie Allen Show during the golden age of TV. Burns specialized in playing the bemused narrator who made funny commentary about the wacky goings-on around him. Burns and Allen appeared in Vaudeville, radio and films before making their mark on the small screen. After his wife/partner’s death, George Burns continued to make films, such as the Oh God movie franchise. He won an Oscar late in his career for The Sunshine Boys.
#9… Gracie Allen: One half of comedy duo Burns and Allen, Gracie Allen was second only to Lucille Ball as the Queen of the Golden Age of television. Along with her husband, they made their way from Vaudeville to movies to television, mastering their comic repartee. Gracie played the ditzy, perky ‘dumb blond’ who baffled people with her illogical logic. Husband George could only play along with a bemused smile while Gracie related her bizarre stories. The show often closed with the famous sequence where George told her to “Say goodnight, Gracie” and she replied “Goodnight Gracie.”
#8…Harpo Marx: One fourth of the iconic comedy team, the Marx Brothers; Harpo Marx was famous for never having uttered a single word on screen. He always portrayed a silent imp with a talent for slight-of-hand, which he used for felonious ends. He played the harp (hence his name) and seemed to have an endless supply of useful items in his deep coat pockets. Harpo was the craziest of the crazy quartet.
#7… Lucille Ball: The queen of the small screen will forever be beloved by future generations for her marvelously silly performance as Lucy Ricardo, wife of bandleader Ricky Ricardo on I Love Lucy, the most popular sitcom of the 1950s and the first mega-hit in TV history. Lucy became the first nationwide TV superstar. She later had other successful shows, but I Love Lucy remains her greatest legacy.
#6: Mae West: She brought sex into film. She was the originator of innuendo and double entendre in the movies. At a time when film censors frowned on any mention of sex, West filled her movies with blatantly sexual dialogue. Few people could deliver a line with equal measure of sexiness and humor as West did. Her legendary line “Is that a banana in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?” has reached iconic stature over the years.
#5…Buster Keaton: Known as “the great stone face” because of his deadpan style, Keaton was second only to Chaplin as the top comedian of the silent era. His gift for physical comedy was second-to-none, and the stunts he performed were as daring as they were funny. (He did all his own stunts.) He took great physical risks for his art. No one could take a fall like Keaton. His characters embodied grace under pressure. The comic pinnacle of his brilliant career was The General, a masterpiece of comic timing.
#4…Bob Hope: Possibly the most enduring comedy star ever, his career stretched from the 1920s through the 1990s. He moved from Vaudeville to radio, where he had a popular weekly radio show. By the 1940s, he was one of the most popular movie stars in the world, generally playing a vainglorious coward. He was a regular television presence from the late 1940s through his final TV appearance in 1996. He starred in many popular films over the decades, including his seven collaborations with singer/actor Bing Crosby, collectively known as the ‘Road Pictures’. He was very involved in the USO, entertaining troops in every war from WW2 through Operation: Desert Storm.
#3…Lou Costello: The comic half of the immensely popular comedy team Abbott and Costello, Lou Costello was a fireball of on-screen energy. He was a master at comic timing and an expert at taking a pratfall. He and his partner Bud Abbott had an unequaled skill at back-and-forth banter. Their signature routine was the timeless baseball sketch “Who’s on First?” From burlesque theaters, to radio to a hugely successful movie career, Lou and his straight-man partner Bud were the biggest comedy stars of the 1940s. Their 1950s television show The Abbott and Costello Show introduced a new generation of fans to their classic routines. Lou’s catchphrase was “I’m a baaaaad boy!”
#2…Charlie Chaplin: The greatest of the silent clowns and the master of pathos, Chaplin’s body of work is unparalleled in the influence it had during the pre-sound era. His famous “Little Tramp” character was the epitome of the downtrodden little man. No one could tug the heart-strings the way Chaplin could. Among his great classics were the Gold Rush, City Lights and Modern Times. He continued making films into the sound era, including his parody on Hitler, The Great Dictator.
#1…Groucho Marx: One fourth of the most innovative comedy team from the golden age of films, Groucho Marx was the anchorman of the Marx Brothers, handling the lion’s share of the comic duties. No one could ever deliver a comic lie the way Groucho could. His style was a mix of insults, non-sequiturs, self-deprecating quips and flights-of-fancy. His characters often confounded people as he trapped them in his web of non-linear logic. After the Marx Brothers had success on Vaudeville, Broadway and film, Groucho went solo and made the transition to radio with his popular game show, You Bet Your Life. The show was later transposed to television, where it ran for 15 years, gaining Groucho new legions of fans. In the mid-1970s, an elderly Groucho appeared in a sold-out, live show at Carnegie Hall. The show was so well received that it was released as a vinyl album and it won Best Comedy Album for the year, giving the great Groucho one last triumph in a long life full of comic high points.
Obviously comedy is subjective. What do you think of our list and who would you put on yours?