Comedy is an entertainment art form that many strive to perfect, but very few do. Unlike acting, comedy cannot be learned by attending classes and having the right look for a part. Sure, you can perfect your act but even with smooth delivery and perfect timing, if you're not funny, no one is going to laugh. We've all seen that poor comedian who plays to a silent audience and then is practically booed off stage. That's another thing about comedy, it takes guts.
Comedy became a popular form of entertainment thanks to iconic comedic legends such as George Burns, Bob Hope, Milton Berle, and Sid Caesar just to name a few. With the onset of radio shows and then later, television comedy shows, such as I Love Lucy and The Dick Van Dyke Show, these early comedians paved the way for what is now one of the most popular forms of comedy, the "stand up." Many believe it was in the 1970's when true stand up comedy was born. This new comic was a little edgier and tended to include bits about social and political events in their act, delivered in a more casual manner. This was different from the comedians of the past who delivered one liners and jokes that ended with a punch line.
The 70's also introduced the comedy club and the art of comedic improvisation in front of a live audience. Below is a list of stand up comedians who have made their mark on comedy in the last fifty years and set the bar for those who have come after them.
10 George Carlin
Possibly one of the most renowned comedians of our lifetime, George Carlin began his career in the 60's performing on television variety shows and then later numerous times on The Tonight Show, with Jack Paar, and then Johnny Carson. In the 70's he decided he wanted to change his image and hired talent managers to help reinvent himself and project a younger and more hip image. It was during this time that Carlin introduced his "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television," routine, which got him arrested in Milwaukee in 1972. He became famous for his dark comedy and for expressing his thoughts on politics, religion and other taboo subjects. He was referred to by one newspaper as "The dean of counter-culture comedians." Many of today's comedians say that it was Carlin who inspired them to pursue comedy. George Carlin passed away on June 22, 2008.
9 David Brenner
8 Joan Rivers
7 Rodney Dangerfield
Best known for his tag line, "I don't get no respect," Rodney Dangerfield began writing for comedians at the age of fifteen and began performing when he was twenty. In the sixties, he performed at hotels in the Catskill Mountains but was making little headway. He then took the name Rodney Dangerfield, which was the name of a faux cowboy star of Jack Benny's, who also received no respect. This was of great inspiration to him. In 1967, Rodney became a last minute replacement act on The Ed Sullivan Show and this gave him the kickstart he needed. He became a frequent guest on The Tonight Show, The Ed Sullivan Show and was a regular on The Dean Martin Show. In 1969, he built The Dangerfield's Comedy Club which is still operating today and has launched the careers of Jim Carrey, Tim Allen and Roseanne Barr to name a few. Rodney Dangerfield died on October 5, 2004.
6 Richard Pryor
5 Steven Wright
Known for his nasally voice and deadpan delivery, Steven Wright became almost a cult figure in the mid eighties with a divisive mix of fans, from the totally hip to the totally bookish. His 1985 comedy album, I Have a Pony, was nominated for a Grammy. His HBO special, A Steven Wright Special, is one of HBO's most popular and longest running comedy specials ever to air on the network. He is a regular on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson and in 2008 became the first inductee into the Boston Comedy Hall of Fame.
4 Eddie Murphy
Ranked number ten on Comedy Central's List of the 100 Greatest Stand Up Comedians of All Time, Eddie Murphy's early work was heavily influenced by Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor. His successful television special Delirious was released in 1983 and contained some of his most racy and over the top material. This was followed by his concert film, Eddie Murphy Raw. Murphy may be best remembered for his controversial portrayal of Buckwheat on Saturday Night Live as well as for his hilarious rendition of Gumby on that show. He is also a successful actor and has appeared in many films including Dream Girls, Coming to America, Beverly Hills Cop and The Nutty Professor.
3 Steve Martin
2 Andrew Dice Clay
1 Jerry Seinfeld
Perhaps the comic who best represents the art of every day observational humor, Seinfeld is a name recognized all over the world. He continues to do stand up today, where he can still pack the house and make audiences of all ages laugh. His NBC show Seinfeld, became the voice of a generation with catchphrases such as; "Yadda Yadda Yadda," "Shrinkage," and "Not that there's anything wrong with that." The show ran for nine seasons and is now in syndication with a new generation of loyal followers. Seinfeld says his comedic influences were George Carlin, Bill Cosby, Jay Leno and Robert Klein.