25 of the Best Stand-Up Comedians of All Time
Compiling a list of the best stand-up comedians ever to grace the stage is exceptionally hard. Ever since the first stand-up show was documented in 1911, men and women have been taking to the stage and entertaining crowds across the world. The genre of comedy really came to the fore in the 80s when some of the best stand-up comedians of all time made their mark. This is when the likes of Sam Kinison, Eddie Murphy, Andrew “Dice” Clay, Bill Hicks, and Robin Williams became megastars, with many going on to have their own shows and finding success in the world of film.
Since the golden age comedy has gone through a number of changes and phases, from the alternative comedy of the 90s to the modern-day stand-up that often incorporates real-life issues facing people around the world. Folk such as Tracy Morgan, Ali Wong, John Mulaney, Dave Chappelle, Tiffany Hadish, and Aziz Ansari have become megastars. The advent of cancel culture and the #metoo movement have also seen a shift in what is now acceptable when performing comedy and left many once-popular comics (Louis C.K. is a prime example) forced to apologize for past indiscretions and fading from the spotlight.
In coming up with this list, we have scoured the archives for not only the funniest stand-up comedians but also those who have left a mark on the culture. Many of these stand-up comedians have appeared on talk shows and big networks like Comedy Central and NBC and had their own comedy specials. These are comics who care about the craft. It is just as much about delivery and timing as it is the actual punchline. Hopefully, they will provide you with as much laughter as they have the Next Luxury crew.
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Laugh Out Loud: Discover 25 of the Best Stand-Up Comedians of All Time
1. Jerry Seinfeld
Arguably the biggest comic on the planet, Jerry Seinfeld made his name with the hilarious sitcom Seinfeld, a show about nothing. Before hitting the big time with the much-loved series, Seinfeld was a working comic whose observational humor had audiences in stitches. He could turn the most uninteresting topic into a joke that would leave you rolling on the floor. While his early career wasn’t spectacular, once Seinfeld was a hit, he became one of the leading comics, commanding millions of dollars per show. Even today, he still gets laughs, with his hit series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee and last comedy special 23 Hours To Kill getting millions of views.
2. Dave Chappelle
Although he has been courting controversy of late with some of the material featured in his Netflix specials, there is no doubting Dave Chappelle’s place in the Comics Hall of Fame. Sighting 80s legends like Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, and Paul Mooney as influences, it is clear to see why Chappelle has won over audiences. He doesn’t care what he says or whether he offends people, and this has helped with his popularity. His first foray into television with the Chappelle’s Show also helped boost his image. The comedy series combined stand-up with skits and live music performances and was massive in the early 00s before Chappelle quit the entertainment business for a number of years. These days he’s back touring and performing stand-up specials and making millions of people laugh around the world.
3. Sam Kinison
After following his father into the priesthood, Sam Kinison quickly realized preaching wasn’t for him. Instead, he transferred his disillusionment with religion and troubled childhood into stand-up comedy, where he became renowned for his exuberant stage presence. Kinison would interject his routines with screams and tirades that would send the audience into fits of laughter. Unfortunately, he passed away in his prime, killed by a drunk driver when he was just 38.
4. Richard Pryor
Arguably the greatest comic of all time, nobody did it like Richard Pryor. Hailed by Jerry Seinfeld as “the Picasso of our profession,” the influential comic took no prisoners with his act, discussing everything from police brutality to racism. His comedy was dominated by profanity but it never took away from his jokes or the points he made about social issues. While successful on stage, off it he struggled, with Pryor married seven times to five women, having seven children with six women, and falling into a coke addiction that led him to self-immolation. He recovered and took the stage again, but his career was never the same as he suffered numerous health complaints before passing away at the age of 65 in 2005.
5. George Carlin
“The dean of counterculture comedians” was a darkly funny stand-up who is best known for his political and social comedy. A frequent guest on The Tonight Show, Carlin released an amazing 20 comedy albums and 14 HBO specials during his career. He had a knack for making you laugh and think at the same time, with his iconic ‘Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television’ bit leading to the established indecency regulation in American broadcasting.
6. Lenny Bruce
One of the early stand-up comedians to make his mark, Lenny Bruce tackled everything from race and sex to politics and religion with his scattergun stand-up. Similar to Carlin, he pioneered the use of vulgarity with his comedy and was never afraid to drop swear words during his shows. This resulted in Bruce being arrested numerous times for obscenity. Like so many in the comedy profession, his life was cut short by drugs when he died of an overdose at the age of 40.
7. Robin Williams
There was only one Robin Williams. The hyperactive comedian was seemingly always ‘performing’ and a tornado of one-liners, crazy impressions, and off-the-wall jokes. He would go off on tangents that would have audiences in fits of laughter, with his appearances on talk shows always a hit. He is one of the few stand-up comedians to successfully crossover into Hollywood, having a hit with the TV show Mork & Mindy before going on to star in commercial blockbusters such as Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Will Hunting, and Jumanji. Despite having the world at his feet, Williams had a dark side. He dabbled in drugs and alcohol, suffered from depression, and died at the age of 63 after committing suicide.
8. Eddie Murphy
First making an impact on Saturday Night Live, Eddie Murphy quickly moved into movies, with his first starring role being in the action-comedy 48 Hrs. That was followed by Trading Places and Beverly Hills Cop, but it was his recorded stand-up special Delirious that showed why he is one of the greats. Never short of a swear word (the special features the word fuck 230 times and shit 171 times), Murphy touches on family parties, ice cream trucks, and even AIDS. It is a wide-ranging stand-up that cemented Murphy’s legacy. Although his career since the 80s has been so-so (Pluto Nash anyone?), he has found recent success in dramatic roles and remains a comedic genius.
9. Steve Martin
Steve Martin has done a lot of stand-up comedy over the past 30 years, but that doesn’t take away from his comedic talents. During the 70s he was everywhere, performing on all the big late night television shows, including The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and Saturday Night Live. He released a plethora of comedy albums that charted well before branching out into movies, having huge success with comedies such as The Jerk, The Three Amigos, The Man With Two Brains, and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. These days you are more likely to find him on stage playing his banjo with bluegrass acts.
10. Bill Burr
Few comics are as forthright as Bill Burr. The successful stand-up comedian, podcaster, and actor has blazed a path through the comedy circuit with his honest and confronting comedy. Like many on this list, he is never afraid to cause controversy with his angry brand of comedy. Political correctness certainly isn’t his strong suit. There is a cynical underline to his comedy, yet Bill Burr always seems to have a small amount of faith in the world. Sometimes.
11. Amy Schumer
This is one funny woman. Much of Amy Schumer’s comedy surrounds sex and her take on the way women are treated in the modern world. She began doing stand-up in the early 00s and recorded a live episode of television for Comedy Central and was featured on Last Comic Standing, which she sees as her big break. Since then her career has gone from strength to strength, with Schumer appearing in her own sketch show (Inside Amy Schumer), starring in and writing the film Trainwreck, and touring the world with her stand-up show.
12. Bill Hicks
Few comics have the fire and wit of the late, great Bill Hicks. Despite having his life cut short (he died from pancreatic cancer at the age of 32), Hicks had a resounding impact on the comedy circuit. There was often a dark edge to his material, leading to one of Hicks’ routines being cut from his final appearance on Late Night with David Letterman. Politics, social matters, philosophy, and religion were some of the topics he covered, along with conspiracy theories, which he loved to explore (especially the assassination of J. F. Kennedy.). Though his career was short, Hicks influenced many, and his last album, Relentless, is considered the gold standard of comedy albums.
13. Ali Wong
Ali Wong is another comic who has managed to transition from stand-up to Hollywood. During her early years in New York, she was also gaining small acting roles in film and television. This eventually resulted in her getting a Netflix special, Baby Cobra. What made the show so special was Wong was seven months pregnant at the time. It helped turn her into a star, with Wong having since performed two more Netflix specials, co-written and starred in the film Always Be My Maybe and voiced Bertie in the Netflix animated show Tuca & Bertie. Often using her comedy to discuss personal issues (such as miscarrying twins prior to the birth of her first daughter), Wong is one of the best stand-up comedians going.
14. Chris Rock
Chris Rock has done it all. Not only has he had a massively successful stand-up career, but he’s also featured as a main cast member on Saturday Night Live, turned himself into a leading man (Death at a Funeral), and written, directed, and produced numerous films and television shows. His comedy is often grounded in his experiences as a youth and covers everything from family and race to politics and celebrity. He’s also won four Emmy Awards and three Grammy Awards, which says it all really.
15. Don Rickles
Nobody does insult comedy like Don Rickles. Possessed with a quickfire wit, he would have people doubled over in laughter with his disparaging one-liners. Frank Sinatra’s good buddy performed stand-up for over 60 years and was a staple on the late night television circuit. He made his bones in Las Vegas where he was nicknamed “The Merchant of Venom” and “Mr. Warmth” for his scathing roasts of people from all walks of life. He continued working and touring right up until his death in 2017 and is regarded as one of the greats.
16. Sarah Silverman
Delivering risque jokes in deadpan fashion is all part of Sarah Silverman’s act. The stand-up comedian addresses many things considered taboo in her stand-up routines and is known for making audiences confront their prejudices. Like many modern-day comedians, she has also crossed over into the world of movies and television. She had her own show, The Sarah Silverman Program, on Comedy Central and starred in a number of high-profile movies and series. While her comedy often crosses the line, Silverman manages to keep audiences onside with her girl-next-door appearance and innocent personality.
17. Rodney Dangerfield
“I don’t get no respect.” This is the catchphrase that helped propel Rodney Dangerfield into comedy greatness during the 60s and 70s. Beginning his career in New York, he soon found himself headlining Las Vegas and appearing on all the big talk shows. His self-deprecating humor often centered on hilarious one-liners, such as “A girl phoned me the other day and said… ‘Come on over, there’s nobody home.’ I went over. Nobody was home.” In the 80s he found himself a movie star, featuring in hits Caddyshack, Back to School, and Easy Money. He continued to tour, release comedy albums, cameo in films, and appear on talk shows right up until his death in 2004 at the ripe old age of 82.
18. Mitch Hedberg
Another talent taken too soon. Mitch Hedberg was a surrealist comic who died of a drug overdose in 2005 at the age of 37. While his career was short, he created a legacy that remains today. His mixture of storytelling, one-liners, and absurd tangents created a cult following. A recurring theme with his stand-up was people yelling out the punch lines to his jokes before he finished them. He would also famously acknowledge a joke was terrible if it fell flat, which often drew much laughter. Strangely for a comic, he suffered from stage fright and would often wear sunglasses while on stage and refrain from looking at the crowd.
19. Jim Gaffigan
What sets Jim Gaffigan apart from many of today’s comics is his lack of profanity. Gaffigan rarely swears when on stage, and if he does, it is done for comedic effect. An American comedian for the everyman, Gaffigan’s comedy revolves around his family (he has five kids), religion (he’s Catholic), and general observations about life. He’s starred in his own show based on his life (The Jim Gaffigan Show), appeared in a variety of films, TV series, and comedy shows, and released 14 comedy albums over the journey. He remains one of America’s most popular comics.
20. Ricky Gervais
The creator of The Office is another stand-up who just doesn’t give a fuck. While he made his bones as an actor and writer on shows The Office and Extras, as well as on radio, Gervais’ stand-up helped give him a global appeal. Each of his big stand-up tours centers around a topic, such as Animals and Politics, with Gervais going off on random tangents, dropping F-bombs, and generally doing his best to offend anyone and everyone.
21. Bob Newhart
Another of America’s greatest, Bob Newhart’s deadpan delivery made him a huge success in the 60s. Along with good friend Don Rickles, he became one of the States’ big comics. His comedy album, The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart, was a monster success and still ranks as the 20th best-selling comedy album of all time. He soon parlayed his talents into the world of film and television in the 70s and 80s, having success with The Bob Newhart Show and Newhart. He’s also won three Grammys, an Emmy, and a Golden Globe in a career spanning more than 60 years.
22. Redd Foxx
Given the moniker the “King of the Party Records,” Redd Foxx appeared on over 50 comedy albums throughout his more than 50-year career. Similar to Richard Pryor, who cited Foxx as one of his biggest inspirations, the St. Louis comedian wasn’t afraid to swear during his act. Foxx became a hit thanks to his raunchy jokes and was one of the first African-American comics to play Vegas, which had a predominantly white audience. He broke out with his starring role in Sanford and Son and would go on to be a mainstay on television while continuing to tour and release comedy albums and specials.
23. Billy Connolly
The Big Yin is the best comedian to come out of Scotland. His performances are like enchanting stories, with Connolly taking you on a wild ride with short detours before delivering the big payoff. Starting off life singing in the folk-rock band The Humblebums with Gerry Rafferty (Baker Street, Right Down the Line), Connolly then turned to comedy and found his true calling. He consistently released comedy albums and stand-up concerts while starring in films. He was also big on the small screen, appearing in popular British shows until releasing his own series of documentary-type travel shows throughout the 00s. Although now retired due to the impact of Parkinson’s disease, he remains one of the greats.
24. Kevin Hart
Look up the word hustle in the dictionary and you will see a picture of Kevin Hart. The Philadelphia-born stand-up, actor, writer, and producer is one of the hardest-working men in Hollywood. While he is more recognized for his movie career around the world, he got his start as a stand-up. An open book, Hart discusses his life as a married man and a father and is never one to shy away from the controversies that have plagued him during his career, including his divorce, infidelity, and drunk driving charge. He has also had some of the best-selling comedy tours of all time, with the live recordings of his shows Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain and Kevin Hart: What Now? the fourth and fifth highest-grossing stand-up films of all time.
25. Janeane Garofalo
A shining light of the 90s alternative comedy scene, Janeane Garofalo weaves pop culture observations with self-deprecating humor to wow audiences with her hilarious jokes and incredible wit. While she has gone on to feature in many films and television series, she continues to perform stand-up on the regular, particularly around New York. Staunchly political and a strong-willed feminist, Garofalo has also been involved with several documentaries, had her own comedy special, and has written a book, Feel This Book: An Essential Guide to Self-Empowerment, Spiritual Supremacy, and Sexual Satisfaction.
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Stand-Up Comedians FAQs
What is stand-up comedy?
Stand-up comedy is a form of comedic performance where a comedian, often alone on a stage, delivers a series of humorous anecdotes, jokes, and observations to entertain an audience. The comedian’s material typically covers a wide range of topics, including everyday life, social issues, personal experiences, and absurdities. Stand-up comedians rely on their wit, timing, and delivery to elicit laughter from the audience, often using wordplay, satire, and observational humor. This art form encourages creativity, self-expression, and the exploration of societal norms and taboos. Successful stand-up comedians connect with their audience through relatable humor, providing a unique form of entertainment and commentary on the human experience.
Who are some of the best stand-up comedians in the world?
Determining the “best” stand-up comedians is subjective, as humor is highly personal, and different comedians appeal to diverse tastes. However, several comedians have gained widespread acclaim for their comedic talents. Icons like George Carlin are celebrated for their thought-provoking social commentary. Richard Pryor’s raw and honest storytelling set a new standard. The observational humor of Jerry Seinfeld resonates with many. Chris Rock combines humor with insightful social commentary, while Dave Chappelle pushes boundaries with his edgy yet thought-provoking routines. The irreverent style of Louis C.K. and the absurdity of Mitch Hedberg also have devoted followings. These comedians, among others, have made indelible marks on the stand-up comedy landscape.
What are some of the best stand-up comedy specials?
Selecting the “best” stand-up comedy specials is subjective and can vary depending on personal preferences, but there are several acclaimed ones that have received widespread recognition. Some classics include Richard Pryor’s Live in Concert, George Carlin’s Carlin at Carnegie, and Eddie Murphy’s Delirious. More recent favorites include Dave Chappelle’s Sticks & Stones, Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette, and Ali Wong’s Baby Cobra. Additionally, specials from comedians like Chris Rock, Louis C.K., John Mulaney, and Bill Burr have garnered critical acclaim and a devoted fan base. These specials often tackle a wide range of topics, from social issues to personal experiences, and showcase the comedic brilliance and unique perspectives of these talented comedians.