“You can tell how smart people are by what they laugh at,” said Tina Fey. We went exploring to find out the men and women who are world beaters at making us laugh and smart. Men and women in the English-speaking world who have stretched the limits of comedy with the boldness of their imagination in writing funny lines. So here’s our list of the 10 best stand-up comedians who are making our brains sharper while making our bellies burst with laughter.
10. Jim Gaffigan: Hailed as the ‘everyman’ comic, Jim Gaffigan’s comedy is largely observational, clean and revolves around topics that are easily relatable with a heavy predilection towards food and parenting. Although he began doing stand-up in the late eighties, it wasn’t until his first appearance on The Late Show With David Letterman in 1999 that his career took off. Incidentally Letterman is also one of Gaffigan’s comedy idols. Since then Gaffigan has been nominated twice for a Grammy in the category of Best Comedy Album, has authored two books and is the creator of an autobiographical sitcom called The Jim Gaffigan Show currently on air.
Here’s a flavour of Jim’s humour:
- “Homebirth?? You mean you didn’t want to deliver in that germ-infested building where sick people congregate? Didn’t your wife want to give birth in a gown someone died in yesterday?…”
- “My wife says, `Camping is a tradition in my family’. It was a tradition in everyone’s family, till we invented the house…”
9. Kevin Hart: If you’ve been following American pop culture in the last decade, it’s almost impossible that you haven’t heard of Kevin Hart. The man is everywhere, from starring in box office juggernauts like Ride Along and Get Hard to highly rated TV shows like Real husbands of Hollywood to hosting The MTV Video Music Awards, the BET Awards and most recently The Comedy Central Roast Of Justin Bieber. Though his film and TV credentials have brought him a lot of fame, Hart continues to hit the stage, selling out arenas on gargantuan comedy tours which boast of rock concert production values.
Here’s a flavour of Kevin’s humour:
- “I hate people that say age is only a number. Age is clearly a word…”
- “Five kinds of fear: Panic; Terror; 15 Missed Calls From Mom; Wrong Password; `We Need to Talk’…”
8. Mike Birbiglia: Birbiglia specializes in the long form joke, which usually involves storytelling and anecdotes peppered with humour, building up to a big finish. His delivery is often deadpan and self deprecating and his material is deeply personal, borrowing heavily from his personal life experiences and relationships. After the massive success of his one man show Sleepwalk With Me in 2008, Birbiglia found mainstream success which led him to star and direct in the autobiographical film of the same name four years later. His Netflix comedy special My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend released in 2013 has garnered critical and public acclaim.
Here’s a flavour of Mike’s humour:
- “I used to think I was little unstable, and then I met every girl I dated…”
- “I shouldn’t say bad things about illiterate people. I should write it…”
7. Tig Notaro: Tig Notaro has been performing stand-up since the early 2000s having been featured on Comedy Central Presents and The Sarah Silverman Show, among others. But it wasn’t until 2012 that the world’s attention at large turned to her. On August 3 of that year, Notaro revealed that she was diagnosed with breast cancer from the stage at one of her shows and addressed the other personal difficulties she’s been facing. The set was called one of the greatest stand-up performances ever by fellow comedian Louis C. K. and scores of other renowned comedians present that night. Since then Notaro has not only beaten cancer but only grown from strength to strength. She released the audio of the aforementioned show on iTunes which peaked at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Comedy Albums chart and ended up outselling KISS! With a Netflix documentary, a new comedy special and an Amazon TV series slated for this year, the future is only brighter for Tig.
6. Chris Rock: Known for his high energy on stage antics, Chris Rock’s comedy material has always touched upon politics, American race relations and the man-woman relationship. Rock leaves no stone unturned in satirizing the American political system and the struggle of African Americans in the country. Having been around for nearly three decades, with four highly successful comedy specials under his belt, and a hoard of successful films and TV shows, Chris Rock has gone on to influence a number of the current crop of comics from Aziz Ansari to Kevin Hart and is one of the most identifiable, yet audacious entertainers on the planet.
Here’s a flavour of Chris’s humour:
- “If I ever have a daughter I am going to name her Taken. That way… when a boy asks her name she’ll say `Hi, I’m Taken’…”
- “If women ruled the world there would be no wars… just a bunch of countries not talking to each other…”
5. Jerry Seinfeld: For many, Jerry Seinfeld was the first exposure to stand-up comedy, that’s how influential his 90’s sitcom Seinfeld was. By picking up on the most absurd details from day-to-day life and putting them under the microcosm of his comedic lens, Seinfeld has developed a style of stand-up comedy that’s not just ridiculously successful, but damn near impossible to emulate despite its simplicity. Since the show wrapped up, his TV appearances have thinned out but Jerry still manages to sell out arenas. Perhaps his most interesting venture of late has been the web series Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, an informal interview cum hangout with some of the biggest names in comedy.
Here’s a flavour of Jerry’s humour:
- “Men don’t care what’s on TV. They only care what else is on TV…”
- “It’s amazing that the amount of news that happens in the world every day always just exactly fits the newspaper…”
- “See, the thing of it is, there’s a lot of ugly people out there walking around but they don’t know they’re ugly because nobody actually tells them…”
4. Dave Chappelle: One of the major breakout comedians of the 2000s, Chappelle has positioned himself as one of the most defining comic voices of his generation. He became a superstar thanks to the success of his Comedy Central sketch show Chappelle’s Show (and arguably an even bigger star when he walked away from it). Heavily influenced by Richard Pryor, Chappelle embraces brutal honesty on matters of race, sexuality and American culture. It was a huge sigh of relief for comedy fans worldwide when he returned to stand-up in 2013 after an extended hiatus.
Here’s a flavour of Dave’s humour:
- “I’m off to the gym. Replacing good character with good looks is a cornerstone of my comeback stratagem...”
- “Somebody broke into my house once, this is a good time to call the police, but mm mm, nope. The house was too nice. It was a real nice house, but they’d never believe I lived in it. They’d be like ‘He’s still here!…”
3. Amy Schumer: Amy Schumer’s rise over the past three years has been meteoric. From being largely unknown outside of comedic circles she is now a bonafide movie star and social media celebrity boasting of more than 1.7 million Twitter followers. To add to this, Amy’s sketch show Inside Amy Schumer regularly churns out material that goes viral online. At the core of Amy’s success though lies her raw comedic talent. Her stand-up routine gives a unique female perspective about relationships from the past and present, while also holding the tendency to get dark at times. Schumer wrote and played her first leading film role in Trainwreck, directed by Judd Apatow which released this year to rave reviews.
Here’s a flavour of Amy’s humour
- “My ex-boyfriend, he was really into family… He’d never come on the road with me on the weekends `cause he wanted to spend time with his wife…”
- All my friends are getting married. I guess I’m just at that age where people give up…”
2. Bill Burr: If the rage guy internet meme had a voice, it would probably sound like Bill Burr. Back in 2013, Rolling Stone magazine christened Burr the ‘undisputed heavyweight champ of rage-fueled humor’. If there’s one comedian that you can be rest assured will not mince his words while ranting about any issue, it’s Bill. His no-holds-barred approach about issues like feminism, gender equality and religion often get him in hot water but is also precisely the quality that sets him apart in the ever-growing atmosphere of political correctness. Outside of stand-up Bill is known for portraying the character of Patrick Kuby the TV series Breaking Bad as well as his weekly podcast called Bill Burr’s Monday Morning Podcast. Indian fans finally got a chance to watch Bill live earlier this year when the comedian made Mumbai a stop on his world tour.
Here’s a flavour of Bill’s humour
- “If you wonder why society is going down the drain…take a look at people having children… then look at the people who you think would make good parents. That should tell you just about all you need to know…”
- “You’re a kid, your whole life is awesome. It’s awesome, right? You had no money, no ID, no cellphone, no nothing, no keys to the house. You just ran outside into the woods. You weren’t scared of nothing. I challenge you to do that as an adult. All your IDs, all your credit cards – just run out of the house with no phone, turn the corner where you can’t see your house and not have a full on panic attack…”
1. Louis C.K: Without a doubt the person who is sitting atop the comedic ladder at this present day and time is Louis C.K. Indeed C.K’s immense success in the last half a decade or so is also a representation of what we as a people want comedy to signify for us because C.K’s comedy is as much about making us look into the mirror and come face to face with our insecurities and embarrassments and then go one step further to build the courage to laugh at them and by extensions our own weaknesses. He’s the guy that does and says what most of us wish we had the guts to on a daily basis. Whether it’s on stage or on his TV show Louie which he writes, directs, edits and stars in, with Louis C.K one always gets the sense that the boundaries of an art form are being pushed or at the very least tested to the extreme.
Here’s a flavour of Louis’s humour
- “The meal isn’t over when I’m full, the meal is over when I hate myself…”
- “I’m not raising children. I’m raising grown-ups they’re going to be. I have to raise them with the tools to get through a terrible life. That’s the way I look at it…”