Here is a list of the top 10 greatest stand-up comedians of all times. It was a very difficult, yet pleasant task. This is because there are many talented young comedians out there and even more amazing performers who actually created stand-up comedy and made it what it is today. A list of such kind is greatly influenced by personal preferences. Therefore, while offering you my own choice of the 10 greatest stand-up comedians of all times, I apologize for all the great performers I overlooked and do invite you to give me alternatives to this list!
1. Geroge Carlin (1937-2008)
George Carlin was an extraordinary human being and also the best stand-up comedian who ever lived, at least in my opinion! We all miss him and regret his death. His shows exploded with dark humor, sarcasm and sparkling intelligence. How could you not love a guy who is not afraid to laugh about such heavy subjects as politics, social taboos or religion? There are many things to be said about Carlin, but what really matters is that he could make hundreds of people burst out laughing with a single phrase.
2. Rodney Dangerfield (1921-2004)
Ranking second on this list is a true classic. Rodney Dangerfield became a stand-up comedian at the age of 19, in a time when few knew what stand-up comedy was (it became an acknowledged form of entertainment in the 70s only). Besides from stand-up shows, he is also renowned for having plaid in a large number of movies. Rodney Dangerfield was one of the best comedians the world has seen and he plaid an important role in the rise and development of many comics who were to come. For example, Dangerfield was the first to discover Jim Carrey’s talent, assigning Carrey to open his shows.
3. Bill Hicks (1961-1994)
When hearing Bill Hicks talking, it was like having your best friend in front of you. Such was the style of this great comedian. He enjoyed addressing to his audience in a personal way. His subjects were mostly existential, or of great importance: themes such as philosophy, politics or religion were all targeted by Hicks at one point or another. He liked to make people think and he was often referred to as a wise individual. Unfortunately, he did not have enough time to develop his art and share more of his thoughts with us since he died of cancer at the age of only 32.
4. Billy Connolly (1962- )
The representative of the British stand-up comedy on this list, Billy Connolly is one of a kind. This Scottish comedian scandalized his public with his choice of subjects, which included the greatest taboos of humankind, from sex to defecation and hemorrhoids. Moreover, his language and gestures could not be more specific and he even made fun of his own relatives (his father’s sickness for example). As a consequence to his boldness and to his undeniably smart humor, he is widely considered the best British stand-up comedian of all times.
5. Jerry Seinfeld (1954 –)
This is a name that is truly known all over the world.Jerry Seinfeld and his show made history. However, he is also an excellent stand-up comic, appreciated for his good-taste and for his simple, yet superior humor. Jerry Seinfeld can be watched by the entire family, since there is no vulgarity in his jokes. There is no wonder he chose to go back to comedy after the ending of the show, if we consider the great amounts of fans who were waiting for him to perform on the stage again!
6. Richard Pryor (1940-2005)
Considered a genius by some, Richard Pryor is an icon of the Stand-up comedy and a role model for many of today’s stand-up comedians. He performed on stage in a time when racism was still wide-spread. Hence, his shows are greatly oriented in this direction, severely criticizing discrimination which affected him as well. Despite the acid comments he often received from public during shows, Pryor always acted as a true professional, transforming malicious comments of any kind into jokes. A reputed drug addict, he had 7 marriages of which 6 ended in divorce because of his dependence.
7. Bill Cosby (1937 – )
Bill Cosby can be described in two words only, namely as a “living legend”. He performed as a stand-up comedian in the same period as the previously mentioned Richard Pryor. However, his style was completely different. He did not attack the race subject that was so popular in that period, but he tried to link both white and black people through the universality of his benign, yet wonderful jokes. He did not use any swearing, as he did not need it to make his audience laugh.
8. Russell Peters (1970 – )
Russell Peter is appreciated all over the world for his hilarious stories on such themes as race, class difference and culture. Most of these stories are based on his own life experiences, as a Canadian with Anglo-Indian roots. Peters is also loved by many for his imitation of different accents. One of the highest paid stand-up comedians in the world, Russell Peters often mocks at different ethnic groups. However, he has a unique, friendly and relaxed style which is stopping people from feeling offended by his racial jokes. It is maybe also the fact that he makes jokes on his own race as well.
9. Mitch Hedberg (1968-2005)
Mitch Hedberg was one of a kind. Suffering from severe stage fright, he would often perform with sunglasses and looking downwards, or constantly moving. As if this was not enough, he was also a drug addict, a dependence which actually caused him to die at an early age. Nevertheless, he was one of the most popular stand-up comedians ever. This is because of the uniqueness of his jokes, often as short as one or two lines, of his original stage presence and of the way he used to address the public.
10. Sam Kinison (1953-1999)
Sam Kinison used to be a Pentecostal preacher. This becomes obvious when you notice his passionate style, and the screaming that constantly keeps you alert. Despite his religious background, or rather, because of it, Kinison’s acts often ridiculed Biblical stories and Christianity itself. His harsh, powerful technique brought Kinison fame and his talent helped him keep that fame even after his tragic death.