Twenty Funniest People Ever

“Funny is what makes you laugh.” That’s the best definition of comedy I’ve heard. A comedian’s job is the world’s simplest — not the easiest — but the simplest. It’s three words: Make. People. Laugh.

So, how to measure who’s made me laugh the most?

Saturday Night Live recently spoofed Dead Poets Society and hilariously resurrected J. Evans Pritchard.

I’m a Fan.

Here’s the real “clip.” R.I.P, Robin Williams.

Understanding Poetry, by Dr. J. Evans Pritchard, PhD.  
To fully understand poetry, we must first be fluent with its meter, rhyme, and figures of speech. Then ask two questions: 
1.  How artfully has the objective of the poem been rendered, and
2. How important is that objective. 
Question one rates the poem's perfection, question two rates its importance. 
And once these questions have been answered, determining a poem's greatest becomes a relatively simple matter.
If the poem's score for perfection is plotted along the horizontal of a graph, and its importance is plotted on the vertical, then calculating the total area of the poem yields the measure of its greatness.

I know, I know. Robin Williams’ character then has the boys crumple this up and throw it away. But what if one simplified it? The horizontal is the number of times somebody makes you laugh and the vertical is how hard.

Laugh Graph.

On the scale from one to ten, a 1 is a chuckle. A 10 is a side-splitting, reduced-to-tears belly laugh. Because I find Jerry Seinfeld’s standup not hilarious but consistently amusing, you could imagine his graph as just a flat line at the number five. The area under his curve would be significant not because he makes me laugh so hard but due to the sheer amount of content he has put out over the course of nearly 40 years.

The Sexual Chocolate scene from Coming to America is short but it made me laugh as hard as I ever have. I’ve seen it, quoted it, and remembered it time and time again. And yes, this is a controversial decision — to count something multiple times. But hey, a laugh is a laugh, whether experienced or recalled. In fact, one of the highest compliments a comedian can receive is when people tell you that a joke you told years ago was still making them laugh today. The gift that keeps on giving.

And again, this is my personal list. I’m not saying this is right or wrong. It’s just mine. (Feel free to list yours — I clearly love this topic and would love to read it.)

Make sense? Here goes.

20. Dave Chappelle

“DC’s Different.” — Chappelle on Washington

“Really? You can find 19 people funnier than Dave Chappelle?” I can just imagine that as a reaction. Recall, though, this isn’t a measure of how funny a person is but rather how much s/he has made me laugh. And in this way, Chappelle is like my all-time favorite tennis player, Andre Agassi: when he was on, nobody could touch him.

In recent standup folklore, Chris Rock and Kevin Hart were at the Comedy Cellar in New York. They were giving each other notes on their sets when Chappelle dropped in and did a spot. When Dave was finished, Rock and Hart apparently looked at each other and tore up their notes.

Chris Rock is consistent — if Agassi was all over the place, Pete Sampras was stable —in his day, he may not have been the most talented tennis player in the world but he was the most accomplished. Chappelle, when he turns it on, is the funniest standup in the world.

As the quote goes, “There’s a fine line between genius and madness.” Chappelle’s a savant, so a little bit of insanity goes with the territory. As such, he’s prone to falling off the face of the Earth because he gets bored with it. I was at the Hollywood Laugh Factory one night when he dropped in and spit 20 minutes of fire. He got up and said, ~“People wonder why I don’t do this all the time. This sh!t’s too easy.” He proceeded to absolutely destroy the room. He popped the mic back in the stand, said, “Tole ya,” and walked off. It was unreal.

(In real life, he’s a very kind human being. In 2005, I had the honor of opening his very first show upon his return from his African excursion. I got to spend two hours in the green room with him — just he and I. It was one of the great thrills of my life.)

Two Years Later @ Hollywood Laugh Factory (June 2007).

19. Michael Richards

Nice juxtaposition, huh?

Guess He Had Too Many Cosmos That Night.

In fact, Chappelle had this to say about Richards’ infamous meltdown:

Richards is on this list because Seinfeld is my favorite sitcom. I’ve seen every episode at least twice, most episodes at least five times, and my favorite episodes at least twenty times. Only about ten percent of my laughs came from Cosmo Kramer but that’s still a heck of a lot of laughter.

18. Woody Allen

“Marriage? That’s for life! It’s like cement!”

Woody Allen has largely played the same role his entire career, which is common for many comedic actors. His persona is probably the most defined in the entrails of comedy — the neurotic Jew.

Allen has had three careers — standup comic, actor, and director. Of course, he’s also a playwright and writer. He has an extensive body of work that I’ve only begun to consume. I’ve listened to only one of his comedy albums but I’ve seen ten of his films, which is enough to draw a conclusion — Bananas, Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters, Anything Else, Match Point, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Whatever Works, Midnight in Paris, and Blue Jasmine.

Annie Hall is #6 on my funniest movie list, a list which uses the same metric as this piece — how much laughter I got out of each film.

17. Paul Rudd

60% of The Time, He Works Every Time.

Rudd’s movie career is a bit like Vince Vaughn’s: play a role in a seminal ’90s film and then chill for half a decade before becoming a breakout star.

Rudd’s deadpan is among the best in comedy. This is probably why he doesn’t jump to mind for most people — in baseball terms, he doesn’t hit for power but, as Jonah Hill in Moneyball would admire, the dude gets on base. Clueless. Role Models. I Love You, Man. Knocked Up. Anchorman. Even when he sports a funny mustache, he essentially plays the same guy over and over — detached irony. And he does it amazingly well.

PR Campaign.

16. Bill Burr

All comedians are trying to make people laugh. Some are actually trying to say something. But the Venn Diagram overlap of the two is disappointingly small — the funny ones often aren’t leaving the audience with anything they can take with them; many of the ones who try to say something just aren’t all that funny. George Carlin and Bill Hicks narrowly missed this list because their points were SO good that I often was just listening to what they was saying.

What’s remarkable about standup comedy is that you have the opportunity to talk about anything you want — there’s no script, no team, no rules. And no man takes advantage of the format better than Bill Burr. Like Louis C.K., he’s a red-headed white guy from Boston. But perhaps even more so than you do with CK, you get the sense that Burr is swinging for the fences in every special, every appearance, every set. His Monday Morning Podcast and late-night appearances are also really on-point. Or “on fleek,” as the kids are saying.

I think the kids are still saying that.

What sets Burr apart from a John Oliver or a Bill Maher is that he doesn’t rely on any devices — no wacky analogies or graphics — he hardly even has jokes. It’s almost all simply his point-of-view. And as his acting has improved (the man was in Breaking Bad, for Pete’s sake), he so clearly paints the picture of what he’s describing. Though three of his specials overall are much better than You People Are All The Same, the last few minutes of that special may be his best rant:

No Relation to Aaron Burr.

15. Julia Louis-Dreyfus

“Get Out!”

Though I’ve enjoyed her appearances on SNL and on late-night talk shows, the two seasons I’ve seen of Veep, and even a few installments of The New Adventures of Old Christine, it’s her killer performance across all nine seasons of Seinfeld that places her in the all-time category. (Though don’t forget she makes us laugh every holiday season in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.) And I do mean “killer” and “all nine.” She was always the best comedic actor on the show. Despite the fact that Richards received three Emmys and Jason Alexander played the foil, Louis-Dreyfus’ chops are simply at another level.

The best case for this is that, let’s face it, Seinfeld really fell off after the seventh season. The eighth season was bad for the show and the ninth season was bad for television. However, while the writing got worse and the series moved from minutiae to wacky plot lines, Elaine Benes maintained her character. Contrast that with George Costanza, who ostensibly became a one-note caricature. And as nuts as she was, Elaine was always a three-dimensional human being, whereas Kramer was always the guy you brought in off the bench for a couple of plays.

The Seinfeld cast was often compared to other great Fab Fours like The Beatles or the Chicago Bulls. Well, if they were a band, Jerry was the lead singer, George was on lead guitar, Kramer was on drums, and Elaine played the bass — the under-appreciated backbone, the je ne sais quoi of the show.

Half of What I Say Is Meaningless, But I Say It Just to Reach You, Julia.

14. Tom Hanks

Moon Shot.

“I forgot how big…” — Joe Banks, Joe vs. The Volcano

I was a bit surprised myself that Tom Hanks made the list. But just like his title character, Joe, says when he sees the moon over the Pacific Ocean, I did forget just how big the actor is. (Or Big.)

Even when Punchline didn’t make a whole of sense as it tried to depict the world of standup, he’d manage to get off a line that every comic understands. When Sally Field’s character tries to do a bit about babysitters and serial killers, Hanks’ says, “Charlie Manson funny. David Berkowitz not funny.”

Just think of the comedy hits alone this guy has had — and these are only the ones I’ve seen and remember. Splash. The Money Pit. Big. Joe Vs. The Volcano. A League of Their Own. Sleepless in Seattle. Forrest Gump. You’ve Got Mail.

In many interviews, when stars are asked who’s the most purely talented person they know, the answer often comes back: Tom Hanks.

I Know He Can Get The Job, But Can He DO The Job?

13. Leslie Nielsen

“Doctors say that Nordberg has a 50/50 chance of living, though there’s only a 10 percent chance of that.” (The Naked Gun: From The Files of Police Squad!, 1988)

Comedy sequels are rarely funny. The reason is that dramas are about the ending. Comedies are about the beginning, meaning they take a schtick and just keep at it; a plot is oftentimes incidental. And after about an hour, it wears thin. This is why a precious few comedies are truly funny all the way to the end — really, how often are you quoting a line from the last twenty minutes of the movie?

So, a sequel? It has such a small chance of succeeding — the jig is up; we get the joke. The only times they have worked are National Lampoon’s Vacation series. (Oh, and Hot Shots! Part Deux. I’m not kidding — go back and watch it.) And… with Leslie Nielsen.

Perhaps it’s because the stakes are so high in Leslie Nielsen’s films that the joke holds up — will the airplane in Airplane! land? Will they catch the bad gun in The Naked Gun movies? And even if I only count the first installments, the original Airplane! and the original The Naked Gun, Dr. Rumack and Lt. Frank Drebin have surely given me enough laughs for a lifetime.

“And don’t call me ‘Shirley.’”

O.J. Kills.

12. Bill Maher

I’ve been watching Maher since his Politically Incorrect days in the 1990s. There are two things that bother me about him — his atheism and his arrogance. It’s fine that he doesn’t believe in God but he really shoves it down our throats a bit too much. There’s also a strand of smugness that runs through a lot of his work.

Though these two themes can be distracting, I must say that I find myself agreeing with probably 90% of what Maher says. After watching him for so long, I feel like I know the guy. Through Religulous, his print and his Larry King Live interviews, he not only makes a lot of sense but also he does it in a funny way.

Hope The Lo-Res Doesn’t… Maher This Image.

I like John Oliver but he’s still new to me. Maher pioneered politics-as-late-night-entertainment and has dropped volumes of his work; it’s been fun to watch the man over the decades. I also find Jon Stewart hilarious, but it’s hard for me to watch any kind of daily show. I just don’t think there’s enough material to make any show that funny that many times in a week. By the time Friday rolls around, Maher and his staff have truly assembled a solid one hour of content, much of it actually LOL-funny. Maher is a master social commentator and, of all services that comedians provide, that is perhaps the most important one.

Bill of Righteousness.

11. Louis C.K.

Dave Matthews and Kanye West. There was a point in time when both of these men — separately, of course — were on the verge of greatness. After Dave Matthews Band released Under The Table and Dreaming (1994), Crash (1996), and Before These Crowded Streets (1998), they were on their way to going down as one of history’s best modern rock groups. Then DMB came out with Everyday (2001), and instead of becoming U2, they became Matchbox Twenty.

Kanye West was responsible for a disproportionate amount of musical innovation over the course of nearly a decade. With College Dropout (2004), Late Registration (2005), Graduation (2007), 808s & Heartbreaks (2008), My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010), and Watch The Throne (2011), the man was unstoppable. Then he married Kim Kardashian, dropped Yeezus (2013), and became a joke.

I’ve often wondered why comedians don’t get better with age. We peak at a certain point. On first glance, this doesn’t stand to reason. Standup comedy isn’t a physical pursuit — it’s not like we need a wicked jump shot and our knees just can’t handle it anymore.

Then a friend ventured a guess. She said, “Maybe it’s that comedians have some bitterness in them. A certain level is funny. But left unchecked, the bitterness consumes them and turns to anger. Bitterness is funny. Anger isn’t.” Wow. #nailedit

Eye See You.

Could this happen to Louis C.K.? I hope not. Some would argue that, with my example above, Kanye dropped so much heat that he’s already on Mt. Rapmore. But I don’t think so — I still say that’s Tupac, Biggie, Jay, and Em.

And given Live in Houston, One Night Stand, Shameless, Chewed Up, Hilarious, Word: Live at Carnegie Hall, Live at The Beacon Theater, Oh My God, Live at The Comedy Store, and Live at Madison Square Garden, not to mention Louie and all of his other work, from film to TV, C.K. may already be one of the greats. The standup equivalent of Mt. Rushmore is probably Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, and Jerry Seinfeld, but if C.K. drops a bit more gold, we may have to carve him into stone.

Of Course We Will.

10. J.D. Salinger

I know, I know. This one’s a curveball. And I’ve only consumed one entry in this man’s rather expansive catalogue. You’re supposed to outgrow The Catcher in The Rye, and though I feel I have indeed matured a lot since I first read it at the age of sixteen — the sweet spot target for the novel — this book speaks to me in ways that no other work ever has.

The Black-and-White Recluse.

I have read it over 30 times. Whenever I come back to it, it’s like I’m hanging out with an old friend.

It is the funniest thing I have ever experienced. My favorite comedy movie of all time is National Lampoon’s Vacation. And I’d say this book is probably 50% funnier. Most of my friends find that astounding — and puzzling. In fact, most people think this book is actually rather depressing and tragic. It is, but it illustrates the tightly woven nature of tragedy and comedy perhaps better than anything else in modern history.

Woody Allen mixed comedy and tragedy in Annie Hall — the film is not a comedy in the Shakespearean sense of having a happy ending. Christopher Guest did this with Waiting for Guffman — and every one of his movies since. Ricky Gervais popularized it again with The Office (UK), then with Extras, then with Life’s Too Short, and now with Derek — each more serious (and if I’m being honest, less funny) than the last.

But nothing in the 20th or 21st centuries matches the juxtaposition of despair and hilarity the way The Catcher in The Rye does. One of my podcast questions is, “Who in pop culture or literature most closely resembles you?” I want to know with which character you most closely identify. For me, it’s far and away Holden Caulfield.

After the Christmas thing was over, the goddam picture started. It was so putrid I couldn’t take my eyes off it. It was about this English guy, Alec something, that was in the war and loses his memory in the hospital and all. He comes out of the hospital carrying a cane and limping all over the place, all over London, not knowing who the hell he is. He’s really a duke, but he doesn’t know it. Then he meets this nice, homey, sincere girl getting on a bus. Her goddam hat blows off and he catches it, and then they go upstairs and sit down and start talking about Charles Dickens. He’s both their favorite author and all. He’s carrying this copy of Oliver Twist and so’s she. I could’ve puked. Anyway, they fall in love right away, on account of they’re both so nuts about Charles Dickens and all, and he helps her run her publishing business. She’s a publisher, the girl. Only, she’s not doing so hot, because her brother’s a drunkard and he spends all their dough. He’s a very bitter guy, the brother, because he was a doctor in the war and now he can’t operate any more because his nerves are shot, so he boozes all the time, but he’s pretty witty and all. Anyway, old Alec writes a book, and this girl publishes it, and they both make a hatful of dough on it. They’re all set to get married when this other girl, old Marcia, shows up. Marcia was Alec’s fiancée before he lost his memory, and she recognizes him when he’s in this store autographic books. She tells old Alec he’s really a duke and all, but he doesn’t believe her and doesn’t want to go with her to visit his mother and all. His mother’s blind as a bat. But the other girl, the homey one, makes him go. She’s very noble and all. So he goes. But he still doesn’t get his memory back, even when his great Dane jumps all over him and his mother sticks her fingers all over his face and brings him this teddy bear he used to slobber around with when he was a kid. But then, one day, some kids are playing cricket on the lawn and he gets smacked in the head with a cricket ball. Then right away he gets his goddam memory back and he goes in and kisses his mother on the forehead and all. Then he starts being a regular duke again, and he forgets all about he homey babe that has the publishing business. I’d tell you the rest of the story, but I might puke if I did. It isn’t that I’d spoil it for you or anything. There isn’t anything to spoil, for Chrissake. Anyway, it ends up with Alec and the homey babe getting married, and the brother that’s a drunkard gets his nerves back and operates on Alec’s mother so she can see again, and then the drunken brother and old Marcia go for each other. It ends up with everybody at this long dinner table laughing their asses off because the great Dane comes in with a bunch of puppies. Everybody thought it was a male, I suppose, or some goddam thing. All I can say is, don’t see if it you don’t want to puke all over yourself.

Hence the reason J.D. Salinger makes it into the top ten. And all.

9. Jason Alexander

Of all the characters on my all-time favorite sitcom, George Costanza made me laugh the hardest and the most. Hardly anything he has done before or since has had that effect on me — in fact, though I love his role as himself on Curb Your Enthusiasm, he doesn’t really make me laugh aloud.

The writers destroyed his character starting around Season Seven. Eight saw him start to really lose it. And by Nine, he was almost unrecognizable. “George is getting upset!” But that’s the thing — early on, Costanza would get irritated, which was hilarious. By the end, he was just blowing a gasket and that subtlety was lost.

“You’re ‘not in the mood’? You GET IN THE MOOD.”

Still, though, in his prime, which is basically six of the nine seasons of the show, he was on fire. He was also the first character to really get established — from the very beginning of the series, you totally got where he was coming from. In Greatest All-Time Sitcom Characters, though Lucy and Archie Bunker may be stiff competition, George Costanza is definitely in that conversation. (And actually — I wrote that before I even looked at this list. Those are indeed the top three.)

“My name is George. I’m unemployed and I live with my parents.”

8. Chris Rock

When it comes to standup, he’s the best to ever do it. Dave Chappelle, Eddie Murphy, and Richard Pryor may have more talent, but nobody has perfected his craft more than Chris Rock.

The Ohio State University (February 2004).

George Carlin and Bill Hicks were incredible. It’s tough to argue against Carlin’s body of work over the course of half a century. And poor Hicks died far too early. But to me, these guys were more philosophers/preachers than they were laugh-getters.

To me, Rock strikes the perfect balance. He also came along at the right time. I’ve watched Pryor’s sets. I totally get why he’s the undisputed greatest standup comic of all time — and I agree. But again, this list isn’t about “the right answer.” It’s about who’s the funniest to me. (As Jerry Seinfeld said, “Comedy is more personal than food.”)

And to me, Pryor is like Elvis — he’s just a bit early for me, since I came of age in the 1980s and ’90s. I appreciate Elvis but I enjoy the Beatles.

Rock has killed it in multiple media — his talk show won an Emmy. His characters and sketches on SNL had me in stitches. His Oscars hosting — both times — had me rolling.

To be fair, I haven’t watched Everybody Hates Chris. And it’s comical to observe how his films consistently miss. (No, I didn’t think Top Five was very good at all.) Film is the one medium he just can’t hit. It’s like Ivan Lendl’s inability to win Wimbledon or Pete Sampras’ failure to capture the French Open. Film is the thorn in his side. He likely won’t ever make a great one.

But he’s the best social commentator of our generation. His standup specials are legendary. And his most famous bit is the definitive standup piece of our generation. It’s our Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television. (Interestingly, Louis C.K. helped him with it.)

There are higher-ranking comedians on my list. But as you’ll see, it’s their other work that makes me laugh — not just purely their standup. Ironically, though I’m a comic, the medium only gets so funny. You could take the funniest comedy special of all time and it wouldn’t be as funny to me as the funniest TV show or movie. I need a narrative, a situation.

Perhaps it’s also because I’ve mostly watched standup by myself. I’ve watched movies and TV shows with friends. No doubt you laugh harder with your friends.

“Can Ya Kick MY Ass?”

7. Vince Vaughn

The Sarcasm of Vince Vaughn should be a published white-paper. The number of home runs the dude has hit on-screen is unbelievable.

“She Was Smiling at How Money I Was — What I Did with Her.” — Swingers (1996)

He stormed onto the scene with Swingers. With Wedding Crashers and Old School, he more than held his own with his peers. With The Break-Up and Dodgeball, he showed he can carry a movie. Even with something like Into The Wild, his bit part as the guy in the bar was a breath of fresh air in an otherwise serious (and very good) film. To be fair, he wasn’t great in True Detective but I don’t think Jack Nicholson could’ve saved that from ruin.

“You’re Getting Focused on All The Wrong Sort of Details.”

6. Eddie Murphy

He dropped the greatest comedy special in history. Depending upon whom you ask, that’s either Raw or Delirious. (I vote for Raw.) But either way, he did it.

Raw-Jiv. The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf — Studio City, CA (November 2015).

His remake of The Nutty Professor was hilarious. Trading Places and Beverly Hills Cop are legendary. The dude is the Michael Jordan of comedy. Imagine being the guy credited for keeping Saturday Night Live on the air. As such, we’re seeing the 25+ seasons of that iconic program because of Eddie.

Coming to America is my fourth all-time favorite comedy. And Sexual Chocolate is the funniest scene in any movie.

#micdrop

“Good and Terrible.”

5. Christopher Guest

Christopher Guest’s humor is you-either-get-it-or-you-don’t. It’s kinda like Wes Anderson’s (which I don’t). There’s nothing to explain — it’s just the absurdity of the situation, the provinciality of the characters, the awkwardness of their interactions, the tragedy of the whole thing.

You Use Them as a Punchline.

We got our first wide exposure to him as Nigel in This Is Spinal Tap. He then found his ensemble casts and assembled them for Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, and For Your Consideration. The best known of these is Best in Show but my personal favorite (and my third favorite comedy ever) is Waiting for Guffman. Though they get progressively worse, For Your Consideration (with Ricky Gervais) still has many funny parts. A lot of that has to do with the fact that these are cult classics in a way — you get bought into Guest’s style of humor and can’t get enough of it.

This Is My LIFE We’re Talking About Here.

4. Ricky Gervais

Ricky Gervais: Out of England 2, to me, was a dud. And his movies are OK — Ghost Town and The Invention of Lying had potential to be much better than they were but, like Chris Rock, he just doesn’t seem to be able to crack film as a medium.

If You Don’t Know Him by Now, You’ll Never, Never, Never Know Him.

Now that that’s out of the way, I can tell you why the British comedian is so high up on my list. Pound-for-pound (no pun intended), The Office (UK) is the best TV comedy series ever made. It’s the predecessor to its across-the-pond hit, The Office (US), which Gervais co-produced. There are only two seasons of six episodes plus a two-part Christmas Special. And nearly every single one of its 455 minutes is gold — and a lot of it is platinum.

Gervais followed it up with Extras on HBO, perhaps the best commentary ever done on the entertainment industry. It has the same structure — two seasons of six episodes plus a two-part Christmas Special.

Gervais hosted Talking Funny on HBO, in which he sat down with standup greats Louis C.K., Chris Rock, and Jerry Seinfeld, and interviewed them for an hour. Gervais’ performance was criticized for his not understanding some of his peers’ points but, in my opinion, he was actually operating at a higher level than they were with his approach to what comedy is.

His four-time hosting of the Golden Globes was hilarious. And his first standup special, Ricky Gervais: Out of England, was gold. Here’s an old bit of his on Genesis. His ability to pull material that was hanging right there for any comedian to do is astounding.

“I think the snake was a mistake.”

3. Jerry Seinfeld

It’s unreal that Jerry Seinfeld has dropped all of one comedy special. But it’s gold the whole way through.

A Show About Nothing.

It’s no surprise that Seinfeld has been doing Transcendental Meditation for 40 years. It shines through in how insightful his answers are to most any question asked. (Check out his performance on HBO’s Talking Funny.)

When Seinfeld does something, he does it top-shelf. To wit, his documentary, Comedian, which asks, “Where does comedy come from?” is the definitive take on how we develop material.

He reengineered the modern talk show with Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. He’s not the world’s best interviewer but it’s been fascinating to see his outings with the legends of the field.

Like so many comics before him, he can’t conquer a narrative film, either. Exhibit A: Bee Movie. But when he needs to act in a different medium like sketch comedy, he bends it to suit his strengths: on Saturday Night Live, he starred in “Standup and Win,” one of the best skits ever to appear on the show.

And of course, he co-created his eponymous show, Seinfeld, which is widely regarded as the greatest sitcom in history.

I Have My Reservations.

There may not be another entertainer in history with so few misses and so many hits.

Well, maybe he’s tied with Tom Hanks.

2. Chevy Chase

He’s Like a Young Jeremy Piven.

It was very close between #3 and #2 for me. Chevy Chase is purely an actor. His attempt at a talk show was universally panned and canceled in weeks. He’s not much of a writer — he has nothing noteworthy in his credits. Even when he was hosting Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live, he was essentially playing the same character he’d play in nearly all of his movies. (And that was enough for him to be the best Weekend Update ever on that show.)

Chase’s career famously fell off a cliff once the 1990s hit. Other than his role on Community on NBC, from which he was fired, he remains largely a ’70s and ’80s phenomenon.

And that’s enough. His catalogue of films — many that he singlehandedly carried — is something no comedic film actor in history can even approach.

National Lampoon’s Vacation is my all-time favorite comedy. Every single scene, including every single minor character, is funny. There are hardly any funny comedy sequels and this series contains two more — European Vacation is horribly underrated. And Christmas Vacation is legendary.

“The Moose Says You’re Closed. I Say You’re Open.”

Fletch is regularly in almost every guy’s top ten comedy movies. Chase is in every scene of that movie and turns every interaction into a classic.

In Caddyshack, he acts alongside greats Bill Murray, Rodney Dangerfield, and Ted Knight and somehow his character still holds up in an ensemble.

And he crushes his role alongside Goldie Hawn in 1978’s Foul Play.

I mean, if we only list his ’80s films:

  • Caddyshack (1980)
  • National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)
  • Fletch (1985)
  • National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1985)
  • Spies Like Us (1985)
  • ¡Three Amigos! (1986)
  • Funny Farm (1988)
  • National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

No actor in comedic film history has ever gone on that kind of run and probably ever will again.

1. Larry David

Larry David is by far my #1 pick. It’s actually not even close.

“Pretty, Pretty, Pretty, Pretty Good.”

He co-created Seinfeld, my all-time favorite sitcom. David/Seinfeld is the comedic equivalent of Lennon/McCartney. One of TV’s greatest characters, George Costanza, is based on David himself.

David created and starred in Curb Your Enthusiasm, illustrating a character that is so close to how I am in real life — but somehow ten times funnier. Incredibly, all eight seasons are great — and he’s returning for a ninth.

He also could’ve made himself a tangential character — the neighbor, the best friend. He not only made himself the lead but also he’s in every single scene — the entire show is told from his POV. That’s insane.

The Pilot Episode.

His standup is totally offbeat and hilarious — I was fortunate to catch him do 25 minutes at the Laugh Factory. And now with his Bernie Sanders impressions on SNL, he’s a household name.

Say what you want about Woody Allen or Mel Brooks — Larry David is the greatest comedic writer in history and it’s absolutely no contest whatsoever.

His sitcoms alone:

6 seasons of Seinfeld x 22 episodes/season x 22 min/episode +

8 seasons of Curb x 10 episodes/season x 30 min/episode =

88.4 hours of comedy.

I’ll take it a step further — the delta between his comedic writing ability and his peers’ is far greater than any delta between any person’s vs. his/her peers’ in anything, ever.

Well, maybe he’s tied with William Shakespeare.

Rajiv Satyal is a comedian/host. He resides in Los Angeles, where a majority of these people do, too.