As the Jim Carrey produced I’m Dying Up Here treads the boards on Aussie streaming service Stan, doing for the 70s LA comedy circuit what Boogie Nights did for porn, David Michael Brown names our Top 10 stand-up comedians, the funny people who stand out from the crowd.
Renowned for his insane improvisational skills and astonishing on-stage energy, Robin Williams found himself at the forefront of a comedy renaissance in the early Seventies. A complete wildcard on stage, you never knew what you were going to get. With synapses firing at every angle; the Robin Williams experience was a rapid-fire cavalcade of impersonations, dialects and crazy stories. His prowess for the quick retort showed no bounds.
Audiences who only know Eddie Murphy from family friendly fare like Daddy Day Care and Dr. Doolittle, close your ears. In the early Eighties, at the tender age of twenty-two, Murphy’s stand-up was filling arenas across the States with foul-mouthed diatribes against… well, everyone. Nobody was safe from an expletive ridden roasting. Taking inspiration from Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby in particular, Murphy’s tales of family life, the ice cream man and aunties falling down the stairs were comedy gold. Mum, the ice cream man is coming!
The cross-dressing British comedian is renowned for his scatological never-ending tangents, often taking up an entire show. Izzard is a master story teller, not for him snappy one liners and easy laughs. From the Death Star canteen to being raised by wolves after escaping the Nazis; Izzard’s genius is how all the story strands of his seemingly miss-firing brain, all tie up as a glorious whole. His rambling delivery ensures that every titter filled diversion looks unplanned. Even if it isn’t.
The comedian who turned a sitcom about absolutely nothing into a cultural phenomenon, Jerry Seinfeld’s stand-up routines replicated his sitcom’s obsession with the annoying and infuriating minutiae of everyday life. The TV show’s huge success ensured that the funny man never had to worry about filling venues. Even if his act was about nothing. If you need proof watch him moan about mobiles on the “giant garbage can.”
Acerbic, opinionated and razor sharp; Sarah Silverman tackles controversial subjects like racism, sexism, and religion head on with sarcastic wit. Happily juggling life on the circuit with a television and film career Silverman, who penned the Emmy winning song “I’m Fucking Matt Damon” and its vengeful retort, “I’m Fucking Ben Affleck” on Jimmy Kimmel Live, was fired from SNL but had the last laugh when she parodied the whole experience on The Larry Sanders Show.
The original “wild and crazy guy” made “air quotes” popular and rocked out with the banjo before the duelling instruments of Deliverance made the instrument hip. Martin hit big on the silver screen in comedy classics like The Jerk and The Man With Two Brains. Whether juggling cats or dishing out quote worthy catchphrases, “Excuse me!” Martin’s zany shtick created a persona he would live with well into the Eighties until, like many comics of his generation, the pull of becoming a serious actor and a family favourite was too much.
Stand-up comedian, social critic, satirist, musician and chain smoker; Bill Hicks pushed boundaries and authorities’ buttons, taking aim at a high-brow hit list of social issues including religion, politics, and philosophy along with an unhealthy dose of conspiracy theories. Acerbic and scathing; Hicks rapier wit took no prisoners, whether discussing a new TV show where he hunts down Billy Ray Cyrus, “We chase that jar head, no talent, idiot, cracker all around the globe!” the Ronald Reagan administration, “shot, wounded, cancer eight times, that fucker still walks!” and the joys of smoking, “I go through two lighters a day.”
Before her Emmy nominated TV sketch show Inside Amy Schumer and the box-office smash Trainwreck, Amy Schumer built up a reputation as a stand-up artist after reaching the finals of Last Comic Standing. Much like Seinfeld and Louis C.K., Schumer has integrated her stand-up act into her television series to great effect. Fearless in subject matter and constantly self-deprecating, Schumer delights in discussing sex, body image and her lower back tattoo.
Australia’s own comedy genius. Master of the double entendre Barry Humphries, or more importantly his on-stage personas of Dame Edna Everage and Sir Les Paterson. Behind the Dame’s more obvious gags about her long-suffering husband Norm’s prostate problems and her gaudy costumes, there is a delightful disdain for her “suburban” audience that seeps through every contemptuous gag. She is above them all. Something drunken sleazebag Paterson wishes he was. A dribbling foul-mouthed nightmare, Paterson is the antithesis of Everage’s well-maintained frontage. A national treasure. Even if he is always a little bit stiff. Cough.
After decades trawling around the comedy dive circuit, and famously failing a Saturday Night Live audition, Louis C.K. finally hit the big league. His unique brand of venomous self-deprecating humour ensured that performances on the American Late Night shows finally turned heads and got bums well and truly on seats. Nothing was sacred. His marriage. His subsequent divorce. His children (he called his four-year-old an asshole). His biting and often brutally honest routines, many of which appeared in his smash TV show Louie, are reason enough that Louie C.K. is being heralded as the funniest man in America.
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