As I mentioned yesterday, I recently finished reading Judd Apatow's book, Sick In The Head: Conversations About Life and Comedy. Many of the people Apatow has interviewed over the years were stand-up comedians, either earlier in their careers, currently, or both. When I was a kid, I wasn't quite as maniacally obsessed with comedy as Apatow was, but I thoroughly enjoyed watching stand-up comedy. There was a show on Saturday nights on Fox (I think) that featured several stand-up comics performing at The Laugh Factory in LA, and I would watch it religiously, even though I'm sure I didn't understand half the jokes. I actually wanted to be a stand-up comedian when I was a kid, but then grew into my shyness.
I'm limiting this list to what comedians did as stand-ups, as opposed to any success they've had on TV or in movies (and setting aside any alleged drugging and sexual assaulting). For instance, Seinfeld is one of my favorite TV shows ever, and I love Jerry Seinfeld, but I honestly haven't seen enough of his stand-up to put him in my top 10. Same with your Steve Martins, your George Carlins, and your Richard Pryors. I have nothing against them, and I think they are all hilarious, but they were before my time and, for one reason or another, I didn't see their stand-up shows as much as I may have seen others. So, the bottom line is that this list isn't intended to be a "best stand-up comics of all-time" list, but just a list of my ten favorite stand-up comics. With that in mind, calm your shit down, and enjoy my list (in alphabetical order, with a clip and/or full show from each comic, to boot):
1. Dave Chappelle
I've seen Dave Chappelle live more often than any other stand-up comic. But my biggest regret in life, as far as you know, is the time I didn't see him. You see, when I lived in Dayton, the IU Alumni Association's local chapter had reserved the local comedy club for itself on a Monday or Tuesday night to see a few Indiana-based comedians called The Hoosier Daddies. Jester and I didn't go. At some point that night, I got a call from my buddy Holt, who didn't say anything, and all I could hear was him laughing. I hung up. The next day, he tells me that, at the end of the last Hoosier Daddy's set, the guy says something like, "Well, we're the Hoosier Daddies, and if you have some more time tonight, we'd like to introduce an Ohio daddy." Chappelle walks onto the stage. Now, this is during his "lost weekend" phase, where he had stopped doing Chappelle's Show and kind of freaked out and went off the grid for a year or two. Apparently, he did like an hour and a half that night, in front of 10-15 people who had paid no more than $20.
2. Louis C.K.
I like Louis C.K.'s semi-autobiographical TV show Louie, but I'm a much bigger fan of his stand-up. He's not afraid to talk about really weird topics, and he has managed to tap into a great, slightly demented point of view as an adult and a parent.
3. Bill Cosby
If you are a parent, and you haven't seen Bill Cosby: Himself, you are doing yourself a disservice. Hell, even if you're not a parent, you'll probably think it's hilarious. In addition to adeptness at alliteration, I have a pretty prolific potty mouth, so I tend to gravitate towards comedians who are more on the "blue" side. I don't think there has ever been a comedian who never swore in his acts that I found so funny, and I probably unknowingly quote Himself on a daily basis when dealing with my own kids, especially the bit about repeating "come here." And I think you'd be kidding yourself if you thought I've never given my kids chocolate cake for breakfast.
4. David Cross
David Cross is a the perfect combination of smarts, sarcasm, atheism, liberalism, and facial hair. I saw him about two months ago here in Chicago, and he did not disappoint.
5. Jim Gaffigan
Gaffigan has kind of become the new Bill Cosby. Not so much with the sedatives and raping, but more with the working his (quite large) family masterfully into his comedy and not swearing too much in his act. He is hilarious, and it is a travesty that Hot Pockets hasn't yet tapped him as their spokesman.
6. Sam Kinison
I remember my friend Jeremy and I renting a Sam Kinison stand-up video when were were probably in fifth or sixth grade. Clearly, our parents didn't know who Kinison was. A former Pentecostal preacher, Kinison realized his true calling was yelling profanities into a mic instead of yelling about Jesus at church goers. He was loud, brash, and politically incorrect -- certainly an eye-opener for an 11- or 12-year-old. What's insane is that he died when he was 38, which is how old I am now. Until I just looked that up, I would have assumed that he was in his late 40s or early 50s. What I'm getting at is that he was not a healthy man.
7. Eddie Murphy
As a child of the '80s, Raw and Delirious were like the Holy Grail of stand-up comedy shows. They were the stuff of legend -- like someone's older brother might have a taped copy of one of them (because, Millennials, in the 1980s, you had to use VCRs to physically record something onto videotape if you wanted a copy of it), and you may have been able to watch it at a sleepover after your friend's parents went to bed. But God help you if you got caught, because it was all "fuck" and R-rated subject matter.
8. Chris Rock
There probably isn't a funnier person on the face of the Earth. Rock has such a smart, pointed, polished act. He makes what I assume is one of the most stressful things to do look effortless, and he kills it every time.
9. Sarah Silverman
I always thought she was the younger sister of Weekend At Bernie's co-star Jonathan Silverman, but it turns out she's not. But she's much funnier. Then again, I tend to go for the skinny, foul-mouthed ones.
10. Steven Wright
He is the king of deadpan, and the first comedian I remember watching with a deadpan delivery. It was a revelation. When you're young, everything funny is over-the-top and boisterous, and then here was this guy that was hilarious who never wavered from his monotone voice.
Honorable mention: Dave Attell; Lewis Black; Jim Carrey; Andrew Dice Clay; Mitch Hedberg; Jim Jefferies; Robin Williams