I was asked recently if I would post who I thought were the top comedians of all time. At first I thought, “No problem!” Then as I began to put together my list I realized that it was an impossible task. There are so many great comedians. They are great for so many different reasons. I would just make the list anyway and post it, but it’s by no means an accurate list. I’ll also add an honorable mention. I have to because when I first scribbled my list, I lost it. Then I made a new list. I found the old list and they were different so this is by no means an official list. I would love to hear your thoughts, as comedy is an art and art is subjective. Everyone has different tastes. Feel free to contribute.
1. George Carlin
George was my Mentor. I grew up listening to George. I studied him and actually got to share a limo with him to the airport while in New York. He was both a socio-political comedian and an observational/word-play comedian. His “Seven Words You Can’t Say On Television” is classic. He, in my view, was the best, but then again, he gave me the best advice. He said, “Take the shit that drives you absolutely crazy and make it funny!
Bill Cosby is, of course, on the list. Here’s another comedian I grew up listening to. Bill wasn’t just a stand up. He was also a sit-down. He was a story teller. His inflections and stories about family and human behavior were so familiar we laughed because we had experienced the “same thing.” in our homes. One of my favorites is “Kids Are Brain Damaged!”
3. Richard Pryor Richard Pryor was a favorite and yes, another one of the comedians I grew up listening too. My parents used to play his albums, alongside Carlin and Cosby. The language was never a big deal. My parents used to say, “If you have any questions about the words, just ask.” You could imagine the dinner table discussions that inspired. In general, human behavior sense, there are two types of performers: Givers and Takers. Pryor was a giver. He shared his pain, admitted his faults and pleaded with the audience to like him. And we did!
4. Lenny Bruce – What else could you say about Lenny Bruce. He took the bullet for all comedians. Some say he paved the way for just the comedians who use profanity in their routines. But Lenny was grander than that. He paved the way to allow “free speech” in entertainment. Even though his life was short (he lived to 41), his effort and love for the art form and to be able to speak freely in this country, allowed all who followed to do the same.
5. Bob Hope – People forget that when Bob Hope was 75, he was still at the top of his game. He continued to shoot television specials and tour the world. Hell, he ran NBC. When he wanted to do a special, he would call the head of N.B.C. and say, “Fred, we want this Sunday.” The head of N.B.C. would say, “Okay, Bob.” And reprogram the network’s entire Sunday evening lineup to accommodate Bob Hope. He was loved all over the world and gave millions to charities. He never did a re-run, EVER! He always wanted his material to be fresh. The only thing that would leave him off this list is that he didn’t write all his own material. He had a well-paid writing staff that was available 24/7.
6. Jerry Seinfeld – Some people would say, “What’s the deal with putting Jerry Seinfeld on the top 10 list?” That’s pure and simple, Jerry Seinfeld took observational material to a whole new level. So much so that he spawned a T.V. show that was nearly canceled in its first airing. It was entitled “The Seinfeld Chronicles.” The show was brought back as “Seinfeld.” It had a very successful run of 9 seasons. Jerry, decided to end the run, not the network. Then despite being set for 6 lifetimes, Jerry went back to doing stand up. Now that’s a comedian. Jerry is worth over 2 billion dollars. So when you ask why Jerry? I got 2 billion reasons. Here’s a clip of Jerry’s first appearance on H.B.O. He was doing the Smothers Brothers special.
7. Paula Poundstone – I had to get a female in here. I know there are a lot of funny gals out there, but Paula is one of my favorites. Who else can make fun of her suicide attempt and make it funny. She’s quirky and likeable. I always enjoy watching me some Paula Poundstone. I could have put in work-a-holics like Joan Rivers or Phyllis Diller, but, to me, they seemed more like volume contributors rather than substance contributors. Plus, Paula wrote all her own material. Paula is also one who is a “giver” in the Richard Pryor sense. She shares her pain and struggles. The best part of that is that she does it in a way that makes me laugh!
8. Bill Hicks One of the most honest comedians on the face of the planet. His honesty got him notoriety but also got him in trouble. He had limited options because of his honesty and I think that’s why he’s one of my favorites. He took on everything and basically to the “nth” degree took George Carlin’s saying, “Take the shit that drives you crazy and make it funny.” He is one of a kind in my book.
9. Steve Martin – Like Lenny Bruce, Steve Martin changed the face of comedy. But he went the other way. His zany antics and use of props took comedy to an entirely different place. He was unique and basically dressed the part. If comedy is incongruity then his white suit, coupled with ‘happy feet’ and the arrow through the head, at the time was legendary. I don’t know how it would play now. But Steve Martin left an impression on the art form.
10. Eddie Murphy – Okay, okay… I know many of you are wondering, “Where’s so-and-so? How can you put together this list and not mention Brian Regan, Milton Berle, Henny Youngman, Jack Benny, Sam Kinnison, George Burns, Mitch Headburg, Ellen DeGenerous, Alan King and so many more? The only thing I can say is the list was not long enough and I put together a list that impacted my life. So Eddie Murphy makes the cut. His Delirious album was one of the funniest I’ve ever listened to, although I preferred Richard Pryor. Eddie sly persona was revealed through that goofy classic Eddie laugh that he carried into films…you know the good ones: Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop, etc. Here’s one of my favorites: “Ice Cream”
So that’s it! Please feel free to add your own. Comedy is an amazing art form and I applaud all comedians who work hard in this business. I’m in awe of the struggle they go through to make it and the commitment it takes. To all the comedians out there: YOU ROCK!
I had the most amazing lunch the other day. I was contacted by Bob Mills, one of the legendary writers for Bob Hope. He started in the business at the age of 39. He was a lawyer in San Francisco before that. He contacted me via my website and liked what he saw, so I asked him to lunch. I scheduled 90 minutes into my calendar for the lunch. I had a dentist appointment after that. We met at the Daily Grill in Studio City, one of those places you walk into and usually have some celebrity sightings.
Bob was already waiting for me as I am notoriously late. From the moment we shook hands I knew I was talking to someone special. We barely ordered iced-tea and we were already neck deep in talking about comedy. This was subject that we both clearly had an absolute passion for. Since I’m the one who usually does the talking about comedy I had to remember to shut the hell up and let him speak, for he had experiences that I’ve always dreamed about.
Bob was a member of one of the most famous writing teams comedy will ever know. Bob Hope’s guys–or I should say guys and one gal–were extremely loyal and they were well-paid. Bob could call them at any time of the day or night and ask for material and boy did Hope use material. He never did reruns with his specials of which he did close to 100 and he always needed fresh material for his live performances.
The stories Bob told me were fascinating. To have an insight on one of the most legendary comedians the world has ever known was priceless. Needless to say the lunch lasted 3 hours. So much for the dentist.
Bob wrote a fascinating book about his experiences with Hope, the specials, the tours and the stars they worked with. It’s called “The Laugh Makers.” I read it and I couldn’t put it down. I recommend this book to anyone interested in writing or performing…or anyone who loved Bob Hope.
I’ve included a widget for anyone who might be interested in buying Bob’s book. If you’re a comedian or a writer or remotely interested, get the damn book.
That’s right! April is National Humor Month and it’s about time too, because I was just recovering from March, which is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Who doesn’t need a laugh after having your prostate checked–daily, mind you! It was my choice. I happen to have a very hot female internist as my regular doctor, so really, who’s the victim?
So how do we celebrate National Humor Month? I’m going to celebrate by making sure to have a laugh every day. In addition, I’m going to write 10 new jokes a day. Yeah, that’s it!. And I’m going to present that challenge to everyone, professional and amateur comedians alike. Challenge yourself to write 10 per day. Here’s the catch. It’s humor, not stress, so if you only come up with one, that’s fine! Here are the rules: No topic is off limits and you have to have fun doing it. Once it stops being fun and you find yourself stressing, go to YouTube, look up your favorite comedian and spend the next 10 minutes laughing and forget about it. Nobody can be a failure during National Humor Month…well, except Kirstie Alley. I have a feeling she’s going to wind up being the butt of many of the jokes–speaking of butt, have you seen the way Kirstie is moving her butt on Dancing With The Stars? Last Monday night’s episode she shook it so hard it wound up in the first 10 minutes of “House.”
I encourage everyone reading–which should be about 3 of you–to try to write some jokes. Read my blog called JOKES 1-2-3 (You can find it by looking in the search window), to give you some ideas on how to come up with ideas and get started, because everyone should laugh. Then add the joke to the comment box.
Did you know the number one quality men and women look for in a partner is a “sense of humor?” So not only is laughter the best medicine, it could also get you laid! Can I count that as my first joke?
Jerry Corley is the founder of the Stand Up Comedy Clinic, a 8-week comedy course taught at his studio in Burbank, CA.
One of the most common concerns I hear from humor writers and comedians is that they have days and sometimes weeks where they “can’t think of anything funny.” I thought to myself that I’m never without something to write or make jokes about. There’s always something there, it seems. So I thought about how my mind comes up with stuff.
I broke it down into steps and I’m going to give you that process right now. I’m calling it “1-2-3 JOKES.”
Start with stuff that is close to you. Look around you, think about your surroundings, situations, behaviors and ask yourself 3 questions:
1. What is new?
2. What has changed?
3. What have I acquired?
What’s new? Every day is a new day. With all the holidays and special occasion days we celebrate in this country and worldwide, almost everyday of every week gives us something to joke about. Did you know March 1st is National Pancake Day? Of course, it is immediately followed by National Maple Syrup Day.
As you ask yourself these questions, don’t leave anything out! Write it all down! Just looking in the mailbox, I’m sure everyone has acquired a cell phone bill, heating bill, water bill, cable bill, etc. You have a new pair of sneakers, let’s talk about them!
Too many comedians and humor writers stop too soon. They think, “there’s nothing funny there. They don’t take the time to write out everything about their sneakers and use their imagination to develop material. Every comedian and humor writer should be able to take any logical grouping of words and make it funny. But it takes dedication and work.
Okay, let’s get back to 1-2-3 JOKES.
Let’s look at a situation that happened to me recently. I asked “What have I acquired?” I just got a new video poker app for my Smartphone.
So now we have a premise: Video Poker App. How do we even start writing a joke for it?
Most jokes are a convergence of two or more clearly defined ideas. So let’s go to work.
Let’s utilize the oldest tool known to writers and investigators. It’s the Maxim of the 5 W’s. Let’s ask:
Who? What? Why? Where? When? How?
Okay so it’s 5 W’s and an “H.” No investigation is considered complete unless all of those questions have been answered. So if we go back to the Video Poker App premise and ask those questions we might come up with something like:
Who plays the video poker app? Me What is it? Video Poker or What happens when I play? I can upset my wife sometimes. Where do I play? I play at the airport, in line at the bank, on a plane, in the bathroom… Why do I play? To have some mental downtime, to get away from work. To have something to occupy me while I’m in the bathroom. When? Whenever I have nothing else to do. How? On my phone, by myself, with my thumbs.
With this information we have all we need to develop material for the premise “video poker app.” If you’ve read my blog or have taken my classes you know the science of why people laugh. Two prime reasons (especially with regard to commercially acceptable humor), are surprise and embarrassment. So let’s ask ourselves how we can utilize a set up line that might present surprise or embarrassment. The first thing that comes to me is “bathroom.”
So, if I look at the entirety of the material I’ve collected I can put together a set up line that might go something like this:
I just got a new video poker app for my Droid. I love playing it in the bathroom.
Now we have two or more clearly defined ideas: Video-poker App and bathroom. If we were to use the listing technique that I teach in my seminars we could easily come up with phrases that we could easily combine to make a joke. The first one I came up with was:
I just got a new video poker app for my Droid. I love playing it in the bathroom.
My wife’s feelings are mixed on that. She says she loves the fact that I found a new way to play with myself, but she gets a little irritated when I’m on the toilet and she hears me yell, “Full House!”
If we really took the time and flushed out all the possible plays we have with those two ideas, we could come up with an easy 10, 20 or 30 jokes on just the video-poker app premise, alone 20-30 jokes!
And just think we started the day thinking, “I can’t think of anything funny…”
Jerry Corley is a professional comedian with over 25 years of experience and a former writer for Jay Leno and The Tonight Show. He teaches a comedy writing and performance at the Stand Up Comedy Clinic. Visit http://www.standupcomedyclinic.com
Attention all comics and comedy lovers in the 909: Fox Sports Bar and Lounge in Pamona is now doing a comedy show. Stand Up Comedy Clinic Students Christian Zaragoza and Ernie Ordonez, put their money where their mouth is (what money? the show is FREE!) and they organized and are producing a comedy show in Pamona. The Inland Empire needs a good room where comedians can work and they followed through by getting this started. One of the things I encourage my students to do is to perform whenever and wherever possible. Walt Whitman said: “Actors must act. Writers must write. Painters must paint.” Well comedians have double duty in that they must write and perform as much as possible. Christian and Ernie saw this as an opportunity to start a show.
What a great idea! As a comedian, you begin to understand the importance of networking, meeting as many other comedians as possible, because it’s not only your continued work ethic that will help you succeed, but it is in your relationships where your career thrives. Starting a successful comedy room is a great way to meet other comedians and help to nurture those relationships.
For more information or to get in touch with Chris or Ernie about future comedy shows in Pamona, Click the show flyer and ”friend” Chris on Facebook. If you develop that relationship, maybe you can make an appearance at the next comedy showcase in Pamona. Eventually, it may turn into a paid gig. And while you’re at it Tweet this article or post on your Facebook page and help these guys really develop this gig into something successful!
Good Luck you guys! I hope you have me on the next show, because I couldn’t do it this round.