As Tina Fey once said, “You can tell how smart people are by what they laugh at.” We embarked on an adventure to find the men and women who are world-class at making us laugh and think. They are men and women from the English-speaking world who have pushed the boundaries of humor with their daring in crafting amusing lines.
Beyond that, this is a broad group of people with a variety of styles that approach humor from a variety of perspectives. Before landing a Comedy Central show, many of the well-known stand-up comedians listed here came through the ranks of the stand-up circuit.
Let’s take a look at some of the world’s funniest stand-up comedians who sharpen our minds while making our stomachs laugh until they burst.
11. Amy Schumer
Amy Schumer was born as Amy Beth Schumer on June 1, 1981, in Manhattan, New York City, New York, United States.
Schumer has risen to the top of the comedy business by refusing to give up. Her daring, pointed humor has made her an unapologetically outspoken advocate for women in a profession whose misogyny she exploits for laughs. Amy Schumer’s rise has been spectacular over the last three years.
She went from being almost unknown outside of the comic community to becoming a bonafide movie star and social platform sensation with over 1.7 million Twitter followers. The creator of the award-winning sketch show “Inside Amy Schumer” on Comedy Central has established a subversive style that has helped her become the first woman to crack Forbes’ list of the highest-paid comedians in 2015.
Amy’s raw comedic genius, on the other hand, is at the heart of her success. her stand-up routine provides a distinctly female viewpoint on relationships from the past and present, while also having a dark side.
Schumer authored and starred in Trainwreck, directed by Judd Apatow, and released this year to critical acclaim. Schumer has shown a willingness to throw punches since the beginning of her stand-up career, no matter how low the hit fell. She’s continuing to gain traction outside of television, with a lead role in the comedy “I Feel Pretty” and a starring role in a play.
Here’s a flavor of Amy’s wit:
- “My ex-boyfriend, he was really into family… He’d never come on the road with me on the weekends `cause he wanted to spend time with his wife…”
- “All my friends are getting married. I guess I’m just at that age where people give up…”
10. Dave Chappelle
Dave Chappelle is a stand-up comedian, actor, producer, and writer in the United States. Dave Chappelle got his start in show business as a student at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, DC, where he majored in theatrical arts.
He began playing stand-up comedy in nightclubs at the age of fourteen. He traveled to New York City shortly after graduating and swiftly established himself as a big young star.
Chappelle made his feature film debut in Robin Hood: Men in Tights when he was 19 years old (1993). Following that, Chappelle performed in the brief comedy Buddies (1996) and the picture The Nutty Professor (1996). He inked a $20 million per release Netflix stand-up special agreement in 2016, and he performed six stand-up specials as part of the pact.
In 2017, he was appointed for the associate award for his guest look on weekday Night Live. Dave earned a Grammy in 2018 for his Netflix shows The Age of Spin and Deep in the Heart of Texas. Dave Chappelle is most known for his satirical sketch comedy series Chappelle’s Show, which has become an institution (2003).
Chappelle, one of the 2000s’ biggest breakout comedians, has established himself as one of his generation’s most distinct comic voices. He rose to fame as a result of the popularity of his Comedy Central sketch show Chappelle’s Show.
Chappelle, who is heavily influenced by Richard Pryor, advocates harsh honesty when it comes to racism, sexuality, and American culture. when he returned to stand-up comedy after an extended absence in 2013, it was a tremendous relief for comedy lovers all across the world.
In 2006, Esquire called Chappelle the “comic genius of America,” while a Billboard writer called him “the finest” in 2013.
Dave Chappelle has not only reasserted himself in the game, but has put himself right back on top, thanks to a pair of breathtakingly strong early specials, his popular Comedy Central program, and a much-publicized trip to Africa. He enjoys blurring the boundary between truth and fantasy and loves keeping the audience guessing about whether a baby might sell pot and how one could masturbate to their sex film.
Here’s an example of David’s sense of humor:
- “I’m off to the gym. Replacing a good character with good looks is a cornerstone of my comeback stratagem…”
- “Somebody broke into my house once, this is a good time to call the police, but mmmm, nope. The house was very nice. It was a really nice house, but they’d never believe I lived in it. They’d be like ‘He’s still here!…”
9. John Mulaney
John Edmund Mulaney is a well-known stand-up comedian, actor, writer, and producer. He received the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special in 2018. In 2018, John Mulaney wrote and starred in Kid Gorgeous at Radio City, a stand-up comedy film. The special was shot live in February 2018 in New York City’s Radio City Music Hall and was published by Netflix on May 1, 2018.
He is best known for his work on Saturday Night Live as a writer and his stand-up specials The Top Part (2009), New in Town (2012), The Comeback Kid (2015), and Kid Gorgeous (2018).
The majority of the jokes revolve around Mulaney’s marriage to Victorian lampshade designer Annamarie Tendler, adolescence, stardom, politics, and the anxieties of modern American life. Mulaney’s empathetic approach, observational wit, and, in particular, a lengthy simile comparing U.S. President Donald Trump to a “horse loose in a hospital” have gotten a largely positive critical response.
It’s difficult not to like John Mulaney. The endearing comic frequently comes off as an overgrown kid in a suit who happens to be an expert at what he does: making people laugh.
Mulaney, a two-time Emmy winner, has performed in a half-dozen stand-up specials and served as a head writer on Saturday Night Live. He’s returned to host SNL four times since then.
Here’s an example of John’s wit.
- “I had a producer tell me I couldn’t use the word midget because it was ‘worse than the n-word.’ First off…no, it’s not. If you’re comparing the badness of two words and you won’t even say one of them, that’s the worse word.”
- “I never knew you were supposed to push off of your feet when you walked. And I tried it, and I walked much faster”
8. David Letterman
David Letterman (born April 12, 1947, in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA) is a late-night talk show host, producer, and comedian best known for anchoring the long-running Late Show with David Letterman.
For 33 years, he hosted late-night television talk shows, beginning with NBC’s Late Night with David Letterman on February 1, 1982, and ending with CBS’s On May 20, 2015.
Letterman hosted 6,080 episodes of Late Night and Late Show, making him the longest-serving late-night talk show host in American television history, surpassing his friend and mentor Johnny Carson. He also works as a television and film producer.
Letterman’s influence has been cited by several late-night anchors, including Conan O’Brien (his successor on Late Night), Stephen Colbert (his replacement on The Late Show), Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, John Oliver, and Seth Meyers. Letterman is currently the host of the Netflix series My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Michael Letterman.
Here’s an example of David’s wit.
- “Next in importance to having a good aim is to recognize when to pull the trigger.”
- “Way too much coffee. But if it weren’t for the coffee, I’d have no identifiable personality whatsoever.”
7. Bill Hicks
Stand-up comedian, social commentator, satirist, and musician from the United States, William Melvin Hicks (December 16, 1961 – February 26, 1994) content covers a wide spectrum of societal themes such as religion, politics, and philosophy, that is often controversial and laced with black comedy.
Bill Hicks began performing at the Comedy Workshop in Houston, Texas, when he was 16 years old and still in high school. He toured widely in the United States during the 1980s and made several high-profile television appearances, but it was in the United Kingdom that he established a strong fan base, filling enormous venues during his 1991 tour.
He also rose to prominence as a guitarist and songwriter.
On February 26, 1994, at the age of 32, Bill Hicks died of pancreatic cancer. In the years thereafter, his work has received widespread acclaim in creative circles, notably following a succession of posthumous record releases, and he has built a sizable cult following.
He was ranked No. 6 on Channel 4’s list of the “100 Greatest Stand-Up Comics” in 2007, then climbed to No. 4 on the 2010 list. He was ranked 13th on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 50 greatest stand-up comedians of all time in 2017.
Relentless isn’t only a great title for a TV show. Bill Hicks’ first hour, though, which was recorded at the Just for Laughs festival in 1991, was an expressive portrayal of the comedian himself. Hicks didn’t back down when it came to spouting venom about materialism, vacuous pop culture, religious cosmology, or the mismatch between what governments say and what they do.
This comic avenging angel rushed the stage, sneering and smoking furiously while punctuating particularly cruel punchlines with a raspy cackle or a sharp stare from beneath his glasses.
Only a few comedians have been gifted with such expressive, powerful wrath. Some passages, such as one about soldiers firing missiles somewhere in the Gulf, seem as prophetic today as they were during the first Gulf War.
Here’s a taste of Hicks’s wit.
- “Lots of Christians wear crosses around their necks… You really think when Jesus comes back, he ever wants to see a f*cking cross?”
- “I believe that there is an equality to all humanity: We all suck.”
6. Bill Burr
William Frederick Burr is a stand-up comedian from the United States, as well as an actor, writer, and podcaster. He is best known for his roles as Patrick Kuby on Breaking Bad and as the creator and actor of the Netflix animated show F Is for Family.
Burr’s voice was heard in Grand Theft Auto IV’s quest “No Love Lost” as Jason Michaels of the motorcycle gang The Lost MC. In 2009, he appeared in the game’s addition pack The Lost and Damned.
Bill Burr’s comedy begins with his outlandish concepts; if a logical crowd only heard his original, egregious notions, they’d rightfully despise him.
He enjoys portraying himself as the clueless meathead shouting in the corner of the bar who, much to the chagrin of the faint-hearted, begins to make more and more sense as the night progresses. He delivers a cockeyed grin and wades in even when the subject matter appears too sensitive.
Consider the following scenario: He became a comedy hero after resisting waves of boos while trashing everything from the Liberty Bell to the town’s Rocky statue in front of a hostile crowd in Philly. By the end of the night, guess who he’d won over?
Here’s a taste of Burr’s wit.
- “If you wonder why society is going down the drain…take a look at people having children… then look at the people who you think would make good parents. That should tell you just about all you need to know…”
- “You’re a kid, your whole life is awesome. It’s awesome, right? You had no money, no ID, no cellphone, no nothing, no keys to the house. You just ran outside into the woods. You weren’t scared of anything. I challenge you to do that as an adult. All your IDs, all your credit cards – just run out of the house with no phone, turn the corner where you can’t see your house, and not have a full-on panic attack…”
5. Chris Rock
Chris Rock (born Christopher Julius Rock) is a stand-up comedian, actor, director, producer, singer, and writer from the United States. He began his professional career as a standup comedian at the age of 19, performing in a variety of tiny venues throughout New York City.
Rock rose to prominence in the early 1990s as a cast member of Saturday Night Live after working as a stand-up comedian and acting in minor roles in films.
Chris Rock appeared in HBO comedy special, Bigger and Blacker, in 1999. After that, he went on to star in several other films, including Nurse Betty (2000) and Down to Earth (2001).
In the animated film Osmosis Jones, he gave the voice of the title character in 2001. He went on to star in the thriller Bad Company alongside Anthony Hopkins (2002). Head of State, a film about a presidential election, was Rock’s directorial debut in 2003.
He cocreated Everybody Hates Chris (2005–09), a television series based on his childhood, after the popular HBO comedy special Never Scared (2004). The concert was both critically and financially successful. In 2005, Chris Rock hosted the Academy Awards ceremony.
Here’s an example of Chris’s wit:
- “If I ever have a daughter I am going to name her Taken. That way… when a boy asks her name she’ll say `Hi, I’m Taken’…”
- “If women ruled the world there would be no wars… just a bunch of countries not talking to each other…”
4. Jerry Seinfeld
Jerry Seinfeld is a man seeking to unlock the secret, whether it’s the miracle of Pop-Tarts, how long one can look at cleavage, or the absurdity of “family fun.”
Taking cues from pioneers of observational comedy such as Robert Klein and David Brenner, he methodically dissects the details of Western life in an offhanded, almost thoughtless manner. Seinfeld’s vocabulary is clear and concise, and he approaches themes in ways that appeal to the widest possible audience.
And, while he is primarily apolitical, his sharp comments on the micro-level may persuade the audience to take a step back and look at things in a broader context: 98 percent of human activity is killing time, sports fans are rooting for laundry, and there’s no such thing as a “good” birthday.
The sitcom is renowned and canonical, but the stage is where you can get the raw, no-filter Seinfeld experience. He is a stand-up comedian first, last, and always.
Jerry Seinfeld’s 90s sitcom Seinfeld was so powerful that it gave many people their first exposure to stand-up comedy. Seinfeld has built a style of stand-up comedy that is not only incredibly successful but darn near difficult to duplicate despite its simplicity, by picking up on the most bizarre elements from day-to-day life and putting them under the microcosm of his humorous lens.
Here’s an example of Jerry’s sense of humor:
- “Men don’t care what’s on TV. They only care what else is on TV…”
- “It’s amazing that the amount of news that happens in the world every day always just exactly fits the newspaper…”
3. Eddie Murphy
Edward “Eddie” Regan Murphy is an actor, writer, producer, and singer from the United States. He rose to prominence as a daily solid member of the sketch comedy show Sat Night Live from 1980 through 1984.
Eddie Murphy’s brilliant moment saw stand-up comedy transformed into a rock-star art form. Sure, some comics were cool, but this ecstatically confident SNL breakout star strutted, preened, and drenched the audience in sex like Mick Jagger in Let It Bleed.
And what about those outfits?! The leather suits in the classic concert videos Raw and Delirious were so showy, bright, and impossibly tight that the specials are occasionally referred to by the color of the suit he was wearing.
In these flicks, pay attention to the crowds: They’re not at a comedy show; they’re having a good time at a party where pants are optional. Some of Murphy’s old act hasn’t aged well, such as his homophobic theatrics and lady-bashing, but there’s no denying his magnetism. And other lines, like the one about the ice cream vendor and the cost of mocking less fortunate children, will be timeless.
In 2006, Eddie Murphy received a Golden Globe Award and was nominated for an Academy Award in 2002. For his roles in Beverly Hills Cop, Beverly Hills Cop II, Beverly Hills Cop III, Trading Places, and The Nutty Professor, he got Golden Globe nominations for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical.
His name is written with the golden letters as one of the best stand-up comedians of all time.
Here’s an example of Murphy’s wit.
- “I’ve been in prison for three years. My dick gets hard if the wind blows.”
- “You’re gonna be the nine-toed-havingest-limpingest bitch in Harlem if you don’t stop fucking with me.”
2. Joan Rivers
Joan Alexandra Molinsky, well known by her stage name Joan Rivers, was a stand-up comedian, actress, writer, producer, and television personality from the United States. She was noted for her caustic and self-deprecating humor, which she deployed against celebrities and politicians daily.
When Rivers started performing in West Village clubs, there weren’t a lot of ladies around. However, the daring, brazen, and astute comedian did more than stake her claim to a place in the boys’ club; she created her extension.
Though she recorded only a small portion of her material, she was a prolific writer who wrote over a dozen novels and an active performer who was always willing to take place in a concert.
Rivers was a workhorse, a survivor, and an inspiration to many younger comics who followed in her footsteps, in addition to being ferociously funny. She could talk, and she could talk hilariously.
Here’s a taste of River’s wit.
- “My best birth control now is just to leave the lights on.”
- “I’ve had so much plastic surgery, when I die, they will donate my body to Tupperware.”
1. Louis C.K.
Louis Székely, acknowledged by his stage name Louis C.K. He’s one of the most effective stand-up comedians, writers, actors, and film producers in the US.
For his work on The Chris Rock Show, Louie, and his stand-up specials Live at the Beacon Theater and Oh My God, C.K. has received a Peabody Award and six Primetime Emmy Awards, among other honors.
For decades, the tall redhead had been busking in comedy clubs around the country, making a living alongside numerous other stand-ups. The famous artist we now know as Louis C.K. was revived with fury about the time he called his four-year-old asshole and imagined his wife giving him the “saddest handjob in America.”
He transitioned from a guy throwing dick jokes and absurdist one-liners to a guy slinging dick jokes and scrupulously honest stories about his life and those closest to him with his 2007 special Shameless.
Since then, C.K. has set himself the goal of delivering on a massive scale: The self-deprecating social commentator has created a lot of fresh content, virtually every year, and then let it go once it was recorded.
Here’s an example of Louis’s humor
- “The meal isn’t over when I’m full, the meal is over when I hate myself…”
- “I’m not raising children. I’m raising grown-ups they’re going to be. I have to raise them with the tools to get through a terrible life. That’s the way I look at it…”