Laughter Throughout the Years: the Top 25 Comedians of All Time

Throughout many generations, we have all witnessed some brilliant comedians from stand-up comedians to gifted movie and television actors.

We have been fortunate enough that these brilliant minds wanted to share their comedic talent with the world. There have been so many, both past and present that have touched our lives and brought us a lot of laughter. Out of these thousands, who are the best?

Who are the ones that either have or will sand the test of time? Here are, in no particular order, some of the best 25 ever.

Jerry Lewis (born March 16, 1926)

Born as Joseph Levitch, Jerry Lewis has been an active comedian, actor, writer, director and producer since 1931. He hit it big when he teamed up with straight man Dean Martin and became the team known as “Martina and Lewis”. Including the seventeen movies Jerry Lewis was in with Martin, Lewis has been in over 60 movies and made more than 25 television appearances.

John Belushi (born January 24, 1949; died March 5, 1982)

John Adam Belushi began his fame when working on National Lampoon’s radio from 1973 to 1975, then went on to what he’s perhaps remembered for best: Saturday Night Live. In his short life after Saturday Night Live, Belushi was in about nine movies including one of my all time favorites, The Blues Brothers. Early in 1982, Belushi was found dead of a drug overdose.

Richard Pryor (born December 1, 1940; died December 10, 2005)

Richard Prior played an active role as a comedian and was loved by many for over thirty years. In 1963, he started actively performing in New York City clubs and in 1969, Pryor moved to California, and the rest is history. Pryor made 19 comedy albums and was in a total of 50 movies. Just after his 65th birthday, Richard Pryor died of cardiac arrest.

Milton Berle (born as Mendel Berlinger July 12, 1908; died March 27, 2002)

Milton Berle, or as he was more affectionately called, “Uncle Miltie”, was best known for his antics on NBC’s show Texaco Star Theater from 1948-1955. However, Berle was also active in radio starting in the 1930s as a funnyman. Though he was also known as “Mr. Television”, Milton Berle also appeared in 35 movies. In 2002, he died of complications due to colon cancer at the age of 93.

Bob Newhart (born George Robert Newhart September 5, 1929)

Bob Newhart has been tickling our funny bone for about 50 years now. As is true with a lot of the old classic comedians, he got his start in comedy on the radio and later went into show business on television as well as recording several comedic albums.

In 1972, he starred in his own sitcom called The Bob Newhart Show and it would run until 1978. Then in 1982, he starred in another sitcom plainly titled Newhart, which was on the air until 1990. Newhart also made quite a few appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and The Dean Martin Show, but perhaps the most impressive task he accomplished was hosting The Tonight Show in Johnny Carson’s absence a total of 87 times.

Red Skelton (born as Richard Bernard Skelton on July 18, 1913; died September 17, 1997)

Red Skelton was a comedian and active in show business from 1937 to 1971 and got his big break in radio and film at the same time. He would go on to entertain us through his antics in television, movies, radio, and on Broadway. What many don’t know is that he got his first taste of show business when he was only a teenager. He was a clown in a circus act, of course.

Carol Burnett (born April 26, 1933)

Comedienne Carol Burnett has been entertaining us for over fifty years in comedy. Though she’s still active in show business and has been in numerous television shows and movies, she’s best known for her hilarious variety show called The Carol Burnett Show, which ran from 1967 to 1978.

Buddy Hackett (born as Leonard Hacker on August 31, 1924; died June 30, 2003)

Buddy Hackett was one of those performers who you never tired of, mostly on the big screen. The great thing about his talent is that Hackett could be funny without even saying a word, but instead through his actions. Of course, when he opened his mouth he was even funnier. He started his career in performing stand-up in clubs and also performing in Broadway.

Bill Cosby (born July 12, 1937)

In 1964, Cosby released his first of many comedic albums that still amuse us to this day. Cosby is definitely one of the legends of comedy and he’s not only produced some great albums, but also has played a major role in television over the years. He had a big part in the children’s educational program The Electric Company in the late 1960s as well as starring in his own sitcom called The Bill Cosby Show.

Of course, we can’t forget Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, a cartoon that Cosby created about friends and inner city life, performing all of the voices in the show himself. In the 1980s, he starred in a second sitcom called The Cosby Show. He also has, and continues to play a role in many movies as well as a public speaker.

Jackie Gleason and Art Carney

Though these two men had talent on their own, they were best known as a pair and were just as entertaining, so for our purposes, they’re featured together. Jackie Gleason was born Herbert Walton Gleason, Jr. on February 26, 1916 and was great in both comedic and dramatic roles. He was active in show business from 1941 to 1986. Art Carney was born on November 4, 1918 and was active in radio, television, film, and stage acting from 1941 to 1993.

The pair of course teamed up on the old classic sitcom The Honeymooners, where Gleason played Ralph Kramden and Carney played his sidekick and neighbor Ed Norton. These two were a classic pair and though they both went off to do separate things after The Honeymooners, they will both always be best known as a fantastic comedy pair.

Tim Conway (born December 15, 1933)

Starting in 1958, Tim Conway began his awesome career as an entertainer and comedian. In the 1960s he was most famous for being on the television hit McHale’s Navy, in the 1970s he was famous for his own variety and parody show called The Tim Conway Show, and in between the two in the late 1960s and through most of the 1970s, he appeared and played major roles in The Carol Burnett Show.

He is perhaps best known for one of the funny characters he portrayed called “Dorf”. It’s a character that Conway made up and Dorf is a short man (Conway on his knees with shoes on his knees); it’s hysterically funny. Conway is still active in show business today.

George Carlin (born May 12, 1937; died June 22, 2008)

A great comedian, and at times very controversial, George Carlin started entertaining the public with his stand up comedy in 1956. In his career, Carlin created 25 comedy albums, was in 16 different movies, appeared in several HBO specials, and made a number of television appearances. He died in June 2008 of heart failure.

Abbott and Costello

Here’s another pair of comedians that I couldn’t break up: Bud Abbott (William “Bud” Abbott; March 6, 1906 – March 3, 1959) and Lou Costello (October 2, 1895 – April 24, 1974). Along with some radio performances and television appearances, what this pair is most famous for is their comedy as a team in movies.

Over the course of 26 years, between 1940 and 1965, Abbott and Costello were in nearly 40 of ’em. What they are probably known for the most is their “Who’s on First?” routine, and were said to have been able to mix it up into about 20 different versions ranging from 4 to 10 minutes in length without losing each other in the dialogue.

Red Foxx (December 9, 1922 – October 11, 1991)

Red Foxx (born John Elroy Sanford) first gained notoriety doing standup comedy, but really hit it big when he starred on the sitcom Sanford & Son where he played Fred Sanford (a name he chose to honor his deceased brother Fred). The show ran for six seasons, from 1972 to 1977 and audiences of all kind loved him. He was one of the first black comedians to perform in front of a white audience and was very successful doing so.

Eddie Murphy (born April 3, 1961)

Eddie Murphy has been an actor and comedian since 1980 and though his roles today are very different from the past, he still entertains the public. Murphy got his start as a stand-up comic and in then became a cast member on Saturday Night Live for four years.

Since then, he has been in 36 movies to date and is still actively making more. Though in the 1980s, he dealt with more of the adult humor and was in a lot of rated “R” movies, these days, he stars in movies that are appropriate for all ages and are geared toward children. Miraculously, he has the same comedy magic with children as he does with adults.

Dana Carvey (born June 2, 1955)

Dana Carvey has been making us laugh since he became a cast member on Saturday Night Live in 1986. Over the years, Carvey had done 45 impressions of different politicians and celebrities and also did skits as the famous “Church Lady”. Though he left Saturday Night Live in 1993, he still remains active as an actor and comedian. He’s been in a total of 19 movies thus far including his most famous ones: Wayne’s World and Wayne’s World 2.

George Burns (January 20, 1896 – March 9, 1996)

George Burns (born Nathan Birnbaum) was a terrific actor, writer, and comedian and had been in show business for an impressive 65 years. In these years, Burns was in 18 short subject movies, 24 regular movies, 11 radio series, and four television series. He made it big with his partner in show business and in life, Gracie Allen when they would do a comedy routine where he was the comedian and she was the “straight man”. Audiences loved them. However, Burns has great talent in his own right.

Don Knotts (July 21, 1924 – February 24, 2006)

Knotts was an active comedian and actor for over 50 years. Though he played a role in 25 television series over the years, you may know him best from The Andy Griffith Show (1960-1967) and Three’s Company (1979 – 1984). Knotts was also in 29 movies and was still active in show business until he died in 2006.

Jim Carey (born January 17, 1962)

Jim Carey got his start in a comedy club in 1979 and landed a role in his first movie in 1980. He became very well known and started gaining popularity in the early 1990s when he was a cast member of the television series In Living Color. Carey is best known for his slapstick comedy and incredible funny faces. Since 1980, he has been in a total of 38 movies with three more due to be released this year. As you can plainly see, he is still in the prime of his career.

Dick Van Dyke (born December 13, 1925)

Dick Van Dyke has entertained and made adults and children laugh in television and movies over the course of more than five decades. On television early in his career, he starred in two of his own sitcoms. The first ran from 1961 to 1966 and was called The Dick Van Dyke Show.

The second was called The New Dick Van Dyke Show and ran from 1971 to 1974. He has appeared in numerous television shows over the years. He’s also been in 20 movies including the children’s movie Mary Poppins.

Lucille Ball (August 6, 1911 – April 26, 1989)

Lucille Ball performed in movies, on Broadway, and in a variety of different television programs. However, she will always be best known for her hilarious antics in her own sitcom I Love Lucy, and is by far the funniest woman in show business ever. You can’t look at her craziness on her sitcom without letting out a chuckle. She was totally outrageous, especially for those days.

Johnny Carson (October 23, 1925 – January 23, 2005)

Johnny Carson, host of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, made the public laugh for thirty years. The amazing thing about Carson was that his show was successful for those thirty years and he really isn’t famous for anything else.

Many would listen to his monologue each night and laugh over his crazy characters such as “Carnac the Magnificent”. He combined humor with a talk show where celebrities and celebrity hopefuls would come to perform. Carson was a comic genius that could never be duplicated.

Robin Williams (born July 21, 1951)

Funnyman Robin Williams is best known as a great well-rounded comedian, but also does well in serious roles as well. Williams has been in nearly 70 movies thus far in his career, has 5 albums, and three live performance videos. Though he’s very popular in his movies and in standup comedy, Robin Williams first became well known for playing the lovable alien “Mork” on the TV sitcom Mork & Mindy.

Marx Brothers

The five Marx brothers Chico (real name Leonard; March 22, 1887 – October 11, 1961), Harpo (real name Adolph and changed it to Arthur in 1911; November 23, 1888 – September 28, 1964), Groucho (real name Julius; October 2, 1890 – August 9, 1977), Gummo (real name Milton; October 23, 1892 – April 21, 1977), and Zeppo (real name Herbert; February 25, 1901 – November 30, 1979) were among those that built the foundation of comedy for the present day.

From 1926 to 1957, The Marx Brothers made a total of 16 comedic movies. Their comedy was such that even funny cartoons at the time would copy some of their routines.

Bob Hope (born Leslie Townes Hope; May 29, 1903 – July 27, 2003)

In Bob Hope’s 60 years in show business, he is considered the king of comedy. Hope has performed in over 60 films and countless television performances. However, what he’s known best for is going overseas to entertain the troops and did so in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and in the Persian Gulf War.

Because there are so many extremely talented comedians in our history and present day, it was very difficult to narrow it down to just 25. Also, if you asked people who the top comedian ever is or was, you’d probably get a different answer each time because we have had such terrific entertainers over the years.

Who’s at the top of your list?

Leave a Comment

  1. asdfa says:

    Lame list, no Mitch Hedberg.

  2. cvcg says:

    wheres bill hicks?

  3. KinisonFan says:

    No Sam Kinison????

  4. anon says:

    No Billy Conolly? are you stupid?

  5. Vishnu Guru says:

    There's a difference between a comedian and a comedic actor guy

  6. carlos says:

    this list, in itself, is a joke.

  7. guy says:

    wheres dave chappelle

  8. booga says:

    this list fucking sucks!

  9. gman says:

    No Rickles??

  10. Chris Rock says:

    Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, Doug Stanhope, Mike Birbiglia, Jim Gaffigan, and Monique Marvez are the best today. IMO.

  11. Ryan says:

    Bill Hicks, Lenny Bruce, Mitch Hedberg, Dave Chapelle, I really can't believe no Lenny Bruce.

  12. Josh says:

    I'm not saying he should be on this list for sure, but I would like to add an honorable mention for Jerry Seinfeld.

  13. jeady says:

    i was hoping Hedberg and Hicks would have made the list too. I can kind of see why Hedberg didn't make it because he's a little more obscure, but Bill Hicks is a legend.

  14. blong says:

    Chappelle, Hedberg, Louis CK

  15. Clay says:

    Steve Martin?

  16. Patrick says:

    Great list. Thoughtful comments. Ignore the never-satisfied.

  17. LimitedOutlook says:

    Just North American comedians. Where are Morecambe & Wise, Tommy Cooper, Spike Milligan etc etc ?

  18. Jimy Gunn says:

    George Burns was the straight man and Gracie was the funny one. George was the best straight man in history in history bar none i

  19. JPier says:

    Lenny Bruce?

  20. Monty Python? says:

    Rickels, Hedburg, Idle, and Cleese all deserve mention this is a very good list though. Perhaps a top 50 with suggestions?

  21. Dbax says:

    Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis????? Give me a break!

  22. Chris says:

    I must agree that Steve Martin should be on this list… this list is pretty good and covers more than just a comedian who has been in a couple movies. This group is in a different class.

  23. Eric says:

    Where is Rodney Dangerfield?

  24. Eric says:

    Should have had Mitch Hedberg.

  25. entertainmog says:

    Some great comedians here people, they're really is a debate here! I'm sure it's hard to see why some made the list, but this is an ALL TIME list…

  26. entertainmog says:

    Some great comedians here people, there really is a debate here! I'm sure it's hard to see why some made the list, but this is an ALL TIME list…

  27. jlseven says:

    True I get the "of all time" deal so it is very true that no matter how funny a performance or style of a comedian is they got to have enough up on the board to be considered in a "goat" list…….So no matter how much i dig Gaffgan and his "salad jokes" or Bill Burr or whoever they're gonna have to come correct and get some more up on the board to make this list……That being said…..Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld are just musts……Bigger and Blacker is the best stand up performance to date! that's right i said it all you Pryor and Murphy fans…..And Seinfelds sitcom changed Funny forever…….just the way it is……..

  28. Dave says:

    bill murray?

  29. Mark says:

    I think that this list is about mainstream comedy for the masses. These were the greats that America found funny. There are people who were more out there such as Lenny Bruce that could have their own list but dont really belong on this one. This list is no joke. Each one of these people or are masters of comedy. I do love Chris Rock and respect Seinfeld but maybe they are 26 and 27 cause you can't take anyone out of this line up. Particular shout out to Tim Conway who is and was a master genius.

  30. Provenz says:

    It's hard to believe that you have not included Lenny Bruce, the man who took comedy from the old school into a completely new, far more complex art form.
    Kudos to you for including Redd Foxx–far from an obvious choice–but an absolutely deserving one, and one that serves to highlight the conspicuous absence of Lenny on this list. Lenny had the most profound influence on stand-up comedy than any other figure of the twentieth century. Whether one finds him funny or not is irrelevant; his importance to the art form is unquestionable.
    Red Skelton, on the other hand, was no more than a clown–a brilliant one, but one who brought nothing new or original to the form whatsoever. He did nothing exceptional beyond excellence in an already well-entrenched form–just as did hundreds of other brilliant comedians not included here–none of whom deserve to be included any more than he does in terms of any significance or importance to comedy.
    Steve Martin is a far more important figure in comedy than Skelton, ushering in a post-modern, ironic distance that today pervades and is the overriding aspect of the newest generation of comedian, and his absence here is unfortunate.
    Granted, of course, what one finds funny or not is totally subjective and there are, necessarily, aesthetics involved in any list such as this, but certain comedians' significance can not be ignored based on how funny one finds them or not–any more than, say, Picasso can be left off a list of most important painters simply because one does not find his work aesthetically pleasing.
    Tim Conway is an interesting choice here that straddles just this line I'm pointing to. I don't believe he brought anything new or important to the art form per se, but in his case the medium and time frame in which he came to prominence matter. He brought a classic, vaudevillian sensibility to television at a time when few doing it at that time excelled to the degree that Conway did, and nowhere near as consistently or as prolific in output at such a high degree of excellence. The value that having him on this list rightly celebrates is that he helped, almost single-handedly, keep alive the respect, appreciation and masterful craftsmanship of a classic form and reinvigorating it to several successive generations of television viewers.
    Which again points to the conspicuous absence of Ernie Kovacs, who created a new, completely innovative form of comedy specifically driven by new, developing medium of television.
    By a similar standard, Steve Allen's absence here is also tragic. Without him, there would have been no Johnny Carson or the tremendous impact he later had on comedy. Steve Allen virtually invented the talk show format that to this day remains definitive, and has been appropriated almost wholly, by his own admission, by David Letterman who went on to make it his own with a more modern ironic sensibility.
    Woody Allen is another serious omission. For all those posting here that mention Mitch Hedberg, it was Woody Allen who created the wheel that Mitch rolled so brilliantly after him. And Woody then went on to have a major impact on the art of comedy in the medium of film, too, making his absence here doubly egregious. He brought a literate, cerebral sensibility to stand up, and reinvented the one-liner before going even further and merging it with the traditional story telling form. All that, plus altering the Jewish identity in comedy — which is a crucially important through line in all of modern comedy, so altering it in the way he did from an immigrant sensibility to an assimilated one adds to an influence that is incalculable, and he is a straight line right through later innovators like Steven Wright to Mitch Hedberg and countless others.
    And to leave Jonathan Winters off this list is equally as egregious. Winters influenced every comedian that followed him in one way or another. There would obviously be no Robin Williams without him, once again a fact Robin himself acknowledges, but Winters' work also set the stage for the rise of 'improv' as a phenomenon in comedy, a foundation upon which all of Second City and it's myriad spawn rest. He also took stand up 'in one' –one person just talking to an audience– and transformed it into one man talking to create almost a kind of theater all on its own- expansive, character driven and surprisingly rich and eclectic.
    This list is clearly more than that of a mere dilletante, and of a savvy one at that, which makes so many omissions all the more unfortunate. But I appreciate that you have bothered to even compile it, and thank you for giving us all an opportunity to comment on it.
    Comedy is a terribly underrated art form, and I am delighted to see it treated more like the respectable and important art form that it is.

  31. George says:

    Wheres laurel and hardy if you have abbot and costello

  32. Keyser Soze says:

    two words, Jerry Seinfeld, who else made the best show ever on tv based largely on their standup career?

  33. Barney says:

    Fred Flinstone>?!

  34. haha, Eddie is so funny! I love him.

  35. Lawrence says:

    Bill Hicks not only should have been on there, but should have been number one.
    "…They got this whole Iraq war thing goin' on….First of all, this needs to be said…. There never was a war…. 'How can you say that Bill?' …..Well……. a war is when TWO armies are fighting….. so ya see right there….. I think we can all agree…."
    -Bill Hicks
    "….'Hey buddy, we're christians and we don't like what you said'….. I said then forgive me…"
    -Bill Hicks