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.
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?