Let’s all just agree right off the bat: Louis CK is a comedic genius. If you have no opinion on the matter, I suggest you drop everything and watch Louie and his various stand up specials. Now.
I know that humor is largely a subjective quality. What makes me laugh might leave you cold. For example, I don’t generally go for slapstick comedy. I have no problem with profanity. I still laugh out loud watching Top Secret and thought The Hangover was mediocre at best. I never enjoyed The Office or Mr Bean but Ricky Gervais’ stand up shows crack me up, as does The Black Adder series to this day.
Louie seems to be universally appreciated and considered the big name in comedy today. The man can say anything and get away with it. His bits about technology, his rants about his daughters, every little mundane detail of his life becomes hilarious in his masterful comedic routine. His SNL monologues are brilliant. His stand-up specials are the most enjoyable hours of television you will ever watch. He’s the best, and pretty much everyone agrees.
Still, that doesn’t mean I feel the same way about the commonly accepted all-time greatest comedians. Eddie Murphy, Robin Williams, Dave Chappelle, Maria Bamford, Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Denis Leary and so many others are acknowledged as the cream of the crop, but try as I might, I never really cracked more than a smile while watching their stand up specials. Maybe it’s a case of “you should have been there“: had I grown up in the US during the golden era of comedy, these old stand up routines wouldn’t seem so unrelatable and/or dated (and because exceptions usually prove the rule, for me that exception is Gilbert Gottfried). I appreciate the well-crafted jokes, I just don’t find them all that funny.
But then, I haven’t jumped on the Amy Schumer bandwagon, either. I tried, I really tried to enjoy her show. It seems that all the liberal media in America are desperately trying to push her as the next big thing. She is everywhere, and she is constantly described as hilarious. If anything, I wanted to be a fan because she’s one of the rare female comics excelling in a male-dominated field. But much like Sarah Silverman, I just don’t get her. I’ve watched them both do stand-up, I’ve watched them roast celebrities, and they definitely held their own, but truly great? Maybe all the hype ruined Amy (and Sarah) for me.
There are, however, a bunch of big (and not-so-big) names I enjoy.
Ricky Gervais is among the biggest. I wasn’t much of a fan at first, but he’s won me over. Doesn’t hurt that he’s an outspoken animal rights activist, or that whatever controversial issue he decides to tackle is done with just the right mix of caustic humor and respect for the audience.
The three Jims are also quite high in my list:
Jim Norton and his laden with obscenity, self-depracating narrative never fails to crack me up. That’s a tall order considering he’s actually constructed entire monologues about the type of vagina he prefers, or what basically amounted to a how-to guide for getting a happy ending out of your massage.
Jim Gaffigan is pretty much the opposite of Norton in terms of style. His wholesome and clean, family-friendly comedy will leave you in stitches.
Gaffigan’s brilliance shines through particularly when talking about food: There are good fats and bad fats. I’d like to think I’m a good fat.
Jim Jefferies is probably my favorite. Dare I say I love his stand up routine even more than Louie’s? It seems more well-written, I suppose, or maybe it’s his accent and delivery. Either way, his “glorified panda joke” about small Jesus, his story about his sex toy escapades in Amsterdam and his brilliant bit about taking his friend suffering from muscular dystrophy to a brothel are among the funniest things I have heard in my entire life.
I wouldn’t know the first thing about writing jokes, but I can say with a fair amount of certainty that it’s about a lot more than a ridiculous premise or a surprising punchline. My assumption is, you need to be smart to write good jokes. I could be wrong, but humor is a pretty damn accurate indicator of intelligence, after all.
And you can tell a smart comedian. The underappreciated, late Greg Giraldo was an excellent example. A Harvard educated laywer, he was obviously no dummy. His rapid-fire delivery of ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ punchline after punchline was so direct, so well-thought out, you could tell you were dealing with an immensely clever individual. Maybe that’s why he never got the accolades and viewership he deserved: you need an exceptionally smart audience to fully appreciate such a smart performer.
Another one is Demetri Martin. His style is different; he’s into puns and worldplay and one-liners, he uses sketches and music in his performance, and his are the kind of jokes you need to pay attention to fully comprehend. He doesn’t go for the easy punchline, he doesn’t count on profanity to accentuate his jokes.
There are plenty more comics I enjoy watching: Kumail Nanjiani, Chris Hardwick, Kyle Kinane, Zach Gallifianakis, the ingenius (and prolific) Kathy Griffin are but a few comedians I will gladly spend an evening watching and laughing along with the audience. I’m probably one of the few people who enjoyed watching the Late Late Show not for the celebrity guests, but for Craig Ferguson himself. And let’s not forget the genius that is Jon Stewart: long before his award winning show, he was a hilarious stand up comedian.
And if you’re into insult comics, just do yourself a favor and watch each and every Comedy Central Roast you can get your hands on. Jeff Ross, the “Queen of Mean” Lisa Lampanelli, Whitney Cummings, even Anthony Jeselnik, are as hilarious as they are offensive. (Btw, if you are American and considering voting for Trump as the Republican representative, please watch his Roast before making up your mind, and really ask yourself if you want that despicable human being running your country. Thanks.)
I’m sure I forgot to mention a lot of names. If there is someone I absolutely have to check out, please point me in their direction. If I’ve misjudged or dismissed someone truly great, I’d appreciate any suggestions that might change my mind. If this post inspired you to check out any of the comedians mentioned above, do let me know what you thought of them. And if you’re not acquainted with the genius of Louis CK, this is a pretty good place to start: