You could say that I am a connoisseur of laughter. I enjoy both laughing and making people laugh. To me, comedy is not exactly a science. There is no formula for it. You just kind of say or do something, and if people laugh, you do it more. The men in my list are or were naturals at the art of laughter. In their movies, TV’s, and stand up routines they let their true self shine through, even though many of them had problems with vices, arrogance, or personality disorders. It is difficult for me to narrow down my choices to only 5, so I included several “honorable mention” candidates who were worthy of consideration.
Chris Farley – One of the funniest men ever to walk the face of the earth, Farley’s brand of humor was loud and physical, but not the deepest intellectually. His straight man was usually David Spade (who was also a funny man in his own right). Sadly his life was tragically cut short due to an overdose. His funniest movies were Tommy Boy and Black Sheep.
Richard Pryor – Pryor’s unique humor was hip. In stand up, he was one of the best. His movies were so funny even though he usually played a lovable loser. My favorite Pryor movies are Stir Crazy, The Toy, and Brewster’s Millions. All that said, his fame grew because he used some seriously foul language. It’s hard to find anything he has done that didn’t have tons of profanity. He also was famous for being the first bigtime comedian to use the “N word” in his routine. That’s not a good legacy.
Lou Costello – The main reason Costello did not make my top 5 was due to the fact that he was practically always paired with straight man Bud Abbot. To watch Costello in the old black and white movies like Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein is quite a treat and truly makes you laugh out loud. His routine “Who’s On First” is classic smart humor that really gets me going.
#5 Peter Sellers – One of the most underrated actors, Peter Sellers was a genius in the art of comedy. His role as the goofy yet lucky Inspector Clousseau from the Pink Panther (A Shot in the Dark) movie franchise of the 60’s and 70’s is one of the funniest performances ever. His multiple roles from Dr. Strangelove demonstrated his ability to portray the subtlety of a British Commander, the hidden lunacy of a German madman, and the leadership (or lack of such) of a President all with highly intellectual humor that in my opinion was the peak of his comedic and acting skills. What most people may not realize is that Sellers played the role of James Bond 007 in Casino Royale from 1967.
#4 Steve Martin – This wild and crazy guy was actually one of the major iconic heroes for the #1 on my list. His work on SNL was brilliant and helped launch that show to prominence. His all around talent was remarkable. In stand-up, his timing was impeccable. He had the ability to translate that humor to the big screen and not all great stand up guys can say that. He could also sing and dance as demonstrated here in my favorite Steve Martin moment (My Little Buttercup) from my favorite Steve Martin movie, The Three Amigos.
#3 Bill Murray – His dry arrogance in movies like Groundhog Day and Kingpin combined with goofy looser humor from movies like Stripes, The Man Who Knew Too Little, and Caddy Shack. To that add his work from SNL as part of the dream team from the classic years and you have one of the greatest comedic actors and skit comedians. Of course he is downright annoying to many people, but he is one of the best in my book.
#2 Bill Cosby – What sets Bill Cosby apart from the others? He was as funny as anyone, yet he was clean. You didn’t hear him use foul language! He was every character on Fat Albert. As a stand-up comedian, he was the king. He ruled TV’s ratings on his self-titled show as Dr. Huckstable. Remember this? And he is truly a genius!
#1 Jim Carrey – What can be said about this talented comedian? He could do stand-up that included physical humor, impressions, and wacky off the wall thought-provoking humor. He could contort his body and face to positions that seem physically impossible. He must be totally insane and brilliant at the same time. He made his big break on Carson, like many comedians, but he had some great work on TV’s “In Living Color” and in movies such as Ace Ventura, The Mask, Liar Liar, and so many other great comedies. He has depth as a serious actor, but that is not the criteria here. He was just plain funny!
So you may ask “Where is Bob Hope? What happened to Rodney Dangerfield? Why didn’t you include Jackie Gleason, Chevy Chase, Adam Sandler, Mike Myers, or Jerry Seinfeld? ” They were great comedians, but my answer is simple; you make a list and blog about it! 🙂