1/21/13

The Top 10 Funniest People Who Ever Lived


I try to shy away from lists as best I can - there's a temptation to do them almost weekly.  They're easy and  a reliable grab for readers.  My problem with lists are as follows:

1. They're highly subjective; just an opinion that can change from day to day
2. They're also highly........ hey, wait a minute.  I'm creating a list of why I hate lists.  Screw it.  Enjoy The Official Retrospace Top Ten Funniest People Who Ever Lived!


Note: This list is in no particular order.


Newhart's dry wit transected the decades.  He had them rolling in the sixties, seventies and eighties.  Again, it was effortless and reliably funny. 


Perhaps due to overexposure in the eighties and his vocal stance against vulgarism, The Cos' legacy gets undervalued these days.  But who didn't own a Cosby album back in the seventies? You forget what a powerful force the man was; and his albums were outstanding.


Ghostbusters, Meatballs, The Royal Tenenbaums, Scrooged, Caddyshack, Zombieland, Saturday Night Live, Groundhog Day, .... the list goes on.  And it wasn't that he just got good scripts - he brought himself to these roles and made them hilarious.  You can tell from his many talk show appearances that this is one helluva funny dude.


The 1990s were not good for Chevy.  His talk show was a grand failure and his films started to really stink (i.e. Nothing but Trouble).  He's rebounded a bit with Community; but none of the nonsense of the 90s can ever take away the magic of the 70s and 80s where everything he touched turned to comedy gold.


Freddie's inclusion may seem a bit odd to some of you.  After all, Chico and the Man was only moderately funny at best.  But have you ever seen his stand up? Freaking dynamite.

Admittedly, I'm basing this solely on her show; but it was so damn funny, I think that's a worthy enough qualification by itself.  My list woefully under represents females, I know.  Carol stands alone.


Redd Foxx could read me my tax forms and I'd be on the floor laughing.  I don't know if there existed a human being so intrinsically funny - where being funny was as effortless as breathing.


You could make a strong argument that this man is the funniest person on this list and get no disagreement  from me. The man was genius in timing, delivery, expression, and intelligence.


As a reward for good class behavior, my sixth grade teacher would play tracks from Steve Martin albums (usually "King Tut").  And guess what? It literally worked throughout the year and never got old.  The Jerk is a work of genius, and Martin's appearances on SNL were the stuff of legend,


Fawlty Towers had the circuitous storyline where everything came back on itself, later perfected by Larry David.  Add to his resume Monty Python and how can anyone of right mind deny this master of Brit Wit deserves inclusion on this list.

Since this is a Top Ten List not a Top Twenty, you'll notice no Mel Brooks, Richard Pryor, Cheech & Chong or George Carlin.  I am also well aware that earlier era comics like Jack Benny and The Marx Brothers are being slighted.  I'll just say that this is Retrospace, and it always slights earlier era stuff (pre 1960) as well as the modern (post 1990) era. 

Please list any oversights that need to be in the top ten in a comment.  And, no, I haven't forgotten about Lenny Bruce.  A ground breaker, but not the funniest person I've ever heard. 

58 comments:

  1. I'd probably replace Freddy Prinze with Robert Klein. I don't really know Prinze (I never watched Chico or saw his standup) but I love Klein. I was just listening to his "Child of the '50s" album from 1973. Almost 40 years old, I've heard the bits a thousand times and I still laugh out loud.

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  2. smothers brothers, rowan & martin, and brother dave gardner?

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  3. I knew you'd skip Jack Benny. And the Marx Brothers, and Bob Hope, and... well, I like the early ones. The only ones I'd add from your time range off hand are the Smothers Brothers, but I don't know who I'd take off. Maybe Flip Wilson too.

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    1. Bob Hope was probably the un-funniest comic who ever lived. The truly sad thing is that he wasn't just not funny on his own, he employed a huge staff of writers to supply him with material that was not funny. It's bad enough that he had no talent for what he was trying to do, but his judgment was so poor that he couldn't even identify and hire talented people who could write for him. Mitt Romney probably thinks he's a hoot.

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    2. You're entitled to be wrong, just as you're entitled to be Anonymous.

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    3. http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/fighting_words/2003/08/hopeless.html

      Bob Hope was as funny as a Mad Libs book.

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    4. So your defense of your position is a link to a HACK writers attack piece?

      Well done sir!

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  4. +1 for Robert Klein

    "I can't stop my leg....."

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  5. Replies
    1. I can't believe Richard Pryor didn't
      make it the list. Redd Foxx was just a
      dirty comic who got lucky with a remake
      of "Steptoe and Son".

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    2. But Redd was also funny as hell.

      "just a dirty comic"

      The same could be said for Pryor: I love the word "fuck" as much as anyone, but watching his films gets to be painful after half an hour because of all the "motherfuckers" in them.

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    3. Gallagher is a prop comic. Lowest rung on the ladder--ask any stand-up.

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  6. Chevy Chase?! I suggest you replace him with Eddie Murphy immediately.

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  7. No to Chevy Chase and Freddie Prinze.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. Yes and I am replacing them with Robin Williams and Jim Carrey.
      OK I know we all love Lucy but she was an actress with great comedic timing but was not particularly funny without a script.

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    3. No disrespect to you Sweetspot, we've never met. Jim Carrey??? He's about as funny and entertaining as a clogged toilet.

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    4. Ok I'll accept your suggestion and go with Mel Brooks.

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  8. Pre-politics and in his heyday, Dennis Miler made me laugh out loud.

    Soft spots for Carson, Hedberg, and Murphy.

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    Replies
    1. And MAYBE excepting Prinze, I really can't argue with your list all that much!

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  9. Richard Pryor and Louis CK are on mine.

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  10. I'd swap Benny Hill for Chevy Chase.

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  11. King of JazzJanuary 22, 2013

    Listen up: THAT IS NOT JOHN CLEESE. It is a celebrity impersonator (hired for business conventions, parties etc.) who has his own website with the John Cleese name. REPEAT: THAT IS NOT THE REAL JOHN CLEESE PICTURED. Google and you will soon understand the mixup.

    If you need further proof I will provide it.

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  12. King of JazzJanuary 22, 2013

    Hell, why wait--here's the proof: the photo is of John Parkin, from his website cleese.co.uk. Just google.

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    Replies
    1. A whole new meaning to the phrase "And now for something.... completely different!"

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  13. Well, 8 out of 10 isn't too bad.

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  14. P.S. Mel Brooks and Woody Allen should be on the list.

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  15. Kang: Do we want to do a spot for something called "Old Navy"?
    Kodos: Hey, work is work!
    Well played, Mr Chase.
    BTW I'd nominate John Swarzfelder the (former?) Simpsons writer not only for his scripts but such books as "The Time Machine Did It". Funniest man in the universe except for Gallagher.

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  16. Curly Howard
    Oliver Hardy
    Benny Hill
    Mantan Morland (misspelled)

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  17. What was that about lists being subjective? I try to start some controversy and get two comments, Gilligan tries to cover his butt and gets 20 complaints.

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  18. What no Benny Hill, Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy?

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    1. You know, Benny Hill probably should go in there somewhere. I just don't know who I'd take out.

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  19. If you're looking for women - Vicki Lawrence, Ruth Buzzi and Lilly Tomlin were my favorites. Watching the Carol Burnett show when the four of them (Carol, Vicki, Harvey and Tim) got the giggles was priceless.

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  20. Do they have to be stand up/movie/TV people? Douglas Adams should be on the list

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  21. Jerry Lewis, Ernie Kovacs,Shemp Howard

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  22. Drop Chevy Chase, Freddie Prinze and Redd Fox. Add Jonathan Winters (genius!), Robin Williams and Richard Pryor. Robert Klein doesn't make the cut because his production was so limited.

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  23. Comic Chris Titus recently talked about how he went to see Cosby at a recent stand-up concert, expecting to see a tired, hackneyed, old act from a once-classic performer.

    Half way thru the show, he turned to his companion, and said, "Hush, I'm being schooled right now."

    Al Bigley

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  24. I'm just happy that nobody has mentioned that dork Will Ferrell.

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  25. Lenny Bruce! RIchard Pryor and Bill Hicks. Your list seems aimed at comedy as pure entertainment (laughs) as opposed to innovation or historic importance. Right? But leaving out Lenny Bruce (or Marx Bros) is a little like having a list of jazz musicians and leaving out Charlie Parker. I appreciate the idiosyncrasy though.

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  26. My ten list not necessarily in order are Jonathon Winters, Don Rickles, Buddy Hackett , Alan King, Johnny Carson, Jack Benny, (Laurel & Hardy), (Abbott & Costello), (Martin & Lewis), Lucy



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  27. The one thing I hate about these kind of lists is the fact that there is always someone out there who disagrees and is upset because you had the audacity to leave out someone whom "they" thought was hilarious....and totally forget that this is YOUR list! OK, I'm done ranting.

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  28. Looks like Rodney Dangerfield still gets no respect. I would also add Carol O'Connor, Sherman Helmsley, and Don Knotts. In standup, George Carlin was the best imho. In the comedey pioneers department we have to include Buster Keaton and of course Charlie Chaplin !

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  29. MY list would have to include Bob (Elliot) and Ray (Goulding)!

    Al Bigley

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  30. Phil Silvers-Sgt. Bilko. The gold standard.

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  31. Anybody remember George Carlin? He could replace anyone on the list...

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  32. Next time you'll have to go for something less controversial like the 10 most beautiful women ever or the 10 greatest comic book heros of all time.

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  33. No order:
    Don Knotts
    Lucille Ball
    Goldie Hawn
    Stephen Colbert
    Jon Stewert
    Jackie Gleason
    Bill Murray.
    Jack Benny
    Chris Rock
    George Carlin
    Bob Hope
    Jerry Seinfeld

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  34. I would respectfully suggest that each person on the below list is at least as funny as those you have mentioned:

    Buster Keaton
    Charlie Chaplin
    Fatty Arbuckle
    Lenny Bruce
    Jim Coyle and Mal Sharpe
    Louis CK
    Eddie Izzard
    Chris Rock
    George Carlin
    Richard Pryor
    Mel Brooks
    Mel Blanc
    Billy West
    Spike Milligan
    Spike Jones
    Doodles Weaver
    Jimmy Durante
    The Marx Brothers
    P. G. Wodehouse
    Hugh Laurie
    Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson
    Dawn French
    Morecambe and Wise
    The Two Ronnies
    Monty Python
    Chris Morris
    Bill Hicks
    John Belushi

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    Replies
    1. I'd add Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, David Letterman and Joan Rivers to your list as well.

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    2. Oh and I forgot Dave Chappell

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    3. AnonymousJune 08, 2014

      You know what is really funny? All you knuckleheads. A list without Gilda Radner? I saw a lot of comedians in my life and literally pissed my pants when I saw her on Broadway. And what about W.C. Fields??? Not even a mention? Are you kidding? And all you knuckleheads probably don't even know who Totie Fields is. I love Chris Rock, Jerry Lewis, all the modern comics are great. But the 10 you refer to would not rate among the world's 10 best comedians that ever lived.

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  35. This list is a travesty without the likes of Carrot Top and Tosh.0! Get with the times, please!

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