To pick out the best comedians of all-time in 500 words or less is next to impossible, so we're focusing only on stand-up comedians. Of course, the "best" label is purely subjective, but here's a summary of those who most often come up in the American conversation.
Often recognized as the greatest standup of all time, Pryor blended everyday observations with cutting edge social and racial commentary to cut a number of comedy albums as well as the first filmed comedy specials. He is posthumously cited as an influence by modern comics, as well as comics of his era.
A hero of the late-60s/early-70s counterculture, Carlin is most famous for his "7 Dirty Words" routine, as well as his blunt, dark observations on cultural phenomena. Carlin shot 14 HBO specials, wrote several books, and is also famous for his "Modern Man" monologue focusing on modern wordplay.
Often credited as the pioneer for dark comedy, Bruce had a dedicated cult following in the 1950s and 60s. Famously, Bruce was convicted of obscenity following a show in New York. He was posthumously pardoned 37 years later, and remains the poster boy for pushing the envelope onstage.
The "Doctor of Comedy," Bill Cosby won audiences over with his stories of growing up in urban Philadelphia and, later, his tales of fatherhood (also the name of his bestselling book). His deliberate delivery, as well as his signature timing and facial expressions have kept him a top draw from the 60s to the present.
Often seen as a pioneer for both Jewish comics, as well as those with a focus on self-deprecation, Allen turned his meek and meager storytelling persona into a hugely successful career as a film producer and director.
Perhaps the most famous, old-school "one-liner" comedian of all time, Dangerfield's gimmick was being a guy who "got no respect-no respect at all!" Dangerfield's down-on-his-luck persona and rapid-fire delivery led to a lengthy and lucrative film career.
Famous for his dry humor and "telephone" routines (in which only his side of the conversation was fully audible), Bob Newhart released several hugely successful comedy albums, as well as starred in two legendary network sitcoms.
The most famous "insult comic" of all time, Rickles made a name for himself with his dagger-sharp wit and crowd work-"zinging" anyone who caught his eye with enough levity to keep even his targets laughing.
One of the pioneer comediennes, Rivers' sharp wit and observational humor made her a top draw, and even led to a lengthy stay as Johnny Carson's fill-in host as well as her own talk shows.
Arguably the first mainstream standup phenomenon, Martin sold out arenas and stadiums using off-the-wall props and a larger-than-life stage persona. He even found himself on top of the mainstream music charts with his song "King Tut." He left standup in the early 80's for extremely successful forays into film, music and literature.
For a long-time America's top comedian, Klein first made name for himself with his routines on the Watergate scandal in the 70s. He cut several successful comedy albums and specials and remains popular to this day.
Preferring to bill himself as a "performance artist," Kaufman blended genius with downright trickery to leave audiences equally humored, angered and confused.
The 80s Boomers
Often heralded as the hardest working standup of all time, Leno would hit as many as a dozen shows a night while honing his craft in Boston, New York and Los Angeles in the 1970s. His nice guy persona and strong stage presence made him a top working comic in the U.S. during the 80s, and led to a 17-year stint as host of The Tonight Show.
Often thought of as the modern prototype for standup comedy, Seinfeld's sophisticated observations of everyday nuances made him a frequent performer on Carson and David Letterman's talk shows and led to a nine-year run as star of his own iconic sitcom Seinfeld.
Rising from a rough upbringing and similar challenges in adulthood, Barr turned her downtrodden, blue-collar outlook into an iconic standup career and a nine-year run as the star of Roseanne-the hugely popular sitcom.
Wright's 1982 network debut on The Tonight Show is widely recognized as one of the greatest of all time and led to the "discovery" of the thriving Boston standup scene. His deadpan delivery and distinctive one-liners have kept him a top draw to this day.
The 80's answer to Steve Martin, Murphy sold out arenas nationwide, thanks in large part to his uncensored routines and success on Saturday Night Live.
A former preacher, Kinison developed one of the most over-the-top, in-your-face personas of all time, aggressively targeting love, life and society.
Known for her subtle and sharp one-liners and life observations, DeGeneres turned her successful standup career into numerous specials, a hit sitcom and an award-winning daytime talk show.
His iconic "redneck" routine, as well as his blue collar personality spawned a dedicated following and a lengthy television career.
First enjoying success in the early-90s, Romano's everyman persona and parental observations made him one of the most likable stand-ups of all time, and led to yet another nine-year run as a sitcom star (Everybody Loves Raymond).
Already cited by many as a living legend, Rock hits on subjects ranging from gender issues to race with an iconic bluntness in his many cable specials and profitable film and television career (most notably The Chris Rock Show and Everybody Hates Chris).
Andrew Dice Clay
One of the most divisive performers of all time, Dice blended a profane stage persona with nursery rhyme mockery to sell out arenas in the late-80s (and draw the wrath of countless feminists).
Thanks to the popularity of Comedy Central and several standup documentaries, the craft has seen a strong resurgence in the 2000s. Among the most popular performers today: Lewis Black, George Lopez, Dave Attell, Wanda Sykes, Dave Chappelle, Louis CK, Jim Gaffigan, Dane Cook, Jeff Dunham and Larry the Cable Guy.
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