Top stand-up comedy acts in the 20th century

Stand-up comedy is usually a one-person act presenting a story, analysis of a situation, or short jokes following some theme.  I have reviewed myriad comedy acts from the 1900s and helped to distill for your listening pleasure.

There are other sites on the internet that are quick to point out top selling comedians or comedy acts, even some comedy albums. Upon reviewing these, you will quickly find that stand-up comedy is actually a more modern (1940s on) thing. And looking back, some of the comedians on those lists are comparable to a modern David Letterman. Either way, onward!

How do you judge a good stand-up routine? Well first it has to be standup; outside of the below FIVE STAR list, some notable non-stand-up bits have been included. You have to imagine you are in the theater, with a light buzz, and in good company. This is hard because all the recorded acts have laugh tracks included, and it is easy to bias towards acts with a bigger following. An example is Wendy Liebman who uses a punctuated delivery which depends on the audience laughing. You almost want to dock her for using so many filler words but they actually are necessary.

We are really looking for quality comedy, which you can share with friends and are not too dated. For example 90s stand up is so easy to notice when you hear them bring in the gay/lesbian routines. That used to be funny, but only because of uneasiness with the topic at the time.

Abbott and Costello  Who's on First (1937)
Alphabetically and not necessarily better than others on this list, Abbott and Costello deliver a home run performance with this confused introduction of player's names on a baseball team. They did not develop the idea for this bit, but delivery is perfect with a fast-paced back-and-forth.

Andy Griffith  What It Was, Was Football (1953)
Andy Griffith delivered this outsider's nonchalant perspective of the game that Americans still hold dear today. Thirty-three years after NFL was incorporated, this bit illustrates a contest between men on a field.

Bob Hope  Bob Hope Pepsodent Show Broadcast to the US Army (1941)
Bob Hope provided humor and relief for service members and families in the US armed forces. This is one of his many themed stand-up acts following a formula of sponsor acknowledgement, light introduction, subject matter mastery of armed forces life, and closing of gratitude to the forces. For his effect in uplifting spirits he was recognized by the Legislative Branch as "first and only honorary veteran of the U.S. armed forces".

Bob Newhart  MULTIPLE
His acts that scored the most points are in his style of one-sided conversations. Perhaps the best well-known is King Kong -- a rookie security officer in the Empire State Building describes to his boss futile attempts to remove an unwelcome visitor. Two others that are just as good are Wernher von Braun -- a politically expedient Nazi scientist who joined the US missile program after the war; and Ben Franklin in Analysis -- a psychologist that looks down on Ben's frugal and masochistic ways.

Gene Tracy  Went to the Doctor, Wont Get None Till Monday
Many acts were demerited for use of unnecessary language and vulgarity because you probably need to be more than a little drunk to get the full funny. Morris's exceptional performance is in a series about Harold, a dimwit with a speech impediment, this time discussing impatience with his soon-to-be wife.

George Carlin  MULTIPLE
Carlin brings a literal, no-holds-barred analysis of modern language, beliefs and self-identity. The most famous is Why We Don't Need 10 Commandments -- a breakdown of scripture and the motivations for writing it that way. Two others that are just as good are Euphemisms and Airline Announcements, in his linguistics theme uncovering "bullshit" people say to make themselves sound more important.

Jeff Wayne  Avoid the Trap, Way (1990s)
These all use gratuitous language and the format is different than others on this list in that they are segmented and short jokes, some approaching a "story". I believe these jokes are properly attributed to Wayne, as I am sure you have heard them before, but they are pristine.

Rod Man  Def Jam Performance (1997)
He has the perfect black comedy voice, like Chris Tucker minus the screeching. His storytelling is very approachable and matter-of-fact. This is his only performance worthy of any star ratings.

Wendy Liebman  Wendy Liebman (1996)
Liebman's self-titled performance is reused in bits and pieces throughout many of her appearances but this is the original stand-up one. She uses the blonde ditz voice to tell a story set in verse like "Miss Suzy" the school yard song (you know it) that ends each predictable sentence with another similar word starting the next sentence.

Honorable mention: Robin Williams
To fully appreciate a Robin William act you must start at the beginning and listen through -- he talks fast (even faster than George Carlin) and really rolls the punches. Williams is definitely an accomplished comedian and some of his performances do include bit-sized "stand-up" acts, but he definitely belongs in a separate category.

Honorable mention: Bill Cosby
With so many strong stand-up performances and a lifetime of comedy achievement, Bill Cosby is noted as an honorable mention. He has achieved four-stars for so many acts, but he is juts a step away from the inner circle.

Adam Rerrara
Bill Cosby
Bob Zany
Chris Rock
Dana Gould
Dave Attell
Derek Richards
Eddie Murphy
Felicia Michaels
Jackie Martling
Kathleen Madigan
Robin Williams
Roy Mercer
Steven Wright
Woody Allen

Adam Sandler
Bill Hicks
Bobby Collins
Bobby Slayton
Brian Regan
Carole Montgomery
Clinton Jackson
Darrell Joyce
Dean Martin
Doug Stanhope
Evan Lionel
Franklyn Ajaye
Greg Fitzsimmons
Henry Rolling
Jeff Foxworthy
Jeff Altman
Jerry Seinfeld
Joan Rivers
John Leguizamo
Killer Beaz
Lewis Grizzard
Lisa Golch
Louie Anderson
Maggie Cassella
Michele Balan
Milton Berle
Page Hurwitz
Paul Krassner
Paul Rodriguez
Pauly Shore
Ray Romano
Robert Schimmel
Robin Greenspan
Ron White
Rudy Moreno
Steven Martin

Bill Hicks
Billy Connolly
Billy Crystal
Bob Murphy
Bobby Slayton
Carlos Mencia
Chance Langton
Charlie Daniels
Cheech & Chong
Clinton Jackson
Costake Econompo
Crank Yankers
Dane Cook
Darrell Joyce
Dave Barry
David Cross
Dean Martin
Denis Leary
Dennis Miller
Don Imus
Don Rickles
Doug Stanhope
Eddie Izzard
Ellen Cleghorne
Ellen DeGeneres
Elvira Kurt
Evan Lionel
Flip Schultz
Frank Callendo
Frank Zappa
Franklyn Ajaye
Garrison Keillor
George Lopez
Greg Fitzsimmons
Groucho Marx
Harry Shearer
Henry Phillips
Henry Rollins
Howard Stern
Jean Shepherd
Jeff Altman
Jeff Foxworthy
Jerry Clower
Jim Breuer
Jim Carrey
Joan Rivers
John Leguizamo
John Pinette
John Trubee
John Valby
Jonathan Winders
Junkyard Willie
Karen Williams
Kate Clinton
Ken Turetzky
Kevin Wilson
Lewis Black
Lewis Grizzard
Louie Anderson
Maggie Cassella
Margaret Cho
Martin Lawrence
Maryellen Hooper
Matt Fugate
Milton Berle
Moms Mabley
Monique Marvez
Monty Python
Mystro Clark
Pablo Francisco
Pat McCorick
Paul Krassner
Paul Lynde
Phil Hartman
Randy Miller
Ray Stevens
Red Skelton
Redd Foxx
Rich Vos
Richard Lewis
Robert Schimmel
Rodney Carrington
Rodney Dangerfield
Rudy Moreno
Sam Kinison
Sheila Kay
Suzanne Westenhoefer
The Jerky Boys


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