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Who are Some Famous American Comedians?

America has gifted the world with comedic legends like Richard Pryor, whose raw storytelling reshaped stand-up, and Ellen DeGeneres, who brings warmth and wit to daytime TV. From George Carlin's sharp social critiques to the relatable humor of Tina Fey, these icons have left indelible marks on comedy. Who's your favorite laugh master, and what makes their humor resonate with you?
Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

American comedians are known for their brash humor, wild performances, and general silliness. With the great tradition of Vaudeville serving as a background for modern stand-up comedy, it’s no wonder that many American comedians are considered among the best in the world. There seems to be no limits on subject matter or appropriateness for modern American comedians, leading to occasional controversy when the public or the press deems a comic having gone too far.

One cannot spend any time paying attention to the American comedy scene without quickly hearing the name Robin Williams. The kooky Californian is a force of nature on stage, diving from impressions to rants to re-enactments so quickly the audience may be left breathless. Many other comedians stand somewhat in awe of Williams, often calling him the quickest thinker in the building. His large scale performances, including Robin Williams: Live at the Met in 1986, and Robin Williams: Live on Broadway in 2002, continue to be extremely popular and are considered by many to be among the greatest stand-up comedy shows of all time.

“Robin Williams: Live on Broadway” is considered by many to be among the greatest stand-up comedy shows of all time.
“Robin Williams: Live on Broadway” is considered by many to be among the greatest stand-up comedy shows of all time.

Robin Williams is also an accomplished actor, a trait shared by many American comedians. He attended the Julliard School in the 1970s and in 1998 won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his dramatic role in Good Will Hunting. Williams has been a long supporter of charities, including the unusual foreign aid group Comic Relief. Alongside fellow comics Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal, he has produced several comedy specials to benefit the groups’ efforts.

Casey Wilson was a cast member on Saturday Night Live in 2008.
Casey Wilson was a cast member on Saturday Night Live in 2008.

One of the most successful comics of the late 20th century expresses a style completely different than the frenetic Williams; Jerry Seinfeld’s stand-up shows are wry monologues, filled with personal anecdotes. His comedy was spun into one of the most successful television shows of the 1990s, Seinfeld. The show about a group of New York friends was a massive success, earning Seinfeld over $267 million US Dollars (USD) in 1998 and making him the highest paid entertainer in show business.

Chris Rock came out of the venerated tradition of Saturday Night Live a sketch comedy show that has become an American legend. The comedian, also a successful actor, is known for his fearless treatment of serious subjects. Rock is unafraid to comment on socially and politically sensitive issues, and to comment without caring about his reception. He has starred in several television specials, including the landmark Chris Rock: Bring the Pain in 1994.

American comedians occasionally make their mark by taking a specific subject and making it funnier than anyone else can. Kathy Griffin, the loud-mouthed redhead from Los Angeles, is a constant stream of commentary on the lives of the rich and famous. Known for her deadly take on the pretension of celebrity culture, Griffin got her training with the Groundlings, a world famous comedy troupe home to many of Los Angeles’ most famous comedians. Griffin will nearly always provide a shock and a laugh, as she romps her way through the canon of Hollywood’s A-List.

Unlike their international counterparts, American comedians are not widely known for their elegant wordplay or quirky ideas. As a group, they tend to be loud, irreverent and infinitely varied in style. It is no wonder, with such a diverse group of scene-grabbers seeming to fill the United States to bursting, that Robin Williams could not help but refer to Canada as “a loft apartment over a really great party.”

Frequently Asked Questions

Who are considered icons in American stand-up comedy?

Icons in American stand-up comedy include legends like Richard Pryor, whose raw and insightful comedy about race and society in the 1970s and 1980s earned him a reputation as one of the greatest stand-up comedians of all time. George Carlin, known for his critical examinations of language and social norms, and Joan Rivers, a trailblazer for women in comedy, are also revered. More contemporary figures like Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock have solidified their status with their sharp social commentary and unique comedic styles.

What impact have American comedians had on popular culture?

American comedians have had a profound impact on popular culture, often shaping public discourse and challenging societal norms through satire and humor. Comedians like Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks used their platforms to push boundaries and address taboo subjects, influencing generations of comedians to come. The comedic style of Robin Williams, which combined improvisation and rapid-fire delivery, left an indelible mark on both stand-up and film. Additionally, television shows created by comedians, such as Jerry Seinfeld's "Seinfeld," have become cultural touchstones.

Can you name some American comedians who have successfully crossed over into film and television?

Many American comedians have successfully transitioned into film and television, leveraging their comedic talents to become household names. Eddie Murphy rose to fame on "Saturday Night Live" before becoming a box office sensation in movies like "Beverly Hills Cop" and "Coming to America." Similarly, Steve Martin, known for his stand-up comedy and work on "SNL," has starred in classic films such as "The Jerk" and "Planes, Trains & Automobiles." More recently, comedians like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have made the leap from "SNL" to creating and starring in their own critically acclaimed shows, "30 Rock" and "Parks and Recreation," respectively.

Who are some pioneering female American comedians?

Pioneering female American comedians include Phyllis Diller and Moms Mabley, who broke into the male-dominated world of stand-up comedy in the mid-20th century. Lucille Ball's comedic genius in "I Love Lucy" set the stage for women in television comedy. More recently, Ellen DeGeneres has been influential, not only for her stand-up comedy but also for her daytime talk show, which has been a staple of American television since 2003. Sarah Silverman and Wanda Sykes have also been recognized for their bold and barrier-breaking comedic styles.

What recent trends have emerged in American comedy?

In recent years, American comedy has seen a trend towards more personal and introspective material, with comedians like Hannah Gadsby and Tig Notaro blending storytelling with comedy to address issues like identity, mental health, and trauma. The rise of streaming services has also democratized the industry, allowing a more diverse range of voices to be heard and giving comedians the platform to reach global audiences. Additionally, political satire has seen a resurgence, with comedians like John Oliver and Trevor Noah using their shows to inform and entertain viewers on current events.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a WiseTour writer.

Learn more...
Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a WiseTour writer.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

BigBloom

America is a relatively low-context culture, and as such, the comedy allows for a lot of flexibility. This may be confusing to people coming from a high-context culture, expecting that there is some explanation for some of the random humor in America, when there is not, and the joke is either nonsensical or left to audience interpretation.

Proxy414

Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor are two of my favorite American comedian. These men liked to focus on similar topics: death, growing up in the hood, Italians, mafiosi, racism, and other somewhat dark and raw concepts echoing the plight of most African Americans. The flexibility and quickness of these men is brilliant, and often leaves the crowds either laughing their heads off or left in the dust.

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    • “Robin Williams: Live on Broadway” is considered by many to be among the greatest stand-up comedy shows of all time.
      By: Africa Studio
      “Robin Williams: Live on Broadway” is considered by many to be among the greatest stand-up comedy shows of all time.
    • Casey Wilson was a cast member on Saturday Night Live in 2008.
      Casey Wilson was a cast member on Saturday Night Live in 2008.