Comedy is an incredibly important facet of our culture; it allows us to release a lot of our pent-up tension, see the absurdity that surrounds us and just laugh until our guts hurt. As such, comics have an important role as truth-tellers, laugh-makers and sometimes in mending our hurts and pains.
Many of comedy’s greatest could get downright filthy in their routines, but while it is important that they have the right to do so, sometimes the greatest laughs don’t require a single obscenity be uttered. Here are some of the greatest comedians. past and present, who proved that to be true:
1. Rodney Dangerfield
A true legend of zingers and one-liners, Dangerfield’s style was one-of-a-kind, with his constant fidgeting around his tie and the constant “I tell ya”, firing off one joke after another without a pause.
2. Steve Martin
The successful comedy actor started off his career writing and performing on The Smothers Brothers, and while many younger readers may know him primarily for his acting resume, the place where Martin truly became a phenomenon was the comedy stage.
3. Lewis Black
“The Angry Man of Comedy” is actually a late-comer into standup comedy, having only begun performing at the age of 50. His style includes gallons of sweat, wild gesticulation and unending rage at the tiniest of things.
4. George Carlin
What made Carlin so great was his impeccable observation skills and ability to analyze everything into absurdity. The comedy of Carlin wasn’t simply hilarious, it made you actually think.
5. Joan Rivers
A pioneer of women’s comedy, Joan Rivers got her start on The Tonight Show under her mentor Carson, and while Joan is remembered for going as low as possible, in this clip we see she was perfectly capable of getting a laugh without swearing.
6. Dick Van Dyke
While for many, the name Dick Van Dyke may be synonymous with a cockney chimney sweep, Dick Van Dyke was so much more, and we are so lucky to still have him around. As a comic, Van Dyke was theatrical, building entire fictional scenes that would make you roll in your chair laughing.
7. Yakov Smirnoff
Smirnoff arrived in the US in 1977 with big dreams and not a word of English. The Soviet-born comic grew up in Ukraine (then part of the USSR) and dreamed of making it big in America. His routine included scathing satire of the regime he escaped, as well as poking some fun at the strange phrases and idioms Americans use.
8. Jerry Seinfeld
The genius from Brooklyn is very much alive and kicking, and doing better than ever. His brand of comedy is known to be scathing, imaginative- and clean. Nowadays, Seinfeld keeps busy driving around fellow jokesters in vintage cars while sipping on coffee and discussing the craft, but he can still do it better than anyone else on stage.
9. Richard Pryor
The man who brought black comedy into mainstream American TV, Richard Pryor was an unmitigated genius of clever societal observation, and he has blazed the trail for the likes of Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock and many more.
10. Billy Crystal
A man who pretty much embodies NYC, Billy Crystal is another comic who is arguably more famous for his film career, but with a mike, he is one of the cleverest standup performers out there, to this day.