Since I was young, probably around age ten, I’ve loved stand-up comedy. I remember getting a cassette tape (yes, I’m that old) of Bob Newhart stand-up for my birthday one year and listening to it until it broke. I also had a tape of Bill Cosby’s album “Bill Cosby Himself”, which I listened to religiously. While these two guys may not be the absolute best comedians of all time, you can’t deny that Newhart and Cosby were seriously influential when they were in their prime. My love of comedy must have become pretty evident to my family, because the next tape I got was George Carlin’s album “Class Clown” from my uncle Steve – practically a comedian himself. This was a life-changer. I had never heard “The Seven Words You Can’t Say On Television” before, and let me tell ya: it had a big effect on me. I must have listened to that bit alone well over a hundred times. I can still recite it today. Carlin was instantly my hero.
George Carlin died a couple of years ago, and it left a great big hole through the middle of me. But rather than dwell on the depressing reality that even larger-than-life heroes like George – people who seem practically bulletproof – can die, I decided to fill the hole by seeking out new comedians, and many of the names on this list come from that exploration. What follows is the George Carlin tribute list of my all-time favourite comedians. These guys are the gods of laughter, and I can (and do) spend hours listening to them. Let’s start with…
6. Tim Minchin
The only real musical comedian on this list (Steven Wright and Demetri Martin both dabble a little in musical comedy, but not nearly to the same degree), Tim Minchin is not only extremely funny, but also amazingly talented. This guy could easily have made it as a concert pianist had his songs not mentioned ridiculous subject matter like training cockatoos to crap on his ex-girlfriend’s car, or inflatable sex dolls, or taking your canvas bags to the supermarket. Minchin also does beat poetry, and his most well-known poem, “Storm”, is a masterpiece in my mind. Critiquing everything from religion to homeopathy to the perception of scientific cynicism, Minchin’s rhythmic diatribe is both hilarious and enlightening. This guy really is brilliant, and if you haven’t heard of him, you should educate yourself by watching the video above.
5. Louis C.K.
The great thing about Louis C.K. is that he comes off as just a normal guy, remarking on all the little crummy and/or ridiculous things that happen to us in life. His humour is also frequently self-deprecating, which is a great move because it allows him to present himself as nothing more than a lovable asshole – the kind of guy who might live upstairs from you. From his discussion of having strange gay dreams to his desire to find a private place to masturbate, Louis entertains by being familiar and relatable. He makes us laugh by reminding us of ourselves. Not that I have gay dreams. Seriously.
4. Steven Wright
The wry, monotonous voice, the huge, frizzy hairdo on either side of his balding head, and his utterly bizarre and surreal sense of humour combine to make Steven Wright one of my favourite comedians. His act is as much about his strange stage persona as it is about the jokes he tells, and the guy is a master of the one-liner. One of his jokes has even made its way into those lengthy lists of jokes that used to circulate as e-mail forwards back when those kinds of things were popular: “Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.” I’ve seen this slogan printed on shirts and signs, which I’m sure Wright never signed off on. The phrase has taken on a life of its own, and that’s the mark of a good joke.
3. Demetri Martin
Relatively new to the comedy scene, Demitri Martin is a genius, and you can tell just by listening to him. His act is made up of whimsical ponderences and the occasional song, all of which sound like little more than musings from Martin’s journal which he has packaged into a show. “Earrings are the same as sneezes. Two is fine, but ten in a row is annoying.” “Life vests protect you from drowning, and bullet-proof vests protect you from being shot. And sweater vests protect you from pretty girls.” His stonefaced delivery is spot-on, and he tells his jokes calmly, naturally, and in a manner that makes him seem slightly nervous to be on stage. Also, his comedy album “These Are Jokes” has one of the greatest titles in comedy history. Interestingly, Martin referenced Steven Wright as one of his influences. I can’t say I’m surprised.
2. Mitch Hedberg
Mitch Hedberg was the lord of all stoner comedians. His goofy, slightly fried stage demeanor was as often as funny as his jokes were, and his delivery was so good that he didn’t even have to be telling a joke to get the audience laughing (“I think I’ll start wearing a beret. All right!”). Not to mention the fact that his material was just killer. “I had an ant farm. Them fellas didn’t grow shit!” Ingenius. Hedberg died of a drug overdose in 2005, and the comedy world has never been the same.
1. George Carlin
The Godfather of comedy. The king of the rant. There aren’t enough words in the English language (a favourite subject of Carlin’s) to sum up the awesomeness of George Carlin, and I’m certainly not going to attempt it here. The man had such immense talent. Carlin’s influence is so far-reaching that it’s hard to find someone who hasn’t heard of “The Seven Words You Can’t Say On Television”. Carlin died in 2008, shortly after his final comedy tour “It’s Bad For Ya”. Most of his HBO specials are available for viewing on Youtube, and if you haven’t watched any of them, I highly recommend it. My personal favourite has always been “Complaints and Grievances”.