8 Remarkable Comedians In Honor Of National Humor Month
April 7th, 2012 11:00am EDT
April is National Humor Month, so I've pulled together a list of my favorite comedians. Here are eight people who make me laugh...who would be on your list?
1. Adam Ferrara
I genuinely consider Adam Ferrara to be the funniest human being on the planet Earth, and that's because he has performed a miracle: my mother thinks he's funny. My mother doesn't think anything is funny, but she likes him. My father believes we should fly Air Jamaica on the next family vacation. I, meanwhile, laughed so hard during his February set at the Hollywood Improv that my stomach hurt.
It doesn't get better than that.
There are so many bits of his that I love, that I can't pick just one or two to recommend. Maybe it's that Air Jamaica bit ("it's a Bob Marley tour bus in the sky"). Or the part about Fox News. Or how the world to him is like a giant station wagon ("[the] United States is driving, the pain-in-the-ass countries are in the back"). Or when he rants about traffic in Los Angeles. It all makes me laugh, largely because I agree with him at the same time.
What makes Adam's stand-up so classic is his delivery. There are a lot of funny people, but the best make watching them and a microphone for an hour an experience, and Adam is one of those people that you have to see to get the full effect of how great he is. His facial expressions alone can set me off into giggling. His exasperated look is the best I've ever seen. And when he starts doing different voices (be it of women or Paulie the Apostle), I can't be drinking or it will end up on the table. Adam is not just a funny person, but he is an excellent performer.
Here, I should give a shout-out to my friend Laurie LeBlanc, who was a fan of Adam's long before me. When I told her that I was going to visit the set of the American Top Gear, she told me that she thought I'd really like him. She was right. My interview from the Top Gear set became one of my favorite pieces I've ever written, and I made two new friends out of it, in Rutledge Wood and Adam. They're both gentlemen who have kept in touch with me since, and who've supported me, for which I am eternally grateful.
And Adam continues to make me laugh. I usually join him and Rutledge in live-tweeting Top Gear broadcasts, but had to miss this week's season finale due to my commitment to The Voice live shows. When I broke the news to him, his response was "Oh come on, is this because Adam Levine is free?" He has pwned me before and I am sure he will again. Probably as soon as he reads this column. I'm glad to say I know him.
But Adam isn't on this list because I'm friends with him. He's number one because there's nobody else that makes me laugh so often. I'm a lucky girl to know the funniest person I can think of.
Order Adam's DVD, Funny as Hell.
Follow him on Twitter.
2. Lewis Black
I am convinced that one day, Lewis Black will have a heart attack or an aneurysm, and simply drop dead on stage. I hope not, but I don't know how one man can consistently espouse that much anger at that volume and not just explode.
Watching Lewis is like seeing all my frustration, confusion and yes, outright rage embodied in a middle-aged Jewish man. He says things I would love to be able to say but would never dare to, and delivers them with such precision. To go back to my mother, she is too afraid to go to a Lewis Black show, after she dropped me off at one several years ago and told me after, "I could hear him yelling through two sets of doors in the lobby!" Maybe it doesn't make me the best kid, but I thought that was great.
I can't think of anyone else who could perform a Lewis Black routine but Lewis Black. The rest of us wouldn't last ten minutes before we'd get tired, probably losing our voices, too. He has an energy that no other comedian has. It's as if he holds on to all his irritations, repressing them until he can unleash them properly on an audience that will share them, or at least find something entertaining in them.
But what makes Lewis's humor click for me is that he's not saying anything stunning; no, he's drawing our attention to the things we should have noticed already. As someone who spent an awful lot of time in San Diego, I knew he was spot-on when he said being a weatherman there is the easiest job in the world ("How's the weather out there? Nice. Back to you"). I thought it was improbably hilarious when he talked about seeing a Starbucks across the street from another Starbucks...until I traveled to London and saw just that. Plus, one of the Starbucks had a third Starbucks two doors down from it. Then I understood.
Thanks to Lewis, the phrase "If it weren't for my horse, I never would have spent that year in college" entered my lexicon in high school and it's still there today. And thanks to Lewis, I feel like I'm not going to explode, because he's getting all the things I want to say and should have said and could get punched for saying out for me, in a way that's much more articulate and a lot more entertaining. I would love to have a cup of coffee with him one day...just not at a Starbucks.
Order Lewis's latest DVD, Stark Raving Black.
Follow him on Twitter.
3. Jim Gaffigan
Thanks to Jim Gaffigan, I can no longer order at a Mexican restaurant without thinking about how all Mexican food is essentially the same thing ("it's a tortilla, meat, cheese and vegetables!"). I also avoid Hot Pockets and Waffle Houses, but I love bacon. Basically, he's screwed up my eating habits. But I'll forgive him because he's funny.
The talking point of Gaffigan's act is that he critiques himself during the show, adopting a high-pitched voice and commenting as if he were a member of the audience, and a prudish one at that. He pulls no punches (once, he said that he looked like a child molester). Some people find this nuts, but to me it's ingenious. Gaffigan isn't just inviting you to laugh with him, but also on occasion to laugh at him, as well as, in a strange way, the people who don't get him.
He's adept at pointing out the absurdities and hilarities in daily life, whether it's how some holiday traditions don't make logical sense (like how the Easter Bunny has no relation to the day's religious meaning), or the power of cake (how it can compel you to go to the birthday celebration of a coworker you don't like), or how long a Catholic mass can be. He seems to bring up things no one else would think about...but then when you do think about them, you realize he's kind of right.
For example, there's a bit from one of his older Comedy Central specials where he talks about people not drinking. He notes that if you don't drink, people always want to ask you why. This question never comes up about anything else you choose to abstain from. ("Oh, you don't like mayonnaise? Why is that?") I'm one of those people who doesn't drink, and it had never occurred to me to think about that, but when I did, I knew it was so true.
Another thing I like Jim for is his connection to his fans. I've been to quite a few of his shows, and he does a meet and greet after each one. I've still got the CD he signed for me a few years ago: "To Brittany, I love you...and cake." It still makes me laugh every time I see it. Even in situations as mundane as a CD signing, Jim Gaffigan is one funny dude.
Order Jim's latest DVD, King Baby.
Follow him on Twitter.
4. Christopher Titus
Like Lewis Black, Christopher Titus is a mouthpiece for my dark side, except that instead of raving about the world, he's going off about family, friends and loved ones. He certainly has a right to talk: he's survived a dysfunctional family and a similarly screwed-up marriage. I don't think there's anything you could throw at him that would surprise him anymore.
Titus has taken aim at parents who allow their kids to run amok, the idea that everyone gets a trophy for participating, and all sorts of politically correct things that don't make any sense. Instead of being the proverbial devil on your shoulder, he's the frustrated guy sitting there wondering why you put up with all this. "Who among us hasn't bought the concrete to weigh down the body?" he once wondered aloud about fights with your spouse.
He mined his life for humor with the classic FOX comedy Titus, a dark semi-autobiographical show that pointed out that no one's existence is really normal (one truism told us that, as the majority of marriages now end in divorce, it's the people with the happy families and white picket fences who are the freaks). As I mentioned in my review of his Neverlution show last year, Titus was and still is unafraid to take shots at everyone, himself included.
Yet both his TV series and his stand-up also got serious about a number of issues, including the deaths of his parents, and these parts were genuinely moving. Possibly because he's really lived through some tough stuff, Titus makes a pretty good dramatic actor. He appeared in an episode of UPN's Twilight Zone remake and for that installment, I completely forgot he was someone that I truly enjoyed laughing with. He made a separate and distinct impression on me. Something about comedians makes quite a few of them good at drama (two of my choices on this list have been on critically acclaimed TV shows).
Titus has long been great about making me laugh when it comes to family. A lot of us believe that our families are weird or screwed-up. but his really was. There's no doubt about that. He had an upbringing I doubt you'd wish on your worst enemy, and he got through it, and he's using it for something positive (laughter). Listening to him made me realize two things about my family: I didn't have it nearly as bad as I thought, and the parts that were bad were also kind of amusing.
I also want to give him a shoutout for being great with his fans. I met him after that Neverlution show, and I was pleasantly surprised when he saw my walker and asked me about my medical condition. We ended up having a conversation about how Vicodin really is, to quote him, "a gift from the baby Jesus." This is the kind of talk you could only have at a Christopher Titus show...and it was wonderful. He puts the "fun" in "dysfunctional" without a doubt.
Order Titus's latest album, Neverlution.
Follow him on Twitter.
5. Hal Sparks
He's probably better known as an actor thanks to his co-starring role on Queer as Folk (that or the endless string of VH1's I Love The... shows), but Hal Sparks is a pretty hilarious comedian. musician and TV host.
From early in his career, there's a truly laugh-out-loud bit where he takes a great shot at Ikea. But where Hal has really made his mark is in combining his sharp sense of humor with his willingness to state and to own his opinion on a variety of subjects, be it relationships or politics. He's very honest, you could even say blunt. What you see (or hear) with him is exactly what you get.
That can be a dangerous thing. Some people can be thrown or even turned off by that directness. I personally admire that he's secure enough in himself to not be bothered by that possibility. Like many of the comedians on this list, while he'll skewer others, he's equally willing to fall on his own sword. He's made fun of how seeing a plastic bag coming toward his car on the road will send him into a panic.
Something else I enjoy about him is that in the course of his routines, he's unafraid to stand up for others, particularly women but other groups as well. There's a bit in his most recent act where he calls us out for admonishing crying babies on airplanes, pointing out that they're too young to understand the concept of pressurization and that the wailing is the only way that they know how to communicate that fear and confusion. Sure, I still find crying babies on airplanes to be annoying, but I must admit that he has a valid point, so these days I hold my tongue.
I've gotten to meet a few of the comedians on this list, but meeting Hal was especially unique. I got the chance to meet Hal some six years ago, when he was a contestant on FOX's Celebrity Duets. He spent way more time talking with me than I expected; we were literally the last two people to leave the studio that day. I was inspired by our conversation and ended up crafting a fictional character from it. Naturally, before I started writing for that character, I went seeking Hal's permission. Not only did he give it to me, but he thought it was great and encouraged me to write.
We fell out of touch until last year, when he brought his stand-up to my town. I figured he'd never remember our chat, but wanted to thank him again anyway, so I went to talk to him after the show. I was floored to find out that he recalled me and the novel I'd ended up writing. He's funny, he's multitalented, but most importantly, he's really listening to what his fans say, too. I'll always appreciate that he gave me an idea and then let me run with it.
Order Hal's DVD, Charmageddon.
Follow him on Twitter.
6. Colin Mochrie
I'm cheating just a bit here, as I'm really talking about the greatness that was Whose Line Is It Anyway, and improv is not stand-up comedy. However, I don't think I could do a list about comedy without mentioning the years that my friends and I were rolling due to some version of "Hoedown" or "Scenes From A Hat." And though I love all the Whose Line alums, the one who made me laugh the most was Colin Mochrie.
He put up with so much from his fellow castmates, most of it having to do with his lack of hair, and darned if it wasn't funny - not just what they were saying but how Colin often gave as good as he got. He was great playing deadpan or cranky, and far outshone his colleagues in the games 'Questions Only' and 'Green Screen'. Other comedians came and went on both the US and UK versions of Whose Line, but the two that I always felt the show must have were Ryan Stiles and Colin.
Every time Colin appears somewhere since, it brings back those fond memories for me. He's been in Nabisco ads and was in the video at the Boudin factory at Disney's California Adventure. He was also the host of a hilarious Animal Planet special called Wild Survival Guide that I saw all of once and have sadly never been able to find again. He's one of those people that you just love to see pop up somewhere.
Colin has also participated in what I think is the most insane comedy bit ever performed. It involves live mousetraps being set up across the stage and the players then having to do a skit on that stage while blindfolded. As you can imagine, it is both incredibly painful and admittedly hilarious to watch. I can't believe anyone would ever be willing to do that, but I've seen Colin do it, and for that he'll always have my respect. I certainly wouldn't be that brave.
I am in no way discounting the comedic prowess of any member of the Whose Line bunch. Yet as this is a list of individuals, I must pick just one, and I have to go with Captain Hair.
Order Colin & Brad's DVD, Two Man Group.
Follow him on Twitter.
7. Alonzo Bodden
I first took notice of Alonzo Bodden when he was co-hosting a Travel Channel show called America's Worst Driver. He would be watching these people destroy obstacle courses or generally ruin things, and he would have this look on his face, as if to silently say, "I cannot believe you are this incompetent." He didn't even have to say anything and I was amused.
As a black comedian, some of Alonzo's material involves racial issues, but it's not the same stuff that's been done over and over again. A great example of his differing approach to the same subject is his bit on racial stereotypes, where he points out that there are good and bad stereotypes for all racial groups. For example, he tells us that "There's ten Mexicans in that car! Yep...but they're all going to work." Of Asians, he adds, "So you can't drive...but you're a genius." He's covering the same general subject of racial issues, but he's making some good points, not just searching for cheap laughs.
That's what I take away from watching his stand-up. It's like listening to a public speaker or someone in the debate club who just happens to be funny. He's less looking for the next punchline and more making his case, and his case is pretty good. "You know what I've never seen in my life?" he once said. "A sign that says 'Highway Work Completed.'" I thought about it, and realized I don't think I've ever seen one either.
The real heart of Alonzo's material is in current affairs. While the racial stuff is great, he doesn't confine himself to that just because he happens to be black. It's almost more fun listening to him railing against TSA or poking fun at debates on gay marriage. "Every Sarah Palin speech is like the beginning of a bar joke," he once said, calling the former Vice-Presidential candidate 'the Paris Hilton of politics.' In another bit, he railed against us spending tons of money on airport security, only for the TSA at Newark to be bested by a guy who merely walked in through the exit line.
"We, as a nation, have the collective attention span of a hamster on crack," he declared in his most recent stand-up special. And you know what? It's hard to disagree with him. I wouldn't want to, because he knows how to deliver one funny argument.
Order Alonzo's DVD, Who's Paying Attention?
8. Jeff Dunham
Before Jeff Dunham, I didn't know ventriloquists were still around. I certainly never thought they could be funny. But to be fair, other ventriloquists don't have a dead terrorist and a jalapeno on a stick, either.
Most families play Christmas carols. Mine plays "Jingle Bombs." That's become a family Christmas tradition. I don't know what that says about us, but it is.
I'll admit that I didn't find Jeff's most recent special, Controlled Chaos, to be nearly as funny as his earlier work. But he's still one of my favorites for giving me Achmed the Dead Terrorist...on a stick.
Order Jeff's DVD, Spark of Insanity.
Follow him on Twitter.
Those are eight of my favorite comedians; I hope you check them out if you haven't already done so. Let me know who would be on your list, and happy National Humor Month!
(c)2012 Brittany Frederick/Digital Airwaves. Appears at Starpulse with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted.
Photo Credits: History, Comedy Central, Google