Charles Dickens once said, “there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.” Obviously, the best comedians of all time know how to get entire arenas and stadiums full of thousands of people engaged in a laugh. But there’s more to this art form than meets the eye, or should we say the brain. That’s right, there’s a psychology behind telling jokes, making people laugh, and getting others to join in on a funny joke.
According to a recent study by researchers at the University College of London, adding canned laughter, a soundtrack of laughter used in sitcoms, at the end of cheesy “dad jokes” helps them seem funnier than they actually are. Researchers took 40 corny dad jokes and gave them all a baseline humor rating ranging from “not funny at all” to “hilarious.” Next, the researchers had a comedian (unnamed) tell two versions of each joke, one with canned laughter added to the end and one with real spontaneous laughter. Both participant groups found that adding any type of laughter made the jokes funnier. However, authentic laughs led to higher comedic scores than canned laugh tracks.
Part of this can be explained by the “mob mentality” in regard to comedy. When other people laugh at something, you’re more likely to find it funny as well. That’s just human nature. But, as another study suggests, regularly laughing and smiling offers benefits beyond adding to an already good time. Researchers from the Division of Clinical Psychology and Epidemiology at the University of Basel say laughing can serve as a source of relief when it comes to dealing with stress. Using a mobile phone app, participants answered questions eight times a day for a 14-day stretch. The app looked at stressful events or stress symptoms since the last time a question popped up. The findings revealed that when people frequently laugh, stressful events were more related to minor symptoms of personal stress.
However, laughing and smiling aren’t just keys to easing stress. Another study finds, smiling makes people feel happier and more confident. Researchers out of London recently surveyed 2,000 British adults in an effort to unlock the hidden benefits of smiling throughout the day. Nearly 75 percent of those surveyed say that a simple smile from someone else brightens their day. Of the respondents, a whopping 28 percent claim that being on the receiving end of a smile from someone else is even better than a gift. Likewise, 26 percent of respondents claim they value smiles more than praise at work while 60 percent say being smiled at makes them feel more confident. As a result of receiving a simple smile, more than half of respondents say they feel empowered to pass the positivity along to their friends and family while nearly a quarter of those surveyed say they’ll pass that along to strangers.
Of course, that’s not to say anyone is ready to try their hand at comedy. Let’s leave that to the pros on this list. StudyFinds did the research, consulting 10 comedy review and pop culture websites in an effort to bring you the best comedians of all time. Our list is comprised of the five most frequently listed comedians from across these sites. As always, feel free to share your favorites with us in the comments section below!
The List: Best Comedians of All Time, According to Experts
1. Richard Pryor
This relatable funnyman appeared in the top spot on nearly half of the lists we consulted and for good reason. Richard Pryor was a master at taking his real-life tragedies and transforming them into a comedy act. “As is the case with all great artists, Richard Pryor went through an evolution in his life and work: He survived a disturbing childhood whose scary and colorful personalities shaped the basis of his early act; worked through a clean-cut Cosby phase; found cocaine and eventually burst out of a staid Vegas lounge act, fleeing to San Francisco and becoming the outspoken, unfettered spirit that turned stand-up on its ear,” explains Rolling Stone.
Richard Pryor was the type of comedian that everyone could relate to in some way. This style of comedy truly paved the way for other legendary comedians who took Pryor’s style to the next level. Still, Richard Pryor’s live stand-up comedy routines are still some of the funniest acts you can watch. “Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip is a masterpiece, in which Pryor seamlessly plays characters ranging from mafia gangsters to water buffaloes and delivers a mesmerizing and hilarious account of his drug addiction and freebasing accident,” writes Yardbarker.
Richard Pryor had no problem making fun of himself, and that’s a trait that most successful comedians possess. But, Richard Pryor was a master storyteller, and his comedy routines were always flawless. “Drawing on his childhood experiences of poverty, racism, abuse, and drug addiction, Richard Pryor’s acts were brutally honest and often profane, shocking his audience. However, his content’s unfiltered and personal nature garnered him a reputation as a fearless and uncompromising performer. By the 1970s, Richard’s success grew, and he released a series of highly acclaimed comedy albums,” adds Clean Comedians.
2. George Carlin
The second comic on the list of the best comedians of all time is none other than the late, great, George Carlin. Like Pryor, Carlin was included in the top five on every list we referenced, appearing in the top spot 30 percent of the time. Carlin’s comedic style is a blend of many with observational humor and wordplay. “Between his brilliant social and political commentary, genius-level observational skills, and legendary command of the English language, Carlin was a true master of the craft,” writes HICONSUMPTION.
Although Carlin would occasionally appear in movies, he mostly kept his act to live stand-up gigs. Overall, Carlin gave us a whopping 13 magical stand-up specials and hundreds of legendary performances. “Pretty much all of the great stand-up comics took their focus off the stage at some point and gave it to roles in movies and television — but not George Carlin. While he did take the occasional acting job, Carlin proved his love for writing and performing comedy in front of live audiences was as endless as his talent for doing it. His work was prolific and consistently great,” writes The Delite.
If you’ve ever watched a George Carlin stand-up comedy special, then you know he didn’t hold back. It was Carlin’s willingness to touch on sensitive topics and point out the absurdity of certain ways of thinking that made him a comedic legend. “Known for his fearlessness and desire to fight the status quo, George used his unique talent for the spoken word to inspire his audience with clever and witty remarks. His social commentator skills and knack for unique wordplay have made him one of the greatest comedians of all time,” adds Clean Comedians.
3. Chris Rock
We’ll be the first to tell you that after Richard Pryor and George Carlin, the lists start to go in their own directions. Regardless, Rock is a living comedy legend who’s already near the top of the best of all time. “Chris Rock’s bold, smart cultural commentary has been striking a chord with audiences for over 20 years. He’s equally insightful when it comes to both the personal and the political, critiquing the flaws of society and the ridiculousness of relationships on both a micro and macro scale,” writes Paste Magazine.
Chris Rock’s comedy can be hard to describe, it’s observational and, like Carlin, he loves to point out society’s absurdities. Chris Rock also loves to tell stories about his childhood and relationships. In fact, he even parlayed his comedy act into the hit TV show, “Everybody Hates Chris.”
“This wild-eyed, ferociously eloquent comedy mainstay used his experiences as a black student targeted by bullies in white schools to build a style of stand-up that challenges American race relations without finger wagging. Appealing to many audiences with his raw observations, unflappable intelligence and gravel-dipped voice, Rock transforms his comedy into a higher form of social discourse without compromising his opinions, whether he’s tearing up the Apollo or the Oscars,” raves TimeOut.
Chris Rock takes a fun approach to some of his hottest takes and observations. But, Chris Rock’s physical onstage performance is what really helps get his audiences riled up. “Onstage, Chris Rock comes across like a boxer, a preacher and a poet all in one. When he paces the stage, whipping the mic cable and grinning maniacally, audiences now know what’s coming: This is a comic who knows how to punch premises for rhythm as much as substance, and drop punchlines that provoke unconventional thinking. His technical skills in terms of working a crowd (and a concept) are damn near flawless,” explains Rolling Stone.
4. Dave Chappelle
Like Chris Rock, the talented and witty Dave Chappelle is another living comedic legend. From the hit TV show, “Chappelle’s Show”, to his modern-day Netflix stand-up specials, Chappelle has been making people laugh for over three decades. “Glancing at his career before and after the groundbreaking Chappelle’s Show makes one thing clear: Stand-up is his first (and perhaps only) love. After a pair of stunningly good early specials, his beloved Comedy Central show and a much ballyhooed visit to Africa, Dave Chappelle has not only reasserted himself in the game but put himself right back on top. He talks race, celebrity and politics in a way that belies the incisive and ferocious nature of his observations,” explains Rolling Stone.
Chappelle isn’t without his own issues. It’s a shame we all missed out on some of his prime years due to the burnout Chappelle suffered while filming his highly successful TV show. Similar to his idol, Richard Pryor, Chappelle was able to open up about his personal struggles and make us all laugh in the process. “Of all those disciples of Richard Pryor that have come through in the past 40 years, Dave Chappelle has been the most consistent. Even with the break he took from comedy at the apex of his career, Chappelle has had a prolific output, filling theaters and commanding top dollar for his specials in recent years. The 2019 winner of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor has been renowned for his unpredictable but typically sharp takes on everything from race relations to police brutality to politics and drugs,” adds The Delite.
Chappell definitely isn’t afraid to offend audiences and his latest work is evidence of that. And, according to critics, it’s this fearlessness that makes him so great. “Although he has been courting controversy of late with some of his material featured in his Netflix specials, there is no doubting Dave Chappelle’s place in the comics hall of fame. Sighting 80s legends like Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, and Paul Mooney as influences, it is clear to see why Chappelle has won over audiences. He doesn’t care what he says or whether he offends people, and this has helped with his popularity,” furthers Next Luxury.
5. Robin Williams
If anyone deserves to be considered one of the funniest people ever, it’s surely Robin Williams. The late great comedian and actor appeared in the top 10 on more than half of the sites we consulted, making him a clear choice for this list. “Full of frenetic energy and an almost otherworldly ability to improvise, Robin Williams had more comedic talent than perhaps any other comedian to grab a mic. His stand-up specials in the late-70s and 80s were fast, furious, and full of hysterical impressions, and they paved the way for a hugely successful film career. We’re also gonna call him the funniest talk show guest in the history of the medium,” raves HICONSUMPTION.
Most Robin Williams fans might not realize that he got his start doing stand-up comedy. If you’ve never seen one of Robin Williams’ comedy specials, then do yourself a favor and check him out, he’s beyond funny. “Another comic who certainly didn’t just stand there and give wry observations was Robin Williams. The three-time winner of funniest male stand-up at the American Comedy Awards had more energy on stage than arguably any comedian in history. For examples of his wild style, just listen to his Grammy-winning album, Reality … What a Concept, or see his 2003 Emmy-nominated HBO special, Live on Broadway, the latter of which helped show an entirely new generation his gift on stage after decades of focusing on film roles,” explains The Delite.
Robin Williams is perhaps the most gifted physical comedian in history, but his stand-up act was equally as legendary. Robin Williams could perform impersonations, mimic voices, and create characters all in a spontaneous fashion. Unlike some of the other stand-up greats before him, Robin Williams was able to parlay his on-stage success into a movie career. “There was only one Robin Williams. The hyperactive comedian was seemingly always ‘performing’ and a tornado of one-liners, crazy impressions, and off-the-wall jokes. He would go off on tangents that would have audiences in fits of laughter, with his appearances on talk shows always a hit. He is one of the few stand-up comedians to successfully crossover into Hollywood, having a hit with TV show Mork & Mindy before going on to star in commercial blockbusters such as Mrs. Doubtfire,” adds Next Luxury.
You might also be interested in:
- Best Female Comedians of All Time
- Best Comedies of All Time
- Best Sitcoms of All Time
- Best Rom-Coms of All Time
- Rolling Stone
- Wealthy Gorilla
- The Delite
- Clean Comedians
- Next Luxury
- Paste Magazine
- The Famous People
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