The Top 7 Comedians of the Decade

December 4, 2008

This decade has been a turbulent and, at times, a frightening one. The economy is in upheaval, the powers-that-be are about to be ousted from the Oval Office, and it seems as soon as one war gets under control another sparks up. Because of this a select group of entertainers are needed to lighten the mood more than ever: comedians.

By Nathan Bloch

The following article does not represent the opinions of Spike TV or its affiliates.

7. Dave Chappelle

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Chappelle is the prodigal son of comedy. So much talent, so much potential, so much promise. And yet, he’s buckled under the strains of expectation and network pressure to follow up with the huge success of the first two seasons of Chappelle’s Show. Nonetheless, Chappelle must be given his place in the pantheon of great comics this decade for his contributions to comedy. Even if he hadn’t written and starred in Half Baked, even if he wasn’t a hilarious stand-up comedian, his episodes of Chappelle’s Show would still make him worthy of a special place on this top 7 list.

6. Larry David

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Larry David has actually been making us laugh for almost 20 years, even though most audiences hadn’t ever heard of him until Curb Your Enthusiasm came along. But he was, in fact, one of the creators and original writers of Seinfeld. So the man has created and written and acted in two of the funniest shows in television history in under two decades. That’s a pretty solid track record. Does the man have range? Could he play anyone other than himself? No, and probably not. But he can write a comedic twist like no one else, and he makes being an obnoxious whiny bald dude look pretty dang funny. Thank you for Seinfeld, Mr. David, and thank you for Curb Your Enthusiasm. You have provided the world with enough comedy for the next half a century.

5. Vince Vaughn

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Vince has had his ups and downs the past few years, but on the whole he’s been a very reliably funny dude. From Zoolander to Old School to The Wedding Crashers, he usually makes every scene he’s in hilarious. Yes, he’s had some duds – Dodgeball, The Break-Up, Fred Claus – but he usually makes up for the stinkers with at least a funny cameo in a good movie (Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Thumbsucker) or a dramatic cameo in a good movie (Into the Wild). You have to give it to the man, he knows how to pick good projects, and doesn’t just go for every idiotic B-comedy that’s offered to him with a hefty paycheck. From the time he first came to the public’s attention in the excellent Swingers up until now, Vaughn has really learned what he does best – comedy – and he’s showed us new sides of his funny self every year. Keep it coming, Vince.

4. Ricky Gervais

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Gervais and his friend Stephen Merchant shot a cheap, bare-bones pilot of The Office when Merchant was an intern at the BBC. In doing so, they created what was in Britain and is in the US the funniest show of this decade. Gervais taught us that the most repellant, awkward, obnoxious man in the world was also quite possibly the funniest. He made the torture of uncomfortable situations a new form of comedy, and he did so with gusto. What will always mystify all fans of the series is why he chose to end it after only two seasons (and a Christmas special). The series could easily have continued for three more seasons, and if Gervais’s ambitions were simply to jump right into another (lesser) TV show, what was the point? He and Merchant have stated that they simply felt that that was where the story ended, but if that was the case, why export the show to America? Yes, I know, the money. But I find all of the answers to this nagging question unsatisfying. One way or another, Gervais brought what is a great source of laughter and joy into homes on both sides of the Atlantic. David Brent and his office will be celebrated for as long as man subjugates his fellow man with cubicles and ties.

3. Will Ferrell

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Some have argued that Ferrell is hands down the funniest comedian to have ever come out of Saturday Night Live’s estimable and lengthy roster of comics. That might be going too far (as the next comedian on this list contends), but Ferrell is certainly one of the most prolific actors to graduate from the SNL school of comedy, and he’s undeniably one of the funniest. He has also proven to be one of the most adaptable comedians out there. He is famous for his sketches on SNL (“More cowbell!”), his films (Old School, Anchorman, Step Brothers), and he has set the gold standard for celebrity viral videos (The Landlord). The man has mastered all three major forms of media, and continues to show us newer, better ways of making us laugh. Hats off to you, Mr. Ferrell, for you. Are. Funny.

2. Bill Murray

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Bill Murray was one of the funniest men of the ‘70s (in my opinion, the funniest man to come out of SNL – and he was there when it all started), the ‘80s, the ‘90s, and now he’s one of the funniest men of this decade. Though he likes to alternate his comedy with a more dour sensibility these days (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, Broken Flowers) he still clearly has his comedic chops (Lost in Translation, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou). He’s been somewhat less prolific since his Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day years, and his off-the-wall zaniness is certainly in decline. But with age Murray’s performances have gained a wry objectivity and a grounded sagacity that his younger, crazier characters lacked. He is aging well artistically, and though his comedy is now prone to more brooding, sometimes melancholic turns, he has not completely let go of his puckishness. There is a reason Murray has remained a beloved comedian these past thirty years: it’s because he allows himself to grow and evolve as a performer; to both accommodate his age and at the same time float just a bit above it. He knows the world’s troubles, but continues to be amused by – and sometimes the cause of – its foibles.

1. Steve Carell

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Perhaps I should have made a choice between putting Carell or Gervais on this list, but I didn’t, and I have no regrets. Carell took up David Brent’s mantle and made it his own. While the American Office doesn’t have the feel of reality that the British version had, it stands head and shoulders above any and all comedies on American television today – and largely because of the comedic efforts of Carell, the funniest man on American television today. He had big shoes to fill and he has more than filled them; he has torn them to pieces, stitched them back together and created his own brand. On top of his success on television he also has an extremely successful film career – did, in fact, even before he became famous for playing Michael Scott (remember his scene-stealing parts in Bruce Almighty and Anchorman?) and even more famous for playing Andy Stitzer in The 40 Year Old Virgin. He even proved he’s got good old-fashioned dramatic acting chops with his solid performance in Little Miss Sunshine. But, ultimately, we love Carell for his comedy, and for making every red blooded American a fan of The Office. This country would be a less funny place without him.

 

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