3. Will Ferrell
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
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
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.