Carol Burnett was the first female host of a comedy-variety show. Though the networks at the time discouraged her from pursuing the role of a host, due to a clause in the contract with CBS, Burnett could produce her own show after five years. Her show aired for ten years during the women’s liberation movement in the 70s.
Mel Brooks is credited with pioneering the farce and parodies genres in film and television, making him one of the most influential comedians of all time. Many of his notable television shows and films have gone on to be translated into Broadway shows.
Former Fashion Police officer, Rivers is a legendary, unapologetic comic who helped shatter the glass ceiling for women in stand-up.
Woody Allen is known for his cinematic masterpieces. However, not many remember Allen was also a stand-up comic. Considered the Jim-Gaffigan of his time, Allen would deliver log-form jokes similar to short stories instead of quick fire punch lines.
Pryor holds the #1 spot on Comedy Central’s list of all-time greatest stand-up comedians. His comedy broke down barriers and dared to challenge Black identity in entertainment. He became known for his frankness about racism, sex, and pain. Pryor performed to make people laugh, but also to make them listen.
Kaufman had a large personality that he easily split into several personas. He is known for his wide array of charismatic characters and his ability to commit to each one no matter how much they differed.
Robin Williams is known for his skill in improvisation, which paved his way into our hearts. During his stand-up days, Williams’ sets became wildly popular as they changed day to day. His animated expressions and impeccable impressions place him on the list for Most Influential Comedians.
Murphy began his early career as a stand-up. At age 19, he joined the cast of SNL only to be given minor parts. One day the producers put Murphy in front of the camera to fill four minutes of leftover airtime. What followed next would be later dubbed as a masterfully improvised performance.
Carlin is one of the most notable social critics of our time. His stand-up routine offered biting commentary and criticisms of the state of American society and the U.S. government. Carlin’s Seven Words routine ignited the landmark case F.C.C. v. Pacifica Foundation which upheld the government’s power to regulate inappropriate content in mainstream media.
Before becoming a talk show host, Ellen DeGeneres starred in her self-titled sitcom. On the show, her character often teased audiences with hints that she was a homosexual. The inevitable “coming out” episode garnered 36 million viewers the night it aired making Ellen the first openly gay television character in history.
Seinfeld was sold as a show about nothing and became the most popular program of the 90s. Centered on iconic characters whom never learned their lessons, audiences laughed every week as the Seinfeld writers did their best to make the lives of these characters as miserable as possible.
Considered by some as the Seinfeld of the 21st century, Louis C.K.’s dark perspective of human nature has translated into a hit television show and numerous HBO specials. Louis C.K.’s signature style of dark comedy has redefined the genre in the golden age of television.
Following her career on SNL, Fey created the hit comedy show 30 Rock. The show in itself was unique, providing audiences a behind the scenes look at how a television show is produced. However, it was her role as Liz Lemon that proved to critics everywhere that women are indeed funny.
Lucy rounds out our list as being the Most Influential Comedian of All Time. Not only is she known for her world-renowned hit show, I Love Lucy, but for also changing the landscape of production in Hollywood. Her willingness to perform stunts and aptitude for physical comedy paved the way for female comediennes such as Marty Tyler Moore, Carol Burnett, and Amy Poehler.