by Craig Playstead for MSN.com
1. Chris Rock
If you proclaimed Chris Rock to be the funniest person on the planet, few people would argue with you. There have been mixed reviews on the big screen, the TV show was hilarious, his talk show appearances are memorable, and he is one of the greatest stand-up comedian alive right now. Even if he does make you squirm at times with bits heavy on race, families, and society. Let’s also not forget his shot as the host of the 2005 Oscars. He had the stones to make fun of those people in the audience who constantly take themselves too seriously and thankfully ruffled a few feathers.
Last year, Rock put out a must-have comedy CD, “Cheese and Crackers” containing his greatest comedy bits of all-time including my favorite, “The Big Piece of Chicken.” He’s daring, always evolving, and a genius at his craft.
2. Ricky Gervais
One thing that’s great about Ricky Gervais is that even though he’s hit it big, he hasn’t taken every project offered to him just to cash in. He’s blossomed into a comedic superstar in creating The Office and Extra’s, small movie roles, and a hilarious podcast with writing partner Steven Merchant (who stole scenes in Extras as Ricky’s manager). He did take the giant leap into leading man status in the movie Ghost Town last month and is currently working on more movies coming out in next year.
A comedian passing up on a big payday isn’t something you see very often, and we’re thrilled that he’s chosen quality over quantity.
3. Judd Apatow
Judd Apatow is a savior to anyone who grew up in the 80’s feasting on great comedies such as Fast Times at Ridgemont High”, “Stripes”, and Caddyshack. As a Producer/Director/Writer, he’s brought back the raunchy R-rated comedy and added a little heart to it. Part John Hughes, part Cameron Crowe, and part Howard Stern. His comedic empire seems to grow monthly cashing in with hits such as “The 40 Year Old Virgin”, “Superbad”, “Pineapple Express”, and the grossly underrated “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.”
Apatow has also brought along a ton of young comedic talent such as Seth Rogan that we’ll be appreciating for years to come. He makes tons of money for the studios, gives us plenty of laughs, and keeps comedy alive in movies. Everyone wins.
4. David Sedaris
You’d think that a writer who lives in France and contributes a ton of material to NPR would be a pretentious nightmare whose work wouldn’t speak to the masses. Well, in this case, you’d be wrong because that’s not how David Sedaris writes. His short stories are gut busting funny, brilliant and deal with things all of us can relate to: painful experiences in childhood, horrible jobs we held when we were younger, and wandering aimlessly in our 20’s. The wit is sharp as a machete, and he is one of the few people that make me laugh out loud when reading a book. I usually end up wandering around the house looking for my wife so I can re-read her the passage so I can share the laugh.
He’s had bestseller after bestseller with his latest,” When You are Engulfed in Flames,” focusing on midlife crisis. Once you start one of his books, you’ll have a hell of a time putting it down.
5. Bill Simmons
Few people have been helped more by the Internet than Bill Simmons, ESPN’s “Sports Guy.” Instead of waiting until someone got fired – or died --to write a sports column like the old guard sportswriters did, Simmons took it upon himself to reinvent sports writing. He’s created a new type of sportswriter that speaks to a generation that doesn’t take everything so seriously – and loves pop culture almost as much as they do sports. Simmons has effortlessly blended boxing with 90210, wonders why we euthanize a hurt racehorse but keep the WNBA around, and calls out coaches like he’s ordering pizza.
Simmons also doesn’t mind sharing the spotlight with his readers. Some of the best lines in his columns have come from his infamous mailbags and marathon chat sessions on ESPN.com. He’s successfully branched out into writing a magazine column, regular podcasts, and stints on ESPN’s E:60 TV show. You also have to admire the guy’s integrity after refusing to print the name of Oklahoma City’s new NBA team after their sleazy move from Seattle.
6. Seth Rogan
To say that Seth Rogan doesn’t look like your average movie star would be a gross understatement – and that’s what we dig about him. Stoned, overweight, and rumpled totally works, and has helped change the comedy landscape.
A protégé of Judd Apatow, Rogan has taken Hollywood by storm as a writer, producer, and actor in movies such as “Superbad”, “Knocked Up,” and “Pineapple Express.”
Not only have his films killed at the box office, but critics have also loved them-- which is a rare feat for comedies. Other highlights include a stint on the great “Freaks and Geeks”, and working as a writer for Sasha Baron Cohn’s hilarious “Ali Gi Show”. He’s been pumping out movie after movie non-stop in his young career, and there are no signs of that slowing down.
7. Stephen Colbert
While the Daily Show might be hipper, it's offspring; The Colbert Report has proven to be funnier. Let’s be honest, that’s what really matters.
Colbert has climbed the comedy ladder faster than anyone in recent years, and from everything I read he’s even funnier off-camera than on.
Colbert’s had a best-selling book in “I am America (and so can you)”, been a huge player in this year’s election drama, and has also acted in movies. He’s brilliant in (somehow) staying in character night after night. We’re watching a special talent here.
8. Dave Chappelle
One of the funniest stand-up comedians of the last 10-15 years, Chappelle is best known for turning down $50 million in 2005 to continue his groundbreaking and hilarious “Chappelle’s Show” on Comedy Central. The show was an enormous hit, but Chappelle didn’t like working the long hours or the direction many of the scripts were taking. Instead of showing up to work he quit the show and bolted to South Africa for a little time to reflect.
Chappelle returned home to Ohio where he currently resides and released a documentary in 2006 called “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party” which included a reunion of “The Fugees.” For someone so famous, he keeps an amazingly low profile.
9. Matt Groening
No one has meant more to TV in the past 25 years than Matt Groening.
As the creator of The Simpsons, Groening brought animation back to prime time TV with great characters, brilliant writing, and a better sense of popular culture than anyone in history. He originally launched Homer's family on TV in 1987 as a short on The Tracey Ullman Show, before taking the shape that we all know and love. The animation was a bit cruder, but the brilliance and laughs were there. They are currently in their stunning 20th season making them the longest running TV show and have also won numerous Emmy awards. The Simpson's Movie, which was a major hit and has gone on to make over $175 million domestically.
Before striking gold with The Simpsons, Groening's claim to fame was the comic strip "Life in Hell," and he's currently also the creator and executive producer of Futurama, also on Fox.
10. Bill Murray
I saved the best for last. Bill Murray has been one of the funniest people alive for over 30 years now and doesn’t appear to be slowing down. I don’t need to go into the scores of projects that have kept us in stitches for years – he’s comedy royalty. One look can send anyone into blinding laughter, his late night talk show appearances are still “must see TV,” and the show he puts on while on the golf course is fantastic. Especially since it irritates the stuffed shirts that run the tournament so much.
His career has blossomed as he’s aged and will (hopefully) keep improving after going through a brutal divorce.
This was originally written for MSN.com in 2012
photo via (CC BY-SA 2.0)