Oftentimes, we need a good laugh – to bring us up from bad times, to amplify good, and to bring hope for the future. Most of the television shows that I watch (largely reruns of Seinfeld, The Office, Family Guy, Monk, and the occasional episode of The Big Bang Theory) are full-on comedies, and all of them have some modicum of comedy. Here, in this post, I rank the Top 5 Modern Members of Comedy Royalty (no Aristophanes here)- stand-up, television, music – and sometimes a combination of both!
5. Jerry Seinfeld (1954- ), Seinfeld TV show co-creator, co-writer, co-executive producer, and star (and namesake), 1989-98; stand-up comedian
A lot of people always say, “It’s the little things…” They make life great, they make life suck. They can be a pain in the neck. Seinfeld realized this and, with Larry David, centered an entire series (one of the greatest in the history of television) for ten years – not to mention his comedy shtick. Based on real-life experiences and tiny events (buying a new jacket, for example), Seinfeld was (and is, in its second life of syndication) funny, silly, and at times, entirely absurd (such as Kramer and Newman’s plan to redeem bottles in Michigan for 10 cents rather than 5). It’s funny because it’s real and it focuses on those little things that get us down.
4. Matt Groening (1954- – coincidence? [Well yes, coincidence.]) Creator, Life in Hell/Life Is Swell comic strip, 1978-; The Simpsons, 1989-; Futurama, 1999-2003, 2007-2009
Matt Groening isn’t a writer in the general sense. He doesn’t write all the scripts nor does he voice any of the characters, nor does he do all of the animation for The Simpsons, the longest running American prime-time series ever. (He is, however, left-handed.) He did, however, provide the inspiration for the show – whose combination of timeliness and timelessness, not to mention its prolificness, often has showed no bounds over the past 21 years. It showed that a cartoon series could be for just adults – leading to Family Guy, American Dad!, and all the cartoons in the Adult Swim block on Cartoon Network. He has created, based on the dysfunction of his family, an entire world – and an entire genre.
3. Tom Lehrer (1928- ), musical satirist
2. George Carlin (1937-2008), stand-up comedian
George Carlin was really a stand-up comedian extraordinaire. His timing, impeccable. His topic – “Why We Suck”, in the words of Denis Leary – flaws in the human world, the English language, the American social order – is something none of us can avoid. This video, my personal favorite, “A Place for My Stuff,” shows the expertise in his profession.
But the Number 1 Member of Comedy Royalty is our comedic Queen, as it’s…
1. Lucille Ball (1911-1989), comedienne, creator, I Love Lucy, 1951-1957; The Lucy Show, 1962-1968; Here’s Lucy, 1968-1974; co-creator, Desilu Productions
There really is no more universal comedy than Vaudeville. A bit of slapstick here, a zany storyline there, and you have comedy. I Love Lucy and the shows of its ilk (not to mention Ball’s many films) are incredibly universal and have been seen by, most likely, billions, over the past 50 years. I Love Lucy was the first great TV show, dominating ratings; it propagated the longest studio audience laugh in TV history, according to the venerable Wikipedia; it created second-run syndication. And it was damn funny.
But why I chose Lucille Ball goes deeper than that. She stood up to HUAC, was the first female head of a production company (Desilu did Star Trek, for goodness’ sake!) and, along with Phyllis Diller, Mary Tyler Moore, Carol Burnett, and Betty White, broke the mold for female comedians, setting the stage for Whoopi Goldberg, Ellen DeGeneres, and Tina Fey.
Join me next week for another countdown in the Wednesday Top 5.