Top 5 American Stand-Up Comedians of the 20th Century

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The 20th-century birthed many great Latin singers form tenor Placido Domingo to Julio Iglesias and Gloria Estefan, as well as some of the world’s greatest all-time comedians. While it’s hard to pick the greatest of stand-up with such a long list, these top five are more than worthy.

Robin Williams


The late Robin Williams is often named among the world’s greatest comedians. One Ranker poll asked 25,000 people who “The Funniest Person of All Time” was, and he came in at No. 1. Williams got his start on stand-up stages in San Francisco and L.A., and despite being named the least likely to succeed in his high school class, he went on to star in his own sitcom, Mork and Mindy, and eventually stole the show in numerous film roles like Mrs. Doubtfireas well. Over his 20-year career he scored two Emmys, five Grammys and an Oscar.


Richard Pryor managed to survive a horrific childhood, which went on to shape his early acts before he went through a clean phase, and then ultimately discovered cocaine. He went from a Vegas lounge act to San Francisco stages and eventually starring in TV specials like Richard Pryor: Live in Concert, comedy films that included Silver Streakand many projects alongside actor Gene Wilder. While his career was incredibly successful, winning an Emmy Award and five Grammys, his personal life was in tatters. In his late 30s he suffered a minor heart attack after years of heavy smoking, drinking and drugs, and in 1991 he went through triple bypass surgery following another heart attack in addition to dealing with multiple sclerosis. But by the time he passed on at the age of 65, he was widely regarded as one of the greatest comedians of all time.

George Carlin


One of the first anti-religion advocates, Carlin didn’t just hate religion, he despised hypocrisy, willful ignorance and general BS, using his act to reveal the all-around stupidity of human nature. His rants were legendary and hilarious, while his famous “seven dirty words” went all the way to the Supreme Court, central to the 1978 case F.C.C. v. Pacifica Foundation. His success was based on taking the things that drive the average person nuts and turning them into something funny, from drivers turning “left around the world” to baffled pet owners whose dogs act like they’ve been gone for years after they just walked down the driveway to pick up their mail.

Bill Hicks


Bill Hicks never went mainstream, but that was mostly because cancer took his life at the age of just 32. He ranted while incessantly smoking on stage, about everything from mounting anti-intellectualism and consumerism to the headline news. He liked to push buttons, but he did it to wake people up to the world around him and not simply for the sake of his act.

Jerry Seinfeld


The only comedian on this list still alive and going strong today, Seinfeld is now in his 60s and has made a career by taking observational comedy to all new heights, famously asking, “What’s the deal with…” He got his first shot in the spotlight by appearing on The Tonight Showwith Johnny Carson in 1981 before going on to star in one of the most successful sitcoms of all time, Seinfeld, which he created and wrote with Larry David. It aired for nearly a decade, from 1989 to 1998. He can still be seen doing sets today, more than four decades after first grabbing the open mic in New York City



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