The Five Best Stand-Up Comedy Routines of All Time
Stand-up is a very specific performance skill. The tastes of an audience member are very personal, every show is different from night to night and being in the audience is very different to watching a show or clip at home.
I am a big fan of Woody Allen’s films but not as much of his stand-up, though he is skilled at the latter as well.
I am also a fan of W.C. Fields’ films but don’t think he is as funny on-stage; I love Tina Fey’s comedy writing and performance on “30 Rock” and elsewhere but have not seen it in the form of stand-up.
David Letterman is among the most engaging nightly variety show hosts of all time, but I expect he would not be as consistently engaging or funny doing stand-up; “Curb Your Enthusiasm” is my favourite comedy show of all time - even more than Larry David’s predecessor “Seinfeld” - which is where Larry David excels most rather than stand-up.
Perhaps totally personal opinions, but there seems to be some consensus about this. The same is true after all of film and TV and stage actors - some people, like James Cagney and Jack Nicholson (Orson Welles once observed round faces are very cinematic) and Marilyn Monroe, are born film stars that are less compelling on TV shows or the stage, while Lucille Ball for example is more suited to the small screen or stage than to film, Judy Garland film and stage rather than TV (in an ongoing role rather than in variety performances for example), and so on.
There are countless honourable mentions: Patton Oswalt, Bill Maher, Ricky Gervais, Tig Notaro, Jimmy Carr, Stephen K. Amos, Ross Noble, Eddie Murphy, Jerry Seinfeld and Aziz Ansari (and Patrice O’Neal, Billy Connolly, Joan Rivers and Bill Cosby) - which is only scratching the surface.
Who I have left out reveals something about my taste, but even comedians I don’t worship like others do, such as Bill Burr, Mitch Hedberg, Steven Wright and Bill Hicks, I still do either like or enjoy certain bits of.
And I like Jay Leno and Lenny Bruce, Alexei Sayle, Arj Barker, Kathy Griffin, Sarah Silverman, Lewis Black, Greg Fleet, Wil Anderson, Kitty Flanagan, Judith Lucy, Peter Helliar, Tim Minchin, Barry Humphries, Victor Borge, Bob Hope, George Burns, Abbott & Costello - it would just take all day long to list everyone who ever did stand-up, or told a good joke in one of their stand-up sets.
It was no less than astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson who said that stand-up comedians are the true chroniclers of the age and the real observers and philosophers of our time. They make us think and challenge any and every assumption we have about relationships, society, violence, moral quandaries and life and death.
So without any further ado, here are my favourite or vote for the five best comedy routines:
Chris Rock - Married People and Soul Mates
From "Never Scared" (2004).
Dave Chappelle - What Women and Men Want
From "Killin' Them Softly" (2000).
Louis C.K. - Why?
From "One Night Stand" (2005).
Robin Williams - Dr. Ruth/Roof
From "A Night at the Met" (1986).
George Carlin - Religion
From "You Are All Diseased" (1999).
BONUS #6: Richard Pryor - Dogs and Monkeys
From "Live On the Sunset Strip" (1982).