Home Culture Culture Lists

The 50 Funniest People Now

Randy Holmes/ABC via Getty Images; on Kopaloff/FilmMagic; Paul Morigi/WireImage

Here they are: The 50 actors, stand-ups, TV hosts, Twitterers, radio personalities, septuagenarians and sports analysts making us laugh the most right now. In making this list, we took the "now" part seriously, and focused on comedians' recent work. That meant excluding some all-time greats who aren’t very active as funnymen (or aren't doing their best work at the moment) in favor of people who are truly killing it out there these days.

By Nick Catucci, Meredith Clark, Jon Dolan, Andy Greene, Joe Gross, Joel Hoard, Halle Kiefer and Jody Rosen

Cindy Ord/Getty Images

50

Michael Che

Born and raised on the Lower East Side, 29-year old Michael Che has risen quickly through the New York standup ranks thanks to a style that mixes cagey political humor ("'gentrified' means when a bunch of white people move into a messed up neighborhood and open up cupcake stores everywhere") and broad, poignant observational bits (describing the difference between "love" and "like," he notes, "People kill their loved ones all the time. Nobody ever kills people they like"). Last year he debuted his first character in a series of shorts called "The Realest Candidate" for the Lorne Michaels-backed online comedy venture Above Average; he played a hip-hop artist/Republican strategist with a foolproof plan for job creation: "more Vodka companies!"

Christie Goodwin/Getty Images

49

Joan Rivers

She was cracking wise, working blue, and crashing comedy's stag party decades before you were born. Now, at age 79, Joan Rivers remains inimitable, and more surprising, vital. She's got regular gigs on E!'s Fashion Police and her reality show Joan & Melissa, but she's at her best – and most jaw-droppingly offensive – when at her regular stand-up gig at a basement nightclub near New York's Port Authority, performing a live-wire act that would make Andrew Dice Clay blush. Rivers played herself on an episode of Louie, dispensing wise-old-woman comedy advice, and throwing Louis a charity roll-in-the-hay for good measure. He wishes.

Brett Deering/Getty Images

48

Charles Barkley

A few years ago, the website blacksportsline.com listed the "50 Funniest Barkley Quotes." Try imagining a similar tribute to Howie Long or Greg Anthony or any other TV sports commentator and you'll understand the one-of-a-kind appeal of Sir Charles. The Hall of Fame NBA power forward turned studio analyst has made TNT's Emmy-winning Inside the NBA the most entertaining sports show ever. Barkley is a master of the one-liner (he once said of an overweight player, "You can't even jump high enough to touch the rim, unless they put a Big Mac on it"). But some of his best moments go beyond hoops talk to mix a subversive political edge and a total disregard for the bland conventions of broadcasting. He once referred to co-host Kenny "The Jet" Smith as "numbnuts" on the air; and, last May, when the TNT cameras showed Mitt Romney at a Celtics game, Barkley, an avid Obama supporter, bluntly exclaimed, "We're gonna beat you like a drum in November. Don't take it personally."

Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

47

Jimmy Fallon

Fallon is comedy's Nice-Guy-in-Chief, having effortlessly made the transition from SNL fixture to host of late night television's most amiable, most casually cool, talk show. He comes on like a goofball, but he's something of a closet hipster; music geeks around the world will eternally be in his debt for bringing the Roots to network TV. And speaking of music, Fallon has chops, and it's in musical parodies that he really shines: Slow-jamming the news, dueting with Bruce Springsteen, and teaming with Justin Timberlake for the already-legendary "History of Rap" medleys.

Redux

46

Daniel Kitson

David Cross called this Brit "the funniest comic I've ever seen in my life." Kitson – a cult figure averse to TV appearances, comedy albums and interviews – specializes in wringing brilliant comedy out of dark situations: A 2011 one-man show (which played a sold-out run in New York) was called The Interminable Suicide Of Gregory Church. Kitson's riffs are often perfectly crafted, but they're not always so heavy: In one stand-up clip on Youtube, he talks about his fascination with pigeons for several very funny minutes.

Michael Buckner/WireImage

45

Melissa McCarthy

Despite McCarthy's starring role in CBS' Mike & Molly and her much-loved role as Sookie St. James in Gilmore Girls, it wasn't until she played butch, hyper-confident Megan in Bridesmaids that she became a bonafide star. (You will never be able to un-see that diarrhea scene, but it was uproariously funny enough that you probably don't mind.) After snagging an Emmy for Mike & Molly and an Oscar nom for Bridesmaids, McCarthy and her outsize persona return to the big screen with a cavalcade of exciting weirdos in 2013: a Floridian internet thief across from Jason Bateman in Identity Theft, a wind-blown Boston cop paired with Sandra Bullock in April's The Heat and a put-upon daughter driving cross-country with her churlish grandmother (Shirley MacLaine) in Tammy. Oh, and she'll appear in The Hangover III this May. This woman has talent flowing out of her like lava!

Ali Goldstein/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

44

Tracy Morgan

Tracy Morgan: On 30 Rock, Morgan has gotten more laughs than anyone could have imagined playing Tracy Jordan, a buffoonish, delightfully anarchic version of himself. Morgan, once forced to apologize for homophobic remarks in his act, is less cuddly than Jordan, whose own homophobic misadventure led him to apologize to a Glad garbage bag rather than GLAAD. Which is reason enough for the 50-city "Pardon My French" comedy tour Morgan launches in March: We get to see the real Tracy stand up again.

Courtesy @dadboner/twitter

43

@DadBoner

Over two years and 7,000 tweets, @DadBoner has chronicled the misadventures of Karl Welzein, a fictional thirtysomething deadbeat dad (and oddly hyper-confident fuckup) from Grand Blanc, Michigan. The creation of comedian Mike Burns, @DadBoner is pure narrative; he never breaks character, never retweets, and never replies to followers. When he's not peepin' babes at the local Applebee's ('Bee's in his parlance), @DadBoner is passing out drunk on the john at work or celebrating the bold flavors of Guy Fieri. He's not without almost-redeeming qualities, however. After reuniting with his adolescent son, he tweeted, "My son Chad wanted to hang out again today. Told him, 'Easy. It's Sunday. Bein' a Dad can't be an EVERY day thing.' Gotta take it slow."

Mitch Haddad/ABC via Getty Images

42

David Sedaris

The true breakout star from This American Life (sorry, Ira) remains America's favorite gay, Southern ex-Santa elf, the go-to humorist for folks who spend too much for a cup of coffee. His new book Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls is due in the spring while a feature film adaptation of his story, C.O.G. just debuted at Sundance. And word to his equally-bonkers sister Amy, who is responsible, whether true or not, for one of the the great spit-take moments in his mega-cringe-worthy canon: Exiting a subway, turning and yelling at her brother "Hey David…Good luck beating that rape charge!"

Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic

41

Mindy Kaling

"They say the best revenge is living well. I say it's acid in the face. Who will love them now?" Anyone who's read Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Kaling's 2011 memoir, will recognize Mindy Kaling's signature mix of sweet and sour – a chipper, biting wit that landed her an Emmy-nominated seven-year stint on The Office and her new Fox show The Mindy Project. You can catch more of Mindy this year when she plays herself in Seth Rogen and James Franco's This Is the End, or when The Mindy Project inevitably snags an Emmy nomination or four this summer.

Colleen Hayes/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

40

Paul F. Tompkins

The dapper, mustachioed Tompkins first surfaced as a regular player on Mr. Show in the Nineties, and went on to become something of a comedic jack-of-all-trades. His impression of Gary Marshall and Werner Herzog on Earwolf's Comedy Bang Bang podcast will replace their actual voices in your head, and his own Pod F. Tompkast highlights his whimsical, lightning-fast wit. But it's his tongue-in-check observational stand-up that most earns him the respect of his die-hard fans. "I do not understand why people write letters to magazines," goes a typical quip. "It accomplishes nothing; it's pointless. If you want to see your name in print that bad, write on a piece of paper and look at it: 'Ah, there it is. Just as I always dreamed.'"

Tasos Katopodis/WireImage

39

Maria Bamford

Meek-voiced Maria Bamford makes all other existentially dark comedians look like so many Carrot Tops. Bamford (who was excellent as Louis C.K.'s Sysaphisian fuck buddy on the last season of Louie) explores her real-life struggles with depression and anxiety while pushing the parameters of comedic form. Her grueling, hilarious 2009 Web series The Maria Bamford Show was based around the premise that she'd moved in with her parents after suffering a nervous breakdown. Last year her The Special Special Special! followed C.K.'s pioneering idea of offering a comedy special directly to fans online for $5. In her version, she does stand-up in her own living room with her real parents as the only audience, treating them to bits like the one where she imagines what it¹d be like if people dismissed physical diseases the way we do mental illness – "It's like, fuck off! We all have cancer. Right?"

Glenn Watson/USA Network/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

38

Patton Oswalt

Oswalt helped bring stand-up to indie-rock clubs with the Comedians of Comedy tour, and he's spent years skewering American excess and stupidity. After starring on The King of Queens and in films like Young Adult and Ratatouille, he wrote Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, a book of essays about growing up as a geeky outsider. He's also willing to suffer for a joke: Upon admitting he¹d never actually eaten KFC's Famous Bowl, a dish he called a "failure pile in a sadness bowl" in one of his most beloved bits, he agreed to try one and wrote about his near-death meal experience for the AV Club.

Cassie Wright/WireImage

37

Scott Aukerman

Last year, Aukerman turned beloved his Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast into an IFC series. The result was essential TV for comedy fans, as Aukerman retained his goofy, engaging hosting style while juggling characters, games and interviews with his famous comedian friends. Aukerman was also was the father of the Earwolf Podcast Network, the brains behind the web series Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis and the host of the Comedy Death Ray stand-up showcase at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in Los Angeles.  If you've ever dreamed of hearing Margaret Cho and David Wain answer questions like "Would you rather make sweet passionate love to a sycamore, or direct an all-kangaroo shot-for-shot remake of E.T.?," then you will want to familiarize yourself with Aukerman's work immediately.

Ali Goldstein/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

36

Kristen Schaal

Schaal might make the world's most endearing stalker. She brought the same wide-eyed weirdness to 30 Rock's psychotic page Hazel Wassername as she did to Bret and Jermaine superfan Mel on Flight of the Conchords. But she also brought feminism to The Daily Show as its Senior Women's Issues Correspondent, after years performing stand-up with the creepy optimism she's known for now as an actress. When she talks about the bright side of getting hit by a car, you almost believe she's done it to someone.

Ray Tamarra/FilmMagic

35

David Letterman

Letterman was awarded Kennedy Center honors last December, and for good reason. He's up in that jazz legend/famous author realm of great American artists at this point; you can go years without watching The Late Show then check back in to find him exactly the same dry genius you remember – only now there's a lovable cantankerous Midwestern grandpa side to go with it. And even at 65, Letterman can still bring the fourth wall-smashing fire; in a recent retrospective interview with Regis Philbin he followed up a clip of some of his Eighties standup from The Tonight Show by telling Regis, with embarrassed rage: "If you roll anymore tape I'm coming across the desk. There's gonna be bloodshed right here. I can take you."

Cindy Ord/Getty Images

34

Michael Ian Black

The persistence of folks from MTV's Nineties sketch show The State is one of the nicer bonuses of the 21st century. Former Stater Michael Ian Black – whose sly, vaguely douchey on-stage persona apparently translates quite well to other media – has taken to that other recent phenom, Twitter, like the proverbial lobster to melted butter, weighing in on such issues as Lance Armstrong: ("If Oprah's smart, she'll have James Frey come out and give Lance a hug"), the President ("³Did anybody else notice a disturbing lack of Mummenschanz at the Inauguration?") and near-Zen koans ("Somewhere out there, somebody is excited about starting clarinet lessons soon.") Now can we get a feed from LeVon and Barry?

Colleen Hayes/NBC

33

Nick Offerman

As Ron Swanson on Parks and Recreation, Offerman glowers from behind his signature mustache as the perfect sendup of the Libertarian clinging to a bygone macho idea. "Capitalism: God's way of determining who is smart and who is poor," he explains. Offerman had minor roles on a series of network shows, but it wasn¹t until he was 38 that he landed Swanson, who touts the simple joys of breakfast food and woodcarving, a skill Offerman himself has mastered, with a fatherly stoicism that¹s both hilarious and oddly charming. There's no other character quite like him on TV, and few as funny.

bill murray

Christopher Polk/NBC/NBC via Getty Images

32

Bill Murray

Murray doesn't take straight comedic roles anymore, but he's a national treasure who still exudes a singular brand of melancholy nuttiness. In recent years he's made a habit of interacting with shocked strangers in public (like when he crashed a New York karaoke party), telling them "No one will ever believe you." Murray recently played FDR in Hyde Park on Hudson and promoted the film with a Letterman appearance in which he was wrestled in by stun-gun-wielding "kidnappers," smoothed down his suit, and announced, "It's nice to be back." What other actor could cameo as a (presumably) more stoned version of himself in Zombieland, then, three years later, take on a wartime president? Anybody else would just seem like a punchline.

Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for CBGB Festival; Michael Loccisano/WireImage

31

Tom Scharpling and Jon Wurster

Deploying the awesomely arcane medium of radio, Tom Scharpling and Jon Wurster have been become the stuff of indie-comedy lore. "The Best Show," hosted by Scharpling each week on the New Jersey freeform station WFMU, has been consistently brilliant since the late Nineties. Scharpling plays the straight-man taking calls from an array of Wurster characters, including the Gorch, who claims the Fonz was based on him, Timmy Von Trimble, a two-inch tall white supremacist, and the Music Scholar, a heard-it-all jerk writing a book called Everything¹s Dead, which comes with a lighter so you can burn it when you¹re done reading it. Wurster, who moonlights as the drummer for Superchunk, Bob Mould and the Mountain Goats, has also written for Adult Swim¹s Squidbillies and Tim and Eric's Awesome Show, while Scharpling, a writer for TV's Monk, has directed hilarious videos for Ted Leo and the New Pornographers. They're both Twitter must-follows, which begs the question: Is there any media platform these guys can't stealthily rule?

Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic

30

Rebel Wilson

A 26-year-old up-and-comer with a killer deadpan, Wilson recently stole scene after scene as Fat Amy in the a cappella competition flick Pitch Perfect. Before that she was one of Kristen Wiig's incestuous roommates in Bridesmaids and a TV star in her native Australia. Wilson has said she decided to become an actress after she had a malaria-induced dream in which she rapped an Oscar acceptance speech, which makes sense for someone who was one half of a Kriss Kross cover duo.

Larry Marano/Getty Images

29

Jerry Seinfeld

"People want me to spend a lot of time wastefully so that I can then waste their time," Seinfeld said in a recent New York Times profile. The post-Seinfeld Seinfeld has turned wasting time into quite the art form. But he's recently been pretty active-for-Jerry: last year, he did his first shows in New York since the Nineties (playing one night in each of his hometown's five boroughs), as well as the series of web shorts Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, where he drives classic cars and talks shop with pals like Ricky Gervais and Larry David. He may never make another era-defining TV show but in the world of comedians he's still the Gandalf of joke telling. "Whereas most comedians are lazy bastards, he's the ultimate craftsman," Sarah Silverman told The Times.

Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

28

John Mulaney

Apparently it's not enough for some people to just write for Saturday Night Live – not even when that person co-created the immortal character "Stefon." For John Mulaney, SNL is now something of a day job (if your day job also won you Emmys); he¹s also one of the country's best young stand-ups. "It is 100% easier not to do things than to do them, and so much fun not to do them – especially when you were supposed to do them. In terms of instant relief, canceling plans is like heroin," he explained on his second album of wry, self-mocking observational comedy, 2012's New in Town. Mulaney has been making the late night rounds, filming appearances for Kroll Show and doing some of his best work on Twitter. "I had zero idea using counterfeit money was illegal!! Please, please know that BEFORE you hear Kohl's side of the story," he tweeted.

George Pimentel/WireImage

27

Rob Delaney

How much wit and wisdom,and toilet humor, and nasty sex, and Mitt Romney-baiting,can you cram into 140 characters? A whole lot, if you're Rob Delaney, the L.A.-based stand-up who has staked claim to the mantle World's Funniest Tweeter. More than anyone else, Delaney has made Twitter a forum for comedy, filling his feed with a non-stop flow of horndoggery ("NO FATTIES* *may pass thru my fuck palace without getting a loving scrubdown from my strong hands"), Dadaist riffs ("I don't know why other men have nipples, but I have mine for 'nursing' my family of rats under the Santa Monica pier"), and, occasionally, rock criticism ("'Don't call me daughter' 'Roger that; we'll just keep calling you 'Eddie Vedder, Master Lyricist.'"). #Follow.

Shawn Ehlers/Getty Images for Scleroderma Research Foundation

26

John Oliver

After six years as The Daily Show's Senior British Correspondent, Oliver is still finding things in America that are too ridiculous to leave unmocked. The Birmingham, England, native has been an essential part of the show's campaign coverage for two presidential elections; this spring he sat down with former Presidential candidate Herman Cain for an extended interview. (You won't hear a politician give a speech against an invading alien menace on Meet the Press, but Oliver got one out of Cain.) Oliver turned down a regular gig on NBC's Community to stay with Jon Stewart, and he's brought his boisterous, exquisitely silly style to his stand-up series on Comedy Central, which has featured everyone from Maria Bamford and Eugene Mirman to Hannibal Buress and his Daily Show colleague Kristen Schaal.

Jackie Butler/Getty Images

25

Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen

Take one indie-rock icon and one SNL ace, put them together, and what do you get? Sketch comedy gold, a send-up of bourgeois bohemia that is as perfectly crafted as a hand-crocheted Etsy tea cozy. The targets of Portlandia are almost too easy, but Brownstein and Armisen never settle for cheap laughs, pushing their send-ups of feminist bookshop owners, bearded baristas, bike activists, and locavore foodie zealots past the obvious into the realm of the zanily surreal. The dream of the Nineties is alive!

Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

24

Seth Meyers

Meyers has now passed Dennis Miller as the longest serving anchor in the history of Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update. (He did the fake news segment with Amy Poehler from 2006 to 2009, and solo since then.) His ability to thrive in that famously high-stress gig might also be a secret of his comedy – an easy-going version of political satire that stands out for its amiability, especially in this ranty era. The Sarah Palin sketches Meyers wrote with Tina Fey during the 2008 presidential campaign managed to be trenchant without being mean-spirited, and his treatment of Mitt Romney this time around was similarly fair and balanced: "The 14 percent tax rate Romney paid is less than the 20 percent paid by the average American. How does he pay such a low rate? He claims 47 percent of Americans as dependents." He might also have the best comedic timing in the business; at the 2011 White House Correspondents dinner he made a joke about Osama bin Laden's hideout at the very moment U.S. forces were beginning the operation that captured the al-Qaeda leader. Impeccable!

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

23

Hannibal Buress

Buress is our era's top inheritor of the late, lamented Mitch Hedberg's stoner comedy mantle, with a vaguely blitzed delivery and an ability to come up with brilliantly weird riffs on anything from the best use of pickle juice to the deficiencies of rap videos ("some of 'em say 'To Be Continued,' but they never have the second video. There's so much suspense! Are they gonna pour more champagne on these bitches or is somebody gonna bring a towel?"). The Chicago native got into comedy almost by accident ("I saw some other people, and I was like, 'These people are really bad. I can be really bad.' So I went on to be bad for a few years," he recalled recently), eventually landing writing gigs on Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock. The weekly stand-up nights he hosts in Williamsburg, Brooklyn's Knitting Factory have become an always-packed hipster must-see.

Kevin Winter/NBCUniversal/Getty Images

22

Bill Maher

"I love America! It gives me so much material," the host of HBO's Real Time With Bill Maher told Rolling Stone in 2011. Like his hero George Carlin, Maher isn't afraid to mix highbrow irony and junior-high lunchroom vulgarity in his political satire (he recently offered Donald Trump $5 million to prove his mom didn't mate with orangutan). But his greatest achievement remains his reinvention of the political panel segment. Mixing it up with pop culture figures and serous pundits, he's as likely to make salient, nuanced arguments as he is to shut down a conservative talking-head by throwing up his hands and simply saying, "Your attitude is 'fuck facts'." No one channels the liberal Id as brilliantly.

Steven Dewall/Redferns

21

Tig Notaro

"Thank you. I have cancer. Thank you." And so began Tig Notaro's now-legendary set last August at the Largo in L.A. For 30 minutes, the stand-up riffed bittersweet on her recent breast-cancer diagnosis, the sudden death of her mother, a debilitating intestinal infection and a bad break-up. It was the kind of set her sardonic deadpan for built for. (As were previous gems like "I went on a hardcore drinking and smoking binge, and it lasted right about nine months. And then, as soon as I was born, I was like, 'Whew! Do not go in there.'") Louis C.K. hyped her set on his website, proclaiming, "[I]n 27 years doing this, I've seen a handful of truly great, masterful stand-up sets. One was Tig Notaro last night at Largo." In addition to appearances in upcoming films Walk of Shame and Shreveport, a now cancer-free Notaro is currently planning to work on Amy Schumer's new New York-based show and write a book. She'll always be The Sarah Silverman Program's Officer Tig to us.

Michael Schwartz/WireImage

20

Marc Maron

In 2009, it looked like Maron's career was circling the drain. A cranky presence who veered between political stuff and open-wound personal drama, Maron, a fixture in the 1990s alt-comedy scene, had never broken big. (He'd had various Air America shows cancelled three times.) Then he launched the twice-weekly interview podcast WTF with Marc Maron from his garage and stumbled into a Travolta-in-Pulp Fiction-type comeback. Originally focusing on fellow comics, but now including everyone from Jakob Dylan to Jon Hamm, Maron's WTF is a must-listen for anyone interested in the art, craft and history of comedy. He blends his own armchair-shrink neediness with a knack for getting his guests to sound awfully relaxed and open, which makes for riveting listening. This stuff should be in the Library of Congress.

Eugene Gologursky/WireImage

19

David Cross

Cross has been busy in recent years: He created and starred in his own IFC series, The movies, and is currently reprising his most famous role, as "analrapist" Dr. Tobias Funke on Arrested Development. And he continues to kill as a stand-up, releasing three comedy albums in the last decade. The most recent, 2010's Bigger and Blackerer, reminds you that he's got supreme skills as a political comedian and a Carlin-esque gift for skewering American absurdity, with excellent bits about Mormons, gimmicky Coors Light cans, and the root of his lifelong depression: "Very recently I discovered that, the entire time, I had a rock in my shoe."

Mark Seliger/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

18

Howard Stern

Age has mellowed Howard Stern in the best way possible. At 59, he knows he doesn't need to waste time lashing out at perceived rivals or proving his shock-jock credentials by interviewing an endless parade of porn stars and freaks. Now in his seventh year on Sirius XM, he does revealing and hilarious interviews with guests ranging from Revenge of the Nerds star Robert Carradine to Lady Gaga to J.B. Smoove. More importantly, he's painfully honest about his own life, sharing everything from his failed attempt to push his parents into a rest home to his newfound interest in babysitter-themed pornography. Can you imagine Letterman or Leno going there?

Randy Holmes/ABC via Getty Images

17

Jimmy Kimmel

It's been a bang-up year for the eternal man-boy of late night comedy. Last April, he hosted the White House correspondents dinner, at which he called Kim Kardashian "the greatest threat to America" and got a high five from President Obama, and on January 8th, Jimmy Kimmel Live made the big move to the 11:35 time slot. Naturally, he's doing it with the same laidback arrogance that's been his calling card since his days on The Man Show; Kimmel recently called Jay Leno "a master chef who opened a Burger King" in a Rolling Stone cover story, and put his money where his mouth is by beating David Letterman in the ratings on the first night of his new time slot.

Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

16

Ricky Gervais

"It's not my job to worry what people are thinking of me. That's a job for a politician," Gervais said a couple years ago. Indeed, Bill Clinton he is not. From his scorched-earth turns hosting the Golden Globes or his stand-up deconstruction of religious ignorance, Gervais' comedy has always been about no-holds-barred bullshit-calling. Yet, he's still cuddly-schlub likeable enough to star in the forthcoming Muppets sequel. Gervais' next BBC series, Derek, in which he plays an autistic-seeming guy who works in an old-folks home, returns to the fishbowl realism he perfected on The Office, with fascinating results.

Cindy Ord/Getty Images

15

Kevin Hart

32-year-old Hart has become one of the biggest stand-ups in the world by tapping into the raw and autobiographical raw tradition of leather-suit-era Eddie Murphy. The Philly native's excellent 2011 concert film/album Laugh At My Pain features vivid bits about his father's cocaine addiction and his mother's funeral, and his most recent set, Let Me Explain, goes into detail about his recent divorce (he
jokes that it wasn't cheating that got him in trouble, it was lying about cheating). Unsurprisingly, he's huge with rappers; while hosting the VMA's last year he even made pulled off the difficult task of making
Drake laugh.

Michael Kovac/Getty Images for AmeriCares

14

Will Ferrell

From his classic George W. Bush impersonation to his portrayal of Ron Burgundy in Anchorman, Will Ferrell's career has been a long-running commentary on a quintessentially American species of contemporary male: the Alpha Doof. Ferrell's also been a masterful enabler of other A.D.s (producing Eastbound & Down, for instance), while becoming so emblematic of white-guy self-parody that rappers love sampling him (see Kanye and Jay-Z's "Niggas In Paris"). Later this year, he'll be dusting off his jazz flute for the long-awaited Anchorman sequel. "Hey America,"Ron says with mustache-tingling, soft-rock smoothness in the trailer. "Did you miss my hot breath in your ear?" Um: yeah.

Michael Kovac/Getty Images for AmeriCares

13

Aziz Ansari

Is the world's greatest hip-hop comedian an Indian-American from South Carolina? Whether dishing uproariously about his close encounters with Kanye West, or strutting through Parks and Recreation as Tom Haverford, the most swagged-out government bureaucrat in the history of Pawnee, Indiana, Ansari has captured the rhythms, and the silliness, of hip-hop culture like almost no one else. His most ingenious bit: Raaaaaaaandy, his "baller" fratboy meta-stand-up alter-ego, invented for the Judd Apatow's "Funny People", and perfected in his stage show ("Hit me up on Myspace.com slash Randy, with eight a's").

HBO

12

Larry David

In Larry David's uncivil, everything-falls-apart universe, the bad news comes first, so here it is: Curb Your Enthusiasm, television's leanest, meanest, and most original satire, probably won't deliver a ninth season until at least 2014. But there's good news, too: David's been at work on Clear History, an HBO movie in which he plays a ruined marketing exec plotting revenge on a former boss (played by John Hamm). David, who oversaw Seinfeld in the Nineties, lampooned himself in Curb throughout the '00s, and starred in Woody Allen's Whatever Works in 2009, is already stepping out from behind "Larry David." Now 65, he's the retirement-age anti-hero to watch.

Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic

11

Zach Galifianakis

The king of all things uncomfortable, embarrassing, troubling and inappropriate, Galifianakis has become the least likely mega-star of his generation. The Hangover 3 will be out later this year, and last year's The Campaign, with Will Ferrell, was a surprisingly trenchant comment on political corruption. But the Galifianakis magic is often best experienced in situations where his languidly absurdist genius is undiluted – like his appearance as a standup comedian from 1778 ("Is this thing on? What is this thing?") or the web series Between Two Ferns, his now-legendary masterclass in celebrity discomfort. His ability be at once totally unacceptable and utterly lovable is a comedic wonder: "I want to combine the NAACP with Mothers Against Drunk Driving," he once joked. "It's called Mothers Against the Advancement of Colored People."

kristen wiig

Michael Kovac/WireImage

10

Kristen Wiig

There was Betty Boop. And Rosalind Russell. And Lucille Ball. And now, Kristen Wiig. She's an old-fashioned screwball comedienne, a master of woman-on-the-verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown madcap. But she's also a definitively 21st century talent, a sketch comedy genius whose indelible Saturday Night Live impressions (Judy Garland, Nancy Pelosi, Taylor swift) and creations (the Target Lady, the folk singer Kat) mark her as one of show's greatest performers. And as Bridesmaids proved, she can command the big screen like a proper movie star, and write a pitch-perfect script.

Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank

9

Bill Hader

In his own understated way, Hader has become one of America's best comic actors. On Saturday Night Live, he's infinitely versatile and a master impressionist: His Alan Alda is dead on, his versions of Al Pacino and Keith Morrison (of NBC's Dateline) are howlingly funny, and his over-the-top take on Democratic strategist James Carville is so good that no one else should ever attempt an imitation of the Ragin' Cajun. Then there's Stefon, the flamboyantly gay Weekend Update "city correspondent" who hypes increasingly bizarre New York nightclubs (one features "DJ Baby Bok Choy" a giant 300-pound Chinese baby who wears tinted aviator glasses and spins records with his little ravioli hands"). It's SNL's weirdest and greatest character in years.

HBO

8

Lena Dunham

Dunham has cornered the market on skewering white girl problems. Girls just began its second season on HBO, and Dunham, 26, knows how to turn the most embarrassing parts of being young and adrift into essential TV. She's sly enough to know she's not speaking for everyone ("I may be the voice of my generation. Or at least a voice, of a generation," her character Hannah says in Girls' first episode), but for those who've escaped their twenties intact, the bad sex, flighty friends, and dead-end jobs on Girls are too painful to do anything but laugh at.

Christopher Polk/Getty Images

7

Chris Rock

Rock is one of the few comics to remain not just funny but relevant for his entire career. These days, he exec-produces Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, acts on Broadway (The Motherfucker with the Hat) and shows up in movies (uh, Grown Ups). He is the missing link between Woody Allen and Barack Obama. And yes, there are those of us who saw Pootie Tang in the theater and will never stop quoting it. But what we really want from the God MC is more stand-up, please.

Chris Haston/NBC

6

Amy Poehler

"Leslie Knope should ask VP Biden if he supports my Urban Parks bill," North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan tweeted when the Vice President made a cameo on Parks and Recreation. Sadly, Parks and Rec is a scripted fictional sitcom and not a choose-your-adventure story, but it's an easy mistake to make. The world of Pawnee, Indiana is as fully realized as anything on TV – a multi-textured Mayberry for Obama's America. As Leslie Knope, Poehler has been putting on a masterclass in sitcom virtuosity: She's got brilliant timing, she's great at physical comedy and she¹s able to play it heartwarmingly straight. Poehler wasn't given nearly enough stage time when she co-hosted this year's Golden Globes with Tina Fey, but she still had the best line of the night anyway: "We're going home with Jodie Foster!"

Steve Granitz/WireImage

5

Trey Parker and Matt Stone

Fifteen years ago, South Park was seen as a Beavis and Butt-Head clone – minus the social satire, and with worse animation. Gradually, Trey Parker and Matt Stone's humble creation became the smartest (and most subversive) show on television, finding humor in everything from Scientology to the Special Olympics. Parker and Stone's initial non-South Park projects (Orgazmo, Team America) were mixed bags, but in 2011 their Broadway debut The Book of Mormon became the best reviewed musical in recent memory. The pair just formed a new production company, but Parker and Stone aren't slacking on their day job, either: The most recent season of South Park was as hilarious and batshit-crazy as ever.

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

4

Jon Stewart

Now entering his fifteenth year behind The Daily Show's anchor desk, Stewart is approaching Carson-Letterman territory as a late-night institution. In the early Bush years, he single-handedly obliterated the cliche that liberals couldn't be funny, skewering politicians and the pundits who cover them while effortlessly merging satire with substantive interviews, like a cross between Tim Russert and Mort Sahl. He's made an art of vaporizing cable news blowhards like Bill O'Reilly and Jim Cramer, but he's never been afraid to take on respected public figures at the height of their popularity and power. He recently called out fellow New Jerseyan Chris Christie for attacking Barack Obama's leadership skills on the campaign trail, then praising them when his state needed help after Hurricane Sandy: "I see," Stewart said. "So he wasn't a leader until you needed leadership." He remains the most trusted name in news for people who don't trust the news.

tina fey

Ali Goldstein/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

3

Tina Fey

"Remember the beginning of the story where I was the underdog? No? Me neither," Fey wrote in her bestselling memoir Bossypants. That line pretty much nails Tina Fey¹s mystique: The writer-producer-actor-author has become a do-it-all icon and a trailblazer for similarly versatile female comedians like Amy Poehler and Mindy Kaling. As 30 Rock winds up its final season this year, she can move on to the next phase of her victory-lap filled career safe in the knowledge that she¹s infused prime time TV with new levels of absurdist wit and cultural sophistication. Word has it the season finale will feature an appearances by Ice-T and former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi ("I would do almost anything Tina Fey asks me to do," Pelosi said), proving that Fey can make pretty much anyone funny.

Paul Morigi/WireImage

2

Stephen Colbert

Colbert is so well known for his political humor that his chops as a pure comedian are often overlooked. But he's one of comedy's quickest wits, not to mention an old fashioned physical comedian – a world-class mugger and slapstick artist, donning ridiculous outfits and wolfing down dubious foodstuffs on Colbert Report sketches. As for politics: He sets himself apart not just as a satirist, but as an activist, breaking the fourth wall with ingenious conceptual art stunts – testifying before congress about his brief tenure as a migrant worker, founding his own Super PAC to expose post-Citizens United money-swamped political campaigns, and in his most celebrated coup de theatre, spit-roasting President Bush, and the complacent press corps, in his appearance at the White House Correspondents Dinner in 2006.

louis ck

FX

1

Louis C.K.

In 2013, Louis C.K. is the Great American Comedian: our chubby, schlubby, ginger-haired conscience, id, and jester-in-chief. He's a poet of existential malaise, but his signature standup bit, "Everything is Amazing and Nobody's Happy," extols the beauty of life and the magic of modern technology. He's a devoted single father who quips, hilariously, about child-rape. He's relentlessly politically incorrect, and one of the most politically trenchant comedians going, whose jokes stake out a savagely smart left-of-center perspective on class, race, and American history. He's a crusty old-school stand-up's-stand up and a groundbreaking internet entrepreneur. His TV show is a new kind of high-low pop-art, a little bit Jackie Gleason, a little bit Jean-Luc Godard. He can make you laugh, and cry, just by eating ice cream, a whole pint of it, straight out of the carton, while lying in bed. A funny man who contains multitudes.

Show Comments