As Steve Martin used to warn, comedy is not pretty. And in these fractious times, the power of laughter matters more than ever. We focused on the “now” – some of our all-time favorites aren’t here because they don’t happen to be peaking or prolific. These 50 people (or teams) are all reasons why we are in a new golden age of comedy.
What does the king do for his next move? C.K. reclaims his throne – it’s like this guy drives himself to earn it all from scratch every time out. Louie is one of the most overwhelmingly influential comedies in TV history – so many of the names on this list got here by walking through the door C.K. kicked down. With his self-referential sitcom, he defied all the rules and rhythms of how comedy is supposed to work, writing, directing and even editing it himself. C.K. goes strictly on his own nerve, with surprise moves like the 10-part dysfunctional-family story Horace and Pete, which he dropped on his website with zero warning, starring himself and Steve Buscemi as Brooklyn bartenders cursed by their blood ties. C.K.’s as ornery as ever in his self-loathing new stand-up special, 2017, which makes you worry about the guy but also root for him.
The god is back. Rock’s new Total Blackout tour is cause for celebration, even if it was a painful divorce (and its price tag) that pushed him back onstage. He jokes about his post-divorce attempt to put the moves on RiRi: “You know how you forget how old you are? Rihanna looked at me like I was her aunt. Then she asked me where Ray J went.” Over the decades, Rock has never suffered a dry spell, even as he keeps moving out of his comfort zone into projects like his film Top Five. (Or, yes, Pootie Tang.) But onstage is where he really brings the pain.
McKinnon’s been the MVP on Saturday Night Live for so long it’s easy to forget how young she is – and how much more of her brilliance we have to look forward to. There’s something steely about her deadpan, both on SNL and in Notary Publix, the Web series she created with her sister – who else could get comedy out of the glamorous world of notaries?
At a time when fictional presidents and alternate political universes are a form of therapy, Veep matters more than ever. Despite its genius cast, it all revolves around Louis-Dreyfus and her relentlessly cynical charisma as ex-President Selina Meyer. In the new season, when someone talks dreamily about an idealistic politician, Louis-Dreyfus just sneers, “That and a car with a sunroof could have bought you my virginity back in ’83.” Somehow, she speaks for us all.
Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key
Perhaps the greatest tribute to the enduring impact of their genius sketch show came from Dave Chappelle, who recently admitted that watching their show for five years made him jealous as hell: “That hurts my feelings.” Much as we all miss Key and Peele, the end of their series means more room to conquer other venues, be it their cat-gangsta- heist romp, Keanu, or Peele’s horror flick, Get Out, a game-changer that finds a whole new way to satirize the never-ending bad joke of American racism.
Wong arrived with a bang – in her brilliant stand-up special Baby Cobra, she riffs on topics like the perks of marrying someone of the same race: “You get to go home and be racist together.” And she taped it while nearly eight months pregnant, an achievement that’s up there with pregnant Serena Williams winning the Australian Open. Plus, Wong gets raw about sex: “You gotta make this dude believe your body is a secret garden, when really it’s a public park that has hosted many reggae fests.” She’s a writer on Fresh Off the Boat, but her stand-up game is what makes us most impatient to see what she does next.
Buress keeps building his stand-up legend, with two stellar Netflix specials in 2016. (Not to mention almost single-handedly breaking the wall of silence around a guy named Bill Cosby, detailed in Buress’ excellent Comedy Camisado.) Buress was all long-suffering deadpan nonchalance in Broad City, but in a third-season twist – Ilana’s longtime fuck buddy finds a woman who will commit – he also showed that he’s got a wider emotional range than people recognize. He can even slay when he’s riffing on how painful it is to get carded when you’re 32: “Why don’t you look at my body – do I look like I have the metabolism of a 20-year-old? I don’t have a metabolism anymore – everything just stays.”
New York-based Nancherla made a huge splash last year with her killer debut album, Just Putting It Out There, on Tig Notaro’s label. She’s been doing stand-up for 10 years, along with her Web series Woman-hood (with Jo Firestone) and podcast Blue Woman Group (with Jacqueline Novak). She goes deep on why pizza is similar to yoga (“That’s my sacred circle”) and topics like depression and anxiety: “Sometimes people are like, ‘There’s nothing to fear but fear itself.’ Uh, have you checked out some of fear’s work? Pretty much churning out the hits since forever.”
Gethard’s craft thrives on painful confession, from his stage show, Career Suicide, to his podcast to his public-access chatfest. My Comedy Album is a masterful showcase for his onstage storytelling, though that’s only a fraction of what he excels at: neurotic despair.
A multi-threat so great on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Perretti is just reaching her prime as a stand-up. (And a former rock critic made good, no less.) Perretti ascended with the special One of the Greats, casually announcing, “I guess you could say that I’m a direct vessel of God.”
Already an acclaimed rap jester under the handle Childish Gambino – and a star on Community, where he played the messiah of an air-conditioner-repairman cult – Glover outdid himself with the rookie season of his dazzlingly ambitious FX comedy, Atlanta, playing Earnest “Earn” Marks, a college dropout who goes back home to restart his life by managing his rapper cousin, Paper Boi.
The Brit comedian became an overnight star with Fleabag, playing one of TV’s most frightfully funny antiheroes. She’s a London girl running a failing cafe, with a family even more off the rails than her sex life. As she says, “I have a horrible feeling that I’m a greedy, perverted, selfish, apathetic, cynical, depraved, morally bankrupt woman who can’t even call herself a feminist.” And those are her lovable qualities.
Twenty-some years after Judge defined adolescent male dumbitude with Beavis & Butt-head, he had something to say about the just-barely-post-adolescent version on HBO’s Silicon Valley. What first seemed like a trifle, mocking an already too-familiar geek culture, has grown into one of the savviest satires on the air, with a lot of help from a stellar cast that includes Martin Starr, Thomas Middleditch and Kumail Nanjiani. And don’t get us started on Idiocracy, the most painfully pertinent (and prescient) satire in years.
Ansari returns this spring in the sophomore season of Master of None, the acerbic love-is-strange sitcom that added yet another feather to his cap. He can do anything – write a pithy book, Modern Romance; star as the swagged-up and smoothed-out Tom on Parks and Recreation; and kill on stand-up specials like Buried Alive and Live at Madison Square Garden – as he chronicles the ever-shifting rules of dating, fame and foodie culture.
Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan
Delaney made his name as the funniest (and mind-bogglingly prolific) one-liner factory on Twitter. So it was more surprising than it should have been that he adapted so smoothly to the sitcom format in Catastrophe. He and Horgan both write and star as a mismatched couple leaping into the mysteries and miseries of parenthood.
Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld
Their High Maintenance could have been a stoner’s pipe dream, except Sinclair and Blichfeld turned it into a Web series that got even better on HBO – written, directed and edited entirely by these two. Sinclair plays a New York weed dealer, called the Guy, who has a different adventure every day as he steps into the inner sanctums of his customers. Sinclair and Blichfeld will try anything – even the surreal “Grandpa” episode, told entirely from the POV of a dog named Gatsby who can’t believe how fucking dumb these stoner humans are.
A weekly rom-com musical devoted to the lighter side of stalking? Crazy Ex-Girlfriend isn’t for everybody – in some of the funniest moments, it’s so emotionally extreme you wonder how it could be for anybody. But there’s nothing else like it, and Bloom holds it together as the delusional heroine trapped in a musical. Sure, she’s plucky and lovable, but Crazy Ex-Girlfriend wouldn’t work unless she were also incredibly scary – and Bloom makes sure she is.
Bamford’s groundbreaking sitcom, Lady Dynamite, fearlessly delves into her personal story of bipolar II disorder and hospitalization. It is agonizingly candid, yet it’s also funny, as Bamford bounces from a psych ward in Minnesota to the soul-crushing hustle of Hollywood.
Last Week Tonight has been as innovative and influential as The Daily Show, where Oliver first earned his stripes. He left behind the hot-take sound-bite factory for 20-minute long-form rants that found a viral audience just because they were actually worth watching. The past year has given Oliver plenty of fuel for his trademark combo of civilized-Brit empathy and outrage, as in his post-election wrap-up, summarizing the GOP agenda as “the to-do list on Satan’s refrigerator – which, incidentally, Satan no longer needs now that hell has frozen over.”
The longtime Daily Show secret weapon couldn’t have picked a better time to step out solo for Full Frontal With Samantha Bee, her weekly TBS commentary on what’s going on and why it makes her blood boil. Whether she’s hitting back at Fox News (“I heard Obama is 40 feet tall and shoots red-hot Islam out of his eyes”) or elected officials, Bee’s the realest voice in fake news.
Maher has always been controversial, but his forte is making enemies. He sticks to his political guns, even when everyone around him still seems to be shuffling politely. Maher has always delighted in taking cheap shots at conventional wisdom – and that’s what makes his candid venom on Real Time With Bill Maher a tonic in these times. As for his latest project about our president, the title says it all: Whiny Little Bitch.
The Washington Post humor columnist blew up during the long and winding 2016 election, when it still seemed like the story was Hillary not getting enough respect. But Petri has upped her game this year, as in her takedown of Trump’s budget proposals: “The NEA will be destroyed and replaced with an armored helicopter with a shark painted on it.”
Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams
Their brilliant comedy podcast is 2 Dope Queens, where these two hipster BFFs talk shit about practically everything. Williams started as a Daily Show correspondent, and Robinson did the blog Blaria (i.e., “Black Daria”). One of their specialties is crashing white environments, from Billy Joel concerts to Game of Thrones, where they spotted a black female character: “So in this fantasy world that’s supposed to be like medieval times, this woman has a straight-up weave? … She had, like, a Gabrielle Union weave!”
Broder has one of the only comedy Twitter accounts that’s stayed funny longer than a month, let alone years. She hit hard with her book version, So Sad Today, and poetry collections like Scarecrone and Last Sext. From “Horoscope: He just wants to fuck you” to “I wanna dance with somebody who ignores me” to “I only had sex with you to get you to stop talking about your art: a love story,” @sosadtoday has been there.
His WTF podcast just passed the 800-episode milestone without going stale. Maron has been visiting midlife angst and cat rage ever since he began doing WTF out of his garage, in 2009. He’s an eccentric conversationalist, to say the least, but he brings something new to interviews with guests from Roger Waters to some guy named Barack Obama.
Beth Newell and Sarah Pappalardo
The pair founded the website Reductress in 2013, and it soon became a crucial clickbait pit stop, claiming the turf of pissed-off millennial-woman ennui, serving up op-ed pieces like “I’m a Feminist But I Love Men and Want to Fuck Them and Just Listen to Me I Promise I’m Not Even Mad.” Or Cosmo-style self-help tips like “How to Blow Him Until You Die.” Last year, they released a book, How to Win at Feminism (sample chapter: “How to Love Your Body Even Though Hers Is Better”).
Tom Scharpling and Jon Wurster
After nearly two decades on The Best Show, Scharpling and Wurster remain the punk kings of radio comedy. They started out on actual radio – the legendary WFMU – then jumped into streaming, adding the Half Hour of Power for fans who just can’t get enough. Wurster (the drummer for Superchunk, Bob Mould and the Mountain Goats) and Scharpling have given the world such unforgettable losers as the Music Scholar and Philly Boy Roy.
Getting pissed has been extremely good for Meyers. After the election, he clearly decided he had nothing to gain by making nice, so his news roundups keep gaining bite. He always stays cool, which is why he grates on some viewers – he doesn’t have the frantic neediness of your average chat-show host. But that’s why he stands as the most morally assured, emotionally centered of the late-night guys, not to mention the funniest.
Kimmel might not be as sharp as Meyers these days, but he’s ahead of Jimmy Fallon, who still has to live down his hair-ruffling moment of shame. Kimmel hit an unexpected home run hosting the Oscars, skewering Hollywood (in the year when “black people saved NASA and white people saved jazz”), and sharing his impromptu theory on what went wrong when Warren Beatty opened that fateful Best Picture envelope: “Beatty has had so much sex he can’t think about it right.”
He’s on an upswing for sure – he spent his first year in the Late Show chair finding the right balance between his old Colbert Report mischief and his newfound glad-handing sincerity. But since the inauguration, he’s returned to political satire with a vengeance – his in-character farewell to Bill O’Reilly was a hatchet job many of us spent years waiting to see.
It’s hard to imagine what the world was like before “Carpool Karaoke” existed, but it was the perfect vehicle for Corden’s hyperactive nice-bomb energy, letting him get playful with his guest without coming off as a suck-up. The Michelle Obama segment was one for the ages.
Her groundbreaking Inside Amy Schumer was hit-or-miss last season. After it (and Trainwreck) propelled Schumer to supernova It-girl status, she had to adjust her game. (As did her writer Jessi Klein, who found time to publish the bestselling comic memoir You’ll Grow Out of It.) But Schumer’s still fire onstage, as when she opened for gay-icon Madonna at Madison Square Garden: “I know who’s here. It’s like taking a warm bath in a tub full of dick that doesn’t want you.”
The most busting of the Ghostbusters squad. For a while it looked like Jones might be in danger of getting too much of her fame tied to loathsome racist trolls, but she proved she can be funny pretty much everywhere, whether onstage or providing Olympics commentary that oddly fit right in.
Dunham brought Girls in for an elegant land ing. Whether you love or loathe the characters – her self-absorbed NYC neurotic, Hannah, and her quasifriends Marnie, Jessa and Shoshanna – Dunham found the right way to sign off, with a spiky final season that did justice to the story. Even if it was often infuriating – this is Girls, remember?
Drunk History remains one of the surefire comedy franchises on the air, as host Waters drops in on friends to raid their liquor cabinets, and the vaults of U.S. history. Sloshed guests both famous and semifamous slur their oft-incoherent accounts. Last year, Waters got Lin- Manuel Miranda wasted for a special episode devoted to (who else?) Alexander Hamilton. The worst you can say is that in 2017 Drunk History doesn’t look quite as shitfaced as actual history.
McCarthy’s Sean Spicer press conferences on SNL are a weekly reason to go on living, as she turns our country’s ongoing nightmare into a breathtakingly vicious and righteous parody. She can go back to Bridesmaids-level slapstick any time she wants, but on SNL she’s serving an essential – and hopefully temporary – national need.
The man behind the horse: Bob-Waksberg created BoJack Horseman, the animated adventures of an alcoholic washed-up sitcom star who happens to be a talking horse. BoJack, voiced by Will Arnett, keeps exploring the darkest corners of the soul, as in the past year’s most devastating half-hour of TV, the “Fish Out of Water” episode, where BoJack journeys to the bottom of the sea and finds none of his problems have changed.
Rae turned her viral YouTube cult confessional The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl into an acclaimed book and the HBO hit Insecure. She plays a fictional version of herself as a misfit pushing 30, working at the inner-city nonprofit We Got Y’all, and untangling her messy sex life. She’s an uncommonly relatable dork, like when she’s bumbling through rap freestyles such as “Broken Pussy.”
Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon
There’s nothing like Rick and Morty, the animated mind-freaking Adult Swim sci-fi comedy that just kicked off its excellent third season. It’s the adventures of a geeky kid and his foulmouthed mad-scientist grandpa, like a sicko version of Back to the Future, visiting alien galaxies, alternate timelines and, trippiest of all, high school.
Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobsen
The broads of Broad City define the hilarious extremes of friendship, expanding their homemade (and UCB-bred) YouTube Web series into a Comedy Central sitcom. Broad City has invented a new breed of stoner-slacker sublime, as these two help each other stumble through heartbreak, grief and dildos. The show returns for its fourth season in August – not soon enough.
Nick Kroll and John Mulaney
These two heavyweights reached new cringe-heights with their Broadway sensation, Oh Hello, as a couple of truly vile old men, Gil Faizon and George St. Geegland, who hate everything except tuna sandwiches, Alan Alda and the greatest band of all time, Steely Dan. Kroll created many unforgettable slime-balls on The Kroll Show, and Mulaney did stand-up after writing everyone’s favorite SNL character, Stefon.
Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein
The new season of Portlandia is yet another coup – they started this hipster-baiting satire on the narrowest of premises, but they’ve built it into a surprisingly durable alternate world, kind of like Portland itself.
Billy Eichner and Julie Klausner
Why isn’t Eichner hosting the Oscars yet? His brilliant Billy on the Street proves he can generate flippant energy absolutely anywhere, as if the arch in his eyebrows were a shiv. Eichner and Klausner have turned into an indelible pair of mismatched New York friends on Hulu’s Difficult People, with disturbingly relatable modern problems (“I was told I can never have children, because I hate them”), especially in the episode with their ill-advised Hamilton rip-off, the Jimmy Carter musical.
Chappelle made his long- craved return on his own cranky terms. A decade after he walked away from Chappelle’s Show, leaving all that money on the table, he returned with two Netflix stand-up concerts, with a third on the way later this year. Chappelle’s comeback specials both have rough patches and failed riffs, yet he’s as loose and impulsive as ever – and it remains inspiring to watch Chappelle get back up there and think on his feet.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone
The South Park disclaimer holds true: “The following program … should not be viewed by anyone.” And the Nineties’ most unlikely cartoon institution is still killing it, even in its 60th or 70th season, as America serves up more sacred cows for Parker and Stone to disembowel. There’s no precedent for these two in history, really, and all must respect their authori-teh.
David promised to make this the year we get the much-anticipated return of Curb Your Enthusiasm – and as everybody knows, he’d never dream of disappointing anyone, right? It’s been too long since we’ve marinated in the emotional sewer that makes David the “social assassin” on Curb. Like Chappelle, he can take years off at a time without going out of style.
Oswalt has always had soul, from early stand-up triumphs like his album Feeling Kinda Patton or his geek memoir, Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, to his acclaimed Netflix special, Talking for Clapping. And in the past year, forced to deal with the tragic death of his wife, Michelle MacNamara, he returned to the stage and confronted grief with the guts and humor he brings to everything else.
Best old-man Twitter ever. Reiner, who basically invented TV comedy, remains a badass, venting daily about how pissed off he is at the state of the nation, and the douchebag in the White House. We should all age with this much righteous attitude – and it warms the cockles to know Reiner and Mel Brooks still have a nightly TV date.
SNL‘s first Latina cast member since – uh, well, ever – Villaseñor took over as the resident impersonations expert. The America’s Got Talent alum shined in her first season: Who else in SNL history could do impressions of Owen Wilson, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez and Winona Ryder in Stranger Things? And, just to keep it in the family, Kate McKinnon?
No doubt Baldwin was looking forward to retiring his SNL incarnation. But when things went to hell in November, duty called, and he obeyed. Week after week, a nation turns its lonely eyes to Baldwin, as he’s made skewering Trump a must-see ritual. Thanks to him, Saturday Night Live has never been such a vital real-time commentary. Part of the fun is knowing how deep this joke gets under the target’s skin. Sad!