16 Best Stand-Up Comics Turned Filmmakers

From Woody Allen to Joan Rivers, these comedians went from prowling club stages to calling the shots behind the camera

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Elaine May

She started out as one half of the pioneering comedy duo Nichols and May — the epitome of "snob and mob appeal" — and ended up becoming one of the more in-demand screenwriters (and script doctors) of the 1970s and 1980s. But Elaine May has also directed four films, each one singularly wonderful, idiosyncratic, left-of-center and offbeat enough to make you wish she'd gotten the chance, or perhaps the leeway, to do more. She's become one of the great martyrs of the studio system, tussling with her patrons and, courtesy of the underrated Ishtar (1987), had her reputation dragged through the mud. But make no mistake: Anyone who's seen A New Leaf (1971) or Mickey and Nicky (1976) knows that May is a filmmaking force to be reckoned with.
The Must-See: May's The Heartbreak Kid (1972) is both a perfect film and the precursor to today's cringe comedy, featuring the single best Charles Grodin performance ever — yes, better than Midnight Run — and the cinema's best sunburn gag ever.

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