16 Best Stand-Up Comics Turned Filmmakers – Rolling Stone
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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

chris rock top five, albert brooks, mike nichols, mel brooks, larry david, eddie murphy, woody allen, elaine may, stand-up comedians

(L-R) Eddie Murphy on the set of 'Harlem Nights,' 1989; Judd Apatow on the set of 'The 40 Year Old Virgin,' 2005.

Paramount/Everett, Universal/Everett

Stand-up comics: Armed with little more than a spotlight, a microphone and impeccable timing, they can do what few entertainers (or mere mortals) can, i.e. leave audiences in cafes, clubs and, occasionally, arenas in stitches. But like most of us, what they really want to do, apparently, is direct. Hitting theaters this weekend, Chris Rock’s Top Five is not the first film the comedian has helmed — yet it’s the only one he feels is most representative of what he does best. “This movie is the closest I’ve gotten to capturing the tone of my stand-up,” Rock told Rolling Stone.

Of course, the comic superstar is not the only comedian to go from working a two-drink-minimum crowd to working behind the camera. Here’s our list of the best stand-ups who’ve made the jump from funnyman to filmmaker — whether the switch was a one-off lark or a full-on career gamechanger, whether their films succeeded or failed, these men and women went from prowling the stage to calling the shots on the set.

chris rock top five, albert brooks, mike nichols, mel brooks, larry david, eddie murphy, woody allen, elaine may, stand-up comedians

Woody Allen

Listen to the jokes in Woody Allen’s early stand-up routine (“I was thrown out of college for cheating on the metaphysics exam…I looked within the soul of the boy sitting next to me”), and you can hear the roots of all of the wisecracking schlemiels, fatalistic intellectuals and helpless, hapless losers he’d create in his movies. But while his early films revolve around broader versions of his every-schnook persona, Allen would eventually bring in a host of influences — Russian literature, Ingmar Bergman, Fellini, Chaplin, existentialism, The Honeymooners — and switch up styles and genres on a whim. As a comic, you got the sense he could go anywhere with his absurdist jokes. As a filmmaker, you get the sense he can do anything.
The Must-See: Annie Hall (1977), because…where do we begin? The Coney Island flashback, the Christopher Walken cameo, the cocaine sneeze, Marshall McLuhan showing up in a movie-theater lobby, “We keep going through it because we need the eggs.”

chris rock top five, albert brooks, mike nichols, mel brooks, larry david, eddie murphy, woody allen, elaine may, stand-up comedians

Albert Brooks

Perhaps best known now as a Simpsons voice, a Drive mobster and a dry-wit twitter-er, Albert Brooks leapt from his early Seventies stand-up (pick up/download the legendary document of his stage work during the era, Comedy Plus One, right now if you don’t already own it) into filmmaking with a sense of ferocity. He honed his skills in a series of shorts for Lorne Michaels aired in the early days of Saturday Night Live and then quickly jumped into a series of instantly canonical feature-length comedies that were logical extensions of his devastatingly funny act. The brainy Brooks wasn’t just a writer of scalpel-sharp satires; as a director, he’s got a great sense of how to use the properties of moviemaking as effectively as a solid 30-minute set.
The Must-See: Real Life, Brook’s 1979 debut comedy that both predicts and impales reality TV as we know it, finds the writer-director playing a narcissist-in-chief filmmaker pointing his cameras at a “normal” American family. Genius.

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