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The Best Stand-Up Comic in America (and Others You Should Check-Out)
2007-07-15 22:34
by Scott Long

Many readers have asked me in the past to give my opinions on who are my favorite standup comedians. I’ve been a bit reticent to offer up an answer, as judging others in my field didn’t seem like a particularly good business decision. Well, I recently heard a comic’s CD that was so great I wanted others to get hip to its brilliance. The title of the disc is called Good Day to Cross a River. The comic who created this incredible set of comedy is Greg Giraldo.

Giraldo has been around for awhile, best known for his appearances on Comedy Central, especially his regular panel slot on Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn. I’ve always been a fan when I’ve caught him on TV, but Good Day to Cross a River is the best satirical piece of comedy I’ve heard since Chris Rock’s Bring the Pain. Really smart, really funny. Not one false moment in Giraldo's act.

Here’s a little secret. Since I perform comedy pretty much on a weekly basis, I rarely watch much of the comics’ show that I work with. I almost never go see a comic, when I’m off for the night. Hey, I’m around it all the time, what do you expect? Below are some other comics besides Giraldo that I would definitely leave the house to watch in person. One note about my list is that these are all club comcs. They aren’t huge TV stars that only perform in big auditoriums.

Dave Attell- No person has ever made me laugh harder than Attell. His CD, Skanks for the Memories, has more hard laughs than anything I’ve ever heard. His rhythm and timing are amazing, plus his material is completely unique.

Bill Burr- I first became aware of him when listening to the Opie and Anthony radio show. Burr’s 2005 HBO comedy special was the best live stand-up I’ve seen on the network in quite awhile. His bit on going to visit his girlfriend in Harlem during the middle of the night is Pryor-like in its storytelling art.

Todd Barry- Extreme low-key delivery coupled with incredibly acerbic material is Barry’s formula for laughs. He is not for everyone, but I think he has been one of the best for quite awhile.

Christopher Titus- His Fox sitcom was underrated, but it was only a mild version of the power of his live show. What he brings to the stage is a cross between standup and a one-man play. Titus’ dysfunctional family material is like something out of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.

D.L. Hughley- While I was not a big fan when I first caught him hosting BET’s Comic View, he has grown into one of the top political satirists around. He stacks up well with others stand-ups who take on the world like Bill Maher, Chris Rock, Marc Maron, and Lewis Black.

Daniel Tosh- His latest Comedy Central special is remarkable, as Tosh’s ability to be mean-spirited, but charming is an amazing tight-rope he walks. I think the show loses some steam by the end, but the first 35 minutes is pretty amazing.

Jim Gaffigan- As prolific of a writer as any comic I can think of. Gaffigan uses the voice of a disgruntled audience member who constantly is evaluating the material he offers up. This inner voice gives his show a completely unique rhythm. No one breaks down the silliness of everday life better than Gaffigan.

Brian Regan- Regan is someone that it reverentially loved in my business. He has a uniquely goofy charm. I’m not a big fan of really clean comedy, as I think the greatest thing about stand-up comedy is that it is the last place where edgy truths are not being squashed by corporate interests. Regan and Gaffigan are the 2 best comics in not needing adult content to get big laughs and managing to be witty while doing it.

Frank Caliendo- If anyone had any doubts, the Impressionists Week on Late Night with David Lettermen clinched it. What Caliendo does is a whole different art-form than what other impressionists have done in the past. He has the most dynamic show in standup comedy. 

Below are 5 other comics that I’ve worked with in my career that I think are among the best in the biz. I highly recommend anyone to check out their websites and find out their tour schedule.

Dan Cummins is a rising star, as his dark, twisted material takes you on a hilarious ride during his show.

Only twice have I worked with comics so funny that they made me dislike my own act by the end of the week. The 2 comics that brought this about are Robert Hawkins and David Crowe. I’m hard-pressed to name 2 more relatively unknown comics who are funnier than these 2 guys.

I worked with him only one time, but was really blown away by the fervent style and material of Auggie Smith. His rapid-fire rants on society I thought were great.

One week when I was performing at the Irvine IMPROV, the MC was a comic who was working on his second appearance on the Tonight Show. His name is Juston McKinney and I have never had to work so hard in following someone in my career.

During my 15 years in the biz, I’ve worked with hundreds of acts. There are many really funny comics out there, but above are the 15 comics I’ve either seen on TV or worked with that I put at the top of my list of who I would recommend you go check out at your local comedy club. These are the type of performers who make me feel inspired and challenge me to be a better comedian. 

2007-07-16 07:07:57
1.   overkill94
Glad to see Daniel Tosh get his props. I've been a big fan of his ever since I saw his first Comedy Central Presents special in 2003. He works in new material a little slower than I would like, but that might just be a case of he being the first guy whose career I've followed closely from the beginning.
2007-07-16 07:50:04
2.   JoeyP
I'd add:

Stephen Lynch--I saw him in person and he was hilarious---not really a true stand up comic---but a song playing comedian.

Zach Galifinakis----the best comic on the Comedians of Comedy tour IMO.

Steven Wright---the dry, sarcastic style amplified about a million times---I could see how either someone could love this guy or hate him.

I agree with the orignal post about Todd Barry. He's really underrated but quite good. Attel--I really dug Insomniac, but some of his comedy is just too crude for my taste. Its one thing to be raw, but Dave Attel takes it to another level--a level I'm not comfortable at but I could understand other people liking it.

Giraldo is hysterical, and his set with Attel, Dane Cook, and another guy I'm forgetting was great on Comedy Central a couple weeks back.

2007-07-16 08:00:48
3.   Scott Long
I knew I would forget someone and Galifinakis defintely would be on my list.

Stephen Lynch and Pat Godwin are my favorite comics who use a guitar. Lynch has never been a club comic, so I don't consider him eligible for my list, though.

Let me reiterate that I recommend Googling some of the names you have not heard and check them out. Think of stand-up like music...just because you aren't famous or get a lot of play doesn't mean you aren't great.

2007-07-16 08:09:43
4.   punchline
joey p.. the guy you're forgetting is Sean Rouse, another great comic. he's coming out with a new album soon and i believe has moved along in the current Last Comic Standing season. Scott: nice solid list you got there.
2007-07-16 09:17:51
5.   Suffering Bruin
Greg Giraldo is available on emusic.

Thanks again, Scott.

2007-07-16 09:32:41
6.   underdog
This is a great list of people to check out. Thanks for posting it. I'd have Patton Oswalt #1 on my list, but to each their own. The guy is astonishingly good at this point. I love his buddy Galifinakis, totally out there and hilarious, though I was disappointed in his Live at the Purple Onion DVD. Seemed half-formed/half-finished in a lot of places, which goes with his Andy Kaufman-esque living on the edge vibe, but some of it just plain didn't work. Still love him, though, and Maria Bamford.
2007-07-16 09:33:51
7.   ToyCannon
You don't seem to high on the women in your world from standup to skit comedy. Just an observation not a critique.
2007-07-16 09:34:10
8.   underdog
Oh, and I second the vote on Bill Burr - deserves to be famous.
2007-07-16 09:49:40
9.   JoeyP
Watching the Comedians of Comedy DVD, and the 30 minute weekly show on Comedy Central---I found Patton Oswald very uncreative. All of his jokes were essentially "I hate Bush" jokes, or were some liberal agenda jokes---very politically driven. Thats more social commentary than comedy IMO.

Maria Bamford does great impressions. Other than that, hmmm...

Brian Regan I think is funnier on sitcoms than stand up.

I'd still have paid to see their show if only for Zach.

2007-07-16 10:05:13
10.   Scott Long
I think Kathleen Madigan is really funny, just not quite to the level of the people I have mentioned. One of my favorite young comics on the circuit is Mary Mack. Really eclectic, very creative.

I'm partial to edgy comics, which is really hard for a female comic to pull off.
Personal preference on this list.

One other note. I happen to think I'm pretty damn good, but I don't put myself on the level of the people I listed. If you are one of the top 100 musicians you are rich and famous. If you are one of the top 100 writers you are not as rich and not as famous, but life is still pretty good. If you are one of the Top 100 comics there is no guarantee for either of these things happening.

2007-07-16 10:15:56
11.   Nick from Washington Heights
I really like Patton Oswalt as well, and I have to admit I find Patrice O'Neal hysterical.
2007-07-16 12:30:11
12.   underdog
You shouldn't judge Patton Oswalt based on the snippets in the Comedians of Comedy tour, Joey. That was a bit uneven. Check out his Feelin' Kinda Patton CD (on iTunes) for a better sample. I think he's really brilliant. But, yeah, there are a few jokes about Bush on there so if that's not your thing, skip over them or whatever. (Still pretty funny, though. "One good thing about Bush is that I think really think he can get us to the apocalypse. ..." His take on the apocalypse is amusing.) His routine on Outback steakhouse is particularly hilarious.

He was also quite funny in an interview on Fresh Air recently, alongside Brad Bird to talk about Ratatouille.

Bamford's material is wildly uneven, I'll admit, but I just think she's funny, and when she hits, she's hysterical.

2007-07-16 12:32:00
13.   underdog
Btw, saying comedy that is "political" is "more social commentary than comedy" seems overly dismissive and basically erases a good chunk of America's best stand-up comedy from the 20th century. But again, it's a matter of taste as to what you like and enjoy.
2007-07-16 15:41:52
14.   confucius
Gaffigan is my favorite right now. He can say things that are only mildly funny and make me die laughing. In that way I would compare him to Will Farrell. They both just have a great delivery.
2007-07-16 21:37:17
15.   murphy
for all fans of stand-up, check out mu buddy dylan's website

my current fave is mike birbiglia.

2007-07-17 05:36:54
16.   bob gaj
thanks for that list; most i know, those i don't i'm looking to check out.

what do ppl think about dan naturman? nyc regular, don't know how much he travels around the country; his website doesn't list much.

and in the comments, i like birbiglia, patton and zach bunches.

2007-07-17 07:39:31
17.   Scott Long
I don't much about naturman and I don't think he tours much. I do know that he's well-thought of in my business.
2007-07-18 05:53:38
18.   bob gaj
thanks scott...i like him, but since i'm not in the field, didn't know if he got props from others...
2007-07-20 12:57:47
19.   WTP
Nobody bringing up Doug Stanhope? I think he's one of the most interesting and original comics out there, even if his stuff can cross the lines of human decency at times. His delivery and timing are as good as anyone's out there.
2007-07-20 14:04:20
20.   Scott Long
I agree completely with your review of Stanhope. I worked with him about 8 years back and between the 2 of us, it was the most in your face show I've ever been a part of.

I admire his guts and creativity, but he takes shots sometimes at defenseless targets, which keeps him off my list. I'm fully behind freedom of speech and at his best he reaches Bill Hicks level brilliance, but some stuff just turns me off too much.

2007-07-21 20:28:35
21.   spudrph
Hedberg and Lynch are amazing. I have to give some love to Lewis Black, who I have seen twice, and Steve Harvey, who is not only brilliant and funny but totally original.

One thing that drives me crazy, as a comedy CD buyer, is if somebody keeps recycling the same bits. I know a little bit, from watching the movie "Comedian", how hard it must be to come up with a good bit, but it is frustrating, as a consumer, to not get new stuff when you have shelled out some bucks to hear somebody perform.

Birbiglia is very, very good. Him, Gaffigan, and Regan can be very funny with the "able to listen to with kids in the car" factor.

Steven Wright is wonderful, as is Patton Oswalt. I love Dane Cook, even though a lot of people don't seem to. You have to let him tell a story, kind of like some of the longer Pryor routines.

God, I miss Bill Hicks, though. I keep listening to his old CDs, wondering what he would say about the current inhabitant of the Oval Office.

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