The 25 Funniest People in America:
25. AUGUSTEN BURROUGHS
Burroughs’ best-selling memoir Running with Scissors — about being raised by a nutso shrink who studies his poo and rents the back shed to a pedophile — is unbelievably disturbing. And sidesplitting. At first we felt guilty giggling at his adventures with an electroshock therapy machine, but Burroughs knows that laughter is the best antidepressant. Much better than booze, which the author struggles to kick in his equally effervescent follow-up, Dry.
24. CATHERINE O’HARA
After her run on SCTV in the late ’70s, Hollywood didn’t know what to do with O’Hara. Fortunately, Christopher Guest did. In Waiting for Guffman, she and Fred Willard are tracksuit-wearing answers to Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire; in Best in Show, she’s a onetime floozy with a prize terrier and a torrid past; and in A Mighty Wind, O’Hara shows off a subtler comic touch, proving that humor doesn’t always mean a pie in the face.
23. SARAH SILVERMAN
The Lenny Bruce of the 21st century might be this hot, foul-mouthed, button-punching stand-up. Silverman is ruthlessly funny about topics like sex, the Holocaust, and 9/11, which may be why The Sarah Silverman Program has a permanent slot on our DVR. Oh, and if you hadn’t heard, she’s f—ing Matt Damon.
22. DAVE CHAPPELLE
The fact that Diamond Dave is all but absent from the comedic stage these days doesn’t invalidate his funny. After all, Chappelle’s revered Comedy Central show — on which the wiry comic gleefully engaged in crass T&A humor, swore like a sailor, and mocked everyone in the multiculti rainbow, confronting race in a way that is positively Pryor-esque — is still the best sketch comedy this country has seen in more than a decade. For that alone, he deserves a spot on any list like this.
21. DEMETRI MARTIN
You know what’s funny? Palindromes and anagrams. ”Shut up, Grandma,” you say, but we say shut up yourself and watch Demetri Martin work a stand-up mic. ”A drunk driver’s very dangerous. Everybody knows that. But so is a drunk backseat driver — if he’s persuasive.” The floppy-haired heir to Steven Wright won a prestigious award at last year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, taking him from the comedy underground to…the comedy slightly less underground.
20. DIABLO CODY
Not to be partial, but the newly minted Oscar winner showed off her comedic — and emotional — chops with her debut screenplay for Juno. Did we mention it won an Oscar?
19. CRAIG FERGUSON
Late night is the province of the mono-name. Jay! Dave! Conan! Then there’s that Scottish guy, two-name ID required: Craig Ferguson. You know, the one who can’t quite be pinned down. Since taking over CBS’ Late Late Show from Craig Kilborn in 2005, Ferguson has brought a fresh burst of energy to the format. He’s reinvented the opening monologue, doing away with most of the topical jokes and just ad-libbing about his life. Along with fresh energy, he’s brought something else — ratings. Ferguson, 45 and a brand-spanking-new U.S. Citizen, doesn’t get as much media attention as time-slot competitors Jimmy Kimmel or Conan, but with an audience of just under 2 million, the great Scot outperforms the former and has climbed within 500,000 viewers of the latter.
18. JACK BLACK
Black is an entirely new classification of human: the frenetic slacker. Before his turn as doofus band reject/inspirational teacher Dewey Finn in School of Rock, he was the Ritalin-deprived half of Tenacious D (along with his partner, Kyle Gass) and the list-obsessed record-shop shlub in High Fidelity. He is, inarguably, the coolest fusion of music and comedy since Spinal Tap. (And, if Tropic Thunder is as good as we’ve been led to believe, we’ll forgive him that whole Nacho Libre business.)
17. DAVID LETTERMAN
With a receding hairline and a jogger’s grim jowls, Dave is no one’s idea of a hip comic, and he likes it that way. New-school gone old-school, the upstart who first pumped irony into the talk show still rails against the stupidity of the powerful and yet has the charm to melt Julia Roberts.
16. AMY SEDARIS AND DAVID SEDARIS
Big brother is the best-selling author of the sublime autobiographical essay collections Me Talk Pretty One Day and Naked, full of terrific riffs about stuff like his cuckoo-clock North Carolina clan and his midget guitar teacher. Little sis was the rubber-faced star of Comedy Central’s truly strange Strangers With Candy, as well as coauthor of the book Wigfield.
15. WILL FERRELL
See, there’s this man-child who latches onto Will Ferrell in most every role he plays — and good luck getting the little guy to let go. As a result, we are treated to inspired displays of dolt-trapped-in-the-headlights hijinks, be it in the form of Old School’s keghead Frank the Tank (who goes from repressed to regressed to undressed) or Talladega Nights’ Ricky Bobby, the dumbest, most earnest NASCAR driver on the circuit — who’s also the most comfortable with his sexuality.
14. RICKY GERVAIS
Okay, so he doesn’t spend all that much of his time in America. We don’t care. Whether as the creator of The Office and Extras, a supporting actor in movies like For Your Consideration or Night at the Museum, or doing killer stand-up (as seen most recently in Grand Theft Auto IV), he’s still as funny as the dog’s bollocks.
13. ELLEN DEGENERES
DeGeneres, whose career seemed all but kaput a few years ago, has earned back adoration simply by being her affably dry self on the Emmy-winning The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Whether it’s her circuitous monologues, her deadpan celebrity interviews, or that vocal turn as Dory in Finding Nemo, she remains one of the cleanest, coolest funny ladies around.
12. DAVID CROSS
All conversations about his genius start here: Along with Bob Odenkirk, he created the cunning HBO sketch series Mr. Show, which routinely put SNL to silly shame. And not only does Cross work little miracles in supporting roles (remember his role as feckless freak-job Tobias on Fox’s Arrested Development?), he can drop some pretty fearsome stand-up (who else talks about being raped by the Virgin Mary?). Simply put, this dude never kowtows for his funny.
11. CONAN O’BRIEN
Smarty-pants isn’t usually a compliment, but O’Brien wears them so well. When this Harvard geek isn’t riffing on Muammar Gaddafi in his monologue, he’s making absurd innovations in low-brow comedy. Now, let’s see if those absurd innovations will play on The Tonight Show….
10. KRISTEN WIIG
The Saturday Night Live scene-stealer has found her stride in her third season, thanks to breakout characters like the Target clerk and the obsessively competitive Penelope, as well as spot-on impressions of Jamie Lee Curtis and Suze Orman.
9. LARRY DAVID
Because he’s a balding, neurotic, self-consumed, multimillionaire malcontent who reacts to most social interactions as if he just took a whiff of some really bad cheese. Because the only thing he hates more than these situations is himself. Because he’s the most hilariously doomed white-guy antihero we’ve ever seen, and has no problems taking on every sacred cow. Because we have no idea how much of this Larry David — from the HBO comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm — is swiped from the real Larry David. And because both Larry Davids co-created one of the best comedies ever, Seinfeld.
8. AMY POEHLER AND WILL ARNETT
The funniest married couple on the list. (Sorry, Judd Apatow and Leslie Mann.) When they’re apart (she, on Saturday Night Live and in Baby Mama; he, late of Arrested Development and currently guesting on 30 Rock), they’re great. But when they’re together, as when they played brother-and sister figure skaters in Blades of Glory, they’re resplendent. So let’s get those crazy kids together more often, shall we?
7. MATT STONE AND TREY PARKER
Now in their eleventh season of South Park, these potty mouths with a purpose continue to remind us what full creative control gets you: moments so wrong, they’re right (Ben Affleck falling in love with Cartman’s hand comes to mind). Added bonus: The ninth season episode, ”Trapped in the Closet” contains the most sober explanation of the background of Scientology you’ll ever hear.
6. CHRIS ROCK
Television failed him (Saturday Night Live didn’t know what to do with his bright-bulb humor, and his HBO talk show couldn’t contain him). The movies didn’t get him (though this is as much Rock’s fault as anyone’s, given he wrote and directed his most recent starring vehicles, the underperforming Head of State and I Think I Love My Wife). But on the stage, Rock is a man on a mission, mercilessly tackling race, religion, money, and relationships. And his missionaries are legion.
5. STEVE CARELL
Sometimes, it hurts so good. The pain, the discomfort, the agony of watching Carell’s Michael Scott work himself into another awkward scenario on NBC’s The Office…and almost work himself out. And the fact that we don’t hate Michael — on the contrary, we feel a warm, chocolatey pity for him — is a testament to Carell, who leavens the bald incompetence with wide-eyed awe.
4. JON STEWART AND THE ‘DAILY SHOW’ TEAM
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is the most consistent laugh machine on TV — and the only news source for scores of cynics and slackers. It’s not often that a comedy show can tackle politics, embrace a cogent point of view, and still maintain its anarchic spark. The scribes at The Daily Show pull it off four nights a week. As the heart and soul of the show, Stewart is evenhanded but never meek; as an interviewer, he can make his guests comfortable even as he’s taking them apart. Then there’s his gang of ”correspondents,” who soldier straight-facedly into the great American absurd and take no prisoners. Empirically speaking, there’s nothing funny about what’s going on in the world right now. Yet here we are each week, chortling.
3. TINA FEY
It takes a certain self-confidence to play a woman who accidentally dates her third cousin, erroneously assumes her neighbor is a terrorist, and gets called the C-word by a colleague (especially when said character is based on you). ”I love going to those uncomfortable places,” says Fey, who stars as 30 Rock’s workaholic TV maven and is also the NBC show’s creator and exec producer. ”I’ll go down any weird avenue.” Maybe this year’s surprise Emmy win for best comedy will empower Fey to pursue some dreams for her alter ego. ”Liz Lemon could do an international adoption for a Russian baby and get the paperwork wrong with the European dates and somehow end up with a huge, muscular 13-year-old. Yeah, I could see that.” Hopefully we will too.
2. STEPHEN COLBERT AND THE ‘COLBERT REPORT’ TEAM
The once (and, we’re sure, future) presidential nominee, author, and dedicated windbag also happens to be one of the smartest satirists working today. Heck, if all the dude had on his resume was the legendary 2006 White House Correspondents Dinner, he’d go down in comedy history. But week-in and week-out, Colbert takes aim at the political-industrial complex — and I don’t care if there’s no such term — and spins the facts into truth. Or truthiness. Whichever’s easier.
1. THE JUDD APATOW POSSE
Can you even remember what movie comedy looked like before writer-director-producer Judd Apatow and his ever-expanding comedy clan (including Seth Rogen, Leslie Mann, Jonah Hill, and Paul Rudd) came along last summer with two stiff shots of cathartic humor — the oops-she’s-preggers romp Knocked Up and the high school raunchfest Superbad? Today, when studio execs have a comedy that feels flat or formulaic, the call goes out to ”Judd it up” — sweet irony for a man once best known for critically beloved flops like TV’s Freaks and Geeks. ”It was always my dream to become a verb,” Apatow deadpans. ”That’s what I wrote in my high school yearbook.”