Depending on your level of cynicism, standup comics are either incredibly brave entertainers or narcissists in desperate need of attention and a hug. Regardless, every successful standup comedian has an angle, a schtick, he works to his benefit.
Mitch Hedberg and Steven Wright are (or were) masters of punny one-liners. Amy Schumer, Dave Atell, and Greg Giraldo are brutally honest and wildly offensive. Eddie Izzard and Robin Williams are whirlwinds of surreal, stream-of-consciousness humor. Bill Hicks, Chris Rock, George Carlin, Richard Pryor – these are the radicals, the philosophers, the comedians who not only make us laugh but who teach us and challenge us.
And then there are the salty, NSFW storytellers, the ones who sit us down and tell us tales that not only have punch lines but mean right hooks as well. Here are our picks for the five best raunchy comics in standup.
5. Bernie Mac
“When a kid gets 1 year old, I believe you got the right to hit him in either the throat or the stomach. If you grown enough to talk back, you grown enough to get fucked up!”
The late Bernie Mac began his career telling jokes for his church congregation as a kid and then later for spare change on the Chicago subway. Clearly he knew how to work a tough crowd. In fact, when he appeared on Def Comedy Jam, a notoriously hostile crowd, he opened with, “I ain’t scared of you motherfuckers!” Indeed, it was Mac’s fearlessness that landed him roles in Ocean’s Eleven and his own sitcom, The Bernie Mac Show. His aggressive, forthright style made Mac a beloved comedy giant who will be greatly missed.
4. Dave Chappelle
“All I gotta say about Elian is, thank God he's Cuban. 'Cause if he had been Haitian, you'd have never heard about his ass. If Elian Gonzalez was Elian Mumoombo from Haiti, they'd have pushed that little rubber tube back into the water. ‘Sorry, fella. All full.’ "
Before he was being publicly hounded by fans to yell “Rick James” and before he was appearing on the cover of Prince’s “Breakfast Can Wait” single, Dave Chappelle established himself as one of the preeminent comic voices of black America. Following in the footsteps of Pryor and Rock, Chappelle shed light on everyday issues of race that eventually formed the foundation for his Comedy Central hit series, Chappelle's Show. It was the first show on standard cable to openly embrace the controversial use of the word “nigger,” a groundbreaking achievement in the fight against censorship.
3. Jim Jefferies
"If you're religious, you're a fucking idiot."
Jim Jefferies doesn’t care what you think, and he certainly has no qualms about expressing what’s on his own mind. What makes him one of the funniest men in the business today isn't just that the Australian comic turns bad behavior into good jokes; his real strength lies in his abilities as a storyteller, something that translated well, but not well enough, to his short-lived FX show Legit. He's like a boorish, drunken camp counselor who gathers the kids around the fire and regales them with shockingly blunt stories about banging Michael Phelps' ex-girlfriend and nearly starting a fight on an airplane over the armrest.
2. Patton Oswalt
“If another one of my Whole Foods friends says my wife should have a home birth, I am going to punch all the soy on the planet.”
As one of the cleverest people on Twitter and the nerd king of standup comedy, Patton Oswalt takes the art of analyzing and assassinating pop culture to a ridiculously funny level. Whether making references to time travel, classical literature, murdering George Lucas, or women in their 60s giving birth, Oswalt wields his extensive vocabulary like a sword cutting through ignorance and stupidity. He’s a liberal English professor’s wet dream and the bane of math teachers and Republicans everywhere.
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1. Louis C.K.
“I don't stop eating when I'm full. The meal is not over when I'm full. The meal is over when I hate myself.”
Louis C.K. is easily the greatest living standup comic today despite the fact that he sometimes goes out of his way to upset audiences with frank and graphic language because, well, it’s funny to him. More often than not, he’s the butt of his own jokes. Whether it’s his failed marriage, his kids, his burgeoning weight, or a lonely life on the road that involves an insane amount of masturbation, he always finds a way to both push the boundaries of what’s socially acceptable to say in public, much like Carlin did, while still finding time to reflect on the nuances of modern life. It’s this same balance that’s won the 49-year-old actor, director, and writer several Emmys and the adoration of millions.
8 p.m. Saturday, January 30, at Hard Rock Live, 5747 Seminole Way, Hollywood 33314. Tickets cost $35 to $65 via ticketmaster.com.