You know what’s funny? No, I mean it — do you know what’s funny? We’ve all got our own laugh barometers and mine is usually set at “smart” — not me (although I am) — the person creating the laughter. Let’s face it. Smart guys make the best comedy (smart women, too, obviously, although today I’m talking men). Some of my favorites:
The Political Guys
We’re talking Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and, of course, Mort Sahl — the man who started the politics-as-a-laughing-matter genre (although sometimes politics is so pathetic it’s really no laughing matter). Brilliant, stiletto-sharp, and so, so funny.
The Life Observers
Jerry Seinfeld heads up this list. When you realize just how smart and timing-savvy one needs to be to create what to the naked eye appears to be a show about, well, nothing, you see how difficult that is. Although to someone like Seinfeld, the brilliance lies in making that challenge look so easy. And in making us laugh so hard. Jerry Seinfeld doing stand-up in person? Even smarter, edgier, funnier. Other notable entries on this list include Robert Klein, Billy Crystal, Paul Reiser, Alan King.
When it comes to capturing the humor of the human condition — with a dose of New York’s Upper East or Upper West Side Jewish culture — Woody Allen writes the sharpest, smartest, funniest stories and dialogue. Annie Hall, Radio Days, Hannah and Her Sisters, Midnight in Paris — all amazing examples of one of the most dazzling comic minds ever. And if you’ve never heard Woody do stand-up, check out this 1960s clip of him telling his story of The Moose. It’s one of the funniest bits I’ve ever heard.
The “Stop, Stop, You’re Killing Me!” Characters
Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, the late-but-so-great Sid Caesar, Robin Williams. These are the comics who are so relentlessly funny that they take my breath away. Literally. I laugh so hard watching them that I can’t breathe. Or speak. Their comedy is flawless, side-splitting, hilarious — and brilliantly conceived and delivered. Check out Mel Brooks as Uncle Phil in this episode of Mad About You. And don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Finally, the Marx Brothers. Inspiration for so many of the funny guys described above. Watch this classic scene from A Night at the Opera with an eye toward just how much genius went into the choreography, the writing, the timing. And while Groucho’s non-stop patter delivers non-stop laughter, don’t underestimate the comic brilliance of Harpo.
Not a dumb blonde. Not at all. Honk, honk.
© 2014 Claudia Grossman