Let’s break with the music themes this month and get in to another of your Dentist’s areas of interest – clean stand-up comics. We’ll differentiate this theme from the one next month which will be about comic actors who generally aren’t associated with stand-up. To confuse matters, most everyone on this month’s list will have done TV and/or movies, but they started out doing their act in front of a live audience and so that is what counts. Your blogger prefers comedians who don’t swear up a blue streak (though a couple on this list got blue more than I prefer, but they are so funny they can’t be left off) plus I can’t stand the ones who think that screaming makes them funny (though you will see a couple of contradictions in my list, admittedly). For that reason don’t expect people like Chris Rock or Sam Kinison plus I have a special hatred for Andrew Dice Clay who might be the worst comic(?) of all-time with his sexist b.s.. In my car, it’s either classical music or the local Denver comedy channel 103.1 till a couple weeks ago when the idiotic powers that be decided to switch to county, an overcrowded genre. That station exposed me to a lot of great comedy, but also put sanitized bits on the air which fooled me in to thinking that these comics work clean – only to be shocked when trying to watch a special on Netflix filled with swearing (i.e. Craig Ferguson – you’re a funny guy, so why the blue language dude?).
You could trace stand-up comedy back to the mid-1800’s with Vaudeville and later Burlesque. Most of the comedy back then wouldn’t pass the politically correct test today as it relied on racial or sexual stereotypes. Apparently repetition of a popular routine was commonplace whereas today it would be strictly verboten for a comic to copy jokes from someone else (unless they pay for them). Folks like Milton Berle, Bob Hope and George Burns got their starts in Vaudeville. As nightclubs became the center for comics, you had people like (Dean) Martin & (Jerry) Lewis plus Lenny Bruce. Gotta say, I’m also not a fan of social commentary that passes for comedy and definitely hate insulters like Don Rickles who made a living out of – he made me feel sorry for the folks he insulted and I couldn’t watch. Comedy albums were a big thing and I guess I need to thank Rick Steele back in grade school for exposing the young me to records by Bill Cosby and Bob Newhart. Do not look for Mr. Cosby who disgraced himself, allegedly, ruining his image as American’s favorite dad. Younger folk like my kids enjoy people like Mike Birbiglia and Amy Schumer. I am an old guy so will naturally gravitate to older performers, but that doesn’t mean that today’s comics aren’t funny – indeed there are some great ones now working the comedy clubs. Feel free to comment with your own faves.
While most know Newhart from his movie and TV work, he started as a stand-up with his routines reaching the masses via several very popular comedy records. In 1960 he had the distinction of holding down the #1 and #2 positions on the U.S. album charts with The Button-Down Mind Of Bob Newhart and The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back!. Born Sept. 5, 1929 in Oak Park, Illinois, Newhart was employed as an accountant, a clerk and an ad copywriter in Chicago. He worked up a style of comedy based on funny one-sided phone calls and was signed to Warner Brothers Records. His act included bits about Sir Walter Raleigh, the USS Codfish and Abe Lincoln vs. Madison Ave. which Newhart claimed was his favorite. While he did several other shows, it was as psychologist Bob Hartley on The Bob Newhart Show (1972-78) and as inn-keeper Dick Loudon on Newhart (1982-90) that gave me the Newhart bug. His act as a dry uptight man who hates change or calling attention to himself spoke to the young me. Dad always bemoaned not having gotten to see his hero Jack Benny in concert so when Newhart announced a tour in 2004, we were lucky enough to catch his act in Greeley April 27 at The Union Colony Civic Center. Younger folk mostly know him from the movie Elf where he played Papa Elf, Will Farrell’s adoptive dad or from Big Bang Theory‘s Professor Proton.
Born July 7, 1966 in Illinois, he was raised in Chesterton, Indiana. Jim Gaffigan has made a career about being an overweight pale dad who goes through a lot of the same things we all do – eating Hot Pockets, finding the bonus fry in the bottom of the McDonalds bag, hating exercise, etc.. He actually played varsity football while attending Purdue and Georgetown and earned a degree in finance. After moving to New York in 1990, he worked at comedy till finally getting on The Late Show With David Letterman. His act has improved over the years with an observational style that includes high-voiced asides often taking pot-shots at his own routines. Thanks to the Country-RocknRoll Dentist (ret’d) Ed Hansford for turning me on to Gaffigan many years ago up at his place in Buena Vista.
From 1989 to 1998, the show about nothing (Seinfeld) ruled its TV timeslot. Frankly what made that show great was, like Jack Benny and Bob Newhart before him, Seinfeld was willing to let the other crazy characters around him get the laughs while he stood there befuddled (and cashed the big pay-check). Before that success, Jerome Seinfeld earned a degree in communications and theater at Queens College in New York. Born April 29, 1954 in Brooklyn, he worked on his observational stand-up at open-mic nights. After that TV show he has continued in stand-up especially on Netflix. His series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee ran from 2012 to 2019 and showed him driving around in a vintage car picking up a comedian and going out for coffee while doing improvised bits that often could be funny (but often could require coffee to watch since the shows could be dull). Unlike many comedians, his movie work hasn’t been terribly extensive with his 2007 animated film Bee Movie his main foray in that realm.
Trying to find a clean enough stand-up clip to lead this section proved to be a frustrating half hour as while he was hilarious, he threw in way too many f-bombs for your Dentist. Too bad because he was perhaps the most brilliantly gifted comic ever and would have been my easy number one on this list if he would have kept it clean. Robin Williams was born in Chicago on July 21, 1951. His formative years were spent there plus Michigan and California. He studied acting at the College Of Marin then moved on to Juilliard in NYC in 1973. Fellow classmate and future Superman star Christopher Reeve said of Williams: “He was like an untied balloon that had been inflated and immediately released. I watched in awe as he virtually caromed off the walls of the classrooms and hallways.” He started doing stand-up in San Francisco in 1976 then in L.A. the following year. That brought him to the attention of TV and eventually a starring role in Mork & Mindy from 1978 to 1982. He moved to the cinema where he could be funny (Good Morning, Vietnam), heartwarming (Mrs. Doubtfire) or serious enough to win an Oscar (Good Will Hunting). One of his greatest roles was as the genie in the 1982 animated film Aladdin. He never gave up doing stand-up and had a manic energy fueled early on by drugs and later alcohol (allegedly). He battled depression and it was the signs of dementia that caused him to take his own life on August 11, 2014.
You know him as Tim “Toolman” Taylor on Home Improvement (1991-1999) and Mike Baxter on Last Man Standing (2011-2021). Perhaps you know him better voicing Buzz Lightyear in the Toy Story movies or being jolly ole Saint Nick in the Santa Clause trilogy. Tim Allen was born in Denver June 13, 1953 and grew up mainly in Michigan. He started there in comedy in 1975 then moved to L.A. in 1981 after doing time in jail for drugs. His routine is an innocent parody of the male proclivity for tools and more power.
He didn’t get any respect and he was ugly – those were what we will always remember as the classic Rodney Dangerfield joke set-ups. Jacob Cohen was born Nov. 22, 1921 in Suffolk County, New York and was the son of a Vaudeville performer known as Phil Roy. He began writing comedy at age 15 and eventually changed his name to Jack Roy. He did a series of odd jobs including selling aluminum siding while trying comedy but didn’t have much success (he joked later that “I played one club—it was so far out, my act was reviewed in Field & Stream.”). After an appearance on Ed Sullivan’s variety show in 1967 his career started looking up having developed a character who was always the low man on the totem pole. He named himself Rodney Dangerfield, a name from an old Jack Benny radio program in 1941. He eventually appeared on The Tonight Show over 70 times. His wise-cracking in the 1980 golf movie Caddyshack moved his career up another notch and led to other movies like Easy Money and Back To School. In the ’80s he helped start Jim Carrey’s career touring with him for two years. On October 5, 2004 he passed away and his tombstone says “There goes the neighborhood”.
Raymond Romano came to be Dec. 21, 1957 in Queens, New York in an Italian household which shaped his act. He briefly studied to be an accountant before going in to comedy competing in the Johnnie Walker Comedy Search in 1989. After appearing on The Late Show With David Letterman in 1995, he was given his own TV program which ran from 1996 to 2005. The show was about the family dynamic of the Barone family played by Romano, Patricia Heaton (wife), Brad Garrett (brother), Peter Boyle (dad) and Doris Roberts (mom). That show reflected his stand-up which was much about his own family. Kids will know his voice behind the character of Manny in the Ice Age films.
“You might be a redneck if” – these are the words that made Jeff Foxworthy famous. Atlanta born Sept. 6, 1958, he worked for IBM till trying comedy on a dare in 1984. In addition to stand-up, he has recorded several successful comedy albums and put out a series of books collecting some of his best bits. For three years in the early 2000’s he was part of a successful comedy tour called Blue Collar Comedy with Larry the Cable Guy, Ron White, and Bill Engvall.
Though he is over 60, I haven’t known the comedy of Brian Regan that long. He is one of the finds that I can thank the Denver comedy radio station 103.1 for. He steers clear of controversial topics instead talking about things like weighing packages and going to the Optometrist. He was born in Miami June 2, 1958. He studied to be an accountant (Heidelberg College in Tiffin, Ohio) while playing wide receiver and apparently his coach suggested he try comedy as he was funny. His comedy really needs to be seen to be best appreciated due to his movements and facial expressions. His first comedy special was in 2007 and it seems he has been getting funnier and more successful up to his 2021 Netflix show recorded in Utah during the pandemic (On The Rocks – check it out).
It is sad to watch John Pinette talk about his love of food and losing over 100 pounds knowing he died way too young. Born in Boston, he lived from March 23, 1964 to April 5, 2014. He could get dangerously close to being a screamer, but I can tolerate it because he kept it in check while being funny and talking about food – something your Dentist has grown to love in old age (or maybe always loved). Like several others, he started in accounting then turned to comedy. He was named stand-up comedian of the year by the American Comedy Awards in 1999. For two years he played Edna Turnblad in the play Hairspray (2004-6). His show titles say it all about his comedy: Show Me the Buffet, I Say Nay Nay, I’m Starvin’, Still Hungry, etc..
For those folks younger than say 40, there was a time when Steve Martin was funny and not some serious artiste – apparently he wanted to act, however. For some reason many comedians decide the art of making people laugh isn’t good enough so they dump the audience that made them successful and turn to drama (read: Robin Williams and Steve Martin). The old Martin would have put a fake arrow on his head and shouted “Well, EXCUSE ME!”. Okay, perhaps I am being harsh – the good news is a few years back Martin hooked up with Martin Short for a tour and actually got funny again (check them out in Only Murders In The Building on Hulu). While born in Waco, TX (August 14, 1945), he grew up in California which allowed him to work at Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm and learn how to entertain. In 1967 he became a writer for the TV shows of Glen Campbell, Sonny & Cher and The Smothers Brothers. When Saturday Night Live premiered in 1975, he seemed like one of the cast members rather than a guest creating the Two Wild & Crazy Guys/Festrunk Brothers routine with Dan Ackroyd (they would swing in their tight trousers – please insert Slavic accent for the preceding). His Let’s Get Small (1977) and A Wild & Crazy Guy (1978) LPs where hugely successful even spawning a hit single in “King Tut”. His 1979 film The Jerk had some funny bits but over time his movies got more serious such as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Roxanne. The 1987 movie Planes, Trains & Automobiles with John Candy was actually very funny though Candy was basically the comic to Martin’s more straight-man act. He is a brilliant banjo player and has put out some excellent records including Rare Bird Alert (2011) with the Steep Canyon Rangers – my fave of his albums.
Evem though he life-style offends certain folks, I honestly could care less about her sexual preference as she is just funny plus she works clean which I respect. Frankly given her vocal style I would have assumed she was from the Midwest, but in reality she was born January 26, 1958 in Metairie, Louisiana. She was a communications major at the University Of New Orleans for a very short time then started working odd jobs while working at stand-up. Lucille Ball, Bob Newhart and Steve Martin are just a few of her comedic influences. With her 1994 – 1998 TV show Ellen, she has been called the female Seinfeld. Her daytime talk show The Ellen DeGeneres Show was a big success starting in 2003 though your Dentist admits to never having seen it. While she has had the reputation for being a kind person, that got a bit tarnished in 2020 when some of the employees of her show said that it was a toxic place to work. She is especially loved for her voicing of the forgetful fish Dory in the films Finding Nemo and Finding Dory.
He has been around for some time, but it has taken a long time for your blogger to appreciate his intellectual approach to comedy. Actually I have grown to respect him since so many comics dumb down the way they speak using poor grammar. Heck, how many comedians can use the word ‘algorhythmically’? Just as some of my readers will get sidetracked by Ellen’s sexuality, so too will some take umbrage to Miller’s more conservative politics. Hey, deal with it – the dude is funny (though I sure wish he would not throw in the occasional f-word). Born Nov. 3, 1953 in Pittsburgh, at age 15 Miller was inspired to try comedy by meeting the obscure comic Kelly Monteith. He stayed in Pittsburgh to attend Point Park University as a journalism major then worked a series of odd jobs while honing his comedic chops. He has cited Jonathan Winters and Tim Conway as inspirations, but it was a 1979 Robin Williams special that truly got him going to open-mic nights. His style, he says, is to have a “hipper-than-thou” attitude, making arcane references with his rants his main trademark. Oakland was a stepping-stone to moving to New York, back to Pittsburgh then L.A. where Jay Leno helped him jump-start his career. While appearing at The Comedy Store, Lorne Michaels saw him and ultimately added him to his Saturday Night Live cast in 1985 (he left in 1991). He initially did the Weekend Update segment of the show which pushed him in to a new area for him – political humor. Other than that show, he is known for several radio and TV gigs including nine seasons on HBO of Dennis Miller Live and for ABC’s failed attempt in 2000 to inject humor in to the booth of Monday Night Football.
As a Denver Broncos fan since their inception in 1960, it is painful to admit to liking the comedy of a former Raiders cheerleader (and our local football squad has been a joke the last few years too). As she says in this clip, she is Mexican and Native American born May 14, 1982 in San Jose. Her first break was joining the cast of MADtv in 2007 (her main character was Bon Qui Qui). By far her best bit is about getting her nails done though she is always funny in her comedy specials.
Do not get this hilarious black man confused with the segregationist Alabama governor of the 1960s. This Wallace is an old guy like your Dentist being born in Atlanta July 21, 1952. After graduating from the University of Akron, he moved to New York to try his hand at comedy while working as an advertising salesman. One of his clients opened a comedy club and Wallace started performing stand-up there in 1977. He moved to L.A. and started appearing at The Comedy Store. In 1995 he was named the Funniest Male Standup Comedian at the American Comedy Awards. In addition to guesting on various TV shows, he had a Las Vegas residency for a decade. He has had minor roles in several movies including The Ladykillers and A Rage In Harlem. He comes across as genial and happy-go-lucky.
Gabriel aka Fluffy is a real rags to riches story. He was born in San Diego and grew up in So. Cal. low-income housing. His nickname comes from his levels of fatness: “Big, Healthy, Husky, Fluffy and DAMN!!!” In his act (which began in earnest in 1997) Fluffy is a storyteller rather than a traditional teller of jokes. Frankly he is funnier when you can see his reactions. He has struggled with weight and has lost over 100 pounds. Here is hoping he doesn’t go the route of so many other overweight comedians to an early grave.
17.The Sklar Brothers
Randy and Jason Sklar form one of the most unique acts in comedy as identical twins who trade off with perfect timing. They both were born January 12, 1972 in St. Louis and attended the University Of Michigan. At age 22 they moved to New York to give comedy a try. They have done a number of non-comedic roles on shows like Law & Order, CSI and Grey’s Anatomy. The Sklars did their first comedy special in 2014 for Netflix and have filled in for Jim Rome often on his radio show. They do swear a bit which causes your Dentist to cringe, but they are funny.
This guy has the most deadpan delivery ever and so his jokes often take a few seconds to click in your brain. He tells constant unrelated one-liners – they don’t all work but enough do. He was born December 6, 1955 in Cambridge, Mass. finishing his degree at Emerson College. He looked to Woody Allen and George Carlin as inspirations though his style is very much his own. In his Oscar winning live action short The Appointments of Dennis Jennings he says a line that encapsulates his odd style: “I wanna find out who my real step-father is; my natural parents won’t tell me where to find him…”. His 1985 comedy album I Have a Pony and HBO show A Steven Wright Special helped establish him with college students.
Norm could be very low-key (though not as somnambulant as Steven Wright) or bemused – sort of sounding like your demented uncle. Every now and then he throws in a swear word which moved him down the list a bit. The above bit from TV, for instance, is clean, but has some f-words when he does it live. October 17, 1959, he was born in Quebec and was hired to write for Roseanne just before he joined the cast of Saturday Night Live in 1993 (he did the Weekend Update segment). He left the show in 1998 after clashing with NBC brass. He has cited folks like Bob Newhart and Dennis Miller as inspirations. He passed Sept. 14, 2021.
20.Larry The Cable Guy
“Git-R-Done!” That has become so synonymous with Daniel Lawrence Whitney that if he didn’t say it at a show he would likely be booed off the stage. The dumb redneck character of Larry The Cable Guy has become his persona on stage while in reality he’s a farmer from Lincoln, Nebraska and doesn’t have a high-pitched Southern accent in real life. He doesn’t swear though his jokes can be of questionable taste (after he tells something shady he says “I don’t care who ya are, that’s funny right there”). Apparently he is good friends with fellow comedian Lewis Black which is ironic as this last slot on our list was down to either Larry or Lewis. Lewis lost out as contrary to his bits on sanitized radio, his stand-up is pretty much filled with swear words. Larry is part of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour with Jeff Foxworthy and others. He has voiced Mater in Pixar’s Cars films. He was born in Pawnee City, Nebr. February 17, 1963.