Yes, it was a fart joke: A few notes on our methodology: Yes, a joke can be a one-liner built from a setup and a punch line, but it can also be an act of physical comedy. Pretending to stick a needle in your eye, or pooping in the street while wearing a wedding dress: A joke, as defined by this list, is a discrete moment of comedy, whether from stand-up, a sketch, an album, a movie, or a TV show.
First, we decided early on that these jokes needed to be performed and recorded at some point. Second, with apologies to Monty Python, whose influence on contemporary comedy is tremendous and undeniable, we focused only on American humor.
Third, we only included one joke per comedian. And fourth, the list doesn't include comedy that we ultimately felt was bad, harmful, or retrograde.
They are listed below in chronological order, complete with video or audio. Use the timeline slider to jump to different eras or specific comedians. Bert Williams was the most popular black comedic performer in America at the turn of the 20th century. Released at a time when cylinder recordings were at their apex, Williams became widely known for the song, and he was forced to sing it at essentially every appearance he made, for the rest of his life. Though it began as a stage routine, "Cohen on the Telephone" is noteworthy for embracing two emerging technologies: Developed in England by Joe Hayman, the definitive Jewish vaudeville monologue became bigger than any one comedian as it grew into a sensation stateside when American comedians like Barney Bernard, George L.
Thompson, and most notably Monroe Silver took on the character of Cohen and recorded covers of the routine. Built on a classic misunderstanding-an-accent premise, it popularized the comedic device of hearing one half of a phone conversation. It was an undeniable influence on comedy legends Shelley Berman and Bob Newhart.
This bit was something different for comedy at the time. Because this scene was so joyful, it makes reality all the more depressing when the Tramp gets stood up for his dinner date. By being among the first on the silver screen to add a little tragedy to his comedy, Chaplin raised the bar for the art of jokes.
He was highly agile, performing all his physical stunts — many of them genuinely dangerous — without cuts, often in one take. Whereas Chaplin made intimate poetic miniatures that are admirable but can sometimes cloy, Keaton made broad, bright murals that do not require much adjustment of your mind-set.
Many earlyth-century vaudeville stars left the stage to help power the burgeoning media of radio and TV, but few were bigger or brighter than George Burns and Gracie Allen. Wit, wordplay, bits of physical business, and a diverting ditty about love, complete with soft shoe. That was what Will Rogers pioneered in the s.
With a down-home, backwoods charm, Rogers became a national figure by discussing the government and his humorous, logical approach to what was wrong with it.
In the midst of the Great Depression, Hoover introduced a plan designed to encourage local groups to help with unemployment, and he asked Rogers to appear on the radio to help promote this plan. What he got were these jokes. Every generation needs a Colbert to present the truth in an entertaining way, and Will Rogers was one of the first we had.
Laurel and Hardy are hired to deliver a piano to a house in Los Angeles, and discover on their arrival that the door is at the top of a very steep, very narrow flight of steps. The bare-bones premise allows it to become a pure physical-comedy experiment: The Marx Brothers used insanity. The Marx Brothers may not have been able to do anything about the coming war, but they certainly gave us something to laugh about.
At once a renegade, a box-office sensation, and an unlikely sex symbol, she reshaped the very rules of comedy. When she was good she was very good, but when she was bad, she was an absolute badass.
Creating a fake rivalry to get attention was nothing new when the wry, clever Allen started taking shots at his longtime friend Benny on the air, but their commitment to the gag was.
The pair kept the sideshow going for a decade. The format is one that is still mimicked to this day: And though the joke is seen as shticky and hacky at this point, structurally it is deceptively elegant, as the setup is hiding inside what seems like a transition.
The sketch itself endures for a number of reasons: Its simple premise delivering myriad laugh lines, the clear schlemiel-schlimazel dynamic between performers, the room it provides for embellishment, and the rat-a-tat delivery make it feel like a ramshackle Ford Model T gathering speed as it barrels toward the edge of a cliff.
The portly, hard-drinking comic spoke that line in his last starring role in a career marred by alcoholism. Off-screen problems aside, Fields found a way to make audiences laugh at and root for a character who hated children as much as he loved liquor and thumbing his red nose at societal norms.
Generations later, we'd get Archie Bunker, Larry David, and dozens of other semi-lovable misanthropes, all indebted to Fields. This joke is reputed to have had the longest sustained laughs in radio history. Jack Benny had a lot of recurring jokes associated with his character: A joke that is perfect for the character, but is still surprising to an audience — nobody nailed it like Benny. It was , a year into commercial-television broadcasting, and literally nobody had figured out what TV comedy would or could be.
Berle had worked a million stages, starting in vaudeville, and had a clue: The ten-inch, black-and-white screen meant that almost nothing could overwhelm, and the broader the performance the better. Unsubtle shtick, ridiculous costumes, patter, a frantic, frenetic pace — it all turned out to be right for the smudgy image on a ten-inch, black-and-white screen. While there were other female comedy performers — in TV and movies, or as a part of double acts — Jean Carroll was the first to break through by standing alone onstage.
Her rapid-fire delivery that sneaks in punch lines as she blitzes her way through a monologue, like in the joke above, feels arrestingly contemporary, and might remind you of Amy Schumer or the way Jim Gaffigan delivers his punch lines in falsetto under his breath.
She moved so quickly and was so ahead of her time, she literally tells the audience to catch up. Ed Sullivan got it, though, asking her to appear on the show over 20 times.
His second show was so popular that it was cancelled so the network could break it into two different shows. A guest host would perform sketches with Sid, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, and the rest of the players, and a song or two would be performed. In s San Francisco, when audiences expected performers to grace the stage in jacket and tie, Mort Sahl shuffled into the spotlight in a disarming bright-red sweater and freshly pressed khakis, ever-present newspaper in hand.
He was often mistaken for a student at the trendy hungry i club, and that unassuming appearance came in handy, as his biting topical humor was known to split the room. No topic was off-limits, no target was taboo, not even the communist witch hunts of McCarthy-era America.
But Sahl made it palatable by speaking to his audiences in their own language, with unprecedented conversationalism and intellectualism.