THE BEST SELLERS’ LIST- Not the Norm: Passing of SNL alum sparks thoughts of best pure stand-up comics

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By Thomas Sellers Jr.

Another Best Sellers’ List inspired by a death of a celebrity. 

Norman Gene MacDonald left this world as we know it on September 14. Battling cancer for nearly a decade, MacDonald worked through his illness to leave us with great material. The Canadian stand-up comedian grew to become a beloved writer and actor in the industry. 

In the 1990s he rose to fame on Saturday Night Live especially behind the Weekend Update desk. MacDonald’s screwy but serious delivery made him one of a kind. 

The sadness I feel from his passing got me to thinking about my favorite top 10 stand-up comedians of all time. 

I feel to be the best comic ever an individual must mastered three phases of comedy: television, movies and the stage. The most important element of the three is stand-up. The stage is where a comedian is sharpen and can reach the masses. 

Under the lights in front of a live audience is the greatest test for anyone who thinks he or she is funny. Whether it is 15 minutes, an half-hour special or for an hour or more, can you capture the minds and laughter of a stranger. Here are the 10 best in my opinion to ever do it. 

My apologizes to the usual suspects like Joan Rivers, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Louis C.K., Bill Hicks, Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, Mitch Hedberg, Jerry Seinfield, Bill Cosby, Steve Martin, Bernie Mac, Steve Harvey and Rodney Dangerfield. You all are good enough to mention but don’t make my cut for best stand-up comedian of all time. 

10. Don Rickles

I just found out this guy was from Queens, New York. Makes sense because he was tough with quick witted. Donald Jay Rickles passed away in 2017 leaving a legacy through film and stage. But his best performance platform was the Dean Martin Celebrity Roast. Rickles paved the way for roast masters like Greg Giraldo and Jeff Roast. 

It didn’t matter your social status, bank information or influence in the industry, Rickles was going to let you have it. Rickles was the inspiration for Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. Rickles legacy as  the pioneer of insult comedy will live forever through celebrity roast, playing the dozens on the playground and a puppet Yugoslavian Mountain Hound. 

9. Norm MacDonald

You know his voice when you heard it. A few minutes into his stand-up routine and you were fully engaged by his views on life. With a delivery exclusive to him, Norm MacDonald had a talent to make you laugh at topics you have no business even seeing in a light-hearted way. 

MacDonald was vicious in destroying politically correct culture. He wasn’t afraid to mock crime, scandals and even death. 

I guess living with a turmoil illness for several years, you gain different prospectives on the end of life. 

We have to go back and examine MacDonald’s specials and interviews over the past 9 years to see what he was trying to tell us. 

8. DL Hughley 

The purest comedian on this list, Darryl Lynn Hughley would have ranked in the top 3 on this list a few years ago. 

But now DL Hughley is more of a political commentator than stand-up comedian. His views on policies are strong and overwhelming sometimes. The DL I love is on stage talking about life and making fun of those things that have shaken us as a society. I don’t like the preachy DL Hughley. 

He became a King of Comedy because he mocked his own upbringing, had a raw view on social issues and had that Don Rickles element of insulting audience members. DL has an ability to make you laugh at yourself. 

7. Bernie Mac

Bernard Jeffrey McCullough went 100 mph on the stage. He was intense and unapologetic in his delivery. Known to America as Bernie Mac, he paid his dues moving up the ranks on the stage. Then the world got a chance to see the man from the South Side of Chicago on HBO’s Def Comedy Jam. 

He didn’t give a safe set that night. Mac was full of energy and responded to the crowd’s intensity. Every time you saw Bernie Mac on the stage you were going to laugh from the gut at a situation you could directly relate. His reminiscing style of comedy touched blacks, whites, and all ethnic groups. Almost every child got a butt-whipping or two. 

6. Wanda Sykes

The funniest female stand up comedian of all time is Wanda Yvette Sykes. She can hold her own on television heading a short-lived sitcom on FOX for a minute. And she won a Primetime Emmy Award in 1999 as a writer for The Chris Rock Show. 

She can steal a scene in a movie and is genuinely funny in any circumstance. But Sykes greatness is on display on the stage. 

Her 30-minute special on Comedy Central from years ago is some of her best work. I love her observations on marriage and dating. Her views were not narrow or one-sided. Wanda is a natural at being funny and easy to relate to in most situations. 

5. Eddie Murphy 

Edward Murphy should be called the “Natural.” Whatever Eddie Murphy did, he made it look so easy. He makes this ranking off two stand-up specials, “Raw” and “Delirious.” 

He uses profanity so smoothly and… naturally. He charm and sex appeal on stage is effortless and… natural. You’re drawn to him and his jokes like it is second nature. 

Eddie told the first joke I could relate to and understand when he talked about wanting McDonald’s. 

My mom also cooked a homemade meatloaf patty and tried to pass it off as the iconic McDonald’s. When Eddie wrapped up that classic joke, I finally realized how to laugh at myself and not take life so serious. 

4. Chris Rock

If Christopher Julius Rock decided to be a preacher, I would be front and center every Sunday at his church. Rock has a great way of observing the world and it’s issues. He’s not afraid to say what needs to be said. 

Rock will address women directly and criticize men fairly. He has great metaphors and analogies. Rock has great one-liners that serve as his punchlines. But the journey to his punchlines are memorable as well. Rock is the best at giving you four or five great bits out of one set-up. 

3. Patrice O’Neal

It’s almost been 10 years since the great Patrice Lumumba Malcolm O’Neal passed away. I am still in denial. O’Neal makes it easier for me to still think he’s alive because his comedy is timeless and still relevant today. 

I grew to love O’Neal’s comedy stylings through television with Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn and the radio show Opie and Anthony. 

Thanks to YouTube.com, I have discovered so much great O’Neal stand-up. From 1992 to his death in 2011, O’Neal was providing us with jewels to live by. He could be vulgar at times but you still found yourself laughing super hard. He evaluated men’s and women’s relationships providing the male point of view. O’Neal hit women with the raw truth about men. 

O’Neal felt like my big brother giving me advice to help me navigate this crazy world. 

2. Bill Burr 

William Frederick Burr is simply awesome. I can listen to Bill Burr do a podcast for hours. I stop whatever I am doing when I hear his Boston ascent on my television. Burr is a great storyteller. So when he is ready to take his material to the stage, be ready to learn about his childhood, his marriage, and Massachusetts outlook on life. 

Bill Burr will challenge women, obesity, sexual preference, race and all the non-pc topics comedians are afraid to approach in 2021. 

I have a library of favorite Bill Burr jokes and most of the time I find myself agreeing with his observations on life. 

1. Dave Chappelle

David Khari Webber Chappelle is the GOAT of stand up comedy. The accolades like Emmy and Grammy  awards are nice validation. But public opinion favors Chappelle because he has an amazing ability to take edgy subjects and make them humorous. Then he takes it to another level by making those topics hilarious. And finally Chappelle has an uncanny ability to make you learn something new every time he goes on the stage. 

THOMAS SELLERS JR. is the editor of The Millington Star and both the sports editor and a weekly personal columnist for West 10 Media/Magic Valley Publishing. Contact him by phone at (901) 433-9138, by fax to (901) 529-7687 and by email to thomas@magicvalleypublishing.com.