Anyone who got funnier as they got older?

I’m having a hard time thinking of funny people who stayed funny, or better yet, got funnier, late in their careers.

I happened to be thinking of comedians like Bill Cosby and George Carlin who had long, successful careers; yet their best, really classic material, all came in the early-to-middle parts of those careers. Opinions differ on whether their later stuff is still funny, but hardly anybody claims that it’s as funny as they used to be.

Of all the comedians, comedy writers, comic actors, etc. I can think of who have really made me laugh, and who have been around a long time, some of them got stale, some of them mellowed, some of them just kept repeating themselves, and some of them branched out and did quality work outside the realm of pure comedy. But I’m having a hard time thinking of anyone who stayed fresh and laugh-out-loud funny well into middle or old age; so that if they had died at age, say, 50, the world of comedy specifically would have missed out on something special.


Rodney Dangerfield stands out as someone whose best years were later in his career.

Leslie Nielson. He had a long unfunny career in leading roles and such, then he did “Airplane” and he showed a genius for deadpan humor. Would have been a shame if he’d died prior to “Airplane.”

If George Burns and Gracie Allen had died at 50, they would have had a few movies and a radio series to their credit but there would have been no The George Burns & Gracie Allen Show on TV.

I think it is very true of comics who had a slow steady build of their careers.

Carlin and Cosby were famous comedians in their mid-thirties. So, at the peak of their careers they had been honing their craft for about a decade and half. Spiking in your mid-thirties means you’ve got a long road ahead of you. You have plenty of material that has proven to be Gold, but if you keep doing it you’re repeating yourself and if you do something different you’re messing with a proven successful formula.

Compare to 60 year old Lewis Black.

Lewis Black didn’t hit his peak until his 50s, but by the time he hit his peak he had been honing his craft for 30 years compared to Cosby and Carlin’s 15.

Ellen DeGeneres.

Hmmm, I’d say Ellen stayed funny- and the OP does ask also for people who stayed funny- but the Thread title suggests a focus on people who got funnier.

I don’t think she’s gotten funnier. I think her best work was done in her thirties.


Ronald Reagan?

I agree. I thought he was much funnier older.

William Shatner didn’t start out as funny (or intentionally funny, anyway), but he’s turned out to be.

Cliff Arquette. He was already over 50 when he became “Charley Weaver.”

Not funny when young, but funny when older: George Foreman.

I think Larry David’s been funnier with Curb Your Enthusiasm than with Seinfeld, and Curb started when he was in his fifties. That may not count since he wasn’t the only force responsible for Seinfeld, but by any measure - specific episodes, strength of individual seasons, etc. - I laugh harder at Curb.

If you count novelists as comedy writers, that’s the profession that seems to make for the highest chance of funniness extending into old age:

P.G. Wodehouse lived into his 90s, and while I haven’t read very many of his books, the ones I’ve read from later on (he turned fifty in 1931) seem to be just as good as the earlier ones. He wrote something like a hundred books, though, and I’ve read less than half a dozen, so I don’t know how accurate that sample is.

Anthony Powell stayed funny for several decades.

Most people think Thomas Pynchon’s been going downhill, but if we only take humor into account, then Vineland’s funniest moments rivaled those from Gravity’s Rainbow. I’ve heard good things about the humor in Mason & Dixon, too, though I haven’t read it myself.

Jon Stewart isn’t old quite yet, but he’s constantly been improving with age.

Alec Baldwin. He may have had comic ability when he was younger, but he was constantly pigeonholed as a “leading man” and we weren’t allowed to see it. Now that he’s grown older and packed on some pounds, they’re letting him unleash the funny, and man, it is good.

He’s 60?!?!

I think Johnny Carson improved with age. He did phone it in in his last couple of years, but in general as he aged his timing got better, and Carson’s humor was all about timing.

Bob Newhart improved in the same way, although his material was funnier when he was younger.

His stand-up is as sharp now (or a couple of years ago- last time I saw him perform) as ever. He also proved on ER that he’s a talented dramatic actor.

Sort of an odd one to mention perhaps, but Hal Holbrook. I’ve seen his MARK TWAIN shows three times in person and the video of the 60s one and I’ve listened to recordings made in the '70s. For those not familiar with his Mark Twain act, it’s never likely to be the same show twice: he’s memorized about 20 hours of material by Twain (an army of Ph.D.s in American Lit and specializing in Twain couldn’t touch him for his expertise) and he ad libs from it during the show. He’ll often send out depth charges to gauge how religious his audience is or whether they skew more left or right, and then play to that to a degree. Anyway, to me his act is funnier (and more biting- the bitter cynical but still funny Twain) now than it was 40 years ago, and amazingly relevant to today’s world. (Some trivia: Holbrook holds the record for the most years performing as Mark Twain; he’s got a decade on Sam Clemens.)

Kurt Vonnegut wrote some hysterical essays and did some really funny interviews in his 70s and 80s. Of course he wasn’t successful until he was middle aged.

I think a major problem is that it’s just hard to find inspiration when you go from being “average schmo, but with wit” to “rich guy giving the same act every night and having people cater to you rather than being able to neutrally observe and reflect”. Eddie Murphy’s a prime case: he was a comedy god in his 20s but when he became super successful his self indulgence turned him into almost a parody of himself. NUTTY PROFESSOR and some of his other latex movies all had funny moments but nothing that matched the brilliant expressions and improv of SNL and TRADING PLACES or the “moderate” latex of COMING TO AMERICA. (I’d love to see him do some more dramatic roles, incidentally; I think if he’d challenge himself he might get some of his mojo back.)


Robin Williams: do you think he got less funny as he got older or did it just get tiring? I thought he was hysterical when I was a lot younger but today his [obviously rehearsed] improv and comedy concerts will make me flip channels.

Weird Al Yankovic


Seconded. Who would have guessed back in the 1980s that this suave, handsome clotheshorse was genuinely funny?