The Mount Rushmore of Comedy -- who are your four faces?

Recent talk by Lebron James about the idea of a “basketball Mount Rushmore” and his self-nomination for inclusion in said monument sparked a separate idea –

Among comedians, who would you consider the top 4 faces of the genre – the important voices that helped shape the art form to where it is today?

I suppose it’s only fair that I go first:

  1. Lenny Bruce
  2. Will Rogers
  3. George Carlin
  4. Richard Pryor

This is, of course, to say nothing of luminaries like Groucho Marx, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Abbott & Costello, The Three Stooges, Laurel & Hardy, Redd Foxx, Joan Rivers, Bill Cosby, Eddie Murphy, Bill Hicks, Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, and countless others. To paraphrase Full Metal Jacket, “This is my list, there are many like it, but this one is mine.”

Who makes you top 4?

Groucho, Chaplin, Buster (“old stone face”) and W.C. Fields. A majority of all comic personas from movies and TV date back to these four monolithic and seminal “characters”.

Sid Caesar, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby

The problem here is that there are several basic forms of comedy. You could create a Rushmore for each of written, stage, cinema and the general category of individual/standup (Will Rogers, Marx Brothers outside of film, all the traditional standups). Four total is too narrow a gate.

Written would begin with Twain, I think. Most predecessors wrote in other forms to other ends, or are too dated to have much modern influence, or just weren’t very good.

Bill Cosby, Eddie Murphy, George Carlin, Tim Conway

also there are comedic groups (2,3,4 and more).

duos might be straight/comic.

skits, plays and the writers of such. some talented folks, who might be on the rock, did all their own writing.

too many funny people in too many styles.

This is downright impossible.

Bob Hope, Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, George Carlin.

George Carlin, Steve Martin, Bill Cosby, Jerry Seinfeld

Aristophanes has got to be the first of the four. Shakespeare is likely the second.

Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall, Ron White and Larry the Cable Guy.


Not enough room for Jeff Dunham?

Gabriel Iglesias (“Fluffy”), Richard Pryor, Steve Martin, Carol Burnett

He’s not one of the Blue Collar boys.

Yeah, it’s hard to choose just four.

George Carlin
Eddie Izzard
Bill Cosby
Carol Burnett

First one to say Carlos Mencia should get banned

George Carlin
Richard Pryor
W.C. Fields
Woody Allen

Like AB I think that limiting it to stand up is too constricting. If I were to go with only stand up I would have to stick with what I hear from most comics when talking about their craft. The ones that seem to have had the most lasting impact on the genre as it has evolved into are probably Carlin, Pryor, Cosby and Dangerfield. Woody Allen and Lenny Bruce barely don’t make it. Allen had a huge impact on stand up when he started but left too early for movies to go on the mountain. Bruce pushed the envelope and changed what was acceptable for comics to talk about forever. But he just wasn’t that funny.

Expanding it to other forms of comedy makes it much more difficult. Its hard to narrow it down to just four. I would go with Twain but to be honest it should be Oscar Wilde but Mount Rushmore is American so I’m going with Twain dammit. For a stand up its a toss up between Carlin and Pryor but I would give the edge to Carlin. For TV I’m am torn between Sid Caesar and Jackie Gleason. But I’ll go with Caesar due to his vision and the people that came out of his shows. For movies: Chaplin. I actually like Keaton more from that era but as a visionary and founding father of comedy I would go with Chaplin.

Stand up only: Carlin, Pryor, Cosby, Dangerfield

Comedy overall: Twain, Carlin, Caesar, Chaplin

Comedians are not like Politicians: There’s WAY more than a 4 good ones!
But If I HAD to…
Steve Martin for sure…Groucho Marx, Louis CK, and then…jeez, I’m leaving out a lot of people, Bill Cosby.
But there’s a LOT more than 4!

Not on a single-wide.

I assume the foremost criterion that almost everybody is considering is the particular comic’s uniqueness. I’d put Sam Kinison up there. His portrayal of Professor Turgeson in Back to School ranks among the greatest comedic scenes of the 1980s. Other than that, I’m drawing a blank. There really are just too many to choose from. I’m tempted to nominate Lucille Ball, but I don’t really know enough about the history of comedy to evaluate her particular contribution to the genre. Was she unique, or was her style largely predicated on earlier forms of slapstick dating back as far as the early twentieth century?

Robert Benchley, S. J. Perelman, Richard Armour, and Dave Barry.

Print comedy is comedy.