It is thus keeping in mind all these disparate comedy movements that I present the most influential comedians of the decade. These are not necessarily my favorite comedians of the decade. If that were the case, you would see Paul F. Tompkins, Marc Maron and Maria Bamford on this list. For better or worse though, these ten comics were the ones that open mikers sheepishly aped this decade while trying to find their voice. These are the ten comics that shaped people's expectations of stand-up over the past ten years. Some of the comics on this list even helped introduce stand-up to markets that no one would have previously thought of (blogs, indie rock festivals). Here, then, are the ten most important comics of the nascent millenium.
10) Louis CK
No comedian has more respect uptown and downtown than Louis CK. True, sincerity was not as popular as irony in this decade and if this were a list of beloved comics, CK would be ranked much higher. But it is only recently that comics have begun to talk about break-ups and childhood trauma with the same soulful, gut-wrenching intensity that he is known for. Whether Dane Cook did indeed steal those jokes from him or not, we can at least count that incident as evidence that CK's lowbrow/highbrow/anything-but-middlebrow style had a significant impact in arenas as well as in faux-dives nationwide.
9) Mitch Hedberg
Of course Mitch Hedberg helped open the floodgates for one-liner comics worldwide. But his most lasting contribution would be his laid-back, stoner delivery. You'd be hard-pressed to find a comic who sounded like they had more fun onstage than he did. More cynical readers may point out that heroin would make anyone happy, but therein lies the rub: heroin addicts often end up taking heroin not to get high; after a certain point users never feel high on smack again. They simply take it to ease the pain in their stomachs.
This is the exact opposite of Hedberg's comedy. There are moments on Strategic Grill Locations when he flubs the delivery to his jokes or tells undeveloped zingers. Those moments aren't only acceptable; they leave indelible impressions on the listener's mind. Many comedians have since tried to recreate the loose, goofy, comedic vibe that Hedberg brought to rooms nationwide; none have come close.
8) Aziz Ansari
Before you click the "Publish Your Comment" button, angry readers, consider this: Aziz Ansari was the first comic to use blog buzz to advance his career the way stand-ups used The Tonight Show or Dangerfield specials 20 years ago. Before YouTube, Ansari was making viral online videos with Human Giant ("Shutterbugs") and without them ("Aziz's Shitty Mixtape"). Anybody who has made the comics in the back laugh with jokes about shitty action movies and dumb R&B songs owes him at least another listen. And yes, in an age where Arabs, Sikhs, Indians, Pakistanis and Turks were indiscriminately called "towelheads," there he was, crossing over to white audiences and paving the way for great brown comics like Hari Kondabolu.
7) Jeff Foxworthy
According to a New York Times article, Comedy Central largely overlooked Jeff Dunham until the suits saw that The Blue Collar Comedy Tour was such a success. Though Larry the Cable Guy was the breakaway star, Jeff Foxworthy initially attracted attention to one of the most lucrative movements of the decade.
Before you shit on Foxworthy, check out this clip from Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? His quick wit and good-natured delivery help save this from turning into a mean-spirited humiliation of a grown woman who should have paid more attention in math class as well as chemistry class.
6) Bernie Mac
One of the great lessons of ethnic comedy in this decade: it wouldn't be enough to talk about your race. An audience raised on Def Comedy Jam and hip-hop skits knew everything about the difference between black people and white people. While Bernie Mac would remind us of the similarities between blacks and whites, he did not resort to Bill Cosby's gentle delivery. Indeed, Mac's rapid-fire cadences hearkened back to the fire-and-brimstone Pentecostal preacher style of Sam Kinison. His personal material, where he mostly aired his family's dirty laundry, was a precursor to Louis CK's shockingly confessional bits on wiping shit from his daughter's vagina.
The Bernie Mac Show was also a revelation. This decade's answer to The Cosby Show, the Emmy Award-winning program would get shuffled around the TV schedule like every other show on Fox that should never have been canceled. In truth, it's amazing that a show about a borderline abusive father even got greenlit to begin with. A closer look reveals that, like his blustery stand-up act, there was a redolent sweetness reminding us that he acted this way because he loved the kids -- and he respected the audience.
5) Dave Attell
To a certain extent, Dave Attell almost ruined comedy clubs. Thousands of up-and-comers have flooded bringer shows with lesser jokes about sex with trannies and midgets. Truth be told, it is not easy to say what makes Attell better than these wannabe cool jerks. Delivery comes to mind. Every word that leaves his mouth is marked "Important." There is nothing casual about this man; every breath seems to have smoke behind it.
Or perhaps it's his laser-like focus on nightlife. No comic books or rug rats here: every joke he has told has been about alcohol, weed, sex, cocaine -- anything that we indulge in between 5 pm and 4 am to help us escape our humdrum existences (and to help us forget his legions of humdrum imitators).
4) Sarah Silverman
You mean to tell me that attractive female comics spontaneously decided in this decade to tell off-color jokes about black men, anorexia and child abuse? Truth is, Sarah Silverman had the same impact on many comediennes this decade that Eddie Vedder had on "alternative" rock singers in the '90s: everyone sounded like them.
What the imitators lack is her silliness. Most of the clones would make fun of Martin Luther King for shock value; few have the imagination and verve Silverman had to tell a hilariously preposterous lie about MLK farting in a car with the windows up and the heat on full blast.
3) Todd Barry
True, few comics were dumb enough to try to affect Todd Barry's low -energy style. But Barry's snarky quips about shitty rock musicians would permeate alternative comedy scenes nationwide, spawning imitators left and right. Comics were also drawn to his detached, wry take on urban life, taking jabs at conversations overheard at restaurants as well as knee-jerk ineffectual liberals that bring a bad name to the left.
Lest you think that Barry is a boutique act that only has hipster cachet, watch this Letterman clip, where each joke has laughs and an applause break.
2) David Cross
David Cross would have been number one, but it seems his influence started to wane as the decade wore on. Less comics -- both indie and mainstream -- would do topical material. Even the angry, insolent tone would become less and less popular.
But it was Cross who ultimately attracted attention to alternative comedy in the first place. Simply listen to Aziz Ansari's self-effacing quip on the Invite Them Up compilation CD, where he imagines a listener skipping his track: "Fuck Aziz Ansari; David Cross, where is he at?" For a long time, Cross was the biggest indie comic out there. His stint on Arrested Development certainly didn't hurt. Neither did his cult following from his Mr. Show days.
The most important legacy Cross gave us, however, was taking comedy out of the comedy clubs and into the rock clubs. In 2000, Cross went on a rock tour with Ultrababyfat, helping fuel the Comedians of Comedy tour as well as giving impetus to the deluge of comedy tents at indie rock festivals.
1) Patton Oswalt
Sure David Cross attracted audiences to indie comedy, but Patton Oswalt would keep them coming back for more. It is because of Oswalt that every geek with a comic book collection thought they could tell jokes. It is because of Oswalt that Zach Galifianakis, Brian Posehn and Maria Bamford got the attention they deserved through the Comedians of Comedy tour.
But when scholars hundreds of years from now discuss the significance of Patton Oswalt, they will all point to his tone. Granted, very few comics can stray from cynicism for long and his screed against KFC bowls is served with a big helping of bile. But before Oswalt, almost no comics talked about their passions. Love was almost always out of the equation.
Yet there he was, recounting his hilariously detailed obsessions with giant women, Alvin and the Chipmunk records, celebrity chefs and film producer Robert Evans. The reason Oswalt was the obvious choice to star in films like Big Fan and Ratatouille was because the two lead characters in those films needed his infectious zeal to come to life. It is this lust for life that had as many comics joking about the things they love in this decade as The Beatles had musicians singing about love in the '60s.