Stand-up comedians entertain audiences from the stage, but also make their way into our homes on the small screen via TV shows. We don’t have to wait to see our favorite comics appear in movies or on a special. We can enjoy their comedy every week, or – more than likely – binge an entire season in a weekend.
What can we say? Laughter is the best medicine, so watching a series featuring the funniest comedians around is sort of like taking vitamins, right? Well, whether you agree with that logic or not, below is a list of several comics that had their own television show.
Let’s take a look at these comics and stand-up comedians and remember the laughs they brought about through our television screens.
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The Early Days
1. Dick Van Dyke is an actor and comic who has had success in movies, tv shows, and more throughout his career. Some will fondly remember him as Bert in Mary Poppins, while others will recall him from the sitcom called The Dick Van Dyke Show, where he portrayed Rob Petrie, the head writer for The Alan Brady Show, a fictional show in New York. In the series, Mary Tyler Moore played Rob’s wife, Laura, and their comedy chemistry created sparks. Van Dyke’s physical comedy caused audiences to crack up every week. The series helped make him the star that he still is.
2. Carol Burnett is a sketch comedy queen and worked with some of the funniest comedians around to bring humor into our homes with The Carol Burnett Show. In one of the more memorable episodes entitled “Went with the Wind,” – a spoof of Gone with the Wind – Burnett plays Starlet O’Hara, leaning into the role of an overly dramatic southern belle.
Having been in a rush to impress her guest, she finally comes down the staircase in her self-made dress with an entire curtain rod across her shoulders. When Ratt Butler exclaims, “That gown is gorgeous,” Starlet replies “Thank you, I saw it in the window and I just couldn’t resist it.”
It really is worth watching a clip of this sketch to get the full effect:
Starring actors and comedians such as Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, Lyle Waggoner, Tim Conway, and others, The Carol Burnett Show is still hailed for its contributions to sketch comedy.
3. Sanford and Son was a 1970s sitcom that was touted as NBC’s response to All in the Family. It starred stand-up comedian and actor Redd Foxx, who portrayed the grumpy, opinionated, and street-smart Fred G. Sanford, who sold used goods in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. Fred’s son Lamont, played by Desmond Wilson, often had the role of both peacemaker and punching bag due to his father’s intolerances.
The character of Lamont was often trying to open his father’s mind to new things, but both characters would often find themselves in humorous situations involving scams of all sorts. Years later, in 2004, Redd Foxx was ranked number 24 in Comedy Central Presents: 100 Greatest Stand-ups of All Time.
4. Bob Newhart is one of those understated stand-up comedians who could always get audiences laughing with subtle expressions and well-delivered lines. He actually had his own talk show on NBC prior to The Bob Newhart Show, which was a sitcom that aired on the CBS network in the 1970s for six seasons.
In the sitcom, Newhart is a psychologist whose interactions with neurotic or needy patients, wife, colleagues, and friends lead to situations rife with entertainment and humor. Newhart’s character is often playing straight man to the other characters.
Apparently, that wasn’t enough for the hard-working actor and comedian, since he went on to start in Newhart, a sitcom series that ran through most of the 80s. This sitcom, starring Bob Newhart and Mary Frann (and featuring several eccentric small-town characters), is about Dick and Joanna Loudon who move to rural Vermont from New York to operate an Inn. Newhart is again the one to play the straight man surrounded by oddballs, curious locals, and try to maintain sanity amidst the crazy stories. It’s considered by many to be one of the funniest television shows of the era.
The ‘80s and ‘90s
5. Paul Reiser is another comedian with a couple of different television series under his belt. His first sitcom was My Two Dads, which followed the stories of an unconventional family. The show begins when Michael Taylor (Paul Reiser), who is a financial advisor, and Joey Harris (Greg Evigan), a struggling artist, are awarded joint custody of teenage Nicole (Staci Keanan) when her mother dies.
The tension between the two dads gives rise to an Odd Couple kind of humor, and there is some heart in addition to the comedy as they all find their way in the world that wasn’t what they planned.
Paul Reiser would later star alongside Helen Hunt in the successful television series Mad About You, from September of 1992 to May of 1999. It was a sitcom show that guest-starred several stand-up comedians over the years, and was one of the funniest “Must See TV” series on NBC.
6. Another series known for its New York City location is Seinfeld, probably one of, if not the most, popular sitcoms in modern history. It aired on NBC from July 5, 1989, to May 14, 1998 – over nine seasons and 180 episodes in all. Stand-up comedian Jerry Seinfeld is the star and essentially the emcee of the show and was also the show’s co-creator along with Larry David.
Not much of a stretch for an actor, we see Jerry Seinfeld play himself, a stand-up comedian, but the audience also follows the lives of Elaine, George, and Kramer, all portrayed by some of the funniest stand-up comics and comedians in sitcom history.
The sitcom also featured clips of Seinfeld doing his stand-up comedy routine on stage. It could be and was often described as a show about nothing, but Seinfeld had a quirky appeal and the series managed to capture the attention of audiences for years, with memorable phrases like “no soup for you,” “spare a square,” and “these pretzels are making me thirsty.”
7. Comedian, Actor, and Producer Larry David also had success with a sitcom in which he was the star. Curb Your Enthusiasm aired from 2000 to 2011, then returned in 2017, and again in 2020. Like Seinfeld, actor Larry David plays a version of himself, a neurotic, socially challenged, and stubborn guy who can create a whole lot of something out of nothing.
Also starring Cheryl Hines, Jeff Garlin, and Susie Essman, a lot of the comedy on the show comes from misunderstandings and unnecessary situations that arise out of Larry’s social anxieties, unconventional habits, and annoyances.
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8. Ellen DeGeneres isn’t just one of the funniest comedians who made it to Carson’s couch back in the day, or someone who eventually got her own talk show. She also starred on her very own sitcom on the ABC network from 1994 to 1998 called Ellen.
In it, the stand-up comic Ellen DeGeneres was Ellen Morgan, the owner of a bookstore. It may not sound like the funniest premise, but with fellow comics and a hilarious cast of characters, it ran successfully for five seasons. Fun fact: It was originally called These Friends of Mine, but the name was changed to avoid confusion with Friends on NBC.
9. A lot of shows in the 1990s featured stand-up comedians as the star of the show, and would base the character on their comedy persona. Everybody Loves Raymond was on CBS from 1996 to 2005, and starred stand-up comic Ray Romano, as well as Patricia Heaton, Brad Garrett, Doris Roberts, and Peter Boyle.
Romano, who is one of those stand-up comedians known for his dry, defeatist, and sometimes sarcastic tone, brought his humor to the studio audience and those at home. His character, Ray Barone, is a sports writer, but a lot of the comedy comes from interactions with his omnipresent and opinionated parents as well as his marital relationship.
10. Tim Allen’s show Home Improvement, which aired from 1991 to 1999, was another everyman-type comedy that brought a lot of laughter to living rooms across the country. In fact, it was one of the most watched shows at the time. Allen played Tim “the Tool Man” Taylor, who hosts “Tool Time,” the show within the show.
His co-host is the big-hearted and soft-spoken Al (Richard Karn). Al is also his good friend. Al grunts a lot less than Tim (grunting was a whole thing on the show).
Stand-up comedians don’t always succeed in the transition to the small screen, but it was successful and won several industry awards. Some of the most insightful and funniest moments came from Tim’s conversation with the neighbor, Wilson, whose upper half of the face was always present on the other side of the fence. Tim and Wilson would often stand and chat for a bit and he could usually help Tim resolve any issue he was having with his family or life in general.
11. Grace Under Fire is a sitcom that aired for five years in the 90s, and featured stand-up comic Brett Butler as Grace Kelly (yes, Grace Kelly), a single mother coping with her new life raising three kids after leaving an abusive relationship and struggling with recovery herself. This made her one of the more notable comedians who depicted the day-to-day life of the working class.
The regular cast of characters included her happily married neighbors, her rambunctious children, and the warm-hearted (and available) pharmacist named Russell, played by Dave Thomas (the actor, not the fast-food tycoon). In a style similar to comedians like Bill Engvall and Jeff Foxworthy, Butler brought some of the funniest blue-collar comedy to audiences across the country.
12. Since we just mentioned one of the so-called blue-collar comedians, Bill Engvall, we should also note that he also starred in his own comedy, The Bill Engvall Show. It was a sitcom on TBS that ran from July 2007 to September of 2009. A lot of the comedy emerged from family squabbles and parenting dilemmas like dealing with teenage daughters who want to get their belly button pierced. Fun fact: that teen girl who wanted the belly ring was played by actor Jennifer Lawrence.
13. In one of the many examples of comedians helping fellow comedians, Larry Wilmore created a vehicle for stand-up comic Bernie Mac called The Bernie Mac Show. It ran for five seasons from 2001 to 2006 on Fox. As many comedians have done, he played a version of himself, but took poetic license to add more details to a family plotline in which he and his wife had to adjust quickly to parenthood when they began raising his sister’s three children. Because he’s a stand-up comic in the show as well, the situation allowed for several other stand-up comedians and stars to make guest appearances.
14. George Lopez is the name of the sitcom starring the hilarious George Lopez, which aired from 2002 to 2007. The show depicts the daily life of Lopez (again, in a fictionalized version of his successful stand-up comic career).
He deals with being one of the most popular comedians not only in the Latino community, but with audiences all across America, and tries to balance all of that along with family and business relationships. Lopez was a writer for the show, as well as the star.
15. We’ll wrap up this list of comedians with writer, actor, and comedian Amy Poehler of Parks and Recreation, which had 126 episodes, and was a modern mockumentary-style show. While Amy Poehler was technically the protagonist of Parks & Recreation, the series was jam-packed with some of the funniest stand-up comedians, like Paul Schneider, Nick Offerman, and Aziz Ansari, who also starred in (and was a writer for) his own show, Master of None.
Interestingly, the first season of Master of None took place entirely in New York, while the second season occurred in Italy. Comedy is obviously appreciated around the globe. Perhaps comedians could be the ones to change the world…one show at a time.
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Adam Christing is a professional comedy magician, virtual MC, and the founder of CleanComedians.com. He is a member of the world-famous Magic Castle in Hollywood and a popular virtual comedian, magician, and virtual speakers for hire.