Dead Funny - JOE picks our Top Five comedians of all time... who also just happen to be dead
JOE picks our Top 5 comedians of all time... who also just happen to be dead.
That makes them Dead Funny.
It’s a joke you see.
There are of course some comedians you may wish were dead but that’s another article for another time...
As JOE’s non-dead, non-funny Granny never says, “Just because they’re dead doesn’t mean they’re not still funny” and so, taking old Nana-Banana’s wise words on board, JOE decided to have a look at the greatest comedians who have punched their final line and gone to the big comedy club in the sky.
No heckling please. They’re dead you disrespectful sonofagun.
George Carlin (1937 – 2008)
First up is the great American satirist, author and stand-up comedian, George Carlin.
Reknowned for his unique and genius take on Western culture, the English language and all things taboo, Carlin is undoubtedly one of the greatest comedians of all time. Even better, he’s (practically) Irish as his maternal Grandfather was born in Ireland before emigrating to the United States. Yes, that’s right, we’re claiming him as one of our own thank you very much.
An absolute wizard when it came to wordplay and language, here’s one of his excellent opening monologues, this one from his ‘Life Is Worth Losing’ show:
And his take on organised religion and all things God-related (it's probably best that you don’t show this to your Aunty Mary who’s still going to Mass five times a day)
As well as just being very, very, very funny, Carlin was hugely influential in social and political terms too, with his incredible and legendary ‘Seven Dirty Words’ comedy routine playing a pivotal role in a US Supreme Court case about the regulation of indecent material on the public airwaves.
Check it out here. The comedy routine that is, not the Supreme Court case:
Plus, the man just LOVED other people as you can tell from this quote from his ‘Life Worth Losing’ show:
“I have absolutely no sympathy for human beings whatsoever. None. And no matter what kind of problem humans are facing, whether it’s natural or man-made, I always hope it gets worse.”
Just a few days before he sadly passed away in 2008, Carlin was announced as the winner of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor and subsequently became its first ever posthomous recipient later that year. Among the illustrious figures who spoke on the night of the ceremony was the always hilarious Jon Stewart, and so we’ll leave with you his own personal tribute to the great man.
Two words. Cheese tits:
Dave Allen (1936 – 2005)
Speaking of claiming brilliant comedians as our own...
Over the past 20 years or so, Ireland has produced a number of excellent comedic talents who have gone on to make big, funny names for themselves. That number, to be exact, is four. Tommy Tiernan, Dylan Moran, Dara O’Brian and David O’Doherty.
None of those comedians would possibly be where they are today though, without the boundary-breaking and trend-setting comedy power of Dubliner Dave Allen.
The journalist turned comedian initially made a name for himself in Australia and England before finally being appreciated in his home country. That overdue appreciation took quite a while though, mainly due to Allen’s vocal dislike of organised religion, something that was just a teeny-tiny little bit popular in the years that he was trying to promote his brand of controversial comedy.
Allen’s act was always delivered in a suave, relaxed and intimate style, with the comedian often perched in front of the audience on a bar stool, smoking and sipping from a glass of what people always assumed was whiskey, but in fact was merely ginger ale with ice.
JOE found this ruse out the hard way when we tried to nick his drink on a mental night out in Coppers, only to find it had been spiked with a non-alcoholic beverage. Worst. Night. Ever.
Equally at home writing stand-up, starring in sketches or interviewing guests, Allen is one of this country’s greatest and most influential exports and someone we should all be very proud of.
Here’s the comedian’s brilliant take on Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
In the words of the great man himself, “Thank you, good night and may your God go with you.”
Bill Hicks (1961 – 1994)
The American master of dark comedy, Hicks started sneaking out of his childhood house to do stand up gigs from a young age, cutting his comedy teeth at the local Sunday School and during sessions with his psychoanalyst. His parents had hired the analysis expert because they thought their son was “weird.” Instead, their plan slightly backfired when the psychoanalyst told the young Hicks, “it’s not you, it’s them.”
Controversial right up until his way-too-early death at the age of 32, Hicks philosophised about religion, consumerism and society, while constantly attacking the role of media in popular culture.
He wouldn't go that hard on them though would he, right? Wrong.
Here’s his vicious take on people who work in the advertising industry. Listen out for the awkward laughs from everyone who actually works in the advertising industry:
He would have just looooved Mad Men we’re sure. Bill Hicks versus Don Draper? Now that’s a face off we’d love to see.
A fan of the drink and both legal and, ahem, illegal smokes, here’s the chain-shmoking comedian’s take on people who don’t like the occasional puff:
Like Dave Allen before him, the comedian wasn’t appreciated in his home country for years, with mainstream America oblivious to the renegade's point of view. He did initially find most of his fame abroad, in Hicks’ case in the UK and here in Ireland. And yes, that does mean that we’ve now claimed him as one of our own as well. This is fun. That’s three of the greatest ever dead comedians that we as a country now own.
It’s posthumously though that Hicks has since found his biggest following, with millions all over the world now appreciating him for the soothsaying genius that he was. It’s certainly a long way from his ‘UFO gigs’, so called because they involved Hicks, like UFOs, appearing in small southern towns to just a handful of hillbillies. Thankfully there was much more less probing involved though... we think.
His legacy lives on in the work of excellent comedians today such as Louis C.K. and Patton Oswalt who were hugely influenced by his work, and also in the work of those not quite as excellent comedians who just outright 'borrowed' his work. That’s right Denis Leary, we’re looking at you:
To learn more about the man and his work, you should most definitely check out the brilliant books American Scream and Love All The People. Readin' might prove to be just a little bit too difficult for some people though, as Hicks pointed out in one gig in Texas:
So if big, shiny, moving pictures are more your thing instead, then watch the excellent film American: The Bill Hicks Story. Check out the trailer here:
Richard Pryor (1940 – 2005)
Pryor was an American comedian who devoted his stand up career to addressing the taboo issues of racism and prejudice against minorities in society, doing so in a completely uncompromising way. His charming, likable nature, his expert ability to tell a story and his incredibly hilarious and deeply personal tales about his own life all helped him win the hearts, and laughs, of audiences the world over.
And to say he had just a little bit of a poop mouth on him is a slight understatement as you’ll see from the clips below.
Unlike some other geniuses on this list, Pryor’s talent was thankfully recognised in his lifetime, with iconic comedian Jerry Seinfeld describing him as “the Picasso of our profession,” while fellow American comedian Bob Newhart called him “the seminal comedian of the last 50 years.”
The comedian also went on to have relatively successful acting career in Hollywood too, the highlight of which was his Gene Wilder double bill of Stir Crazy and Hear No Evil, See No Evil.
And no, Superman III is not on that list of great films.
Here he is in Hear No Evil, See No Evil proving why you should never hit a blind man. Mainly because that blind man will beat you senseless with the help of his deaf best friend:
The comedian’s talent was such that he could even make the Sesame Street delivery of something as simple as the alphabet interesting, making it sound like all 26 letters were dodgy characters straight out of a seedy, smokey New York back alley jazz club. Enjoy kids:
Graham Chapman (1941 – 1989)
Last, but most certainly not least, we have Graham Chapman, one member of the greatest comedy team of all time, Monty Python.
A fully qualified doctor, Chapman had an amazing gift for deadpan comedy and teamed up with John Cleese, Eric idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam in 1969. It's pretty safe to say that when your fellow Pythons describe you as the one who had “a weird take on things” then you’re probably just a little bit loopy... but in a good way of course.
Thank God for that weird take on things and the manic unpredictability he brought to all of his work, as without it we wouldn't have genius comedy moments such as the ones below. Here's a collection of some of his most brilliantly bonkers and surreal moments:
Check out Dead Parrot, one of the best sketches that Chapman co-wrote with Cleese and one that is considered to be one of the best comedy sketches of all time. Although he doesn’t actually star in it, it was Chapman’s idea to change the original idea of a man returning a faulty toaster to a man returning his dead Norwegian Blue parrot, bereft of life.
A much better idea we think you’ll all agree.
Chapman was also admittedly the best actor among the Pythons and it was for this reason that he was given the lead roles in both Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Monty Python’s The Life of Brian. Here's the moment where Chapman taught JOE how to haggle like a pro:
Chapman, as well as being hugely influential in the world of comedy, was also an active spokesman for LGBT rights and came out himself in 1967, making him one of the first celebrities to ever come out publicly.
In the final years before his untimely death, the comic spent his days touring American colleges recounting tales and crazy anecdotes from his Monty Python adventures, something which makes JOE want to go and enroll in an American college immediately in the hope that Chapman's fellow Pythons might someday do the same thing.
It wasn’t all fun and games though as Chapman was a notorious alcoholic, a condition that led to him often falling out with the other Pythons as he sometimes, on certain afternoons, couldn’t even remember material that he had written that morning. As he once described himself, “I did a lot of drinking, a great deal, a very great deal indeed.”
Chapman unfortunately died from cancer on the eve of the 20th Anniversary of the first broadcast of Monty Python's Flying Circus, an event that Terry Jones described as “the worst case of party-pooping in all history.” His memorial service which followed was also one of celebration, as fellow Python Eric Idle led the congregation in a brilliant rendition of 'Always Look On the Bright Side Of Life.'
The last word has to go to the comedian himself though and, quite brilliantly, his final words are rumoured to be “Sorry for saying fuck” after one of his hospital nurses accidentally stuck a needle in his arm.
In fact, we don’t care if that rumour’s true or not, we’re going to say it's fact anyway.
The greatest thing about this group, apart from the fact that they’re all incredibly funny of course, is that they all left a legacy, both artistically and culturally, and brilliantly set the bar high for the poor, unfortunate comedians following in their funny, funny footsteps.
Unfortunately, if you fancy going to see them, no extra dates will be announced for any upcoming Vicar St. gigs. Actually, no dates will be announced at all because of the whole, y’know, aforementioned dead thing. To rectify that though, if someone could just go and resurrect all these guys that’d be great thanks. We're sure they'd all have some very interesting and controversial things to say about the state of the world today and we'd all be better off for listening to them.
Most importantly though, a huge thank you has to go to the greatest Dead Funny comedians themselves; George, Dave, Bill, Richard and Graham.
R. I. P. in peace you guys...