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George Carlin

George Carlin was easily one of the most influential comics of all time. His acerbic wit and unique insight makes his comedy extremely relevant 8 years after his death. If you’ve never seen his “10 words” routine, you need to do see it immediately.

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Richard Pryor

Richard Pryor is consistently ranked with Carlin as the best of all time. He was extremely controversial in the ’70s, but also extremely funny. He was one of the first comics to really push the bounds of “acceptable” language. Modern comedy wouldn’t exist without Pryor.

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Lenny Bruce

To understand where modern comedy really began, you need to start with Lenny Bruce. He was so controversial that the FBI actually charged him obscenity. This persecution essentially drove him insane. He was a pioneer who blazed the trail not just for comedy but for the counter-culture in general.

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Jerry Seinfeld

Watching Seinfeld on stage is like watching a master musician practice his craft. Every word and every joke is in exactly the right place. He’s a student of comedy and he’s learned enough to become a true master.

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Joan Rivers

Stand-up was pretty much completely dominated by men before Rivers arrived. Her self-deprecating style of humor was completely unique for both men and women. And young people may not remember, but she was almost the permanent host for The Tonight Show when Carson was retiring.

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Chris Rock

Chris Rock is a master at observing the human condition and turning it into incredible comedy. He also has a delivery that is unlike any comedian in comedy history. He was clearly influenced by another fantastic comic, Eddie Murphy, and took it to a whole ‘nother level.

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Steven Wright

There has never been a comedian better at the non-sequitur than Steven Wright. He also has incredibly deadpan delivery that’s completely unique. There’s maybe no comedian more quotable than Steven Wright.

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Eddie Murphy

In the 1980s, Murphy burst onto the scene and took no prisoners. “Raw” and “Delirious” are still considered some of the best sets of all time. The line from Pryor to Murphy to Rock is strong and hilarious.

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Bill Hicks

There’s perhaps not been a more cynical comic than Bill Hicks. And it was completely perfect for the ’90s. It was extremely unfortunate that his career ended when he died of cancer at age 32. It’s clear that he had a lot more to say.

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Louis C.K.

Louis reveals everything about himself on stage, and we can totally relate to these revelations. And it helps that he’s incredibly hilarious. He’s written for many funny people like Conan O’Brien, David Letterman, and Chris Rock. Now, he’s one of the most popular comics on the planet.

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Rodney Dangerfield

Some people criticize Dangerfield as a one-note comedian, but he played that one note incredibly well. His delivery is absolutely impeccable and his classic joke set-ups are timeless. Young comics can learn a lot watching Dangerfield to understand the basics of being a comedian.

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Don Rickles

Don Rickles is hands-down the greatest insult comic of all time. His rapid-fire wit made him second-to-none in the 1950s. Some people tirelessly prepare material while others just have a natural gift of making people laugh. Rickles was just a natural talent.

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Mitch Hedberg

Hedberg was clearly influenced by Steven Wright, as Hedberg was a master of absurd one-liners. When he was on-stage, he always seemed out of it to the point where it was tough to tell what was an act and what was real. His young death (like Bill Hicks) left a major void in comedy.

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Dave Chappelle

It’s easy to forget that, before “Chappelle’s Show,” Dave Chappelle wsa one of the most talented comics working. While everyone knows how that story ended, they may not realize that he’s still one of the best comics of all time. It’s good to see that he’s worked out his personal issues and returned to the stage.