Bill Simmons’ List of Comedy MVPs Since 1975

In a recent mailbag, Bill Simmons had occasion to name comedy MVPs for every year since 1975. The criteria:

You have to nail at least one of these questions to qualify for that given year: Were you in the hottest comedy of the year or, even better, in the middle of a run of hot comedies? Were you carrying SNL? Did you have an iconic stand-up special, cable TV show, late-night show or comedy series? Did you routinely crush any late-night appearance or SNL hosting gig? Did you have a huge approval rating with little to no backlash? Do we associate that year with you to some degree? I need resonance beyond just cult affection, which unfortunately rules out the great Bill Hicks (who has a strong case for 1990).


It's a pretty good list. Eddie Murphy's 3 year run from 82-84 is set up as the run all comedians should aspire to, which I agree with. There are some lean years, as well, which leads to a few underwhelming selections like Billy Crystal in 1990 and Gary Shandling in 1997. Without having other names to suggest, I think I have the most problems with the last 8 years or so. I love Larry David, but it's hard for me to see him on the list twice when his show hasn't really gotten beyond cult status. Ricky Gervais probably deserves a spot somewhere, and maybe the Lonely Island guys for Lazy Sunday. Also notably absent Stephen Colbert (2006 or 2007) and Conan O'Brien. This list, though, is at least a good place to start the argument. There is only one woman on the list, and a winner for 2010 has not yet been declared. Has there been a breakout comedy for this year, yet? My bet is on Steve Carell, Zach Galifianiakis, Jonah Hill or Russel Brand could be a dark horse, as well as anyone staring in a comedy coming out between now and December. Actually, you know who wins for 2010? Betty White.

Here is the list:
1975: Richard Pryor
1976: Chevy Chase
1977-78: John Belushi
1979: Robin Williams, Steve Martin (tie)
1980: Rodney Dangerfield
1981: Bill Murray
1982-84: Eddie Murphy (1984 Honorable Mention to Sam Kinison)
1985-86: David Letterman
1987: Jay Leno, Howard Stern (tie)
1988: Eddie Murphy
1989: Dana Carvey
1990: Billy Crystal
1991: Jerry Seinfeld
1992: Jerry Seinfeld, Mike Myers (tie)
1993: Mike Myers
1994: Jim Carrey
1995: Chris Farley
1996: Chris Rock
1997: Garry Shandling
1998: Adam Sandler
1999: Mike Myers, Chris Rock (tie)
2000: Will Ferrell
2001: Matt Stone and Trey Parker (tie)
2002: Larry David
2003: Dave Chappelle
2004: Dave Chappelle, Jon Stewart (tie)
2005: Steve Carell
2006: Sacha Baron Cohen
2007: Larry David
2008: Tina Fey
2009: Zach Galifianiakis
2010: ????????

24 thoughts on “Bill Simmons’ List of Comedy MVPs Since 1975

  1. Steverino

    That’s a pretty SNL-heavy list, doncha think? And it trends away from stand up stuff and towards TV/movies. Larry David’s a stretch if we go by the standards stated for eligibility. And, what, no Bill Hicks? Stephen Wright? Roseanne Barr? (Only one women at all.) Tracey Ullman, Whoopi Goldberg, Amy Poehler, Lily Tomlin, Kathy Griffin, Ellen Degeneres? Sarah Silverman, Brett Butler, Janeane Garafolo, Sandra Bernhard?

    But, yeah, sure, Wil Ferrel, Chris Farley, and Rodney Dangerfield. Yeah, they top Bill Hicks and Lily Tomlin.

  2. Andy

    While Dane Cook has become a love him/hate him personality, his record-shattering album sales and concert attendance in the mid-late 2000′s should place him in consideration. NOT that these are all that should determine success, but still…

  3. Jimmy Walker

    Jay Leno is not funny. Jay Leno is a hack. If Jay Leno ever was funny, it was before The Tonight Show. And simply because Leno back-stabbed his way onto the The Tonight Show, does not make him funny. Unfortunately influential in his mere presence, yes. Funny, no.

  4. Jackie G.

    Bill Simmons giving advice about comedy? Now THAT’S FUNNY. Who wants to clue him in that Richard Pryor is no longer the “best comedian alive” since he’s been dead for five years?

    What is the criteria for this list? Highest paid comedian? Critically acclaimed? I guess this is pretty spot-on if you’re a pop culture-challenged jock.

  5. Martin

    I have to say, I think it’s hilarious that two of the big dissenters here have their facts wrong — of course Pryor was alive and dominant in 1975, and Bill picked Leno (probably accurately) in a pre-Tonight Show year. I would love to say that David Cross, Garofalo, Patton Oswalt, LCK should be there, but really, I think Bill got most of it right.

  6. Barry Ritholtz

    Stephen Colbert just DESTROYED at the National Correspondents Dinner in 2006. He crushed it, mocked a president to his face, and owned that year because of it.

    Borat came out late 2006 — it opened big, but exploded in 2007, so you can move Sacha Baron Cohen to that year.

    And Larry David should be in the 2001-02-03 period — really 2007, was Larry Davids? Not.

    Last, I saw Bill Hicks in 1990 — unbelievably intelligent, funny and insightful. My sides hurt for 3 days afterwards. But he never really met the random qualifications for Simmons. Same with Louis CK (unbelivably funny guy as well).

  7. Angry Sam

    Louis CK won’t get MVP, but he deserves a comedy Cy Young for 2010. Funniest show on TV right now.

    2011 will go to Conan, making a triumphant return to TV after a successful 2010 guerrilla campaign.

  8. brownponcho

    Looking over this list I think you should have called the article “Bill Simmons’ List of American Comedy MVPs Since 1975″

  9. Daryl

    Louis CK could work as 2010… He’s the next incarnation of Seinfeld!

    What, no Ricky Gervais? and where’s George Carlin?!

  10. Halloween Jack

    Even for a subjective list, it’s dubious that Dana Carvey (as much as I enjoy a lot of his stuff) was “carrying” SNL; yeah, he had the Church Lady and a few other characters, but Phil Hartman was much more important to the show (and enjoyed a successful post-SNL career, unlike Carvey, whose solo show flopped).

  11. pdizzle

    Steven Colbert for White House Correspondents’ Dinner.
    Please, Tina Fey is not even funny.

  12. Joe

    Robin Williams has to get the nod in 1986 or 1987 for the Night at the Met performance or Good Morning Vietnam. Also, as much as I hate to say it, but 1989 belonged to Dice.

  13. Jackie G.

    @Martin:

    Yes, it’s obvious that Pryor was alive in 1975, but the quote is: “Best stand-up comedian alive (and the most respected),” not “Best stand-up comedian alive in 1975.” Simmons loses either way— either he’s oblivious that Pryor is dead, or he simply can’t write.

    And come on— Robin Williams, ever? What original material did the guy ever come up with. Don’t you know that if Williams was in the house at the Coemdy Store, that nary a soul would step on stage? He was the Mencia before Mencia.

    Speaking of fat-boys, when was Chris Farley funny, ever? TOMMY BOY was his shining moment? Get real.

    I’m not going to argue that Parker and Stone don’t deserve accolades on this list (because frankly, they dominated comedy on TV the 2000s), but 2001? Just because they did a 9/11 episode? Come on, those guys are pushing the envelope all the time, and that episode wasn’t all that funny compared to others that season.

    Where is Seth MacFarlane? As much as I think his shitty show jumped the shark when it was picked up again, he had more success with “Family Guy” in 2005 than “The Office” did in its first year. Who else gets canceled by Fox and then gets picked up again?!

    Admit it: this list is as ignorant of real comedians as much as a 13-year-old girl is ignorant of real music. It’s a populist BS list for people who still think of a talented comedian like Joe Rogan as “that guy from ‘Fear Factor” or David Cross as “that guy who used to have that show on HBO,” if they’ve heard of either at all.

  14. zxcvb

    Where the fuck is Andy Kaufman?

    I guess Jay Leno could be justified on Tim Duncan-like grounds. They both “get the job done” in the most boring way possible.

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