THE 5 GREATEST ONE-LINER COMICS OF THE LAST 25 YEARS
One-liner comedians are the cocaine of comedy: you can never quite get enough, and they might destroy your life. Well, maybe not the second part, but it certainly is an addictive realm of the stand-up world, and one that every comedian could learn a dick-load about the art of joke writing from. One-liners are basically the building blocks from which this entire weird industry originated. Borscht Belt, vaudevillian comedy was how American comedy got its start, and no major talent could remain uninfluenced by the short-form origins of their profession. However, since we got all that Henny Youngman romanticism about of the way, the following is a list containing the best one-liner comics of the 21st century.
5. DEMITRI MARTIN
“Some jokes are short and elegant. Like a mathematical proof, or a midget in a ballgown.”
The fact that Demitri Martin was a hair away from graduating from law school would probably not surprise his most devoted fans; Martin’s precision and control over the world of language is almost unparalleled in the pantheon of modern one-liner comedy. The nature of Martin’s on-stage persona is so minimalistic and cerebral that he comes across like a stick-figure scientist in a one panel newspaper comic. Every set-up and punchline is so vigorously burned of all fat that all that remains is the essence of what is funny. There are no loose ends or unconsidered threads within Martin’s uber-witty comedic insights and they often come across like strange, hilarious riddles: a setup which creates an air of mysterious tension, proceeded by a gorgeously unforeseeable zig or zag which leaves the audience in reeling in hip-sterics from the surprise. (See what I did there? Someone explain it to me then.)
4. JIMMY CARR
“My girlfriend said she wanted me to tease her, so I said ‘Alright, fatty’.”
British comedy is often considered the soul of modern wit, and if the Shakespeare quote I just re-appropriated for my own ends is true, Jimmy Carr should be knighted at this point by the Queen of Comedy (if only *INSERT FAMOUS FEMALE BRITISH COMEDIAN HERE* were still around to see this.) The level of class that Jimmy Carr brings to the art of one liners, coupled with his unabashed saltiness, has created a comic hero who comes across to the crowd in a manner that is hugely unique: with an air of class and reservation. There’s something timeless and regal about Carr’s approach to the language of his performances, and his stripped down stage presence loses no bravado with its unabashed employment of minimalism. Jimmy Carr basically could have jumped up a hundred years ago and still killed it with most of the material that he probably used last night.
3. DAN MINTZ
“When I was a kid, I had to jerk off to the Sears catalog. But now with the internet, I can go right to sears.com”
Asperger’s syndrome has never been so explosively witty. With his low-key, idiosyncratic rhythm, Dan Mintz is easily one of the most original comics to hit the scene since Frederick Holiday. Ha! Did you actually look up Frederick Holiday? Fool! Let me bask in my unreliability. But anyway, yeah, it says a lot when you come from being the least socially engaging comedian imaginable to somehow wrangling the voice-role of a lifetime as Tina Belcher on the cult-hit Bob’s Burgers. Mintz uses an unemotional and detached tone of voice in order to give a strange and loopy weight to his self-deprecating one-liners, which come across like tiny little jewels of comic perfection; jewels which can be marveled and discerned over numerous times. Basically, if you want to really know how good a joke can be totally based on verbiage alone, take a little audit of the absolutely brilliant Dan Mintz.
2. JAY LONDON
“I work at Bed, Bath & Beyond. I work in the Beyond Department.”
You probably recognize Jay London either as a fan favorite from “Last Comic Standing,” or in his own words, as “ the fourth guy from the left on the evolutionary chart.” London’s unforgettably unkempt and bizarre mixture of caveman characteristics along with his trademark overalls have gained traction with his multiple popular appearances on Last Comic Standing as well as acting as the opener for Louis CK’s special Live at the Comedy Store. Of all the one-liner comics listed thus far, London has been at it the longest, making his designation as a 21st century one-liner comic arguable at best, but with the level of popularity this strange, timeless comic has accrued in the last ten years, his career has caught fire in such a way that makes him the epitome of modern comedian (even though he looks like he wrote his first jokes as his relatives were heating up Mastodon tendons over a flickering fire.)
1. MITCH HEDBERG
“I’m sick of following my dreams. I’m just gonna ask where they’re goin’ and hook up with ‘em later.”
Yep. You probably saw this coming a mile away. What more could be said that hasn’t about the one and only Kurt Cobain of comedy? Something about the dangers of drugs and alcohol when it comes to career longevity? About the sensitivity that simultaneously pushes comics toward brilliance as well as the edge of self-destruction? Or we could just talk about the breathtakingly brilliant body of work that Hedberg left behind; hundreds of one-liner jokes pertaining to every facet of human life, connected only by the golden-child’s miraculous comic voice and timing. Mitch Hedberg was the best writer of a generation because of his willingness to strip his act down to the bare minimum of comedic necessity. When the comic community were either energetically ranting about the pitfalls of marriage or their own self-indulgent political tangents, Hedberg had the bravery to stand on a stage and tell some real fucking jokes. No one before or since has matched Hedberg’s innate ability to dissect the mundane and spin it into so much gold.
You’re probably screaming to yourself, “WHY JAKE,” as you violently thrash about your mother’s bathtub. “WHY NO ZACH GALIFINAKIS, HUH? WHY NO STEVEN WRIGHT? HE RELEASED TWO ALBUMS IN THE LAST TEN YEARS! WHAT ABOUT THAT ONE OTHER COMIC THAT YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF? WHY DIDN’T HE MAKE THE CUT, YOU CORPORATE SLOB?” Well, gentle reader, with your boats of play riding hard the angry waves created by the awesome power of your angry fists, please put your giant lolly-pop down and let papa sooth with you a story. It’s about a guy who could have written a seven comedians long listy thing, but instead opted the space towards a hilarious concluding paragraph that wraps everything up perfectly while also apologizing that he didn’t have the word count necessary to wax poetic about Tim Vine.