MVP OF COMEDIANS FOR ME BY YR
1975: Richard Pryor
Best stand-up comedian alive (and the most respected). Also crushed his only SNL hosting gig ever with its first legitimately great show and water cooler sketch.
1976: Chevy Chase
SNL’s first breakout star as it became a national phenomenon. He also made the worst move in Funniest Guy history by leaving the show as he was wrapping up his Funniest Guy season. Even “The Decision” was a better idea.
1977-78: John Belushi
Replaced Chase as SNL’s meal ticket in ’77, then had the single best year in Funny Guy History a year later: starred on SNL (in its biggest year ever, when audiences climbed to more than 30 million per episode); starred in “Animal House” (the No. 1 comedy of 1978 and a first-ballot Hall of Famer); had the No. 1 album (the Blues Brothers’ first album). No. 1 in TV, movies and music at the same time? I’m almost positive this will never happen again. And also, if you put all the funniest people ever at the funniest points of their lives in one room, I think he’d be the alpha dog thanks to force of personality. So there’s that.
1979: Robin Williams, Steve Martin (tie)
“Mork and Mindy” plus a big stand-up career for Williams; “The Jerk” plus a best-selling comedy album plus “official best SNL host ever” status for Martin.
1980: Rodney Dangerfield
His breakout year with “Caddyshack,” killer stand-up, killer Carson appearances, a Grammy-winning comedy album, even a Rolling Stone cover. Our oldest winner.
1981: Bill Murray
Carried “Stripes” one year after “Caddyshack.” Tough year for comedy with cocaine was ruining nearly everybody at this point.
1982-84: Eddie Murphy
The best three-year run anyone has had. Like Bird’s three straight MVPs. And by the way, “Beverly Hills Cop” is still the No. 1 comedy of all time if you use adjusted gross numbers.
(Random note: Sam Kinison’s 1984 spot on Dangerfield’s “Young Comedians” special has to be commemorated in some way. At the time, it was the funniest six minutes that had ever happened, and it could have single-handedly won him the title in almost any other year. It’s also the hardest I have ever laughed without drugs being involved. Sadly, I can’t link to it because of the language and because it crosses about 35 lines of decency. But it’s easily found, if you catch my drift.)
1985-86: David Letterman
Went from “cult hero” to “established mainstream star,” ushered in the Ironic Comedy Era, pushed the comedy envelope as far as it could go, and if you want to dig deeper, supplanted Carson as the den father for that generation of up-and-comers and new superstars (Murphy, Leno, Seinfeld, Michael Keaton, Tom Hanks, Howard Stern, etc.) … and, on a personal note, had a bigger influence on me than anyone other than my parents. One of two people I could never meet because I would crumble like a crumb cake. (You can guess the other.)
1987: Jay Leno, Howard Stern (tie)
Seems like a million years ago, but Leno’s frequent appearances on Letterman’s show and enjoyable “Tonight Show” guest host spots stole the ’87 title from Letterman just because he seemed newer and fresher. (Note: The Leno-Letterman spot always delivered the goods. They were unbelievable together. That’s what made it so unbelievable when Leno backstabbed him for the “Tonight Show” job.) Meanwhile, Stern’s morning show had become a tri-state phenomenon and reached the point that people were trading cassette tapes; he even landed a Fox pilot that year.
1988: Eddie Murphy
Reclaimed the throne with “Coming to America” one year after “Raw.” Also, Arsenio Hall’s show had taken off and Eddie was a frequent guest. The last great Eddie year. Alas.
1989: Dana Carvey
SNL’s first breakout star in five years thanks to the Church Lady, his Bush Senior impersonation and a bunch of other things that didn’t really hold up. What’s weird is that Phil Hartman’s SNL stuff held up better, only it took Carvey’s leaving for people to realize how great Hartman was.
1990: Billy Crystal
Never had a career year but accumulated enough momentum from his stupendous SNL stint (1984-85), “City Slickers,” his HBO comedy special and his late-night guest spots that his 1990 Oscars host job (the best to that point) wins him the award in a weak year. FYI: You could make a decent Hicks case here, but he just wasn’t well-known enough.
1991: Jerry Seinfeld
The year his show started taking off, much to the delight of everyone who loved him from his Letterman/Carson spots and the four episodes from the previous summer. I will never forget me and my buddy trying to persuade everyone else we knew to watch the first episode of Season 2 with us (January 1991) and only a couple of them biting.
1992: Jerry Seinfeld, Mike Myers (tie)
Seinfeld’s show became a smash hit; Myers was SNL’s biggest star during a resurgent era and made a hit movie (“Wayne’s World,” now the most dated comedy of all time and totally weird to watch, although the “Bohemian Rhapsody” scene remains funny).
1993: Mike Myers
Weak year. Myers had SNL, “Wayne’s World 2” and “So I Married An Axe Murderer.” You could talk me into giving the entire “Simpsons” writing staff this spot just to get them on the list.
1994: Jim Carrey
“Ace Ventura,” “The Mask” and “Dumb & Dumber.” Has anyone ever gone 3-for-3 with smash hits in one year? Now he’s just a crazy person on Twitter.
1995: Chris Farley
His long-awaited “I always loved Chris Farley and now I feel totally vindicated because I knew he was going to be famous” year with “Tommy Boy.” Which still holds up, by the way. Silver medal to Norm MacDonald for crushing it on “Weekend Update” during and after the O.J. trial.
1996: Chris Rock
He underachieved on SNL to the point that, when he switched to “In Living Color” for one year, nobody gave a crap. By 1995, he had fallen into the “doing guest spots on ‘Martin’ and ‘Fresh Prince of Bel Air'” stage of his career. And then, out of nowhere … “Bring the Pain” happened. The best stand-up special since Eddie in his prime. Who knew?
1997: Garry Shandling
The best season ever (Season 5) of one of the greatest comedies ever (“The Larry Sanders Show”) peaks with “The Roast” (the single funniest episode in the history of the show). Good enough to win a weak year.
1998: Adam Sandler
Became an A-list comedy franchise with “The Wedding Singer” and “The Waterboy.” Weak year otherwise.
1999: Mike Myers, Chris Rock (tie)
“Austin Powers 2” (and A-list celeb status) for Myers; “Bigger and Blacker” special and an inventive weekly HBO show for Rock.
2000: Will Ferrell
At the height of his SNL powers at this point thanks to his Dubya impersonation. You could make a very strong “Will Ferrell was the greatest cast member in the history of SNL” case.
2001: Matt Stone and Trey Parker (tie)
A seminal season for “South Park” (Season 5) peaks with the ballsy Osama episode just eight weeks after 9/11. Weird year for comedy in general. You could make a strong case for Ricky Gervais here; I would give it to him except for the fact that I hate British people.LOL
2002: Larry David
His best “Curb Your Enthusiasm” season (Season 3), and it featured my single favorite episode (the one with Krazee-Eyez Killa).
2003: Dave Chappelle
Season 1. Enough said. The last unequivocal, there-is-no-doubt-whatsoever-that-he-has-the-title comedy season.
2004: Dave Chappelle, Jon Stewart (tie)
Season 2 for Chappelle and a breakout year for Stewart (the 2004 election, his “Crossfire” appearance, the release of his book and his Peabody Award).
2005: Steve Carell
“The Office” takes off, and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” hits theaters. Good enough to take a splintered year. Thanks to the Internet and cable booms, comedy became so specialized that it got infinitely more difficult to say one person was the Funniest Man Alive. My personal choice: Ferrell again, just because of “Anchorman.”
2006: Sacha Baron Cohen
Borat. More than enough.
2007: Larry David
Comeback year for “Curb” as the Blacks move into Larry’s house. Runner-up: Judd Apatow.
2008: Tina Fey
“30 Rock” takes off, and Palin falls into her lap.
2009: Zach Galifianiakis
His “Hangover” role was funnier than anything anyone else did … right?
2010 Rachel McAdams
She was really funny Go and see Morning Glory