Friday, June 12, 2009

Five Unfunny Funny People

I heard a radio piece about comedians of various kinds and in the course of it realized that some of the most celebrated don't strike me as funny at all. My opinion only of course.

Don Rickles. A pathetic hack whose act has existed on hype since day one ("He insulted Sinatra!"). He's not very bright and his insults are witless and the bathos he uses at the end of his show--I'm just kidding folks, God I love ya!--is stomach-turning.

Dave Barry. Bland, obvious, with no real sense of people or everyday lives. A very, very lucky guy.

Sacha Baron Cohen. An annoying, juvenile narcissist who will likely get punched out one of these days. The emperor has no clothes.

Garrison Keillor. Maybe it's because I once heard him pontificate about The Great Gatsby and realized that this man can't read English. Woebegone had a certain predictable charm for awhile but the later stuff would be rejected by the Grand Ole Opry comedians.

Jay Leno. When he first came on the national scene he took sharp aim at our foibles and delusions. But fame and riches turned him into a joke juke box. Plus he's the single worst interviewer on TV. It's during his give and take with guests that you realize there's no there there, a totally incurious man.

How about you? Anybody funny you think is unfunny?


Anonymous said...

I can truly agree with four of your five, but Rickles always has me in stitches.

Unfunny for me are Jim Carrey, Jerry Seinfeld, Letterman, Jerry Lewis (but I honor & respect his lifelong commitment for the MD charity work)

Anonymous said...

Back in my salad days I saw both Rickles and Mort Sahl live, at Ciro's on the Sunset strip if i remember correctly. Sahl was much the better, a rapier wit who left people smiling. Sahl's genius was to get at the truth and have some fun with it.

Richard Wheeler

mybillcrider said...

Must confess that I pretty much agree except on Barry. His stuff often cracks me up.

John catt said...

How about 98% of the alumni of Saturday Night Live. A plague on the house of NBC.
Will Farrell and Seth Rogan.
Chris Rock doesn't make me laugh. Neither does Dennis Miller.

John Catt

pattinase (abbott) said...

Lucille Ball, Will Ferrell, David Spader, Jack Benny, James Belushi.

Tom K. Mason said...

How far back can I go? Charlie Chaplin (I prefer Buster Keaton); Abbott & Costello; Jerry Lewis; Dane Cook; Milton Berle; Larry The Cable Guy; Jimmy Fallon; Kathy Griffin; Joan Rivers; Andy Kaufman; Pauly Shore...I'll stop now before I use up all the bandwidth!

Anonymous said...

Like Bill, I agree except on Dave Barry. I really don't get Sasha Cohen at all.
Non-funny for me, Andy Kaufman, Pauly Shore, Jerry Lewis, Kathy Griffin.
I used to love love Letterman, now he's just an angry old man.

Judy Bobalik

Anonymous said...

I agree with Judy. I use to look forward to watching Letterman. But, now all he seems to be is hostile with anyone that opposes his political views. He became an non-entertaining comic and more of a commentary host. Too bad.

I watch Conan now, at least he can make me chuckle a bit.

Betty Hethary

Unknown said...

For me, it's Robin Williams, hands down.

Mary Cannon

Anonymous said...

Let me pile on and say I also agree with all your assessments except for
Dave Barry.

I don't recall Lou Costello being that funny, but he made up for it by great delivery and body language.

steve risher (NOT the one in SC)

Anonymous said...

What Letterman should do is join MSNBC and team up with Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann. Call it the return of "The Three Stooges."
You can toss in Rachel Maddow as "Shemp."

Burt Z.

Bob Levinson said...

My memory says Richard Wheeler more likely saw Sahl and Rickles at the Crescendo on the Sunset Strip (not Ciro's). Both played the main room, while upstairs--the smaller Interlude--featured the likes of Bob Newhart and Shelly Berman. The club at the time was owned and operated by disk jockey/GNP Records owner Gene Norman and focused on the rising ranks of hip comedians; Lenny Bruce, another example...The more established acts, e.g., Martin & Lewis, the great Joe E. Lewis, headlined at Ciro's...

Pericles said...

Robin Williams
Wanda Sykes
Stephen Colbert
Jay Leno

Triumph the Insult Comic Dog

In Leno's defense, I do enjoy his Popular Mechanics column.

Dave Zeltserman said...


Chevy Chase
Jerry Lewis
Moe, Larry, Shemp (Curly, OTOH, comic genius)
Johnny Carson
Adam Sandler

And while we're at it.

Brilliantly funny:

Jerome (Curly) Howard
All of the Marx Brothers (including Zeppo)
Jack Benny
Jackie Gleason
Steve Martin (until he became very unfunny)

RJR said...

Jerry Seinfeld is about as unfunny as you can get. Hate him, hated his show. Also Kevin whatsisname from King of Queens. Hate, hate. And I agree with you, Ed, on 4 of your picks, but not Rickles. He's a legend.


charlie stella said...

This is a tough one, Ed. I was almost "picked on" once in Vegas by Rickles during his goof on goombah routine. He had me in stitches more than once.

I like some of Sacha Cohen's stuffa lot (Ali G), but I sure do understand how he'll probably lose a few teeth someday (and that might be funny).

Robin Williams makes me nervous (his energy unnerves me).

Bill Maher probably heads my list as unfunny. I probably agree with most of his political rants, but I don't think the guy is a good comedian.

Leno doesn't do it for me either.

My wife was pretty funny this morning when she said, "Okay, ready to cut the grass?"

Rabid Fox said...

Thank goodness. I thought I was the only one who thought Jay Leno was polluting "The Tonight Show" for the last decade.

Oh, and I'll nominate Joan Rivers. If she was talented at some point, I'd love to see the evidence.

Brendan DuBois said...

Ellen DeGeneres. Have never found her funny... not even for a second.

Peter Rozovsky said...

I can’t quite say that Conan O’Brien is unfunny; he did write for The Simpsons, after all. With that caveat, though. every host of a traditional late-night talk is a mincing, clowning, overacting, smarmy suck-up: Letterman, Leno, O’Brien, Jimmy Fallon, all of them. They all have the same fake-hearty laughter at bad jokes, the same suck-up interview style. The continued success of this format is an indictment of American popular culture.
Detectives Beyond Borders
“Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”

pattinase (abbott) said...

Phyllis Diller, Robin Williams, Sarah Silverman, Sandra Bernhart, Adam Sandler.

Juri said...

John Belushi. Leaves me utterly cold.

Todd Mason said...

I assume you, Patti, meant David Spade rather than James Spader, or maybe both.

Almost all the folks cited here are at least sometimes funny (Pauly Shore and most of the latter day SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE folks while on SNL excepted...many of them have proved themselves elsewhere), but, yes, there's plenty of ammo for the argument that they aren't funny, nor nearly as funny as they are credited with being, a whole lot of the time...some days, it's as if the whole world is THE SAMMY MAUDLIN SHOW, and every half-talent is a genius in their fellow suck-ups' estimation.

That said, Howard Stern is by far our most overrated attempted humorist active, and Keillor is given a pass way too often, as well. Judd Apatow and Seth Rogan are also starting to collect the Hilarious Whether Or Not They Are passes as well. Steve Doucy, the moron who you've excoriated as the co-host of FOX AND FRIENDS, might be the career champion of low-level "funnymen" who've been foisted on the American public over decades of camera-time (one of the few who can rival Shore, and without even a mother who ran a major nightclub to give him an In...apparently, Doucy actually has appealed to programming idiots, or condescendors). Meanwhile, I'll suggest that I find Bernhardt and Silverman at their best (see their respective concert films, WITHOUT YOU I'M NOTHING and JESUS IS MAGIC) geniuses, and Colbert likewise. And I like Jack Benny a lot, with and without Fred Allen. And don't much care for the Stooges, and haven't since not really liking them that much in childhood. And Robin Williams has been overrated pretty consistently, but he, again like most of the folks cited here, has at least occasionally managed to earn his rep. Dave Barry goes for a whole lot of easy jokes, but occassionally makes an observation I'm glad to have read, or a connection I find genuinely funny, in the course of generally amiable writing...his batting average exceeds, for me, his most obvious predecessors, Buchwald and Bombeck.

That Artemus Ward...what an asshole, though. (Not Ross Martin's character.)(And mostly...mostly...joking.)

Peter Rozovsky said...

Dave Barry is actually a keenly observant writer when tries. I just don't think he tries that often.

And a Simpsons episode that showed a hall of people laughing uproariously as a nasal-voiced whiner on stage did nothing more than clean his glasses had Keillor down pretty well, I think.
Detectives Beyond Borders
“Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”

Todd Mason said...

My friend Alice suggests Rosie O'Donnell as among the worst, and it's hard to argue with that. I will add another vote for Jerry Lewis, though he was decent playing a vicious parody of himself in THE KING OF COMEDY (and better than usual doing a vicious parody of Dean Martin in THE NUTTY PROFESSOR).

Harry Shearer, often among the best for me, also does a take on Keillor's endless ramble (a fault he shares with Robin Williams). Have to agree with your Barry assessment, Peter.

Todd Mason said...

Alice also suggests Rush Limbaugh. I'd mentioned Don Imus to her, and that got her thinking of all the radion shitheads. Hell, having suffered through his Air America program, if I had to judge by that, I'd think Al Franken pretty damned unfunny.

Anonymous said...

Anyone remember Jack Carter? I always thought him the un-funniest comic I'd ever seen -- and he seemed scary-mean to boot.

Todd Mason said...

I've seen him in a non-comedic role or two, and otherwise only as impresonated/parodied by Eugene Levy.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Jack Carter is one of those washed-up former stars that people my age remember only from places like "Hollywood Squares." Where do today's C-listers go?
Detectives Beyond Borders
“Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”

Matt said...

Sacha Baron Cohen is another one of those "gotcha!" comedians who, under the guise of Exposing Prejudice and Stupidity, is really indulging in the endless English S&M game of public humiliation. It fuels way too much British comedy these days and gets a pass in this country because of our insecure assumption that ANYTHING that sounds British and Clever has to be better than the home-made stuff . . .

stef said...

sandler, stiller, rickles, Sacha Baron Cohen (man i loathe those mofos)

Anonymous said...


I'm sorry you don't appreciate irony. Or jews, by the sound of it.

Anonymous said...