The 40 Best Comedians of the 2010s

Comedy Lists Best of the Decade
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The 40 Best Comedians of the 2010s

Earlier this year I got dogpiled online for a review that some people didn’t agree with. That wasn’t a problem for me—that kind of nonsense will happen in this business, and it’s not the first time it’s happened to me. One of the things those fragile folks were angry about was my statement that comedy is better than it’s ever been before. I don’t even know why that would be controversial, and it’s about as self-evident as it can be. Over the first decade of this century comedy broke out from the confines of comedy clubs—those anti-audience gatekeepers of the miserable old stand-up guard—and flourished in every possible venue that people in cities across America could fit a microphone and a crowd into. YouTube then opened it up even further, and although the vast, overwhelming majority of YouTube videos are absolute garbage (yes, including my own, thank you very much), that free distribution helped some of the best and brightest young voices in comedy establish themselves. Those seeds were all planted last decade, and then everything bloomed in the 2010s. From sketch to stand-up, from sitcoms to movies, from social media videos to online comedy writing, the comedy bubble just continued to grow throughout the ‘10s, with artists who never would’ve had a chance 20 or even 15 years ago finding the support and outlets they needed to hone their craft. It’s impossible to keep track of all the comedy that’s out there today, and although not all of it is good, there’s more of it that’s great than at any other point in recent memory. Just getting this list down to 40 was hard as hell.

If you’re wondering about methodology, it comes down to two things: the opinions of myself and my assistant editor, Olivia Cathcart. This list reflects what we personally think are the best comedians of the last decade, whether they work primarily in stand-up, sketch comedy, podcasts, movies, or TV. Maybe you’ll agree. You probably won’t, at least not entirely. Either way we hope you agree that there’s more than enough comedy in the world today for everybody to find what they like, whether it’s popular with others or not. With that said, let’s get on with it. Here are the 40 best comedians of the last decade.—Garrett Martin

40. Stephen Colbert

The Colbert Report lived almost half its life this decade, and remained appointment viewing up until the very last episode. The end of Colbert’s Comedy Central show was kind of a symbolic end to the entire political comedy genre—yeah, it still exists, in greater volume than ever before, but Comedy Central hasn’t been able to replicate the Report’s success with a handful of other follow-ups, The Daily Show is about as far removed from the public conversation as it’s ever been, and Donald Trump’s inexplicable rise to the Presidency has made all political comedy feel pointless and ineffectual. Real life is such a joke that it’s hard to actually tell good jokes about it. Maybe that’s why Colbert was ready to jump to CBS when David Letterman retired, casting aside his longstanding Fox News parody character and embracing a friendlier, more traditional late night persona as the host of The Late Show. He’s become the new ratings king of late night, and remains the sharpest and funniest host in that market when he wants to be, but despite the regular Trump jokes required of every late night show, the CBS version of Colbert isn’t nearly as brilliant or brutal in his takedown of right-wing hypocrisy as the Report was.—Garrett Martin


39. Jo Firestone

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Firestone’s a highlight whenever she appears on The Tonight Show, but that’s not the only reason she’s on this list. She’s here for two reasons. First is Joe Pera Talks with You, where she played the most convincing middle school band teacher / Doomsday prepper ever seen on TV. By the end of the first season her character is much more than just a love interest, but a fully realized human being with her own interior life, deep inside a bunker. As a writer on the show, Firestone was responsible for one of its most memorable episodes, the school musical about Alberta, Canada’s Rat Wars. She also had a memorable half-hour special on Comedy Central in 2017, and put out a great stand-up album in 2018 called The Hits, which nicely captures her one-of-a-kind stand-up (and also features music from the Arcade Fire’s Will Butler). Finally her podcast, Dr. Gameshow, has been running strong since 2014.—Garrett Martin


38. Brett Gelman

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Gelman was everywhere this decade, with major roles on Fleabag, Stranger Things, the HBO series Camping, and NBC’s Matthew Perry sitcom Go On. He was even in that Twin Peaks revival. None of that is why we put him on this list, though. Gelman co-wrote (with director Jason Woliner) and starred in three specials on Adult Swim between 2014 and 2016 that represent some of the riskiest and most transgressive comedy of the decade. Dinner with Friends with Brett Gelman and Friends, Dinner with Family with Brett Gelman and Brett Gelman’s Family, and Dinner in America with Brett Gelman are dark, surreal, terrifying and hilarious, especially the latter two, which focus on abusive families and racism, respectively. And then Gelman severed his relationship with Adult Swim while bringing attention to both its poor record of working with women and its relationship with the alt-right comic Sam Hyde. Gelman has carved out his own weird niche as both a comedian and a character actor, and has made every project he’s been a part of stronger.—Garrett Martin


37. Natasha Leggero

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From stage to screen, Natasha Leggero is always captivating, with her brand of subversive comedy wrapped up in a faux-posh starlette demeanor. Her signature style made her a perfect fit for appearances on Drunk History, The Comedy Central Roast of James Franco, and the reality-spoof Burning Love. Her tragically short-lived Comedy Central series Another Period seamlessly satirized two unique eras of feminism, class, and, uh, incest. Through the lens of Kardashian-type socialites at the turn of the century, Another Period held up a hilarious mirror up to society that (unfortunately for us) rang truer during its run than it would have just a few years prior. Leggero and her husband, comedian Moshe Kasher, combined forces to create one of the more original Netflix specials, The Honeymoon Stand-Up Special. Divvied up into three parts, each half of the couple gets their own half-hour special before reuniting for a third half-hour called “The Couple’s Roast” where they invite couples up on stage to question and roast their.—Olivia Cathcart


36. Julio Torres

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I first saw Julio Torres perform a short set at the end of a very long day of comedy at the Just for Laughs festival in 2015. It was the single best set of the 70 or so I saw that week.
He was already killing it on YouTube and at stand-up shows throughout New York, and then brought his one-of-a-kind comedic voice to Saturday Night Live in 2016, where he wrote the best sketches and videos of the last few seasons. This year he co-created and starred in HBO’s brilliantly absurd bilingual comedy Los Espookys and also released his first HBO stand-up special, My Favorite Shapes, which is our favorite special of the year so far. As one decade ends and another is about to begin, Torres is Paste’s early pick for the best comedian of the next decade.—Garrett Martin


35. Cameron Esposito

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Esposito’s rise to fame this decade bridges both the old and new paths to success for comedians. She performed stand-up on a variety of late night shows in 2013 and 2014, but also built a large following through a variety of podcasts and various online gigs, including Buzzfeed’s Ask a Lesbian series and a column for the AV Club. Her Seeso sitcom might’ve been short-lived, but she released her best work yet in 2018 with Rape Jokes, a darkly hilarious special about sexual harassment, abuse and rape that’s deeply personal but also universally relevant in these days of the #MeToo movement. Building up to a frank discussion of Esposito’s own history with abuse, Rape Jokes aims to both reclaim the conversation surrounding rape for the victims, while also pushing it beyond what she calls the media’s SVU-style depiction of rape as violence committed by strangers on darkened streets. Esposito remains masterfully confident throughout, broaching difficult subjects with a tone that veers from the performative to the conversational.—Garrett Martin


34. Kenan Thompson

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Kenan Thompson is never going to leave Saturday Night Live and that’s the best thing that could possibly happen to that show. Kenan’s like a Terminator built solely for making people laugh: pretty much everything he says or does, every motion and facial expression, garners a reaction. He’s single-handedly saved more SNL sketches than any other cast member, and the thought of the show without him at this point is basically impossible. In a recent Stranger Things parody it was revealed that Thompson was actually in charge of the show in the Upside Down; based on how great he is on camera, we wouldn’t be opposed to him taking over behind the scenes whenever Lorne Michaels hangs it up.—Garrett Martin


33. Amy Schumer

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Schumer felt like an overnight success when she blew up with the Judd Apatow film Trainwreck in 2015. She had been performing stand-up for over a decade at that point, with her own Comedy Central special in 2010 and a run on Last Comic Standing that saw her finish fourth for the season. Trainwreck turned both the Apatow manchild formula and the romantic comedy on its head, leading to more film roles and high-profile stand-up specials on HBO and Netflix. Still, it’s her Comedy Central sketch show, Inside Amy Schumer, that most earns her a slot on this list, with its smart, funny, and often brutal commentary on sexism, misogyny, and how society views and treats women.—Garrett Martin


32. Aparna Nancherla

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Maybe this says more about me than her, but Aparna Nancherla continues to be just about the most relatable comedian working today. She’s basically an artist of awkwardness, finding new and more endearing ways to get confused by the world we’re living in today. Somehow it’s comforting for us, the audience, to see how hilariously uncomfortable Nancherla is on the two half-hour specials she’s released for Netflix and Comedy Central. (She also has an album. It’s good!) Beyond stand-up, she created the great web series Womanhood with the similarly excellent Jo Firestone, and shines as a regular on Comedy Central’s scathing capitalism satire Corporate.—Garrett Martin


31. Joel Kim Booster

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Joel Kim Booster seems to have breakthrough year after year. His late-night debut on Conan felt like his tenth as Booster delivered one of the tightest fives in recent memories only to follow up with an even more captivating set the following year. He one-upped himself again following his stellar Comedy Central half hour special in 2017 with his very quotable album, Model Minority. His impeccable joke writing and fun, subtly dramatic performances makes his comedy incredibly bingeable. Unsurprisingly, Booster’s charisma translates perfectly into acting roles on the Comedy Central YouTube series Unsend, Hulu’s Shrill, and the just-cancelled-by-NBC series Sunnyside. While Booster is one of today’s sharpest comedic voices, you still get the feeling that the best is yet to come. Maybe it’ll be his Jane Austen-inspired rom-com set on Fire Island that’s coming not soon enough to Quibi. Whatever the project, Booster is always one to watch out for.—Olivia Cathcart


30. Will Forte

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Forte got famous because of Saturday Night Live, but he was barely even on the show this decade, leaving at the end of the 2009-2010 season. He’s on this list for a few reasons, only one of which is related to that show. MacGruber was a poorly reviewed bomb in 2010, but the true heads immediately recognized it for what it was, and it’s now considered a legit cult classic and one of the best and weirdest comedies of the decade. After a dramatic turn in Alexander Payne’s Nebraska (where kindred spirit and fellow comic genius Bob Odenkirk played his brother), Forte starred in the brilliant Fox sitcom The Last Man on Earth. Between that show, the MacGruber film, and guest appearances in a number of TV shows and specials over the decade, Forte continued the deeply absurd work he became known for on SNL.—Garrett Martin


29. Tim Robinson

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A lot of SNL cast members were let go after only one season this decade, and none of them deserved that treatment less than Tim Robinson. (Although Mike O’Brien, another SNL writer turned cast member, is pretty much right alongside him on that regard.) Robinson’s brief stint resulted in two of the show’s best sketches of the decade, the fantastic “Roundball Rock” and the formally inventive “Z-Shirt” / “90s Funeral” twofer. Despite its prominence, SNL wound up as just a footnote on Robinson’s resume. Robinson co-created the beautiful Comedy Central sitcom Detroiters alongside Zach Kanin, Joe Kelly and co-star Sam Richardson, producing 20 lovably shaggy episodes that bridged the gap between sketch comedy and sitcoms. Robinson also had the best episode on Netflix’s 2016 sketch anthology The Characters. That half-hour should be mandatory viewing for fans of Robinson’s later Netflix sketch show, 2019’s practically perfect I Think You Should Leave, a cheerfully weird examination of extreme awkwardness that has become a cult favorite and one of the biggest meme generators of the year. Robinson is today’s premier chronicler of the absurdity of social anxiety, both as a writer and a performer.—Garrett Martin


28. Chelsea Peretti

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After years of paying her dues, Chelsea Peretti more than earned her moment in the spotlight with her 2014 Netflix special One of the Greats. Considering the special’s title, it’s tempting to ask the obvious question: Is Peretti indeed one of the greats? Long answer—for anyone who has tracked her growth, it’s clear that she has always been a voice to be reckoned with. In this way, her special only reiterates what any serious comedy fan had long ago determined. Short answer—yeah, she’s pretty friggin’ great. (Also, I mean, just check her out on Brooklyn Nine-Nine.)—Mark Rozeman


27. Marc Maron

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Marc Maron’s comedy career is weird because his actual comedy is the least important thing about his career. Maron has improved greatly as a stand-up comedian as he’s grown older, calmed down a bit, and put in the work necessary to better understand himself, but his specials are dwarfed in significance by his podcast, WTF pretty much defined an entire medium with Maron’s long, deep, personal conversations with other comedians, becoming a must-listen for comedy nerds and, later on, fans of indie rock. Maron also proved he had legit acting chops in GLOW, where his turn as the cynical director with a deep well of compassion almost stole the show away from the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.—Garrett Martin


26. Scharpling and Wurster

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Despite a short break near the middle of the decade, Tom Scharpling and Jon Wurster continued to produce the best comedy on the radio—now exclusively in podcast form. The Best Show jumped from WFMU to their own website in 2014, after a year-long interregnum. TV writer Scharpling and rock drummer Wurster have been building the elaborate fictional universe of Newbridge, New Jersey, one conversation at a time since 2000, and if anything have gotten sharper and more hilarious as the years have passed. Scharpling also launched a second podcast a few years ago, the gloriously grumpy TV recap parody Meet My Friends the Friends, which is just about as funny as The Best Show.—Garrett Martin


25. Rory Scovel

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No two Rory Scovel shows are the same, which makes him one of the most exciting comedians to watch live. Scovel brings an unparalleled commitment to each performance, loosely merging in and out of prepared material and a wild, improved stream-of-consciousness. It might seem impossible to capture lightning in a bottle, but his Netflix special Rory Scovel Tries Stand-Up For the First Time does an excellent job of showcasing the wild ride that is a live Scovel set. He is constantly reinventing the from with his non-traditional approach to stand-up, which not only brings himself new hoards of fans, but makes new fans of stand-up in general. His fan-base looks poised to grow even more next year as Comedy Central has picked up his new show Robbie for eight episodes.—Olivia Cathcart


24. Jim Gaffigan

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Watching comedians you love grow over time is a delight, and Jim Gaffigan’s commitment to continuously releasing material is something to celebrate. Rather than coast off the success of his biggest specials, Gaffigan keeps putting jokes on record. When times get tough he opens up about it, but never in a way that alienates. If anything the slightly darker turns in his last two specials have made him all the more relatable. In an industry where so many comics release only one or two albums in their entire career, it’s comforting to know Jim Gaffigan is always around the corner with a new update about how he’s doing, in good or bad times.—John-Michael Bond


23. Donald Glover

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Yes, Donald Glover is a comedian. It’s easy to forget, what with his red-hot music career and the thoughtfulness of his show Atlanta. Early this decade he released a fine stand-up special called Weirdo and was probably the standout of Community’s amazing cast. Since then he’s made the jump into serious film acting but has also co-created Atlanta, a weird, dark, important show that’s also incredibly funny when it wants to be.—Garrett Martin


22. Chris Gethard

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Chris Gethard  makes earnestness work, which is incredibly hard to do in the 21st century. His stand-up, as captured in the HBO special Career Suicide, is practically a one man play, probing his own emotions and depression for universal insight into modern life. His eponymous talk show found catharsis in chaos, with Gethard’s endearingly sincere presence serving as a rock amid a swirl of absurdity inspired by public access TV and punk rock.—Garrett Martin


21. Michelle Wolf

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Netflix  cancelled Michelle Wolf’s show far too soon, before it even really had a chance to find its voice, but it was a creative success, no matter what its streaming numbers were. Her most notable work was at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, of course, where her blistering mockery of Trump and his administration was so savage that she single-handedly killed the tradition of comedians hosting the event. Her 2017 hour-long HBO special Nice Lady is one of the best of the decade, and her appearances on The Daily Show have been the highlight of the Trevor Noah version of the show. Wolf makes the political personal with scabrous results, and should have a bright future ahead of her.—Garrett Martin


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