Top 10 Comedians of 2018
It’s an exciting time to be a comedian. Not only are the news headlines just handing jokes to them on a silver platter, there is also a bunch more platforms these days for comedians to get their voices heard. It used to be that you’d have to wait for a talent scout to find you in a comedy club, but now, there’s YouTube and Twitter and podcasting and Netflix and all kinds of different avenues to take your comedy. But that also means it’s hard to stand out among the crowd. These 10 comedians have risen head and shoulders above the rest in 2018!
10. Demetri Martin
Demetri Martin has always been a popular standup comedian among a younger crowd, so he didn’t need to develop his comedic style. His act is not aggressive or political or intense. It’s just smart, funny, softly spoken jokes. His performances consist mostly of one liners told in a deadpan manner, which he was inspired to do by the seminal, edgy comic Steven Wright. But he has said that he wants to develop his act. He explained, “I love one liners, I love jokes…but I also want to talk about how I feel. I want to talk about below the neck stuff. It’s hard – if that’s not where your head goes – it’s hard to get comedy out of that…[But] I want to dig deeper. I want to connect in a different way with the audience.” This is the mark of a true comic genius. He’s always evolving. He’s always looking for new territory to cross and new challenges to overcome. And he seems to be making those changes. We see this in his 2018 Netflix special, which was released quite recently, in which he spends long periods of the hour talking about how he feels and how he has changed as a person over the years. He covers his feelings from back when he was single to now, when he is married with children. He still does his signature brand of one liners and he still gets out the guitar and he still runs us through some drawings in his big pad – but he digs deeper this time. He’s developing even more as a comic.
9. Jim Jefferies
Last year, the darkly hilarious Australian standup comic Jim Jefferies made a big splash with his weekly late night political satire series on Comedy Central, the aptly titled The Jim Jefferies Show. For the ten episodes of the first season, he sat behind his desk and commented on the political news headlines of the week and introduced segments on current events all over the world and bantered with his in house weatherman (Brad Pitt), while he was attracting new viewers and winning over the praise of TV critics. Naturally, Comedy Central renewed the show for a second season, this time with double the episode count. Beginning in March, the twenty episodes of season 2 have been airing, and as if Jefferies wasn’t busy enough with his hugely popular show, he has also found time this year for a live standup tour. His new hour of material was filmed during a performance in London and released on Netflix under the title Jim Jefferies: This Is Me Now. In 2018, the Jim Jefferies brand is as strong as ever. He loves the thrill of the performance and the satisfaction of the laugh and he’s not slowing down just because he got a TV show.
8. John Mulaney
Lauded by many critics and fans as the spiritual successor of Jerry Seinfeld, thanks to his clean look and sharp observational wit, John Mulaney is having a heck of a year. He recorded a live standup special at the legendary Radio City Music Hall in New York, which was released on Netflix earlier this year. The special was praised by IndieWire as “one of the year’s best pieces of writing” and has been nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special (only time will tell if he wins, but it certainly looks good). Mulaney also returned to the NBC sketch variety series Saturday Night Live, where he got his start as a writer a few years ago, to host an episode in which he starred in sketches that lampooned topics including school shootings. As a writer, he was one of the creators of Stefon, and as a performer, he proved to be just as brilliant. Mulaney also performed a set during Seth Rogen’s Hilarity for Charity special and hosted the 33rd Independent Spirit Awards ceremony alongside his comedy partner Nick Kroll, with whom he also stars in the Netflix animated comedy series Big Mouth. Oh, and he’ll voice Peter Porker/Spider-Ham, the pig version of Spider-Man, in the upcoming animated movie Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
7. Lil Rel Howery
After his breakout role as the comic relief in Jordan Peele’s Oscar winning social thriller Get Out, for which he was honored with the MTV Movie Award for Best Comedic Performance, Lil Rel Howery has been moving up in the world of comedy. He has graduated from a recurring role on the sitcom The Carmichael Show to a starring role in a sitcom of his own creation, the self titled Fox series Rel, in which he will star alongside fellow comic Sinbad. He also stopped by Comedy Central a few weeks ago to roast Bruce Willis alongside such other comics as Jeff Ross and Kevin Pollak. Howery got his start when he began performing comedy on the East Side of Chicago and his fame has exploded this year. He’s now being recognized by audiences all over the world. This year, he has had supporting roles in the movies Tag, Uncle Drew, Bird Box, and Brittany Runs a Marathon (the first two have already been released and have been successful at the box office, whereas the latter two have yet to be released), and next year, we will hear his voice in the app based sequel The Angry Birds Movie 2.
6. Ricky Gervais
Ricky Gervais has been making a comeback. Not only did he release his first standup comedy special in eight years on Netflix earlier this year, but he is also prepping to do it all again with yet another worldwide tour and yet another hour of material. He’s currently doing warm-up shows for the tour around London where he is honing the new jokes and bits while he spends the weekdays working on his new TV project. See, he’s in the editing process of the six episode first season of a dark comedy series called After Life, which stars Gervais as a man whose wife dies, and when he’s left with nothing to lose, decides to stop caring and do whatever he wants. It sounds like the perfect series to showcase Gervais’ abrasive, uncaring, offensive comedic persona. Netflix will again be performing one of the later performances of Gervais’ tour to release on their streaming service as a special. A release date has not yet been set for the new special, but it will likely appear later on in this year or early on in next year. Either way, Gervais is back and he’s as hilarious and unabashedly offensive as ever.
5. Donald Glover
Donald Glover is known primarily as a rapper under the stage name Childish Gambino, but he is also a tremendously talented actor, writer, and standup comic. This year, he has taken on a legendary film role as the young Lando Calrissian in Solo: A Star Wars Story. If anything, Glover sold himself as a young Lando even more convincingly than his critically acclaimed co star Alden Ehrenreich sold himself as a young Han Solo in the lead role. Thanks to the poor box office performance, there probably won’t be a sequel, but audiences might come in larger numbers to see Glover return to the role of young Lando if he took center stage. Also in 2018, he became one of the few performers to act as both the host and the musical guest of an episode of Saturday Night Live, and his new track “This is America” has become a global sensation, topping the charts with 78,000 downloads sold and 65.3 million U.S. streams in the first week of release alone. He also starred in, wrote, and directed the second season of his hugely acclaimed FX comedy series Atlanta, which was subtitled “Robbin’ Season” and began airing this past March.
4. Tiffany Haddish
This year, Tiffany Haddish was included on Time magazine’s yearly list of the 100 most influential people in the world. Ever since her big break last year in the movie Girls Trip, she’s been making waves in the world of comedy – and the entertainment world at large, really. Late last year, she became the first ever black female standup comic to host an episode of Saturday Night Live, and as they say, the only way is up. She performed a set during Seth Rogen’s Hilarity for Charity special earlier this year, and her performance and her star power were considered to be so strong that she was used as one of the closing acts of the night. We’ll see Haddish star alongside Kevin Hart in the comedy movie Night School later this year, in which they play a pair of adults who go back to school to pass their G.E.D. exam and earn their high school diploma. She also signed a first look deal with the premium cable network HBO earlier this year and has a role in next year’s animated sequel The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, so we’re going to be seeing a lot more of her.
3. Joe Rogan
Joe Rogan continues to have one of the most popular podcasts in the world with millions of monthly downloads and new listeners hopping on board the ship all the time, as well as selling out theaters across the globe with his live standup shows. His loud and intense style of comedy wouldn’t be for everybody if he wasn’t so damn clever and intellectual about it – this unique pairing of styles is what has made him so popular, and that popularity only continues to grow. His podcast The Joe Rogan Experience is one of the biggest and most successful ever made, with over a thousand episodes and counting. The podcast has won a Stitcher Award for Best Overall Show and been voted Best Comedy Podcast by the users of iTunes. Rogan spent his childhood listening to comedy records and following the comedians that he admired and has been a performer of standup ever since 1988, when he began to develop his act – which incorporates blue humor, observational comedy, and political satire – in Boston at the age of 21. He has since hosted a number of TV shows and released a handful of standup comedy specials. In 2018, thirty years after he began performing comedy, he’s not slowing down.
2. Michelle Wolf
After ending 2017 with the release of her first standup comedy special on HBO, Michelle Wolf has been having one heck of a 2018. She began the year on a world tour with Chris Rock before making a controversial splash at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. C-SPAN considered her performance to be so risqué that they cut the broadcast halfway through and refused to air the rest. It began a personal, contentious relationship between Wolf and the Trump administration. Whether you liked her performance at the event or not, you can’t deny that she rocked the boat enough to make her an overnight star. This newfound stardom then got her a late night talk show on Netflix, which recently wrapped up its first season of ten episodes. The show opens every episode with a monologue by Wolf with typically offensive jokes ripped from the news headlines of the week, and cuts every now and then to a brilliant sketch, so she isn’t selling out by doing a talk show – it’s entirely in her voice. She also appeared on Seth Rogen’s Hilarity for Charity special to deliver a short, yet hysterical standup set. Michelle Wolf just seems to be everywhere this year!
1. Hannah Gadsby
Standup comedians can’t go into a comedy club green room these days without hearing Hannah Gadsby’s name being mentioned among the other comics. The release of her new standup special on Netflix has brought about a watershed moment in comedy. There was standup comedy before Gadsby’s show and there will be standup comedy after it. The ironic thing is that she was using the show to quit comedy, and now that the show has been lauded more than any standup special in recent memory, suddenly everyone wants to be in the Hannah Gadsby business. Gadsby’s revelatory show won the Best Comedy award at the 2017 Adelaide Fringe Festival, the Barry Award for greatest comedy act at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, and the Best Comedy Performer award at the annual Helpmann Awards. It was also honored with the title of Best Comedy Show at the 2017 Edinburgh Comedy Awards. Her Netflix special has turned her into a worldwide star overnight. It was filmed at the Sydney Opera House and has a rare 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The critical consensus says that the special “brilliantly moves modern comedy into nakedly honest new territory, pivoting from dry humor to raw, powerful storytelling.”