Comedy Hall of Fame

If there was a comedy hall of fame, who would make it? I mean a hall of fame with standards like the Baseball Hall of Fame, so people generally have to be actually good or have a friend on the selection committee. I think some people go without saying: Steve Martin, Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, the Three Stooges, Groucho Marx…

But Groucho brings up another question: Can groups go in together? Monty Python is a hall of fame group, but what about individually? John Cleese makes it easily. After that, I’m not sure. How much do we value work outside the group? Chapman, Idle, Palin, and Jones all did terriffic work in Python, but none of them really have the credentials post-Python. Picking some but not others doesn’t seem right. So I’m going to take Monty Python as a group, as well as John Cleese as an individual. Same with the Marx Brothers. Groucho is in, the rest make it as a group.

Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld? You’d have to put both of them in, even though a lot of people give David all the credit for Seinfeld. So few standup comedians really transcend their art, so it would be hard to separate them. Billy Crystal? Bill Cosby? Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy would both get in, but both were buoyed by successful films.* George Carlin would make it too. Too good for too long to ignore.

*Has any comedian had a longer decline phase than Eddie Murphy? Who’s his baseball comp? Tommy Davis doesn’t fit because he was never really that good. Goose Gossage? Maybe, but in his prime, Eddie Murphy was THE guy. It would be like Willie Mays going to the Mets, except it happened two years earlier and lasted until Willie was batting .114 with 0 homers in 1978. And even then, I don’t know if it works.

Then there’s the problem of Saturday Night Live. Of the original cast, only Bill Murray is an unqualified lock for the Hall. Dan Ackroyd flamed out too soon, as did Chevy Chase. John Belushi would probably make it. Sort of a Roberto Clemente situation, since he would almost definitely have had the numbers. Gilda Radner? I would like to put her in there, but unfortunately she’s borderline. Moving on, the late 80s and early 90s cast had a lot of stars, but are any of them hall of famers? Phil Hartman? Adam Sandler? Chris Farley? I don’t really think so, though Hartman would get a lot of votes for his Simpsons work, plus Newsradio. Tina Fey might be on track. Lorne Michaels put the whole thing together. Creating an institution like that is definitely important, but he hasn’t done much else besides spin off popular characters into movies. I don’t know.

Speaking of the Simpsons, Matt Groening has to be in, I think. What about other cartoonists? I did say “comedy” hall of fame, so even the Simpsons is kind of borderline. If you open it up to Cartoonists, it might change the focus too much, since you couldn’t justify Gary Larson without Bill Watterson, but you couldn’t justify either of them without Garry Trudeau and Charles Schultz, right? So for now, Groening gets special dispensation, but other cartoonists are generally out.

Sketch groups outside SNL? We already talked about Monty Python. What about the Kids in the Hall? Mr. Show? Tough calls. What about Nicols and May? George and Gracie? Sid Caeser and Milton Berle are in probably. What about Carl Reiner? John Landis? Harold Ramis?

I think the problem is that it’s hard to define what exactly comedy is. How can you give credit to John Belushi for Animal House but not consider John Landis? So, in the coming days, I’m going to try and sort all this out. You can try too and we’ll put our lists together and see what makes sense.

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