Each week Mike will look back to the decade of decadence and provide a list of eight things – from movies to music to memorable moments and everything in-between. Keep in mind, this isn’t a TOP 8 list and any numerical notations are included to merely designate one item from another. Because, frankly, how can rate one thing over another when it came from a decade as totally tubular as the 80s?
This week: Stand-Up Comedians
While the stand-up comedian as we know it today was hardly anything new by the 80s (George Carlin, Richard Pryor, and Lenny Bruce are just a few who found fame in the 70s), it was the “decade of decadence” that really saw the art form shoot through the roof. As comedy clubs appeared in nearly every major city from New York to California, it became easier to get your act in front of an audience and, if you were lucky, you’d land a sitcom or a cable special. Many were influenced by those who had come before and many inspired those who would come later, but one thing that they ALL did was make us laugh.
8. Jerry Seinfeld
Seinfeld’s career took off in the early 80s as he frequently appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and Late Night with David Letterman doling out his observational humor about life, relationships and the minutia surrounding them. The now-classic sitcom “about nothing”, Seinfeld, (which was loosely based on Jerry himself), debuted in 1989 and ran for nine years.
7. Steven Wright
Wright is best known for his deadpan and almost lethargic sounding delivery and an act that consisted mostly of non sequiturs and jokes with no real real punchline, made funny by his delivery. Wright’s I Have a Pony recording won the Oscar in 1985 for Best Comedy Album.
6. Andrew “Dice” Clay
While Clay’s career spanned the decade with appearances at popular comedy clubs as well as bit roles in sitcoms and movies like Pretty in Pink (1985), it wasn’t until 1988 when he took a character from his act, “The Dice Man”, and adopted him as a full time, foul-mouthed, mysoginstic persona. MTV banned him for life (since rescinded) following his appearance on the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards.
5. Ellen DeGeneres
Long before she was a mega-successful talk-show host, DeGeneres was a stellar stand-up comic. With a career that started in 1981, she was named Showtime’s “Funniest Person in America” the following year. Following an appearance on The Tonight Show, Johnny Carson invited her to chat on camera after her set – something not all comedians received and the first time such an honor was afforded to a female comic.
4. Sam Kinison
Kinison’s stand-up career started in the late 70s following a life as a Pentecostal tent preacher. His act, which was punctuated with loud screams, dealt with topics such as AIDs, world hunger and marriage, was controversial and often labeled as misogynistic. Kinison’s big break came in 1985 when he appeared on one of Rodney Dangerfield’s HBO specials. He was briefly banned from Saturday Night Live in 1986 for performing material that he had been asked not to deliver.
3. Whoopi Goldberg
With an act that consisted of adopting the persona of different characters, Goldberg may not be considered a traditional stand up comedian. Goldberg was sometimes derided as “humorless” and cliché. However there’s no denying the impact her career had since she first hit the stage in the mid-80s as she hosted Comic Relief in with Robin Williams and Billy Crystal. As a footnote, and while she didn’t earn all of them in the 80s, Goldberg is one of 11 people to have achieved EGOT status – winning an Emmy, a Grammy, a Tony and an Oscar.
2. Robin Williams
Although his career started in the mid 1970s and he first became a household name as the alien Mork on Happy Days and, later, on Mork and Mindy, Williams’ stand-up career was, and will be, second to none and trying to fit it into this space would be futile. Suffice it to say that Williams is, arguably, one of the funniest people ever.
1. Eddie Murphy
Nobody burned hotter in the 80s than Murphy. With a stint on Saturday Night Live from 1980 to 1984, Murphy hit it hard in 1983 with his Delirious album which was followed by Eddie Murphy Raw in 1987. With an act that featured plenty of foul-mouthed language, no group of people was immune to being mined for humor; white, black, straight and gay – all were comic fodder for Murphy.