By Kim Morgan
MSN Entertainment In compiling a list of the funniest people on TV, a recurring phrase kept popping into my mind: Pushing the envelope. In normal TV-land, where nervous execs constantly toe the line with reassuring family shows and so-called wacky relationship sitcoms, it's hardly a surprise that the funniest folks on have little to do with playing it safe.
Is this any kind of shock? Of course not. Comedy has continually been funnier in situations, or with deliveries, that shake and wake people up. Plus, comedies have been so bad for so many years -- "Everybody Loves Raymond"? "According to Jim"? Ugh! -- the wasteland was ready for an awakening. Individuals like Larry David, Sasha Baron Cohen and Dave Chappelle raise the bar with their nervous, sometimes incendiary humor. With a terrific combination of comic style, show concept and social satire, these talents (and the others who grace our list) prove that it is, in fact, television and not cinema where you'll discover most of comedy's gifted, offbeat voices right now.
So check out our heads of the comic class and, to quote both Rodney Dangerfield and Ali G, give them much "respect."
10. Ellen DeGeneres ("The Ellen DeGeneres Show")
When Ellen DeGeneres decided to do a daytime talk show a la Oprah and Rosie and Roseanne, we were worried. A talk show? Though DeGeneres is a stellar standup comedian, we didn't want her to go the way of Whoopi (remember Goldberg's gab fest? Think hard now... ). But thanks to her amusing monologues, unbridled dancing and tentative charm, she's not only a comforting presence, but a frequently hilarious one. And she gets the guests. Celebs know that Ellen probably isn't going to delve into their personal lives (Lord knows that hers was put under a microscope) or bawl them out for political views, so doing her show feels more like a hang than a publicity requirement... and a funny one.
9. Jason Bateman ("Arrested Development")
Two years ago, nobody would have thought Jason Bateman would make this list. Not even Bateman. Well, that's not entirely fair: The actor is a TV veteran of such middling fair as "Little House on the Prairie," "Silver Spoons," "Valerie" and "The Hogan Family." He always had that sarcastic wit and exasperated delivery; he just wasn't allowed to place it anywhere worthwhile. On "Arrested Development," the quirky, critically acclaimed sitcom traversing the comical dramas of the Bluth family and their imprisoned father (played by another hilarious TV presence, Jeffery Tambor), Bateman is able to inject his straight-man humor with a wonderfully timed perfection that essentially anchors the entire show. His brother Gob (Will Arnett) may be the wild-eyed guy with the catch phrases ("Come on!"), while his closeted step-brother Tobias (David Cross) paints himself blue to join the Blue Man Group, but Bateman gets the most laughs with silence. He can stare quietly, eyebrow arched at the insanity around him, and bring down the house. Bateman, who just won a Golden Globe for best actor in a comedy series, is, to borrow part of the title from a movie he co-starred in, a real Underdog Story. No more "Hart to Hart: Secrets of the Hart" for this talented comedian.
8. Dave Chappelle ("Chappelle's Show")
After struggling through some funny parts in mediocre movies ("Half Baked" may be the funniest) and a failed 1996 sitcom called "Buddies," comedian Dave Chappelle decided he would do things his way. With Comedy Central's "Chappelle's Show," he's created one of the edgiest, most politically pointed shows ever to air on television. The gifted standup comedian, and his writing partner Neal Brennan, put together a sketch comedy show that typically pokes fun (viciously) at racial stereotypes, while being sometimes knowingly, lamely silly. But it's Chappelle's mirthful improvisational skills and unrelenting subversion that stand out as hilariously incendiary. Only a brilliant button-pusher would kick off his show with a sketch about a blind, African American white supremacist. Again, Chappelle is definitely doing things his way. Thank God.
7. David Letterman ("Late Night with David
There are those who've criticized Dave for losing his edge. They say the man Cher called an a**hole has mellowed with time. But we're here to say that Dave's still got it -- albeit in a more fires-burning-within sort of way. Like his mentor, the recently departed Johnny Carson, Dave has an adroitness with the short, celebrity interview and an ability to deliver a bad joke that is unsurpassed in the late-night talk-show game. Even Conan O'Brien, a disciple of Letterman, can't corral his guests with the guarded ease of Dave. Used to seeing the guy in their bedrooms since the 1980s, people often forget what an innovator the unconventional and acerbic Letterman was and still is (must we list all of his bits and famed Andy Kaufman, Drew Barrymore episodes?). And yes, he is still mean. Think of any time Richard Simmons has bravely dropped in.
6. Amy Poehler ("Saturday Night Live")
In the current lineup of "Saturday Night Live" talent, cast member Amy Poehler is hands down the funniest. And, in fact, with the absence of "Strangers with Candy's" Amy Sedaris from television, we're anointing Poehler as the funniest woman on TV (sorry, Tina Fey). The multi-talented Upright Citizen's Brigade alum, who has done memorable impressions of Kelly Ripa, Avril Lavigne, Sharon Osbourne and Tonya Harding, has her own slightly psychotic brand of humor that frequently (and hilariously) runs over the deep end. Whether playing a cop-calling trailer-park wife to Chris Kattan's science-loving mullet head, or a one-legged contestant on "DisMissed" ("jealous?") or the co-anchor with Tina Fey on Weekend Update, Poehler is a unique, almost unnerving comedienne who really ought to get more work -- on and off TV.
Next: Jon Stewart, Ali G and more --->