The 1970s were a golden era for comedy, marked by an influx of talent that reshaped and redefined the art of humor.
A period of great social and cultural change, the 70s provided a rich backdrop against which comedians pushed boundaries and challenged societal norms.
Their comedy often went beyond simple humor, addressing pertinent social and cultural issues.
These ten comedians not only made significant contributions to the comedy scene of the 70s but also left an indelible mark on the history of humor.
10. Billy Crystal
A native New Yorker, Billy Crystal’s career as a stand-up comedian took flight in the 1970s.
Known for his versatile performances and charismatic stage presence, Crystal is recognized for his observational humor and unique storytelling.
In the 70s, he gained recognition through a variety of television roles, including his character Jodie Dallas on the ABC sitcom “Soap”, one of the first openly gay characters on American television.
However, it was Crystal’s ability to channel the ordinary into comedic material that defined his stand-up routines.
His impressions of people, skillful delivery, and sharp timing further enhanced his performances, establishing him as a force to be reckoned with in the comedy world.
9. David Letterman
Before his late-night hosting fame, David Letterman was making a name for himself as a stand-up comedian in the 1970s.
Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, Letterman’s sarcastic and often absurd humor resonated with audiences.
His observational comedy – taking everyday events and finding the humor in them – became his signature style. Letterman’s big break came when he made an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1978.
His wit, humor, and unorthodox style, which included incorporating segments that would later become late-night staples, endeared him to the public and paved the way for his illustrious late-night career.
8. Steve Martin
Wild and crazy guy, Steve Martin, made the 70s a decade to remember with his unique blend of comedy.
Born in Waco, Texas, and raised in California, Martin began his career writing for the “Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” before breaking onto the stand-up scene.
Known for his absurd and often physical comedy, Martin became a regular guest on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” “The Muppet Show,” and “Saturday Night Live”.
His comedic style, often involving non-sequiturs, satire, and a certain degree of slapstick, combined with his ability to play the banjo, made his act unforgettable.
With his quick wit and deadpan humor, Chevy Chase became a household name in the 70s, particularly for his stint on “Saturday Night Live.”
Born in New York City, Chase was part of the original SNL cast, where he became famous for his opening catchphrase, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”
His physical comedy and impersonations were legendary, including his well-known portrayal of President Gerald Ford as a clumsy character.
Despite his relatively short stint on SNL, Chase’s influence on comedy was significant, paving the way for his successful career in movies throughout the 80s and 90s.
6. Lily Tomlin
Detroit-born Lily Tomlin is a true comedy trailblazer.
She began her stand-up career in the late 1960s and was a key figure in the comedy scene throughout the 70s.
Tomlin is especially renowned for her character work; characters like Ernestine, the telephone operator, and Edith Ann, the precocious five-year-old, quickly became favorites on the comedy circuit and the “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” television show.
Her comedy often carried a social message, subtly addressing issues like feminism and social inequality.
Tomlin’s humor, characterizations, and her ability to deftly combine comedy with social commentary have left an indelible mark on the world of comedy.
Despite the controversy that has marred his legacy, there’s no denying that Bill Cosby was one of the 70s’ leading comedians.
Known for his storytelling style of comedy, Cosby’s routines often revolved around his childhood experiences in Philadelphia and the trials and tribulations of everyday life.
Cosby was also a pioneer for African American comedians, breaking racial barriers with his eponymous sitcom “The Bill Cosby Show” and his animated television series “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids.”
His approachable and relatable humor endeared him to audiences, marking him as one of the 70s’ significant comedic figures.
4. John Cleese
British comedic genius John Cleese, a key member of Monty Python, left an indelible mark on the comedy world in the 70s.
Known for his absurd and intellectual humor, Cleese challenged comedic norms with his innovative sketches in “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”.
In 1975, he co-created and starred in the sitcom “Fawlty Towers”, widely considered one of the greatest sitcoms in British television history.
His unique ability to blend physical comedy with biting satire and absurdist humor made him one of the decade’s most influential comedic voices.
3. Carol Burnett
Carol Burnett’s unique brand of comedy, featuring sketch comedy, musical comedy, and character comedy, was on full display during the 1970s in her namesake show, “The Carol Burnett Show”.
With her variety show, she broke new ground for women in comedy and won numerous awards for her efforts.
Whether she was playing the aloof and wealthy Eunice or the scandalously hilarious Starlet O’Hara, Burnett’s talents as a comedian and actress shone through.
Her influence extends far beyond the 70s, and she remains a respected figure in comedy.
2. George Carlin
Known for his black humor, social criticism, and reflections on language and politics, George Carlin was a defining comedic voice of the 1970s.
His “Seven Dirty Words” routine, which landed him in legal trouble, became one of the most famous and influential comedy routines of all time.
Born in New York City, Carlin started his career in the 60s but gained prominence in the 70s with his observational humor, satirical style, and defiant attitude towards societal norms and censorship.
His thought-provoking and often controversial material made him one of the most influential comedians of the 20th century.
1. Richard Pryor
Widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential stand-up comedians of all time, Richard Pryor’s impact on comedy in the 70s was unparalleled.
Born in Peoria, Illinois, Pryor’s raw and honest comedic style broke boundaries.
He addressed racial inequality and other social issues with a unique blend of humor and candor.
His stand-up specials, like “Live on the Sunset Strip” and “Richard Pryor: Live in Concert”, showcased his storytelling prowess and fearless approach to comedy.
Despite personal struggles, Pryor’s influence on the world of comedy is undeniable, and he remains a comedic legend.
Reflecting on the 70s, we see a decade that revolutionized comedy.
The comedians listed here were instrumental in this shift, each bringing a unique style and perspective to their craft.
From groundbreaking television shows to unforgettable stand-up routines, these comedians used humor as a powerful tool to entertain, challenge, and provoke thought.
Their influence extends beyond the decade, shaping the comedic styles of many who came after them.
As we look back on their achievements, we honor their contributions to the comedy world and the joy they have brought to audiences worldwide.