9 Comedians With Genius (or Are They Annoying?) Deliveries
Picture a stand-up comic in your head -- or rather, try to hear the comedy in your brain -- and it probably sounds a lot like Jerry Seinfeld asking “What’s the deal with chicken nuggets?” or “Have you ever wondered how Clark Kent gets away with the eyeglasses disguise?” But while hacky nightclub wanna-bes may try to imitate Seinfeld’s style, not all comics bang out jokes in that familiar set-up/punchline rhythm. Here are 9 comics who just plain sound different than everyone else -- and that’s the secret to their hilarity. (Or in some cases, the reason why some audiences want to run from the room with hands over their ears.)
The late Gottfried had some genius material, but we remember him mostly for the way he delivered jokes in his trademark strangled scream. His high-pitched rasp was so iconic that Gottfried was cast as the comic voice for everything from Aladdin’s Iago to the insurance pitch-duck from Aflac. And let’s not forget his face, eyes scrunched tight, his everyman mug somehow balled into a fist. One of a kind.
Delivery isn’t only vocal -- it’s also visual. Check out Sarah Squirm sing-songing her routine in Barnum and Bailey jumpsuits, huge aviator glasses, and abundant sky-blue eye shadow -- as she says, the effect is “Chuckie as a little carnival clown.” But it’s her video and stage art where Sarah’s delivery really takes a turn for the macabre -- her staccato vocal pattern becomes a horror-movie shriek and gross-out visuals about our disgusting human bodies elicit shock-laughs. Body horror humor may not be your thing, but it has sure got her noticed.
Julio Torres’ hilarious delivery is muted, anxious, and often accompanied by lo-fi visual aids. He’s no Gilbert Gottfried -- his jokes are almost told in a whisper, but there’s nothing quiet about them. There’s an understated urgency to Julio’s stand-up, as if he has strange secrets he must share with us before it’s too late.
Torres is also one of the only Saturday Night Live writers of recent vintage whose distinctive style comes through loud and clear through his sketches. Take Wells for Sensitive Boys -- vintage Julio Torres, a comic voice that can be heard even when others are doing the talking.
One of the queens of the original alt-comedy movement, Bamford’s “real” voice seems to belong to a precocious cartoon kid -- she wouldn’t sound out of place as one of Tommy Pickles’s pals on Rugrats. Which is why it can be so startling (and uproarious) when she effortlessly slides into other voices -- an officious office manager, Melanie Griffith, or a ravenous pterodactyl. How are any of those sounds coming out of her mouth? Viva Bamford!
Whoever says a confident delivery is key to stand-up success never met Joe Pera. Maybe that’s why we’re rooting so hard for him -- he sounds like he’s about to succumb to a panic attack brought on by crippling stage fright. His jokes -- about breaking a million ladies’ hearts or backflipping off walls as a parkour master -- play directly and hilariously off his shy, halting vocal patterns. There’s a wistful melancholy to Pera’s jokes that provoke an unexpected emotional punch.
Hedberg didn’t invent stoner comedy. Cheech and Chong, among others, got there first. But Mitch’s offbeat cadence -- Fast Times at Ridgemont High’s Jeff Spicoli meets Jack Benny’s deadpan -- was one of a kind. Half-hiding behind tinted sunglasses and a shaggy surfer’s mane, Mitch’s sleepy rhythm somehow fired off a barrage of witty one-liners that popped punchline after punchline.
A hyperventilating cousin of Gilbert Gottfried’s screamy style, a borderline-psychotic version of Sam Kinison’s outraged ranting, Bobcat somehow possessed even more manic, wild-eyed energy than his raucous contemporaries. He carried over that gasping delivery to movie roles in Scrooged and the endless Police Academy sequels. While the vocal histrionics no doubt made Bobcat stand out on the 80s comedy scene, one wonders if he ever regretted locking himself into that physically draining signature style for decades.
It’s tempting to label Dimitri Martin as “Stephen Wright with an acoustic guitar” -- and we guess we just did. But of course, that’s not fair. First of all, he doesn’t always use the guitar.
But Wright’s absurdist, observational one-liner style still seems to have inspired Martin’s low-key joke rambles. And it’s a compliment! (Consider this a bonus “Stephen Wright has a genius delivery” entry.) We’re also fans of the guitar version of Dimitri Martin -- the melodic strumming adds a funny cadence to the randomness of his jokes, and the harmonica interludes are a funnier, less hokey version of the rim-shot. It’s ba-dum-dum unplugged.
Armisen is the world’s greatest impressionist of people and things you never knew had a distinct sound. Who else can imitate the regional dialects of just about any corner of the United States? Fred is more of a sketch and ensemble comedian, and it shows when he does stand-up. His jokes aren’t “jokes” per se but dead-on embodiments of improbable characters -- someone waiting to check into the W Hotel, a guy in the 1950s at a doo-wop show, a decomposing fox. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what Armisen’s personal delivery style would be, but who cares? His ability to slip and slide into ridiculous personas means we never actually need to know.
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Top image: Comedy Central, Just for Laughs, Broadway Video