15 Comedians' Biggest Influences

15 Comedians' Biggest Influences

Most successful comedians incorporate the comedy techniques of their comedy idols. If the process functions to its fullest potential, what eventually results is a new style of comedy, original to that comedian, but with influences of the pioneers that came before them. Here are 15 comedian's biggest comedic inspirations, who we owe our thanks for giving us their comedy offspring.

John Cleese - The Goon Show

John Cleese

Python Monty Production

John Cleese named the radio show, The Goon Show, as the biggest inspiration behind The Python's humor. Cleese said,  “It was absurdist. It didn’t try to be intellectual, yet at its core it still was. I always had an affinity for the silly, and the humor of The Goon Show was just that. It was also very subversive. That anti-authority really spoke to us . People used to ask us to describe what sort of humor Monty Python was because they didn’t know how to categorize us. We’re just silly. Other people who come across us can give us labels if they want.”

Ali Wong On Her Top Three

Ali Wong & Patrice O'neal

Netflix/ Comedy Central

Ali Wong told the A.V. Club that the three comedians she Idolizes the most are Chris Rock, Patrice O’Neal, and Richard Pryor.

John Mulaney - Conan O’Brien

John Mulaney - Conan O’Brien


Mulaney told the A.V. Club, “Conan was a huge deal. I don’t know what your experience was, but with me, it was like, ‘I already love Saturday Night Live, and I already love The Simpsons, and there’s this guy who’s from both SNL and The Simpsons.’ And then the show came on, and it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s like what my friends and I are doing. That’s our sense of humor.’ I was probably turning 12 when it premiered. So it was like, puberty plus a lot of other comedy influences, and then here came this show that hit all of those parties.”

Amy Poehler - Carol Burnett

Amy Poehler goes into detail on this DVD collection of The Carol Burnett Show about her affinity for the star she and her friends refer to as “The Queen” of comedy.

Anthony Jeselnik - Steven Wright

Dark one-liner comic Anthony Jeselnik told Vulture he had a pretty obvious comedic inspiration. “Steven Wright was my favorite when I was a kid. The ‘how did he think of it’ kind of thing really blew me away. More than anyone he was my absolute favorite.”

Billy Crystal - Sid Caesar

Billy Crystal wrote a memorial article in the New York Times after the passing of comedy legend Sid Caesar, citing him as one of his comedic heroes since he was six years old. Crystal spoke about Caesar seeing his performance saying, “The powerhouse I first saw on television, an image that still motivates me, had come to watch me. We hugged and cried a little. He knew how I felt about him, and all I could do was whisper, ‘Thanks for coming.’ It wasn’t just a thank you for coming that day. It was a thank you for coming into my life, for inspiring me to want to be funny.”

Bo Burnham - Stephen Lynch & Flight Of The Conchords

Bo Burnham admits he was just copying his heroes when he first started posting comedy songs to YouTube as a kid. Burnham said Stephen Lynch was a massive inspiration growing up, continuing, “Yeah, I loved him, loved Demetri Martin, loved early Steve Martin, loved Flight of the Conchords. I mean, there are songs that are just direct Stephen Lynch rip-offs and a direct Flight of the Conchords rip-off and so I was just finding my feet. I was 16, 17 and stuff, so just like finding what I liked and trying to figure out what it was.”

Jeff Ross - Don Rickles

After the passing of insult comedy king Don Rickles, Jeff Ross wrote a memorial article about his friend, who also happened to be his biggest inspiration. With Ross’s title as “The Roast Master General,” it’s no wonder Rickles would be his Idol, with Ross saying, “I was always terrified of him. It was like meeting the Pope. The Pope of humor. He’s the grandmaster, the Mt. Roastmore, the Black Belt in Busting Balls, The Sultan of Insultin’.”

Joran Peele - Christopher Guest & Martin Lawrence

Joran Peele - Christopher Guest & Martin Lawrence

Comedy Central/ Spinal Tap Prod./ Runteldat Productions

In a Reddit AMA with Key and Peele, Jordan Peele, was asked about his comedy idols and replied, “My comedic influences are Martin Lawrence and Christopher Guest.” Let’s get a well-polished Key and Peele mockumentary on the schedule, shall we?

Julia Louis-Dreyfus On Her Many Inspirations

Julia Louis-Dreyfus had several comedy idols growing up. She told The Guardian, "I adored the obvious ones: Lucille Ball, Vivian Vance, Mary Tyler Moore, tons of women, Madeline Kahn, Teri Garr. Oh, and Diane Keaton." Louis-Dreyfus continued that she also adored the films of Preston Sturges, where the female characters were both funny and sexy.

Larry David - Woody Allen & Mel Brooks

Larry David - Woody Allen & Mel Brooks

HBO/ Rollins-Joffe Productions/ Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/ 

Unsurprisingly, Larry David shared that his biggest comedic inspirations “to some degree” are Woody Allen and Mel Brooks. Thank goodness Curb Your Enthusiasm came around, so we could still have all the laughs of Woody Allen, without all of the messy moral turpitude. 

Martin Short - Dick Van Dyke

When asked who his comedic mentor was, Martin Short told Rolling Stone, “Dick Van Dyke. He was brilliant physically and verbally. Totally charming.”

Joan Rivers - Lenny Bruce

Joan Rivers - Lenny Bruce

So Television/ State Of Pennsylvania

The late great Joan Rivers told Rolling Stone Magazine that her biggest comedic mentor was the late great Lenny Bruce. Rivers continued, “He saw me, liked me and encouraged me, and when I hit on The Tonight Show, he sent me a telegram saying, ‘See, I told you so.’”

Nathan Fielder - Chris Morris

Nathan Fielder - Chris Morris

HBO/ Channel 4

Nathan Fielder told Reddit that one of his biggest comedy influences was UK absurdist comedian Chris Morris. Fielder explained, “I'm a big fan of Chris Morris. When I first began doing comedy a friend of mine introduced me to Brass Eye and I was blown away. It was so dense and visual. The pedophilia episode with the guy dressed as a school... oh man. So hilarious. He's definitely been an influence on the stuff I do. Among many others.” Fielder has also stated that he was inspired by Tom Green growing up because he wasn’t afraid to make people uncomfortable.

Sacha Baron Cohen - Peter Sellers

Sascha Baron Cohen - Peter Sellers

Amazon Studios/ United Artists

Borat’s Sascha Baron Cohen told The Guardian his biggest comedic inspiration was Peter Sellers the original Pink Panther. He elaborated, "He was this incredibly realistic actor," said Baron Cohen, "who was also hilarious and who managed to bridge the gap between comedy and satire."

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