"I'm not funny," said Lucille Ball. "What I am is brave." With all due respect, we must disagree—at least about the first part. For 180 episodes, which originally aired from 1951 to 1957 but live on in syndication, the iconic title character of "I Love Lucy" has cracked us up for decades. Click through for more on Lucy and others who belong with her in the TV sitcom pantheon.
Lucy Ricardo ("I Love Lucy")
Six decades after the last episode of "I Love Lucy" was filmed, Lucy Ricardo remains everyone's favorite black-and-white redhead. Whether stomping grapes, tipsily pitching the cure-all "Vitameatavegamin" or attempting to insert herself into husband Ricky Ricardo's nightclub act, Lucy excelled at one thing: getting laughs. "She was never acid or vicious," star Lucille Ball once said. "Even with pie on her face."
Homer Simpson ("The Simpsons")
Unlike so many other sitcoms, "The Simpsons" has never used an audience laugh track to sweeten its punch lines. It doesn't need to—it has Homer, the almost human laff-machine. Described by one Simpsons' writer as "creatively brilliant in his stupidity," Homer—voiced by Dan Castellaneta—even sounds funny. ("Mmm, donuts!") And while Marge, Bart, Lisa, even Maggie are all mega-laugh getters, Homer is the Springfield resident who steals the most guffaws.
Hawkeye Pierce ("M*A*S*H")
There's a good reason why Alan Alda's Hawkeye Pierce appeared in all 251 episodes of "M*A*S*H." Not only did he serve as chief surgeon for the South Korea-based 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, the wise-cracking, anti-authoritarian Hawkeye was also the true heart and soul of the show—a flawed but heroically funny Everyman who could shift from the realism of the operating room to the stress-relieving comic antics outside, all in a single half-hour episode. "This wasn't 'McHale's Navy,'" said Alda. "M*A*S*H was about real people."
Bugs Bunny ("Looney Tunes")
Quick-witted, wisecracking, street-smart and carrot-chomping, Bugs Bunny has always been the hippest rabbit in the room. Created in the 1930s by producer Leon Schlesinger and his team of animators for Warner Brothers' Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series (and voiced by the great Mel Blanc), Bugs is an ageless phenomenon, nonchalantly outwitting such formidable adversaries as Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, Marvin the Martian and a host of others for some eight decades. Equal parts Cary Grant, Groucho Marx and Carmen Miranda, Bugs "isn't just one of the great cartoon stars of all time," says critic Leonard Maltin, "he's one of the great movie stars."
Jim Ignatowski ("Taxi")
Reverend Jim Ignatowski, as played by a glassy-eyed, slack-jawed Christopher Lloyd—the horizontal one in this photo—is TV's ultimate wise-man fool. (Sorry, Kramer.) Doomed to his spaced-out brain scramble by a single bite of a marijuana-laced brownie, Jim retained a gentle heart and gained a treasure trove of laugh-getting eccentricities—he spent a year of his life making a macramé couch. And when the character explains with full conviction that he changed his last name from Caldwell to Ignatowski because the latter is "Starchild" spelled backwards, it all makes perfect—and hilarious—sense.
Elaine Benes ("Seinfeld")
If Julie Louis-Dreyfus' Elaine Benes had never done anything but "dance" to Earth, Wind & Fire's "Shining Star" in the 138th episode of "Seinfeld," she would still be revered in sitcom history. As described by George, Elaine's dance is a "full-body dry heave set to music." It, like almost everything Elaine did, was hilarious, elevating Dreyfus to Lucille Ball status.
Selina Meyer ("Veep")
Very few comic actors have one-upped themselves with a second hit series. Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart … Bea Arthur? But, unlike her "Seinfeld" co-stars, Julia Louis-Dreyfus has reigned supreme with her record-breaking six-time Emmy-winning performance as U.S. Vice President—and then President, and then not President—Selina Meyer on "Veep." A master at the comedy of self-mortification, the HBO character is "very narcissistic and hugely undeveloped emotionally," says Louis-Dreyfus, adding, "She's not an earnest, ethically minded, morally centered human being." Of course, if she were, she wouldn't be so damn funny.
Michael Scott ("The Office")
Paul Giamatti, Martin Short, Hank Azaria and Bob Odenkirk were all considered for the role of Michal Scott, the idiosyncratic Regional Manager of the Scranton, Pennsylvania, branch of paper distribution company Dunder Mifflin Inc. Instead the part went to Steve Carell, who inhabited his role through seven seasons (out of nine), earning five Emmy nominations. With a brilliant cringe-worthy incognizance, Carell's character could say a line like, "I knew exactly what to do … but in a much more real sense, I had no idea what to do," and make it as funny as any comedian's rim-shot punch line. In 2011, Carell's Scott bids farewell to the Dunder Mifflin crew by stating, "They say on your deathbed you never wish you spent more time at the office—but I will." Fans of "The Office" felt the very same way.
Stewie Griffin ("Family Guy")
Stewie Griffin—the football-headed 1-year-old prodigy with a sophisticated psyche and upper-class English accent—is the show's biggest laugh-getter, more so than even dad Peter, the "Family Guy" patriarch. A psychotic toddler known for his frightening intelligence and cutting sarcasm, Stewie can get away with a Columbine joke and then melt in sincerity, telling his anthropomorphic pet dog Brian, "I…I…I love you. I mean, you know, not in like a, 'Hey, let's, you know, let's have an underpants party,' or whatever grownups do when they're in love." We love Stewie in that kind of way, too.
Granny ("The Beverly Hillbillies")
Sure, Beverly—Hills, that is—has always been the home to swimming pools and movie stars, but for many TV viewers, the eternally scrappy Granny is one of the famed city's most celebrated residents. And funniest. Portrayed by vaudeville veteran Irene Ryan—60 years old when she was cast as Jed Clampett's backwoods mother-in-law—Granny could steal scenes with the best of them, even master scenery chewers Jed (Buddy Ebsen) and Jethro (Max Baer Jr). "Beverly Hillbillies" creator Paul Henning had tentatively cast another actress in the part, but when Ryan auditioned for the role, "with her hair tied back in a bun and feisty as all get-out," he immediately exclaimed, "That's Granny!" And no one ever cooked up stewed squirrel like Granny did.
Kenneth Parcell ("30 Rock")
As the perpetually cheerful NBC page on "30 Rock," Kenneth Parcell (Jack McBrayer) may hold the record for the highest laughs-to-screentime ratio of any character in recent sitcom history. Despite having grown up in poverty and eaten his share of rock soup and squirrel tail, Parcell's optimistic view of life is infectious. He once said he loves only two things: "Everybody and television." And we love him.
Eunice Harper Higgins ("The Carol Burnett Show")
Carol Burnett played a multitude of brilliant characters on her long-running comedy/variety show, but Eunice Harper Higgins—part of the recurring series of sketches dubbed "The Family"— might just be the most memorable. Fiery, stormy, irrepressible, Southern, filled with powerful emotions and resentments—and always wearing the same olive green dress—Higgins could easily have been a character imagined by Tennessee Williams on steroids. "I loved doing 'The Family' with Eunice and Mama [Vicki Lawrence]," said Burnett. "They were very interesting because there were no jokes written into those sketches. It was all character-driven. And sometimes it got a little heavy." Heavy with laughter.
Larry David ("Curb Your Enthusiasm")
Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote back in the day that great comedy represents human beings as "worse than they are." Which would make Larry David the greatest comedian who ever walked the face of the earth. Petty, vindictive, selfish, shallow, the kind of guy who gives up his roomy exit seat on a plane because he really isn't willing to help his fellow passengers in case of an emergency, David dislikes everybody equally. All of it, of course, is brilliantly funny, with Larry David as "Larry David" the most comically flawed being of all.
Bart Simpson ("The Simpsons")
Underachieving ("And proud of it, man!"), rebellious, disrespectful of authority and an all-around bad role model for children, the perpetually 10-year-old Bart Simpson was the original breakout star of "The Simpsons"—he was even named 1990's Entertainer of the Year by Entertainment Weekly magazine. And for good reason. Bart was the funniest—and in some ways the most real—kid ever to appear on television. "Bart is trapped in a world where everyone else is struggling to be normal," says creator Matt Groening. "But Bart's response to being normal is, 'No way, man!'" Never grow up, Bart.
George Costanza ("Seinfeld")
It's oddly disconcerting to catch the first episode or two of "Seinfeld" in reruns, with its characters not yet fully formed—especially George Costanza. Jason Alexander's George went on to became one of the most completely realized comic characters in TV history and an indelible part of our collective conscience. More than just your average "short, stocky, slow-witted, bald man" (as he was described by his friend Elaine), George is a world-class self-loathing neurotic, prone to occasional delusions of grandeur that always arise at the worst possible time. Whether building a cozy hideaway under his Yankee Stadium office desk, double-dipping a tortilla chip, wrestling with his father around the Festivus pole or getting surprised with his "shrinkage" on full display, there was, in the words of Alexander, "a little George Costanza in all of us."
Liz Lemon ("30 Rock")
On "30 Rock," Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) early on summed up Tina Fey's Liz Lemon as "a New York third-wave feminist, college-educated, single and pretending to be happy about it, over-scheduled, undersexed, you buy any magazine that says 'healthy body image' on the cover and every two years you take up knitting for ... a week." Phew. But millions could relate—and laugh—when Lemon said in all seriousness, she wanted to be in a relationship where "about 12 years in, you don't have to try anymore and you can just sit around and watch TV and go to bed without anyone trying any funny business."
Leslie Knope ("Parks and Recreation")
The funniest resident of Pawnee, Indiana, Amy Poehler's Leslie Knope—Deputy Director of thr city's parks and recreation department—is the kind of government employee the Founding Fathers must have dreamed about. Unfailingly dedicated, sunny and ambitious—with her eyes on becoming the first female president—Knope makes you laugh and tugs at your heart. "There's nothing we can't do if we work hard, never sleep and shirk all other responsibilities in our lives," she once said. And you won't ever find Knope shirking her duties by golfing 18 holes on the taxpayer's dime. Her game is a 30-minute round of mini-golf during lunch break.
Stephen Colbert ("The Cobert Report")
Colbert helped redefine political humor with his self-described "well-intentioned, poorly informed, high-status idiot" political pundit on Comedy Central's "The Cobert Report." For 1,447 episodes, Colbert as "Stephen Colbert," charted new territory—especially with his in-character interviews of newsmakers of the day—blurring the line between satire and politics until it became hard to tell the difference. A two-time presidential candidate (though he failed to ever actually make the ballot), he fit right in with the times—and anticipated times to come.
Karen Walker ("Will & Grace")
Debra Messing's Grace Adler once described her rich, pill-popping personal assistant Karen Walker (Megan Mullally) as "a spoiled, shrill, gold-digging socialite who would sooner chew off her own foot than do an honest day's work." But Walker also gets some of the show's best lines and biggest laughs. She's the kind of character who, visiting a launderette for the first time, taps on the glass door on a washing machine and asks, "Where are the fish?" In the TV sitcom universe, it's the secondary character who sometimes steals the show.
Beavis ("Beavis and Butt-Head")
Nobody was ever funnier picking his nose. Not even Jerry Lewis.
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