Baseball has one. Rock & roll has one. Why doesn’t comedy have its own Hall of Fame? Rodney would answer, ”No respect,” and he’d be right. But just imagine if there were a shimmering edifice high in the Catskills — with a joy buzzer for a doorbell — honoring the all-time greats of 20th-century mirth? Here’s who would be enshrined on the walls: 30 acts — listed alphabetically, since they’re beyond ranking — whom our 50 Funniest Alive would, and should, bow toward daily.
Abbott and Costello The last of the great old-style vaudeville teams to work in movies, Bud and Lou parlayed dizzying double-talk (”Who’s on first?”) and hard-edged tomfoolery into a hugely influential legacy.
Lucille Ball She bided her time in movies until the right medium — TV — came along. Then she ruled — hilariously on screen, cannily behind it — for nearly two decades.
John Belushi The crashing epitome of SNL-era comedy, he was an unshaven goblin of anarchy, able to subvert conventions with a waggle of his eyebrows.
Jack Benny The Toscanini of comedic timing and a talent so confident that he could surround himself with crazies and still get the laughs. Newhart, among many others, owes him everything.
Milton Berle The Borscht Belt went national when Berle grabbed the reins of the infant TV medium and became its first megastar. In a dress.
Bob and Ray From the wilds of Boston radio came a duo whose sensibility was the driest of the dry — and whose baroque, precisely paced, and paralyzingly funny skits remain tonic to the ears.
Fanny Brice The erstwhile Baby Snooks was the original Funny Lady, without whom everyone from Ball to Burnett to Ullman wouldn’t exist.
Lenny Bruce He was never rim-shot funny, and that wasn’t the point. Moving comedy into the modern, conceptual, political age was. Like all revolutionaries, he paid for it.
Burns and Allen George after Gracie was a hilarious relic. George with Gracie was a rock of bemused sanity in the face of beautiful chaos.
Sid Caesar He brought a razor-sharp New York edge to TV sketch comedy — and served as frontman for a vastly influential stable of writers (Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, and Neil Simon for starters).
Johnny Carson He started on The Tonight Show a brash kid; he ended a legend. That Cheshire grin still hangs over Letterman’s and Leno’s heads.
Charlie Chaplin The benchmark by which ambitious comedians continue to be judged, Sir Charles conquered the planet with balletic slapstick, an enduring screen persona, and ever-increasing aspirations.
W.C. Fields It’s been said of Fields that he made loathing funny, but what really satisfies, in retrospect, is this grand eccentric’s love of absurdity. Carl LaFong, are you there?
Firesign Theatre The headiest of the counterculture troupes, they were comedy LP auteurs, creating aural movies that remain impenetrable to some and sidesplittingly essential to others. Shoes for Industry!