In a deliberate attempt to avoid the global pandemic for a while, I set my sights on determining who the funniest comic in history was or is.
I know the conclusion of this mission will likely have a different answer for everyone who examines it, but I must explore and find out who makes me laugh the most.
As a child, I was blessed with a television set before me. Mom and Dad lived in a small town in western Nebraska, but we had cable TV in the 1960s.
In all we had five channels, a luxury on the Nebraska prairie at that time.
Besides PBS, ABC, NBC and CBS, we also watched Channel 2 from Denver. That station was filled with old-time movies and entertainment and my mother loved watching the shows she grew up on at the movie theater. It was usually on the TV.
Ma and Pa Kettle, W.C. Fields, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, the Marx Brothers, the Keystone Cops, the Three Stooges and most of all Laurel and Hardy.
I loved to laugh at Laurel and Hardy. Those boys were downright funny to this young boy. I think I related mostly to Stan Laurel as he was usually the focus of whatever comedy was coming down that pipe.
Ma Kettle kind of reminded me of my own mother, who was very loud and not afraid to let her point of view be known to anyone — even a stranger. Dad was a little like Pa Kettle as he also let the water just roll off his back as he attended to business. Yes, my parents were basically the Kettles.
I fell in love with Lucille Ball and tolerated her husband Ricky Ricardo. I wasn’t into music much back then but God, “I Love Lucy” was funny.
Other shows I watched daily were “Hogan’s Heroes,” “Gilligan’s Island,” “Flipper,” “McHale’s Navy,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and maybe “Star Trek.”
We had to sneak around to watch “Hogan’s Heroes” as my father was a World War II Army veteran who fought under Patton in North Africa and Italy, and he did not find anything funny about Germans at the time.
Once a week “The Carol Burnett Show” was on and the entire family could not miss that show. Everyone would stop what they were doing and sit in front of that tube — even Dad.
To this day, I watch videos of Carol, Tim Conway, Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence and whoever was visiting the show that week. Lyle Waggoner had little appeal to me back them. I think he was just too pretty to be taken seriously.
Carol Burnett and cast must be the funniest collection of people ever to gather on stage at one time.
Including a more modern world, the leading standup comedians have to be Richard Pryor, Gene Wilder, Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Bill Murray, Jay Leno, Groucho Marx, Will Smith, Tim Allen, Rodney Dangerfield, Freddie Prinze, Phyllis Diller, Sam Kinison, Don Knotts, Woody Allen, Robert Klein, Redd Foxx, George Burns, Johnny Carson, Jerry Lewis, Peter Sellers, Benny Hill, Red Skelton, Flip Wilson, Buddy Hackett, Paul Lynde, Jackie Gleason, Alan Alda, Don Adams, Eddie Murphy, Don Rickles, Jonathan Winters, Bob Newhart, Goldie Hawn, Lily Tomlin, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Andy Kaufman, Robin Williams, Steve Martin, Bill Cosby, Cheech and Chong, John Lithgow, Jerry Seinfeld, Joan Rivers, Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Tina Fey and Chris Rock — just to name a few.
Of course, you can add most anyone who was a cast member of “Saturday Night Live” to that prestigious list.
I am a huge Bob Newhart fan and even follow him on Facebook. Gene Wilder always made me laugh and George Carlin usually offended me, but he was damn funny. I had great respect for Rodney Dangerfield and Don Rickles — just where did that man come from? Oh, he was so funny.
Steve Martin plays a mean banjo and I’m more a fan of his music than his comedy.
Robin Williams was a comic genius that could take even a serious role and make it funny. Andy Kaufman also fits into this beautiful category. Could you imagine spending an evening hanging out with Williams and Kaufman in a room? I’d want to be wearing a helmet.
Comedians who have turned into quality actors have to be Will Smith, Jay Leno, Robert Klein, Tina Fey, Bill Murray and Chevy Chase. They all evolved into something very special.
To examine the list of comedians and determine who was the funniest person ever to have lived is daunting and likely impossible, so I Googled it.
With the threat of breaking the internet, the top answer to my question was from Ranker.com.
Their choice for the funniest person ever is Robin Williams.
Second on their list is Jim Carrey followed by Steve Carell, Eddie Murphy, Chris Farley, John Candy, Steve Martin, Bill Murray, Dave Chappelle and Richard Pryor.
In 11th place is probably the funniest man who ever attempted comedy, Mel Brooks — how did I forget Mel Brooks? My last name is Headley and Harvey Korman played the role of Hedley Lamarr in “Blazing Saddles.” That has haunted me since the day the movie was released in theaters. I have grown to accept and even embrace the Hedley Lamarr reference in my life.
Others mentioned in this list are the amazing Will Ferrell, Leslie Nielsen, John Cleese, Betty White, Adam Sandler, Dan Aykroyd and Danny DeVito and Rowan Atkinson.
I actually had the displeasure of meeting Rowan Atkinson, who played Mr. Bean, in a Paris hotel lobby one evening. He was extremely intoxicated and wanted to fight me. The hotel concierge dragged him away with me laughing and pointing, “Mr. Bean wants to fight me?” The concierge tried desperately to convince me it wasn’t him, but it clearly was.
So, the person who has made me laugh the most in my life has to be Harvey Korman. There was just no one like him — except maybe Tim Conway. There was hardly a role that Mr. Korman didn’t make funny but when he starred at Hedley Lamarr in Blazing Saddles, I was hooked.
Second on my list is Bob Newhart — the man who always made the straight role into the most important actor on the stage. Every one of Newhart’s series was hilarious and well done. On top of that, he’s a huge Cubs fan too, so he gets extra points!
I enjoyed this diversion down comedy lane and in the end, I realize that the people who made us laugh at the worst times of our lives are among the most important people who ever lived.
Keep up the good work, all you jokesters out there. We need you now more than ever.
Justice reporter Jim Headley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.