There have been many Golden Ages of Television and fans of programming from the 1980s would maintain that the “me decade” is certainly one of them as it provided endless hours of entertainment thanks to the following funny men.
Top 10 Funny Men
These men are incredibly talented and capable of dramatic work, but lucky for us they mostly kept us laughing out loud in both primetime and late-night TV. Read on and let us know what you think of our choices for this list in the comments section below.
10. Eddie Murphy (Saturday Night Live)
The first season following the departure of the original cast was a dud except for the presence of funnyman Joe Piscopo and breakout star Eddie Murphy. The young actor exploded onto the scene with original sketches like Mister Robinson’s Neighborhood and Velvet Jones, and he also imitated Buckwheat from Our Gang and Stevie Wonder. In addition, he hit the big screen this decade with box-office hits like 48 Hours, Trading Places, and Beverly Hills Cop.
9. Ted Danson (Cheers)
Danson, as ex-Red Sox pitcher Sam Malone, had terrific chemistry with Shelley Long’s uptight Diane Chambers. He displayed deft comedic timing, taking just the right beat after Diane said something pompous, Woody (Woody Harrelson) said something endearingly naïve, or waitress Carla (Rhea Perlman) shot off a zinger. Then, Danson would react with something equally funny that kept the action moving.
8. Phil Hartman (Saturday Night Live)
The unsung hero of SNL in the 1980s, the late Hartman will always be remembered for his impersonations of President Ronald Reagan, First Lady Barbara Bush (!), and Tonight Show announcer Ed McMahon (“You sir, are correct!”). Hartman brought to life original characters, too, including the Anal Retentive Chef.
7. Bob Newhart (Newhart)
Bob Newhart returned to series TV in 1982, trading in the skyscraper he worked in as psychiatrist Dr. Bob Hartley on The Bob Newhart Show for a Vermont Inn on which he played innkeeper, Dick Louden. Newhart’s deadpan reactions are unparalleled. The beat he takes in between reactions is comedy gold. In a nod to his previous sitcom, Newhart’s finale had Dick (Bob, actually) waking up in bed next to Emily (Suzanne Pleshette), having dreamed the years he spent owning an inn. Denied Emmys as Bob and Dick, Newhart won one for playing Arthur Jeffries AKA “Professor Proton” on The Big Bang Theory in 2013.
6. Robin Williams (Mork & Mindy)
ABC tapped rising comic Williams to play a spaceman from the Planet Ork who came to Earth and fell for an earthling named Mindy (Pam Dawber), who played “straight man” to Williams’ energetic Mork. The alien’s naivety to earth customs led to hilarity. Williams segued to the big screen that decade, including The World According to Garp, Moscow on the Hudson, and Good Morning, Vietnam.
5. Richard Mulligan (Soap; Empty Nest)
Mulligan is remembered fondly for not one but two funny men roles he played in the 1980s. First, he was loveable but simple Burt Campbell on Soap. Then, he became an endearing dad, Dr. Henry Weston on Empty Nest. He won Primetime Emmys for Best Actor in a Comedy for both roles.
4. Dana Carvey (Saturday Night Live)
Carvey made SNL must-see TV once more after he joined the cast in 1986. He was known primarily for his spot-on impersonations of Regis Philbin (“I’m out of control!”), President George H. W. Bush, and the legendary Jimmy Stewart. He also shined playing original characters like The Church Lady, Grumpy Old Man on Weekend Update, and Lyle, the Effeminate Heterosexual.
3. Robert Guillaume (Soap/Benson)
Guillaume’s Benson DuBois was the Tate family butler on Soap and also the audience’s voice on the show as the manservant marveled at the clan’s antics. He was spun off into his own series titled (what else?) Benson. He won two Emmys for the role, the first for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy or Comedy-Variety or Music Series in 1979 on Soap; and then again for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series in 1986 on Benson.
2. Michael J. Fox (Family Ties)
Canadian-born Fox, a newcomer to U.S. television, beat out big-name actors including Matthew Broderick for the role of conservative Alex P. Keaton on the NBC sitcom. While some of the actors reading for the part got two laughs per line, Fox scored three. Alex could both frustrate those around him with his conservative views while at the same time endearing himself to others. The talented newcomer won three consecutive primetime Emmys for his role as the most (only?) conservative Keaton starting in 1986.
1. John Ritter (Three’s Company)
Let’s face it, Three’s Company will never be remembered for its intricate or nuanced plots, but the zany setups did provide the perfect platform to display the physical comedy abilities and deft reactions of John Ritter. A master at talking his way out of most jams, Ritter’s Jack Tripper was as beloved as his portrayer. He won the Emmy for Outstanding Actor in a Primetime Comedy Series in 1984.