It seems like at one point or another, every comedian has had his or her own sitcom on television. Most fall by the wayside, but some have real staying power and manage to make an impact on the TV landscape. Check out this list of the 10 best comedian sitcoms of all time.
The now-legendary "show about nothing," Seinfeld is the best comedian sitcom ever to air and one of the best overall sitcoms of all time. Stand-up comic Jerry Seinfeld created the show with Larry David with a very specific edict in mind: "No hugs, no lessons learned." That's the formula the series ran with for nine terrific seasons, buoyed by the masterful ensemble at its center (which also included Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Michael Richards) and a seemingly endless parade of memorable supporting characters. It's hard to make it through a day now without someone referencing or directly quoting episodes of Seinfeld; such is its impact on popular culture. Seinfeld is the show that turned the sitcom on its head.
Originally airing for six seasons on HBO in the 1990s, The Larry Sanders Show focuses on the backstage goings-on at a fictional late-night talk show hosted by Sanders (Garry Shandling). It's at once a terrific character-based comedy and a merciless show business satire, with a who's-who roster of guest stars appearing to willingly skewer their own personas. Larry Sanders is brilliant -- a perfect combination of a first-rate ensemble cast and some of the sharpest comic writing ever found on television. The show is more autobiographical than most TV stars would be comfortable with, but Shandling is the kind of comic who is willing to open himself up and expose his own rawness for a laugh. It works on almost too many levels to count.
3. Roseanne (1988-1997)
When stand-up comedian Roseanne Barr got a sitcom perfectly suited to her comic persona in the late '80s, it was a breakthrough for the medium: it looked and felt like a traditional comedian sitcom, only it was much, much better. It was one of the first sitcoms on TV that showed a family a lot of Americans could relate to: blue collar, worried about paying the bills and having fights about things that weren't always played for laughs. It would lose its way from time to time (especially in its final season, when the show completely went off the rails), but it was always anchored by Barr and the incredible John Goodman as her husband. It remains one of the best sitcoms of all time.
4. The Jack Benny Program (1950-1965)
Comedian Jack Benny was one of the giants of the early days of television, and this show -- essentially a continuation of his long-running radio show -- is proof that his reputation is well-deserved. The 'show within a show' format of The Jack Benny Program is way ahead of its time, and a good deal of the humor still holds up (that's rare for a series that's over 50 years old). With over 300 episodes of the TV show produced (over two networks), it's also the longest-running comedian sitcom of all time. Good thing it's also one of the best.
Bill Cosby had already found success on TV as half of I Spy and with his Fat Albert cartoon, but it wasn't until the enormous success of The Cosby Show in the 1980s that Cosby became America's dad. Like many of the best comedian sitcoms, The Cosby Show was rooted in Cosby's stand-up act -- focusing on the dymanic of a traditional family, being a spouse and a husband, always clean and very, very funny. Cosby basically ruled television for most of the 1980s; it was the show that everyone watched. Cast changes and the aging of the show's child actors took its toll on the series somewhat, but for many years Cosby was that rare thing on TV: a mainstream success that everyone could find funny.
6. Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000-Present)
Comedian and Seinfeld co-creator Larry David took what worked about his earlier series -- a show about nothing -- and made it even darker and more misanthropic. There's no situation for David (who plays a version of himself on the show) that's too awkward or uncomfortable, and that's exactly the place from which Curb derives much of its humor. Like Seinfeld, the show (which is largely improvised by its cast, which also includes Cheryl Hines, Jeff Garlin, Richard Lewis and Susie Essman) is also intricately structured, with jokes that are set up early only to pay off late in an episode -- or, in some cases, stretched out over the course of an entire season. It's like a nastier, R-rated Seinfeld. It's also terrific.
7. The Bob Newhart Show (1972-1978)
The first of two very good sitcoms built around comedian Bob Newhart casts him as a Chicago-based psychologist with a revolving door of wacky patients and an understanding wife (played by Suzanne Pleshette). The show wisely played to Newhart's strengths, allowing him to remain the stone-faced straight man and allow the laughs to come to him. Newhart would find sitcom success again in the 1980s with Newhart, in which he played a Vermont innkeeper. That series is mostly remembered today for its final episode, which featured a cameo from Pleshette.
Comedian Kevin James took a very traditional route with this sort-of spin-off of Everybody Loves Raymond, starring as working-class delivery driver Doug Heffernan, a lovably overweight schlub married to beautiful and put-upon wife (Leah Remini) with whom he spars constantly. Though most of the humor in The King of Queens sprang from James' comic persona, there was an attempt to treat the Heffernans' marriage realistically while still mining it for laughs. It presented a couple that was believably in love, and offered more than the average "battle of the sexes" sitcom. The show also benefitted from an excellent ensemble, which included Jerry Stiller, Victor Williams, Patton Oswalt, Gary Valentine and Nicole Sullivan.
The best comedian sitcoms are the ones perfectly tailored for their stars' voice, and that's exactly what Ray Romano found when producer Phil Rosenthal created Everybody Loves Raymond in 1996. Though incredibly formulaic on paper -- Romano plays a version of himself as an immature suburban father with a wife who's always right and a colorful family -- Raymond was proof that you could break out of the formula with really good jokes and a talented supporting cast. For years, the show dominated the ratings and became one of the most-watched sitcoms of all time; better yet, Romano and Rosenthal knew enough to quit while they were still ahead and ended the series before it fell apart. It's a good example of something traditional done right.
It's amazing that while it's been over 20 years since comedian Garry Shandling's first half-hour comedy It's Garry Shandling's Show debuted on Showtime, the series still holds up almost as good as new today. Actually, it more than holds up; a total original in 1986, It's Garry Shandling's Show remains a breath of fresh air even today. We still haven't seen another show quite like it. Perhaps even more amazing is the fact that Garry Shandling has not one but two shows on this list. The show doesn't break the fourth wall so much as demolish it entirely, and is as much about being a TV show as it is about anything else. Self-conciously post-modern? Maybe. Groundbreaking? Probably. Hilarious? Yes.