Whether you're a die-hard fan of stand-up comedy or a total newbie, here's 10 comedians you ought to be familiar with. They may not be the most groundbreaking or original or even the funniest (that's a matter of opinion, after all), but they're ones making the biggest splash in the comedy scene today.
1. Dane Cook
Like him or hate him, there's little arguing that Dane Cook is the biggest thing to happen to stand-up in the 2000s. The first comic to get the "rock star treatment" (selling out stadiums, etc.) in over a decade, Cook was the first comedian to really figure out how to use internet marketing to build his celebrity. The gamble worked, and Cook became a huge success with college audiences and young people. Though there's ongoing debate as to how funny he is or not (and if all his material is really his own), Cook deserves credit for helping to make the art form relevant again and introduce an entire generation to stand-up.
2. Jeff Dunham
Though not officially one of the "Blue Collar" comics, Jeff Dunham has successfully branded himself as the comic for the common man. Combining ventriloquism with stand-up comedy, Dunham is known for his stable of puppets and broad humor (which often contains generalizations about race and gender, but it's Dunham's "puppets" saying it and not him). With multiple sold-out tours and best-selling DVDs, Dunham is also responsible for scoring the highest ratings in Comedy Central history -- first for his 2008 Christmas Special and then for his own series, The Jeff Dunham Show, in 2009.
The most popular of the incredibly popular Blue Collar comedians, Larry the Cable Guy (born Dan Whitney) has cornered the market on redneck, good-ol'-boy humor. Responsible for introducing sleeveless flannels, trucker hats and the ubiquitous phrase "Git 'R Done!" into the public consciousness, Larry the Cable Guy has become one of stand-up comedy's highest earners, launching several successful tours, best-selling albums and critically reviled movie flops. Two out of three isn't bad.
Russell Peters may be the most popular comedian you've never heard of. A Canadian comic of Indian descent, Peters is one of the few comics on this list that's popular worldwide: in addition to selling out New York's Madison Square Garden, Peters has also sold out Toronto's Air Canada Centre and has performed sold out tours in countries ranging from Vietnam to Singapore to Australia to China to South Africa. With two comedy specials under his belt (Outsourced and Red, White and Brown) and a devoted and diverse fan base, it's only a matter of time before Peters becomes a household name in America.
5. Chris Rock
Though never really able to get a movie career off the ground, Chris Rock remains one of the biggest -- and by far funniest -- stand-up comedians working today. He's the current King of Comedy (Time magazine once named him the Funniest Man in America), and every new stand-up special from him is an event worth celebrating. He's also one of the few comedians to have crossed over in every way: he defies genre and category, because everyone likes Chris Rock. Long may the king reign.
Sarah Silverman is one of the rare female comics that's been able to break through the unfortunate barriers of stand-up and find the same kind of success that many male comedians have enjoyed. Some say that's because her material would be more appropriate for a man -- it often focuses on sex and bathroom humor -- but that's both reductive of her talents and insulting to her gender. Silverman is a huge success (and star of her own Comedy Central series, The Sarah Silverman Program) because she's incredibly funny and influential. In the wake of her success, many comics have tried to imitate her ironic, edgy style, but none can pull it off as well as she can.
7. Dave Chappelle
At the height of his success with the Comedy Central sketch series Chappelle's Show, comedian Dave Chappelle was poised to become the biggest stand-up since the heyday of Steve Martin and Richard Pryor. Then he walked away from Chappelle's Show and retreated from the public eye. Still, Chappelle's impact and popularity live on, and though he spent the better part of the 2000s under the radar he's still at the top of many peoples' lists when discussing their favorite stand-up comics.
As one of the leaders of the alternative comedy movement, Patton Oswalt is the comedian for audiences who can't quite get into Larry the Cable Guy or Jeff Dunham. With three albums, two concert DVDs, his own comedy tour and various acting and voiceover roles under his belt, Oswalt has become ubiquitous in the world of stand-up. He's the angry, hilarious voice of the comic book-reading, literary-minded, science-fiction set -- a fanbase that's considerably larger than you might expect.
9. Jim Gaffigan
Deadpan oddball Jim Gaffigan might best be recognized from his numerous TV commercial gigs, but in his day job he's one of the most popular comics working today. As the voice of the lazy, suburban everyman, a great deal of Gaffigan's material is derived from dealing with America's obsession with food and eating (his hugely popular signature bit is all about Hot Pockets). He often contrasts his monotone style with an odd, high-pitched voice meant to represent the audience's opinion of what he's saying. Gaffigan is incredibly prolific, releasing seven stand-up albums in nearly as many years. He also works clean, allowing him to reach as wide an audience as possible.
10. Kathy Griffin
Though she's been a stand-up comic for years, Kathy Griffin didn't become really famous until later in her career by branding herself (ironically) as someone who only wants to be more famous. Thanks to her Bravo reality series My Life on the D-List and a propensity for dishing about celebrities in her act, Griffin became something of a stand-up icon for audiences hungry for catty gossip. Because her act consists largely of stories about her run-ins with famous people, Griffin has been able to crank out stand-up specials for Bravo and has carved out a huge niche for herself in the comedy world.