is tricky balancing act: though it may be easy to make fun of people, it's a lot harder to consistently be funny and original while doing it, and almost impossible to base an entire career on. Check out this list of the top insult comedians of all time and see who does it best. Just make sure you don't sit in the front row of one their shows.
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When it comes to insult comedy, no one can touch the master: Don Rickles. A stand-up and club comic for over 60 years, Rickles all but invented insult comedy. He's also the only insult comic who's sustained such a long career, demonstrating that there's more going on in his comedy than just name-calling and put-downs. Known for dressing down everyone from audience members to talk show hosts (Rickles was a favorite of the late Johnny Carson) to even Frank Sinatra himself, Rickles is fast and fearless without ever seeming mean-spirited. He is, quite simply, the best there is.
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Though no one can touch the master, Lisa Lampanelli seems poised to inherit the thrown as the new champion of insult comedy. The self-proclaimed "Queen of Mean" spends her entire act attacking people based on race, sexual preference, economic status or just the way they look. Unlike Rickles, Lampanelli tends to work very, very blue
, using graphic language to describe sex and offensive, racist name-calling. Like Rickles, though, she gets away with it (to some) because it doesn't seem like she means it. Lampanelli is also a frequent participant in roasts, where she first made a name for herself by being absolutely merciless with her insults. And, like the pro that she is, Lampanelli is also able to take it as good as she gives it.
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Though maybe not the biggest name in stand-up, Jeffrey Ross will be instantly recognizable to anyone who follows the roasts held at the New York Friar's Club and on Comedy Central. Dubbed the "Roastmaster General," Ross regularly heads up and performs at roasts and is among the best in the comedy business at coming up with decimating one-liners about his peers. Ross, like other insult comics, tries to keep things "old school"; he's more of a '60s nightclub comedian, but with a very contemporary command of blue language. Ross is heavily involved in charity work and regularly performs for U.S. troops overseas, meaning he insults people for a good cause.
4. Triumph the Insult Comic Dog (Robert Smigel)
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Sure, he's made of rubber and can't get anywhere without Robert Smigel's hand up his backside, but Triumph the Insult Comic Dog certainly deserves a spot on this list. The puppet creation of Smigel got his start on Late Night with Conan O'Brien before branching off to record his own album (2003's Come Poop With Me) and his own DVD (The Best of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog in 2004). From the contestants at the Westminster Dog Show to fans in line at a Star Wars premiere to politicians at the 2004 RNC and DNC, there's no one that Triumph -- and Smigel -- won't poop on.
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Andrew Dice Clay is no longer the comedy giant he once was, but back in the late 1980s and early '90s there was no one bigger. One of only a few comics ever to get the "rock star" treatment, Dice filled stadiums with rabid fans waiting to hear his brand of filthy, offensive, insulting comedy. There was nothing Clay wouldn't attack, usually in the broadest and crudest way possible. He lacked the wit of Rickles and the finessed vulgarity of Lampanelli, but, for a time, Clay was the biggest insult comic in the game. The fact that he didn't have much more than vitriol and name-calling is also what cut his career short, as his audience began to realize the emperor had no clothes. Even insult comics still have to write good jokes.