I’m Dying Up Here: The funniest sitcoms starring standup comedians
Showtime’s I’m Dying Up Here struggled somewhat to draw in a wide audience. The dramedy series starring Melissa Leo (The Fighter) and executive produced by Jim Carrey (The Truman Show) showed enough intrigue to get a ten-episode reorder, but was not renewed for a third season.
I’m Dying Up Here was based on the non-fiction book of the same name by William Knoedelseder, centering on the highs and lows of L.A.’s famed 70s stand-up comedy scene. Let’s take a look at some of the best sitcoms starring standup comedians. Get those tickle bones ready, because you’re in for a riot of laughs!
Master of None (2015 – )
Standup comedian and “woke bae” Aziz Ansari’s first solo TV outing explores the frustrations of modern romance via its central protagonist Dev. The show follows the character – who is played by and resembles Aziz in many ways – as he struggles to navigate his life in New York City and goes through professional and personal ups and downs in his pursuit for an acting career and a (longed for) relationship.
It’s Garry Shandling’s Show (1986 – 1990)
In this groundbreaking meta sitcom, comedian Garry Shandling stars as an exaggerated version of himself, constantly breaking the fourth wall (or in this case, completely demolishing it) to speak to the audience and poke fun at sitcom conventions. With its abstract comedy, it was considered a little out there at the time, but there’s no denying the influence it had on major sitcoms to follow, from Seinfeld to his later project The Larry Sanders Show.
The Bernie Mac Show (2001 – 2006)
In The Bernie Mac Show, the late, great standup comedian played a slightly more hyperbolic, fictionalized version of himself. The story goes that Bernie and his wife Wanda (Kellita Smith) take in the three children of his sister (who is headed to rehab), leaving Bernie to adapt to parenthood with no prep time or warning. The series was loosely based on Bernie’s standup acts while the hilarity came from his struggle to adjust to parenthood.
The Office, UK version (2001 – 2003)
Proving the key to a good comedy is subtlety and quality, not quantity, the UK version of The Office was writer, star, and standup comedian Ricky Gervais’s first venture into the sitcom sphere.
Proving to be one of the great British comedy auteurs, Gervais adopted the mockumentary style before it had been done to death to portray the narcissistic, insecure, and delusional paper company boss David Brent, who lacked any sense of social skills and self-esteem.
Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000 – )
Playing an exaggerated version of himself, Curb Your Enthusiasm centers on the early standup comedian and Seinfeld writer Larry David, as he gets himself into all manner of misanthropic mishaps that leave the viewer questioning: is Larry the a-hole, or is it the rest of the world? Shoutout to Curb regular and standup hero Wanda Sykes (My Super Ex-Girlfriend) too for being an all round badass on screen and on stage!
Louie (2010 – 2015)
Sexual misconduct allegations against Louis C.K. aside, there’s no denying how much this show changed the TV landscape. As IndieWire put it, “for better or for worse, the show represented what could happen when a creator was given complete control over a small-budgeted production of their own sitcom.”
The show utilized standup performance pieces and like many of the sitcoms on this list, starred the comedian as himself in a dark, self-loathing light. We’d also like to give a mention to the S2 cameo from standup Doug Stanhope, who holds a special place in our sinister, satirical hearts.
Roseanne (1988 – )
The premise behind this show was to bring Roseanne Barr’s “Domestic Goddess” routine to the small screen, and what resulted was this wildly successful sitcom about the everyday life of an American working-class family. It proved a hit with the fans in the 90s and evidently still does today, proved by the success of the recent Roseanne reboot.
Sanford and Son (1972 – 1977)
Sanford & Son utilized the comedic talents of John Elroy Sanford a.k.a. Redd Foxx – the notorious 50s and 60s standup who was remembered for his explicit “comedy records”.
Based on the BBC Television program Steptoe and Son, the show became a heavy influence on black sitcoms that came after it and, as Rolling Stone pointed out, “exposed mainstream America to such brilliant ‘chitlin’ circuit’ comedians as LaWanda Page (Friday), Don Bexley (Vibes), and Slappy White (Mr. Saturday Night), none of whom would have likely ever made it to prime time without Foxx’s intercession on their behalf.”
Seinfeld (1989 – 1998)
Creator Jerry Seinfeld starred as himself in the famed sitcom about a neurotic New York City stand-up comedian and his equally neurotic New York City friends. Seinfeld and David’s groundbreaking masterpiece has stood the test of time and is considered one of the greatest sitcoms in TV history. As Rolling Stone confirmed, “Of all the ‘standcoms’ out there, this one remains the one that towers above them all — the master of its domain.”