On Valentine’s Day this past year Rolling Stone reporter Matthew Love listed his 50 best stand-up comics of all time. Although entertainment lists are always controversial on who is “in” and who is left out in the cold, that is also the fun to a list ranking. In fact, that is usually the plan when it is placed in a magazine. Controversy and talking about it sells magazines.
Although this list in particular is a month old, I still can’t stop thinking about it, so I suppose, in a way, the plan worked. The one person left off the list I cannot stop thinking of makes me wonder how Rolling Stone keeps its journalistic integrity.
Of course I’m speaking of the now infamous Sabrina Rubin Erdely story, “A Rape on Campus,” where facts were not checked and “is” not dotted and “ts” not crossed – so much so that the Columbia University School of Journalism was quoted about the article as saying, that Rolling Stone and Erdely failed to engage in “basic, even routine journalistic practice.”
What could this possibly have to do with a list about comedians though? Obviously I have to question anyone writing for Rolling Stone magazine at this point that they have not done their research into a final printing of their articles.
Since the magazine now has a blemish on its journalistic integrity, even though it’s an opinionated list, the 50 best stand-up comics of ALL TIME list - according to Rolling Stone - is filled with inaccuracies. The first person that comes to mind is the great Dave Attell.
If you are doing a list as a fan, you can place whoever you feel into your listing but as a journalist, the omission of Mr. Attell is, although not as devastating as Ms. Erdely’s boner, extremely poor researching. If the most minimal amount of research was achieved and the magazine had actually asked numbers 50 (Wanda Sykes), 43 (Amy Schumer), 31 (Sarah Silverman), 17 (Bill Burr), 9 (Dave Chappelle), 5 (Chris Rock) and 4 (Louis C.K.) who they think is ONE of the best comics of all time, they would have said Dave Attell. This is Dave Attell’s 30th anniversary in stand-up comedy and there is not one person on this list who is still living that would disagree that he’s the best – I mean at least in the top 50. But the top seven living on that list would probably tell you he could be as high as 10.
As we spoke above, these lists are of course one person’s opinion, I get that. But apparently the criteria is clearly stated as the list being weighed on artistic merit, technical proficiency, sense of timing, quality of written material, delivery and degree of influence. That describes Dave Attell.
His influence alone on a generation of new comics that will be on this list ten years from now like Jay Oakerson, Sam Morril and Kurt Metzger, to name a few, is an instant start to the conversation. Without going into complete detail, Mr. Attell’s written material and timing is what makes him a comic genius. Although his material is completely funny enough to appear in a quote in a newspaper or magazine, it is because of his delivery and sense of timing that makes it even funnier because we can picture him saying it in his vernacular.
If you use this particular list ten years from now, you probably take off half of the people on it. And of course, that’s what makes the list extra infuriating. It boasts, “all time.” If it’s “all time,” are we talking about one of the first comics to ever fill up Madison Square Garden like Andrew Dice Clay, who actually fits all of the above criteria whether you like him or not? What about Norm McDonald, Jay Leno or Jon Stewart? These were brilliant comedians in their day who are sometimes forgotten as comedians. But if you ask any comedian on that list, they would probably tell you the above listed folk should be on it.
OK, so all cards on the table, Dave Attell and I have been best friends for 30 years. He has no idea I’m writing this and if and when he finds out, he’ll be furious because he doesn’t care how he’s perceived by everyone else, otherwise he wouldn’t dress like a homeless person. But when injustice is done in a profession I’ve been lucky enough to be a small part of for 30 years, well – sometimes you just have to take a stand.
The thing about Dave and I is that we definitely have our rough patches. Sometimes he infuriates me, sometimes I hate him and sometimes he’s just downright nasty but no matter what happens between us, he’ll always be my favorite comic and anyone in our little community will tell you the same.