The 40(ish) Most Influential People in Comedy 2021

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Earning a spot on the Comedy Power List doesn’t mean The Hollywood Reporter’s staff finds you hilarious (though that certainly helps). Rather, the creatives and executives honored — from the touring titans and living legends to the makers of this year’s hottest shows and its most distinctive new voices — are the ones truly shaping the ever-evolving funny business. And that, as they say, is no joke.

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Jen Statsky, Lucia Aniello, and Paul W. Downs attend the 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards at L.A. LIVE on September 19, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.
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Hacks creators

Ted Lasso may be television’s reigning sitcom by plenty of standards, but it was this threesome that was awarded the top prize for comedy writing at the 2021 Primetime Emmy Awards in September. Hacks, HBO Max’s skewering of entertainment ageism and Gen Z naivete, minted its co-creators the object of writerly adoration around Hollywood. Next up for the Broad City alums is season two of their Jean Smart vehicle and new projects under overall deals with WarnerMedia (married couple Aniello and Downs) and Universal (Statsky).

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Judd Apatow
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Writer-director-producer

In the past year and a half, the mentor-mogul added Pete Davidson (The King of Staten Island) to the long list of emerging talent whose voices he’s helped bring to the screen. He also went into production on Netflix pandemic meta-comedy The Bubble, about a group of actors shooting in a quarantine bubble. Apatow continues his exploration of the comedy greats with a two-part George Carlin HBO documentary and is producing Billy Eichner’s gay rom-com Bros as well as a comedy from the Lucas brothers, both for Universal. And yet, there’s still plenty of time to bomb, Apatow says, which happens “with my family at most dinners.”

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Awkwafina
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Actor-producer

Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens, which the actress created and executive produces, just completed its second season on Comedy Central. The show might as well be a “what if” scenario in which Nora Lum stayed in the outer boroughs instead of becoming a movie star. In real life, Awkwafina continues to prove the surprising versatility of her signature New York slacker shtick, this year helping save the world as a valet turned archer in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which took in more than $400 million amid the pandemic, and as the titular mystical creature in Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon. “Comedy is a means of communication,” she says. “I’ve known how to use it to bring laughter, get out of trouble and make people feel less sad since age 5.”

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Kenya Barris
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Writer-producer

A year after bailing on his nine-figure Netflix pact, Barris has both a staggering lineup of films and an equity stake in newly formed BET Studios. The prolific scribe and dad to six also is prepping an eighth and final season of his seminal ABC comedy Black-ish plus standalone #BlackAF films; and, after nabbing a writing credit on the 2021 Amazon hit Coming 2 America, he’s reteaming with star Eddie Murphy on a Netflix comedy that will serve as Barris’ feature directorial debut. “It’s Meet the Parents meets Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” he says, adding of a script that he co-wrote with Jonah Hill: “Think Jewish family, Black family, oppression Olympics.”

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Dave Burd and Jack Shaffer.
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Dave creators

An unlikely cult sitcom hit based on the real life of its 33-year-old Jewish rapper star, Dave “Lil Dicky” Burd, Dave premiered at the outbreak of the pandemic in March 2020 and found an audience of appreciative cringe-comedy connoisseurs (including many TV writers under lockdown). Co-created by Schaffer — a veteran of Curb Your Enthusiasm and Seinfeld (he’s the guy who came up with the Festivus pole) — the show has introduced a new generation to the pleasures of solipsistic neuroticism. And typical of that generation, they seem to have found their way to Dave not via broadcast — which averaged about 200,000 viewers an episode on FXX — but rather via streaming, where, thanks to great word-of-mouth, viewership later skyrocketed to 4.8 million per episode.

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Bill Burr, Hasan Minhaj, John Mulaney, and Ali Wong.
Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images; Amy Sussman/Getty Images; Roy Rochlin/Getty Images; Steve Granitz/WireImage

Touring titans

As stand-up returns post-shutdown, Mulaney, Burr, Minhaj and Wong are leading the comedy comeback. After a turbulent personal year that saw him enter rehab, Mulaney is now selling out venues with his From Scratch show, along with voice work on Big Mouth and a deal for two more Sack Lunch Bunch specials. Burr is currently touring the U.S. and has a North American arena and amphitheater tour set for 2022 — one of the few comics who can sell out Madison Square Garden — and this year landed roles in Reservation Dogs and The King of Staten Island while continuing to serve as co-creator of Netflix’s F Is for Family. Wong returned to the stage on her Milk and Money Tour, along with voice work in Tuca & Bertie and the upcoming Netflix series Beef and the Amazon series Paper Girls. And Minhaj also is back on the road with his one-man show The King’s Jester and a post-Patriot Act stint on The Morning Show. Says Minhaj: “This last year has been a reminder to embrace the cosmic joke: We only get one ride on this roller coaster called life, so we might as well enjoy it.”

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Bo Burnham
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Comic-writer-director

What Burnham did should have been impossible: perfectly encapsulate the isolating despair of the pandemic and the multifaceted complexity of the internet’s virtue/toxicity in a single Netflix special made entirely by himself. Bonus: Inside was stuffed with catchy musical earworms that helped make Burnham the first person to ever win three solo Primetime Emmys in a single year. All the while, the comedian-songwriter — formerly best known/dismissed as a YouTube sensation — has remained almost entirely publicity-silent, as a legion of fans and industry admirers, old and new, await his next act.

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Dave Chappelle
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Comic

The most controversial comedian in the world? At the moment, perhaps, but there can be no denying that Dave Chappelle also remains the most influential. Before The Closer-gate sucked up the oxygen, the Mark Twain Prize-winning stand-up, 48, was closing out a triumphant pandemic year that included his universally lauded 8:46, a 27-minute set about the George Floyd murder, and Chappelle Summer Camp, a series of socially distanced performances at Wirrig Pavilion in Yellow Springs, Ohio, that lured many of the top comics on this list like Bill Burr, Kevin Hart and Ali Wong. Of course, the Oct. 5 drop of The Closer, the final special Chappelle owed Netflix in his current $60 million deal — and widely criticized as transphobic — has led to a Netflix staff mutiny and Ted Sarandos mea culpas for his handling of the crisis. Chappelle has weathered the backlash doing what he does best: performing 10 sold-out shows at London’s Eventim Apollo. “Right now in America there’s two types of Americans,” he told the crowd on opening night. “The kind that like my special, the kind that don’t.”

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Michaela…

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