(KTAL/KMSS) – There must be something in the water because people in the Bayou State have been acting funny for more than 150 years. Our comedic timing goes back to at least 1869 when a baby was born in New Orleans just after the Civil War and grew to become one of the first major film comedians in the nation.
Here is a look at 10 of the most famous comedians born in Louisiana, in no particular order.
1. Bernard Turpin, New Orleans
This Roman Catholic, southern Louisiana son of a candy store owner is said to be the first actor to have a pie thrown in his face on film. Bernard Turpin’s signature style of physical comedy included a brush mustache and crossed eyes, which he claimed crossed when he suffered an accident as a young adult. Turpin acted in vaudeville, burlesque, and in circuses and eventually performed with American comedy legends like Charlie Chaplin, Paddy McQuire, and Laurel and Hardy.
Like his better-remembered contemporaries, Turpin was famous during the days of silent film. When sound was added to the big screen, the southern actor decided to go into real estate instead of memorizing lines–though he did still perform in a few cameos here and there.
2. Garrett Isaac Morris, New Orleans
Not quite 70 years after the birth of Tarpin, another baby boy born in the Crescent City was also sprinkled with a little of that magical comedy dust.
Garrett Isaac Morris was born in 1937 and sang with The Belafonte Folk Singers and acted in movies like “Car Wash” and “The Thief” before being shot by a thief in his real life. After healing, he returned to acting and took up the role of ‘Uncle Junior King’ on The Jamie Foxx Show.
Morris is also known for his role on the original cast of Saturday Night Live and stayed there for five seasons, but he isn’t the only Louisiana comedian to be featured on the show.
3. Punkie Johnson, New Orleans
Punkie Johnson, a Nicholls State University alumni, was the first out, Black, queer female member of the Saturday Night Live cast when she joined the cast as a featured player in 2020 and is now performing in her third season on the show. Johnson, too, is from New Orleans, though she now lives in (obviously) New York.
She has toured as a stand-up comedian, performed regularly at The Comedy Store in Los Angeles, and also appeared on Space Force, A Black Lady Sketch Show, Corporate, and Adam Ruins Everything.
4. Tyler Perry, New Orleans
Tyler Perry is also a New Orleans native. He might be best known for creating and portraying the comedic character named Mabel “Madea” Simmons, but he is also an accomplished actor, filmmaker, playwright, screenwriter, producer, and director.
Perry, considered to be one of the most commercially successful African American filmmakers in history, is open about the emotional and physical abuse he suffered as a child.
5. Mark Normand, New Orleans
Mark Normand was born and grew up in New Orleans before launching his career as a comedian on YouTube. He has performed on Conan, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Showtime’s Live at SXSW, Inside Amy Schumer, TruTv, Best Week Ever, MTV, and Last Comic Standing.
Normand also co-hosts a weekly podcast called Tuesdays with Stories and proudly calls New Orleans his hometown.
6. Paul Mooney, Shreveport
This enigmatic comedian from Shreveport was the behind-the-scenes partner of another famous comedian, the unforgettable Richard Pryor. Mooney was a writer/co-writer for shows such as In Living Color, Sanford & Sons, Chappelle’s Show, and The Richard Pryor Show, to name a few. He was known for using comedy to push racial boundaries.
Mooney was one of many Louisiana natives that landed in southern California as part of the great migration of southern Blacks in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s to parts of the country that did not have Jim Crow laws.
7. Theo Von, New Orleans
Emancipated at the age of fourteen, this graduate of Mandeville High grew up in Covington and graduated from the University of New Orleans. He was featured on MTV’s Road Rules: Maximum Velocity Tour in 2000, where he began a series of whirlwind casts in the world of reality television. But by 2006, Von had won the online competition of Last Comic Standing.
In 2008, Von beat comedians Amy Schumer, Tiffany Haddish and Bert Kreischer in the competition Reality Bites Back.
8. Ellen DeGeneres, Metarie
Ellen DeGeneres, one of the quirkiest and most famous comedians in the nation, is from Metairie. This television host, actress, writer, and producer attended the University of New Orleans before dropping out and beginning an odd series of jobs, which included oyster shucker.
After finding her calling in comedy, Ellen’s career skyrocketed. She landed her eponymous sitcom, Ellen, in 1994 and made history when she came out as gay on the show in 1997. Despite backlash, she eventually landed her own talk show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show. It aired from 2003 until 2022 and earned 20 Daytime Emmy Awards in the first five years alone.
9. Dante Powell, Bernice
Dante Powell’s 2020 debut comedy album The Squirrels Get Fat reached No. 1 on the iTunes and Amazon comedy charts. Powell is from Bernice, where he worked as a trucker before moving to Des Moines, IA, and launching his comedy career. He now travels the country performing at comedy clubs.
10. Charlie Wilson, Shreveport
Shreveport native Charlie Wilson hosts Laugh After Dark LIVE in Las Vegas, a television series that spotlights stand-up comedy’s rising stars. The award-winning show has won multiple awards and also features The Fremont Funk.
Wilson grew up in Shreveport and attended Greenwood Acres Baptist Church, then moved to Dallas, Texas when he was in his early 20s. He bought a one-way ticket to New York to join his wife and began his career in comedy during an open mic night in Manhattan.
Honorable Mention: George Carlin, stationed at Barksdale AFB, Bossier City
George Carlin, who went on to become one of the most influential stand-up comedians of the counter-culture era, was born in New York City, but he was stationed at Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport/Bossier during his Air Force days and worked as a disc jockey at radio station KJOE in Shreveport before he met his future comedy partner at a radio station in Fort Worth and went on to get his big comedy break in California.
Rising comedy stars on social media from Louisiana
In addition to the accomplished comedians of stage and screen, Louisiana is proving to be a robust breeding ground for some hilarious Louisianians who are making their mark in age of social media.
Among them is a YouTube creator from Lafayette known online as “The Real Spark.” James Bates is best known for his parody news interview videos, particularly for one that went viral on YouTube and Twitter in 2021, in which he played a fictional version of a flight attendant who had to duct-tape an unruly passenger on a Frontier Airlines flight.
Shreveport’s own Leigh McLendon, aka Leigh McNasty, has more than 3.6 million followers on Tik Tok with his “overcaring teacher” skits. It’s a world he knows well since he is, in fact, an elementary school teacher.
Pitkin, Louisiana native David “Catfish” Cooley first made his name in comedy when his online videos were featured in an episode of the online comedy show Tosh.0 in 2017. He went on to join the Nitro Comedy Tour with Ginger Billy in 2018 and is best known for his blunt and upbeat “Redneck” persona.
Hailing from Baton Rouge, Howard Hall is a comedian from Baton Rouge who describes himself as a designer, content creator, and laugh provider who has made his rounds through the south Louisiana comedy circuit and was featured on the short-run series Comedy Boil.
Spend any time on social media, and you’ll see the crescent city’s Mario P the Comedy Goon. His NSFW digital shorts chronicle the good, the bad, and the ugly experiences he’s had as a New Orleanian…especially the agony of Saints fandom.
IT Professional by day and a side-splitting comedian by night, New Orleans native Brandon Haynes has hilarious observations about fathering, aging, and other witty life observations. If you’re in the New Orleans area looking for a laugh, you can find him hosting the monthly Comedy at Uncle Matts.