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The Best of the Rest

We rank the 25 funniest people in America -- Chris Rock may be our funniest comic, but he's got some serious competition ...

Herewith, the world's all-time funniest joke. Q: What's brown and sticky? A: a stick.

Okay, so you probably don't find that very amusing. We're not surprised. After all, comedy is like porn: What does it for us might not do it for you. And it's better when people are naked.

Nevertheless, we've attempted to do the impossible -- come up with a roster of the 25 funniest people in North America (that's right, no Brits) in 2004. We canvassed the stand-up ranks and the talk-show circuit, the multiplexes and the morning shows. The list that follows features all kinds of comedians who do one thing brilliantly: create their own material, be they scathing social commentators, improvisatorial movie stars, or flat-out scandalous rubber dogs. Some of these folks are well known, and others probably won't ring a bell. Heck, a few might even leave you stone-faced. But we stand by our convictions; all of these people are doing great work right now. Yes, even Kelly Ripa.

Since you didn't like the stick joke, we're betting you won't agree with all of our choices. We can hear the polite (now that's funny) exhortations now: Where's Jay Leno? Adam Sandler? Robin Williams? To which we answer: These aren't lifetime achievement awards, pal. And if you love Carrot Top, well, we've got nothing to say, except that you should be ashamed. Very, very ashamed.

David Letterman

11 With a receding hairline and a jogger's grim jowls, Dave is no one's idea of a hip comic, and he likes it that way. New-school gone old-school, the upstart who first pumped irony into the talk show still rails against the stupidity of the powerful and yet has the charm to melt Julia Roberts. WE LAUGHED AT His confession to guest Jon Stewart, who asked what he did in his spare time: ''Ninety percent of it is spent apologizing to celebrities.... I send plants.''

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