5 Rob Reiner
Who can forget Meg Ryan’s riveting coffee shop scene when she schools Billy Crystal on the finer points of women’s sexuality? “When Harry met Sally” brought us one of the most iconic and recognized scenes in cinematic history. Not only can Reiner make sex funny, he made death funny in “The Bucket List” and politics lighthearted in “The American President.” He comes by it honestly, as his dad, Carl Reiner, delighted an earlier generation as a writer, director and producer of award-winning comedies. Rob Reiner has won plenty of awards of his own.
4 The Coen Brothers
If you cracked up during the wood-chipper scene in “Fargo,” you’re not alone. The very dark humor of “Fargo,” “Raising Arizona” and “The Big Lebowski” has brought critical acclaim to writers/directors/brothers Joel and Ethan Coen, known as the Coen brothers. Under their direction, characters doing shady things are often embraced by audience members who can’t decide whether they should be laughing or crying. Their dry and subtle humor puts them among the best comedy directors.
3 Billy Wilder
You don’t have to be Jewish to be funny, but apparently it helps. Like Allen and Brooks, Billy Wilder is proud of his Jewish heritage. Born in pre-war Austria-Hungary, Wilder escaped Nazi Germany. Soon he was making Oscar-winning comedy classics such as “Some Like it Hot” and Golden Globe winner “The Seven Year Itch.” He wrote 76 screenplays and directed 27 movies, including the “The Apartment” starring Jack Lemmon, which earned him three Oscars. For a guy whose life could have been over before it began, he did amazing things before his death in 2002 at the age of 96. Kids today won’t recognize his work, but he’s earned a place as one of the best comedy directors ever.
2 Woody Allen
Like Brooks, Woody Allen was just a kid from Brooklyn, but he’s definitely not Woody from the block. This guy has been all over the map as a writer of 70 movies and TV shows, and director of 48 projects. His comedy runs the gamut from the ridiculously silly, like 1973’s “Sleeper,” to the sublimely dry, like 2011’s “Midnight in Paris.” He’s been nominated for and won hundreds of awards. It’s no accident that his work centers on neurosis and psychoanalysis. Writers do their best work when they write about what they know, and Allen makes no secret of the nearly 40 years he’s spent in therapy.
1 Mel Brooks
Mel Brooks is a funny guy, if you like his brand of humor—and millions of people spanning several generations clearly do. He burst onto the cinematic comedy scene to commercial success in 1968 with “The Producers.” With the 1974 release of “Blazing Saddles” and “Young Frankenstein,” Brooks became a national treasure. The funnyman has written, produced, composed and acted his way into more than 250 projects in TV and movies, and on stage. Called “The King of Comedy” by Sir Howard Stringer, board chairman of the American Film Institute, Brooks has won 41 AFI Lifetime Achievement Awards, earning him a place on anyone’s list of top comedy directors.