Stools are where
Once upon a time you’d find a chair
A chair’s for fools!
Everybody wants stools
These words are as true now as they were when Corky St. Clair first choreographed a dance to them. A chair is something tediously mundane, something for working or eating breakfast. Blech. A stool, meanwhile, is exciting. It’s specialized. It’s for going to a bar. It’s for cow-milkers and big-top ringmasters and, weirder still than those professions: stand-up comedians.
Stools are the unsung heroes of stand-up comedy. We think of comics as performers who bravely go it alone, filling whole theaters with only their words. But this isn’t so. Beside every great stand-up is quite literally a support system: usually three- or four-legged, often patiently waiting with a glass of water. And beside every less-great comic, that stool is probably also holding a phone with the Notes app open.
Stools confer authenticity. They are stripped down and spare, with no superfluous backs. When a comedian films a special, they usually abandon the red-brick club wall for a fancy theater curtain or other more elaborate backdrop, but they take the stool with them to ground them in the real. They suggest that what the comic is doing is raw and uncomfortable, like a stool.
As set dressing, stools blend into the background of stand-up clichés, but as the vestigial limb of vaudeville, they are so much more. To paraphrase Karl Marx, “The stool remains wood, an ordinary, sensual thing. But as soon as it steps out as prop, it metamorphoses itself into a sensually supersensual thing. It does not only stand with its feet on the ground, but it confronts all other props on its head, and develops out of its wooden head caprices which are much more wondrous than if it all of a sudden began to dance.”
In short, stools should not be overlooked, and so we’ve decided to consider 100 of them in a ranking of the greatest stools in stand-up special history. But first, some ground rules:
What counts as a stool?
Good question. Some stools, like bar stools, can have a back as well as a seat but still be seen as stools by virtue of their height. Others may be chair-like in height, but a lack of back makes them a stool. These stools can be three-legged, four-legged, or have some sort of column or circular base. The seat may be square or round. (I’m aware that the way I’m writing this makes it sound like rabbinical law.)
There are also some chairs (and a couple tables) on this list, because in the context of their comedy specials, they are stools. We have already established the ways in which chairs pale in comparison to stools, so the handful of non-stool surfaces in this ranking are docked points accordingly.
Wait, so some of these stools aren’t even stools?
If an object is included in this list it can be considered, spiritually, a “stool” in the eye of Stool Law. If you have a problem with this you can go read a different list of 100 stools.
What factors are you taking into consideration in this ranking?
We asked ourselves the following questions:
• Does the stool enhance or hinder the comedy special in which it appears?
• Is it a stool with an interesting design?
• Does the stool have something to say about art or society?
• What sort of beverage is on the stool? Are there other fun objects on the stool?
• Was my screenshot of the stool blurry?
• Are the vibes good?
With that cleared up, we offer you a ranked assortment of the most exceptional stools in stand-up comedy. A stool sample, if you will.
100. Joe Rogan, various
In 2018, Jeff Garlin went on The Joe Rogan Experience and said nothing’s less funny to him than “stool fucking,” in which a stand-up humps their stool for laughs. Cut to a compilation tape of Rogan vigorously humping any stool that’s ever had the misfortune of sharing a stage with him.
99. James Acaster, Repertoire (2018)
The least-comfortable seating at your local fast-casual grain-bowl chain. That’s what this stool represents.
98. Kyle Kinane, Whiskey Icarus (2012)
This stool ran away from the Chipotle across the street from Repertoire.
97. Jimmy Carr, Comedian (2007)
WHAT THE HELL IS THIS BEJAZZLED MONOLITH! IT RESEMBLES NO STOOL I KNOW. ITS AURA IS TERRIBLE! WHEREFORE IS THE NATURE OF A “STOOL” ANYWAY? IF SOMETHING IS A STAND ON A STAGE THAT CAN BE USED BY THE COMIC TO PLACE OBJECTS AT TORSO-LEVEL, IS IT FUNCTIONALLY A STOOL? IF YOU PRICK IT, DOES IT NOT BLEED?
96. Craig Ferguson, A Wee Bit o’ Revolution (2009)
I do not like how off-center the water bottle is on this stool. It unsettles me.
95. Aziz Ansari, Nightclub Comedian (2022)
The stool did all the heavy lifting in this special.
94. Judd Apatow, The Return (2017)
This joker brought a full-ass nightstand onstage and thought he could pass it off as a stool.
93. Pete Holmes, Nice Try, the Devil (2013)
This stool is so hard to see it hurts my eyes to look at this picture. Just trust that it’s there even if you can’t see it. Kind of like God. [You Made It Weird theme plays.]
92. Chris Rock, Bigger & Blacker (1999)
Chris Rock flies stool-less in his shows, so I really had to scan the tapes to find this shot of him walking onstage, handing his water bottle to a guy in the wings … sitting on a stool.
91. Maria Bamford, The Special Special Special (2012)
This sofa is nowhere near close to a stool. I suppose Wayne Federman is sitting on a stool at the keyboard? Bamford has a mic, and stage lighting, and a classic red backdrop. But she drew the line at stool? (Note: I have been told I need to provide further justification for why a sofa is on a list of stools. To this, I give two possible answers, take your pick. One: To see if you were paying attention, and two: Why is this sofa on a list of stools? Well, why are any of us anywhere?)
90. Bill Maher, Victory Begins at Home (2003)
Smuggest stool on the list.
89. Robin Williams, An Evening With Robin Williams (1983)
A chair with stool vibes. There’s a certain humble, round-seated practicality to it.
88. Jerrod Carmichael, Rothaniel (2022)
In this instance we’ll let a fairly drab folding chair slide because he’s using it to be on the level with his audience. See also: the theory in the intro about how stools confer authenticity and honesty.
87. Tracy Morgan, Bona Fide (2014)
Morgan is allowed to have a chair instead of a stool after everything he’s been through, but don’t expect it to place very high on a list primarily made up of stools.
86. Steve Martin, Wild and Crazy Guy (1978)
Blurry as hell and looks a mess.
85. Tim Allen, All Men Are Pigs (1990)
We said stool, you nincompoop, not spool!
84. Hasan Minhaj, Homecoming King (2017)
This looks like Lamaze.
83. Mike Birbiglia, My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend (2013)
Stools are for stand-up. Rocking chairs are for long-form storytelling. Know your lane.
82. Mo’Nique, The Queens of Comedy (2001)
You can only see the stool in extreme wide shot. They built a rotating pyramid and couldn’t invest in a flashier stool?
81. Amy Schumer, Growing (2019)
I too am growing … bored of this stool.
80. Phoebe Robinson, Sorry, Harriet Tubman (2021)
A stool gobbled up whole by its set. Why does this look like it takes place in Annihilation?
79. Iliza Schlesinger, War Paint (2013)
Did you know there’s a Broadway musical from 2016 that’s also called War Paint? And it stars Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole as dueling cosmetics entrepreneurs Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden? Now there’s a show with some nice stools.
78. Pete Davidson, Alive From New York (2020)
Guys like Davidson love to have the worst possible furniture. All this set needs is a mattress on the floor and an empty Gatorade bottle in lieu of water and I’d think it was filmed in his mom’s basement.
77. Ronny Chieng, Asian Comedian Destroys America! (2019)
Too austere for Chieng’s whole vibe, could have gone grander.
76. George Lopez, It’s Not Me, It’s You (2012)
Lopez doesn’t use stools in his sets, but this special opens with a vignette of Cheech Marin cutting Tommy Chong’s hair while he sits on a lawn-toilet. Interesting seat-type, and “stool” is implied, but still not a stool.
75. Zach Galifianakis, Live at the Purple Onion (2006)
If a “stool” is just an onstage legged structure at an accessible height where the comic can access their water and notes, then Galifianakis’s piano is a pretty good stool … but that’s a big “if.” A piano is not a stool, it is a piano (and a piano bench is also not a stool, it’s a bench). Nice try, Zach.
74. Bernie Mac, The Original Kings of Comedy (2000)
Why is this stool so shy? What is it afraid of?
73. Nick Kroll, Thank You Very Cool (2011)
More like Thank You Very Stool!
72. Ali Wong, Baby Cobra (2016)
I told a colleague that I was making this list and they said the image in their mind’s eye of the classic stand-up stool is light wood, and I was all like, “Same but actually they’re mostly black, believe it or not.” It was honestly a boring conversation. Anyway, here’s another stool.
71. Dave Attell, Captain Miserable (2007)
An interesting swoop to the legs of an otherwise unremarkable stool.
70. Chelsea Peretti, One of the Greats (2014)
Why did Netflix take this special down? Something in the stool’s contract, maybe?
69. Nick Kroll and John Mulaney as Gil Faizon and George St. Geegland, Oh Hello (2017)
What they lack in stools they make up for in so many other surfaces.
68. Sam Jay, 3 in the Morning (2020)
3 in the Morning? I hope Jay hired a union stool and paid it overtime.
67. Anthony Jeselnik, Thoughts and Prayers (2015)
It wasn’t called “Thoughts and Chairs” for a reason (the reason is it’s a stool).
66. Andrew Dice Clay, The Diceman Cometh (1989)
Hickory dickory dock, the mouse ran up the … stool? Ay!
65. Andy Kaufman, Andy’s Funhouse (1979)
When a table is used in lieu of a stool it is good form to use a bar table, so that at the very least it is stool-like in height and girth. Kaufman didn’t even bother with that, but it’s okay because we’ll assume this blunder was just part of the act.
64. Reggie Watts, Spatial (2016)
This stool looks very uncomfortable to sit on! (My editor informed me that this is obviously not a stool, to which I say, “Not with that attitude it isn’t …”)
63. Hannah Gadsby, Nanette (2018)
A closing shot of the stool, upon which rests a glass of water in case you were thirsty … for jokes!
62. Janeane Garofalo, HBO Half Hour (1994)
She’s not too cool for stool.
61. John Mulaney, New in Town (2012)
A stool from a simpler time.
60. Steve Harvey, One Man (1997)
This stool has no chance of standing up to Harvey’s drip.
59. Sarah Silverman, We Are Miracles (2013)
The only miracle I see here is a disappearing water bottle. These shots come directly after each other, the camera changing to a wide shot mid-sentence, but no stool-related comedy error makes it past me.
58. Jim Gaffigan, King Baby (2009)
I only like this stool thiiis much.
57. Wanda Sykes, I’ma Be Me (2009)
Are stools just butch chairs? Discuss.
56. Ron Funches, Giggle Fit (2019)
Not every stool has to be a revelation. Here’s a stool that gets the job done.
55. Mitch Hedberg, Comedy Central Presents (1999)
There appears to be a plastic cup of water on this stool. Not a glass, not a water bottle either. This is how you know Hedberg was of the people and for the kids.
54. Patrice O’Neal, Elephant in the Room (2011)
He laid a towel down on the stool because he’s doing period-sex jokes.
53. Steven Wright, Wicker Chairs and Gravity (1990)
For a comedy special with such an elaborate and artful opening sequence, not to mention how seats are mentioned in the title, this is an underwhelming stool. Looks well-crafted though.
52. Ellen Degeneres, Here & Now (2003)
Ladies and gentlemen … stool!
51. Cristela Alonzo, Lower Classy (2016)
The clean black horizontal lines of Alonzo’s shirt echo those of the stool. Subtle symmetry.
50. Adam Sandler, 100% Fresh (2018)
Of all the stools in this special, this is definitely the one that had the cutest mug on it (pictured here in Sandler’s hand).
49. George Carlin, Jammin’ in New York (1992)
Stool (synonym for shit) is a word you’re allowed to say on TV.
48. Norm Macdonald, ‘COVID Set’ (2020)
Norm Macdonald was a strong confident Canadian who didn’t need to use stools during his specials. And although this March 2020 show isn’t technically a special, it sort of functioned as such in terms of how it was discussed and the impact it had during the very very early pandemic. It’s also the only stool on this list holding a Red Bull. King!
47. Joel Kim Booster, Comedy Central Presents (2017)
“Booster” is also a name for a type of seat. Like a stool!
46. Margaret Cho, PsyCHO (2015)
In most of her specials, the stool is totally upstaged by Cho’s fashion. Here they’re literally sharing center-spotlight.
45. Al Madrigal, Shrimpin Ain’t Easy (2017)
Does the mug match the drapes? (Yes, they’re both blue.)
44. Patton Oswalt, Talking for Clapping (2016)
The thermos and towel combo is unique. Hope there’s soup in there.
43. Whoopi Goldberg, Back to Broadway - The 20th Anniversary (2005)
Sometimes the beauty of a stool lies in what’s on it. In this case, a flashy red hand-fan.
42. Flight of the Conchords, One Night Stand (2005)
What I wouldn’t give to be that stool, smack dab in a Bret and Jemaine sandwich.
41. Bill Burr, I’m Sorry You Feel That Way (2014)
It’s important to get eye-level with your stool — to tell it you’re not mad at it, just disappointed. I’m neither mad at nor disappointed with this intelligent-looking black-and-white stool.
40. Nick Thune, Good Guy (2016)
Love the composition here. The stool is in Thune’s shadow, but then the stool itself is casting a little shadow-stool for said shadow’s use.
39. Louie Anderson, Mom! Louie’s Looking at Me Again! (1989)
Something about how Anderson is turned away from the stool … something about how there’s a mic stand dividing them like an upright slash … something about how his silhouette is cast onto the white box like an Alfred Hitchcock Presents intro … something about how the distance of the stool accentuates the spare vastness of the stage … it’s giving Beckett.
38. Tom Walker, Very Very (2020)
Points docked for actually being a chair, but he works that chair.
37. Redd Foxx, On Location (1978)
More of a table than a stool, but this might have been a Time Before Stools, and the golden chalice is nice.
36. Martin Lawrence, You So Crazy (1994)
A very appealing-looking blue bottle on this one, and a well-draped towel. Usually when there’s a towel on a stool in a special, it’s folded on top. This is far more dynamic.
35. Bill Hicks, Sane Man (1989)
Chunky sausage legs, cushy seat, facilitating an interesting camera angle. Great stool shot.
34. Lil Rel Howery, RELevent (2015)
This stool punches above its class in the sense that Howery sort of touches it and leans on it a lot during this set. This is the sort of stool-comic interaction that brings a tear to a stool enthusiast’s eye. [Ed. note: This seems to be a mini-section outlining a phenomenon where stools feature comedians’ hands resting on them, and we felt that was worth acknowledging to our readers.]
33. David Spade, Take the Hit (2006)
Actually quite a nice stool.
32. Jack Whitehall, Only Joking (2020)
A fancy seat for the fancy boy.
31. Kevin Hart, Irresponsible (2019)
30. Colin Quinn, Long Story Short (2011)
Quinn assembled the ruins of a Roman coliseum, to act as his stool. When he sits on the steps, they double as a footstool. The grandeur! The vision!
29. Cedric the Entertainer, Taking You Higher (2006)
Pictured: Cedric the Entertainer, surrounded by three back-up dancers (the third one is a stool).
28. Che Diaz, Check the Box (2022)
That stool’s the only thing on legs in that room that Che Diaz didn’t sleep with, can I get an amen!
27. Jo Firestone, Good Timing With Jo Firestone (2021)
This stool does the noble work of offering support and reassurance to Firestone’s class of amateur senior-citizen stand-ups, holding their notebooks. Not that Bill Burke, pictured here in pasties and a tie-dye speedo, needs the backup.
26. John Leguizamo, Freak (1998)
Leguizamo has a trash can for a stool. This is inventive and adds to the theatricality of the special, but it may not be the most practical stool. Look to the left and you’ll see he has to keep his water on the floor. But if I cared about logic or practicality, I wouldn’t be spending so much time and energy writing a list of stools, now would I?
25. Jerry Seinfeld, Stand-up Confidential (1987)
Here’s an interesting case: There’s no stool onstage during the actual stand-up bits (or if there is, it’s so unnoticeable that it didn’t register), but Seinfeld rides a stool side-saddle during these little interstitials. They’re fine!
24. Michelle Buteau, Welcome to Buteaupia (2020)
Phenomenal goblet. This stool is a royal cupbearer.
23. Richard Pryor, Live in Concert (1979)
Proper back support is key.
22. David Cross, The Pride Is Back (1999)
A beer and a book. How fun! It’s so nice to see a stool that knows what it wants.
21. Eugene Mirman, An Evening of Comedy in a Fake Underground Laboratory (2012)
20. Jim Norton, Mouthful of Shame (2017)
Oh my God, there is so much water on this stool.
19. Eddie Izzard, Dress to Kill (1999)
There is tragically no stool in the special itself, but this stool-forward poster remains one of the most iconic pieces of comedy imagery of all time.
18. Chris Gethard, Half My Life (2021)
The stool could have doubled as a weapon or shield if it came to that.
17. Tim Heidecker, An Evening With Tim Heidecker (2020)
This stool had to put up with so much. While Heidecker is doing his “mic work” (i.e., dropping the mic stand on the poor front row and getting tangled up in chords), he knocks the water off the stool and it sort of rolls around and the stool is a real trooper, you know, putting up with all of it.
16. Kristen Schaal, Comedy Central Presents (2009)
An arresting and beautiful stool!
15. Tig Notaro, Drawn (2021)
A teeny-tiny little stool for baby little cartoon weeny-eenie Tig. What is this? A stool for ants? This isn’t even the most notable stool in Tig’s repertoire, but we’re sticking to specials.
14. Joan Rivers, Don’t Start With Me (2012)
The stool is the least elaborate thing on this stage. Grounds the eye, gives it somewhere to rest.
13. Martin Short, The Martin Short Comedy Special (1985)
Human man + chair = a stool for Martin Short.
12. Eddie Murphy, Raw (1987)
Everything about this makes Murphy look like a sexy lion tamer.
11. Julio Torres, My Favorite Shapes (2019)
There are so many beautiful types of seat to choose from in Torres’s special, so we’ll go with the one that materializes in CGI in front of him, its physical lucite manifestation, and Krisha’s director’s chair (director’s chairs are stools).
10. D.L. Hughley, Reset (2012)
Stunning composition. One of the classier stools I’ve seen.
9. Neil Hamburger, Live at the Phoenix Greyhound Park (2003)
This entry awards the absence of a stool. Whereas most stool-free comedians go on with their sets not even acknowledging the lack of a stool, Hamburger illustrates the consequences of the taking the stool-less route: Look at how messy and disruptive that armful of waters is! This would never happen if there was some kind of stool …
8. Tiffany Haddish, Black Mitzvah (2019)
Points must be docked because this is in fact a chair and not a stool, but there is still so much power in being carried in to your comedy special, hoisted up, singing “Hava Nagila.”
7. Jeff Dunham, Controlled Chaos (2011)
Any stool that has to live its miserable life propping up the racist felt abominations of Dunham is braver than the Marines.
6. Leslie Jones, Time Machine (2020)
Two stools. Extremely powerful.
5. Doug Stanhope, Word of Mouth (2002)
With all the beer spills and ashes Stanhope’s stool has seen, I hope he gave it a Viking’s funeral.
4. Marc Maron, Thinky Pain (2013)
In his film work, David Cronenberg explores the fusion of man and technology. In his stand-up comedy work, Marc Maron explores the fusion of man and stool. Both lead to equally mind-bending results. Maron treats his stool like a performance-enhancing body-mod; when he sits on it, slouched and confessional toward his audience, knees pulled up to his chest like a wise cartoon toad, his neuroses and humor fold in on themselves. The stool closes up his posture and opens him up to the audience. Maron is a philosopher king, and the stool is his throne.
3. Paula Poundstone, One Night Stand (1989)
Look at Poundstone’s form, straddling this stool! With one foot over the seat and the other sprawled back, she’s a sprinter in suspended motion. Poundstone rides this thing like a Valkyrie, constantly shifting into new and strange configurations. Stand-up comedy is a fine dance, and the stool is her partner in the tango.
2. Bo Burnham, Inside (2021)
An alarm clock sits atop the stool with shafts of light illuminating its menacing glow as it tiptoes toward the witching hour. Burnham is shrouded in darkness next to the clock’s glow. The onward march of time triumphs over man’s hesitation and backward-looking regret. All this, communicated by a stool.
1. Katt Williams, Pimp Chronicles Pt. 1 (2006)
There has never been a more stylish or arresting stool in the history of stand-up comedy. The white top — rare for a comedy-special stool — coordinates beautifully with Williams’s sneakers and shirt. The chromium brings out the jewel-tone shimmer of his velvet blazer. Its nuclear-optimistic Googie design harkens back to The Jetsons and suggests a nudging-forward into the future for the comedy special, a bridging of 20th-century tradition and 21st-century innovation. A perfect stool.
More From This Series
- What Do Comedians Think of (the Non-Joke Parts of) Stand-up Specials?
- Michael Bonfiglio Wants to Tell You a Story
- I Sat Front Row at Maria Bamford’s Comedy-Special Experiment