Whether it’s a lone comic entertaining the audience while denouncing hecklers, a group of comedians roasting a fellow performer, or panelists on truTV’s Comedy Knockout trying not to lose, comedy is all about competition. Stand-up, talk-show hosts, and actors with a flair for the humorous will always try to best their professional colleagues, but the back-and-forth is usually friendly.
However, sometimes all camaraderie is thrown to the wayside. When that happens, comedians have been known to get into some pretty nasty arguments with each other — resulting in feuds that have lasted for years, and sometimes decades.
Here are five of the most-heated, not-so-funny fights between some of the most famous comics in recent memory.
David Letterman and Jay Leno
The decades-long rivalry between former Tonight Show and Late Show hosts Jay Leno and David Letterman is the stuff of legend. Their professional and personal squabbles were so pervasive, a brand new generation of viewers was reintroduced to them when Leno and then NBC President and CEO Jeff Zucker pulled a fast one on Conan O’Brien’s short-lived tenure at The Tonight Show. The network’s cumbersome programming shuffle kicked O’Brien, who’d been announced as Leno’s successor years prior, to the curb and put the big-chinned comedian back in his old time slot.
So why was the O’Brien debacle a reintroduction? Because Leno and NBC did something similar to Letterman in 1992, when Johnny Carson retired as host of The Tonight Show. Carson had picked Letterman — then host of Late Night — as his successor, but Leno, and his tough-minded manager Helen Kushnick, convinced the network to give him the job instead. (For a full account, check out Bill Carter’s 1994 book, The Late Shift. Carter followed it in 2010 with The War for Late Night, which covers the O’Brien bungle.)
As a result, the two mocked one another mercilessly throughout the ’90s and 2000s, the jokes made all the nastier by the fact that the two used to be friends. Leno and Letterman buried the hatchet, sort of, in a 2010 Super Bowl commercial with Oprah Winfrey, but when Letterman invited Leno to appear on The Late Show before his retirement in 2015, he refused.
Marc Maron and Carlos Mencia
The hours-long conversations the WTF with Marc Maron podcast has become known for tend to dig deep into the subjects Maron likes talking about, especially comedy. More often than not, these podcasts are positive. However, sometimes the tone turns ugly — like when he confronted Carlos Mencia about accusations of plagiarism leveled against the once-popular performer in 2010.
Mencia’s alleged penchant for stealing jokes was aggressively pursued by Joe Rogan for a time. When Maron arrived on the scene, however, the podcaster opted for a calmer, more methodical approach. So he sat down with Mencia for WTF‘s 75th episode. The conversation was “amiable” and “full of… mild laughter,” but after Maron later interviewed comedians Willie Barcena and Steve Trevino, he was confronted with some rather heinous claims — including Mencia’s apparent use of the late Freddy Soto’s material not long after the comic’s death in 2005. Mencia came back onto WTF to defend himself, resulting in one of the podcast’s most memorable episodes, one that revealed even more issues comics have had with Mencia over the years, including a habit of bumping others from stand-up bills out of spite.
Bill Cosby and Eddie Murphy
One of the best bits from Eddie Murphy‘s 1987 stand-up special, Raw is his story about receiving a phone call from Bill Cosby. Not only is the younger comedian’s impersonation of Cosby quite good, but the story itself — which is all about him chastising Murphy for using so much “filth” in his act — is hilarious. It’s also true. Or at least it is if you’re talking to anyone about the matter other than Cosby himself, as the maligned veteran has always denied the veracity of Murphy’s Raw bit.
Whenever the subject came up in interviews, Cosby would always cast doubt on Murphy’s story. In a 2010 interview with the Tampa Bay Times, he called Murphy a “liar” and stressed that “the call to him was not about cursing.” Instead, it was apparently about the younger comic’s apparent breakdown during a previous show after being heckled about his success, but Murphy “did not appreciate [Cosby] telling him that it was wrong.”
Murphy rejected an offer to play Cosby during Saturday Night Live‘s 40th-anniversary special, which Cosby appreciated. However, when Murphy accepted the Mark Twain prize in October, he launched into a few impromptu jokes about his fellow comedian.
Joan Rivers and Chelsea Handler
Leave it to Tonight Show king Johnny Carson’s once-favorite guest host, Joan Rivers, to partake in one of the nastiest, no-holds-barred feuds on the list. The target? Chelsea Handler, the former Chelsea Lately host-turned-Netflix star who once shared the same network as the late Rivers on E!. The two had sparred publicly and privately for years, but it came to a head in 2012 when they each traded jabs on The Howard Stern Show.
When Stern asked Handler about Rivers, she responded, “Joan Rivers? What the f*ck do I care about Joan Rivers?” The very next day, Rivers and her daughter, Melissa visited the show and spent most of their time trashing Handler. “She’s an ordinary girl that was f*cking somebody high up in the industry and they gave her a break and she’s doing okay,” Rivers told Stern, referencing Handler’s past relationship to Ted Harbert, the former Comcast President and CEO.
Attempts to put the beef to rest in 2014 failed, according to what Rivers told the Huffington Post. Rivers died later that year.
Louis C.K. and Dane Cook
As Louis C.K. put it in a 2011 interview, nobody would stop asking either him or Dane Cook about their supposed feud over joke-stealing for years. “I was the guy that Dane Cook stole from,” he told The A.V. Club, adding: “That’s all anybody would ask me about.” The sorta-kinda faux controversy informed one of the most amazing scenes in the history of C.K.’s FX show, Louie, but despite the two comics’ comments to the contrary, the original accusations came from a very real place.
It all began in 2007 when Radar published an article about joke theft among comedians. Cook’s alleged lifting of particular bits from C.K.’s act was one of many examples listed, but its appearance in the press set off a firestorm that required immediate comment. Hence why Cook, during his chat with Marc Maron on WTF, discussed the charges against him directly: “I didn’t steal anything from Louis C.K.” The supposed victim didn’t pursue the claims he hadn’t made against Cook, per se, telling Movieline, “It’s hard to know where your thoughts come from, especially when you have a thirst for material because you need it professionally.”
See more epic comedy takedowns when truTV’s Comedy Knockout premieres tonight at 10:30/9:30c.