IMPACT: For arguably the most important comedy auteur of the past decade, Apatow’s typically prolific output had taken on a more leisurely pace over the past few years. But with no little help from the Midas-fingered Amy Schumer, the past summer’s “Trainwreck” was his highest-grossing film as a director since 2007’s “Knocked Up,” racking up over $140 million worldwide.
NEXT: Apatow joins Netflix’s slate of original programming as creator of comedy series “Love.” Also in the pipeline, the Apatow-produced “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday” for Netflix, and the Lonely Island film project “Conner4real” for Universal.
IMPACT: In less than a year, her Princess Rap Battles franchise has amassed over half a billion views, garnered her half a million YouTube subscribers and attracted celebrity participants Sarah Michelle Gellar (as Cinderella) and Yvonne Strahovski (as Daenerys of “Game of Thrones”).
NEXT: Katniss vs. Hermione premieres this month, with the series continuing in 2016.
Courtesy of Whitney Avalon
IMPACT: When it comes to short-form comedy, the 27-year-old Bachelor is true royalty. His “King Bach” persona is the biggest comedy feed on Vine, with over 14 million followers. He won Viner of the year at the 2015 Streamys and was nominated for entertainer of the year.
NEXT: Co-starring in McG’s horror comedy feature “The Babysitter” and toplining a Fox pilot based on one of his online characters, exec produced by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele.
Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin, Pete Docter, Tim Johnson, Genndy Tartakovsky, Paul Tibbitt
IMPACT: Ask any kid (or parent) what’s made them laugh recently and chances are you’ll hear about one or more of the year’s biggest animated hits. Balda and Coffin’s “Minions,” Docter’s “Inside Out,” Johnson’s “Home,” Tartakovsky’s “Hotel Transylvania 2” and Tibbitt’s “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water” are all first or second among their respective studio’s highest-grossing movies of the year and the key to that boffo B.O. is tickling the funny bones of family audiences. What’s more, animation’s impact doesn’t end with ticket sales — merchandising is through the roof.
NEXT: “Inside Out” has the edge, but all five films are eligible in the animated Oscar race, and their filmmakers are in high demand.
Courtesy of Universal/Disney/Fox/Viacom/Columbia
IMPACT: Banks’ chops as a comedic actress have never been in dispute — she picked up an Emmy nom for a “Modern Family” guest turn this year, reprised her role in Netflix prequel “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp,” and continues to supply genuine laughs in the increasingly doom-laden “Hunger Games” franchise. Yet the actress’ facility as a director had to register as a surprise — her directorial debut, “Pitch Perfect 2,” racked up $285 million worldwide, making it the highest-grossing movie ever from a first-time filmmaker.
NEXT: Naturally enough, Banks will direct “Pitch Perfect 3,” slated for summer 2017.
David Fisher/REX Shutterstock
Katja Blichfeld & Ben Sinclair
IMPACT: After five short seasons on Vimeo, Blichfeld and Sinclair’s savvy stoner comedy “High Maintenance” earned a six-episode order from HBO. Fans including “Orange Is the New Black” creator Jenji Kohan rave about the show’s fully baked vignettes, which earned the creators a WGA Award earlier this year for writing in a short form new-media original series.
NEXT: Those HBO episodes should roll out in 2016, and Sinclair appears in the feature film “Sisters.”
Robert Carlock, Tina Fey, Ellie Kemper, Tituss Burgess, Jane Krakowski, Carol Kane
IMPACT: “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” — Carlock and Fey’s hotly anticipated follow-up to “30 Rock” — was made for NBC but acquired and aired by Netflix, where it delighted fans seeking another perfect blend of sharp and silly comedy. Bolstered by Kemper’s winning star turn as history’s cheeriest former cult member, a breakout role for Tituss Burgess as “Peeno Noir” viral video sensation Titus Andromedon, “Rock” vet Krakowski’s spoiled New York trophy wife and the welcome return of comedy legend Kane, the freshman season scored seven Emmy noms including comedy series.
NEXT: Season two breaks out in 2016.
Courtesy of Netflix
IMPACT: After achieving success on HBO with his Spike Lee-directed standup special “Love at the Store,” Carmichael supplied an unexpected summer hit for NBC with the family sitcom “The Carmichael Show.” The Norman Lear-inspired multi-cam show, for which the 28-year-old Carmichael serves as creator and star, garnered a fast following with critics and fans, becoming the most-watched summer comedy series in eight years.
NEXT: He’s penning season two of “The Carmichael Show” and will reprise his scene-stealing role as Garf in “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising.”
IMPACT: While the world awaits the next season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” David has been busy venturing into new comedic waters. His self-penned Broadway debut “Fish in the Dark” broke box office records, racking up over $14 million in advance sales — a new high for a play. And David made a pair of potent appearances on “Saturday Night Live” (where he had a frustratingly brief stint as a writer in the mid-’80s), bantering with Jerry Seinfeld on the 40th anniversary special and then delivering a surprise spot-on cameo as Bernie Sanders during Tracy Morgan’s triumphant return as host.
NEXT: HBO president Michael Lombardo has said a ninth season of “Curb” is in the works.
Carolyn Contino/BEI/REX Shutterstock
Rob Delaney & Sharon Horgan; Billy Eichner & Julie Klausner
STREAMING POWER COUPLES
IMPACT: Netflix isn’t alone when it comes to edgy comedy on digital outlets. Hulu recently picked up season two of the Amy Poehler-produced “Difficult People,” starring Eichner and Klausner as infuriatingly self-centered comedians in New York City. When they veer toward self-realization, they make a sharp left back into the comedy fast lane. Creators and stars Delaney and Horgan’s “Catastrophe” debuted on the U.K.’s Channel 4 in January and then built buzz over the summer on Amazon by tackling relationships with a fresh premise — American man gets Irish woman pregnant during a one-night stand in London.
NEXT: Second seasons of both shows are due domestically in 2016 (and “Catastrophe” is already airing in the U.K.).
Jay and Mark Duplass
IMPACT: The men who made mumblecore an indie film trend dabbled in the mainstream more than ever in 2015, while staying true to their roots. They created and ran HBO’s “Togetherness” (with Mark also starring) in addition to acting duties on FXX’s “The League” (Mark) and Amazon’s “Transparent” (Jay). Plus, they continue to foster rising talent by producing comedic indie features from Sean Baker (“Tangerine”), Patrick Brice (“The Overnight”), Ross Katz (“Adult Beginners”) and Bryan Buckley (“The Bronze”).
NEXT: “The League” is wrapping up, but second seasons of “Transparent” and “Togetherness” arrive imminently. The brothers also scored a two-season pickup for animated comedy “Animals” at HBO and wrote the Anna Kendrick feature “Table 19,” due out next year.
Courtesy of jay and mark duplass
Paul Feig & Melissa McCarthy
IMPACT: Starting with McCarthy’s Oscar-nominated supporting role in “Bridesmaids,” the past several years have seen the actress and director Feig develop into one of the decade’s most potent comedy teams. This year’s “Spy,” with McCarthy in the lead, amassed $236 million on a barnstorming summer run. (Counted together, McCarthy and Feig’s three collaborations, including “The Heat,” have grossed three-quarters of a billion dollars.)
NEXT: Presumably, the two will continue to shop for projects, bounce ideas off one another, meet up for tea … oh, and also reboot one of the most beloved film franchises of all time. “Ghostbusters” opens next year.
Willi Schneider/REX Shutterstock
IMPACT: As the creator and star of Fox’s “The Last Man on Earth,” Forte picked up a pair of Emmy noms along with some of the strongest reviews for a new network comedy in years. But more than that, he managed to sustain a wildly ambitious premise with a wholly unpredictable and entirely hilarious ongoing story arc that’s still spinning laughs, and unexpected pathos, out of a post-apocalyptic survivor’s bottomless narcissism.
NEXT: The always busy Forte is still filming season two of “Last Man,” but also has a role in Adam Sandler’s Netflix comedy “The Ridiculous 6” and the Key & Peele feature “Keanu” on the way.
IMPACT: Hader hasn’t slowed down a bit since leaving “Saturday Night Live” in 2013. This year he scored a pair of summer box office hits as Amy Schumer’s love interest in “Trainwreck” and the voice of Fear in “Inside Out.” He also maximizes his “SNL” connections, collaborating with fellow alumni Seth Meyers and Fred Armisen on IFC’s spoof “Documentary Now,” guest starring on Andy Samberg’s “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and Lorne Michaels’ “Man Seeking Woman” and scoring an Emmy nom for a razor-sharp return to hosting “SNL.”
NEXT: Playing a giant in Steven Spielberg’s “The BFG” and voicing characters in animated “The Angry Birds Movie” and “Sausage Party.”
IMPACT: After joining “Saturday Night Live” as a writer in early 2014, Jones jumped in front of the cameras as a featured player by the end of the year. At age 47, she became the oldest cast addition in the show’s history and one of only a handful of African-American women. The reliable scene-stealer scores the biggest laughs in everything from Weekend Update appearances to music-video parodies to memorable sketches opposite “SNL” vets Chris Rock, Louis C.K. and Tracy Morgan.
NEXT: Proving her fearlessness extends to the paranormal, Jones will be bustin’ ghosts in Paul Feig’s “Ghostbusters” and voice a role in “Lunch.”
Courtesy of Jason Lee
IMPACT: After showrunning short-lived cult favorite “Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23,” Khan stepped up to run the small-screen series adaptation of Eddie Huang’s memoir “Fresh Off the Boat,” in the process bringing an Asian-American family front-and-center in network comedy for the first time since 1994. Khan’s fresh approach scored with both critics and auds, garnering raves for grown-up stars Constance Wu and Randall Park alongside a trio of scene-stealing kids.
NEXT: Season two of “Fresh” has been picked up for a full 22 episodes.
Courtesy of Nahnatchka Khan
IMPACT: Kim’s had a banner year — drawing laughs as well as gasps from antics ranging from the Sony hack, which was the result of his displeasure with Seth Rogen’s “The Interview,” a satiric look at efforts to assassinate Kim, to reportedly counterfeiting Mercedes 4x4s and developing the KN-08 nuclear missile, which he’s tub-thumbing as capable of slaying Brits and Americans on their own shores. Unintended benefits of the Sony fracas were a comedy business game-changing $40 million VOD gross on “The Interview” and Korean-American funny-woman Margaret Cho’s headline-making turn as “Cho Jang Ja” at the Golden Globes broadcast.
NEXT: Viral memes in China deriding him are likely to overcome that nation’s censors, as the world seems unable to curtail the rotund despot’s incompetence, ruthlessness and militarism.
IMPACT: The comic’s immensely popular podcast, “WTF With Marc Maron” showcases his cynical humor while posing philosophical questions and conversations with the leading entertainers in show business. Earlier this year, his show made history when it became the first-ever podcast to feature a sitting president. That episode — in which President Obama spoke frankly from inside Maron’s garage about issues, including blunt talk on race relations — was downloaded more than 900,000 times in the first 36 hours of posting.
NEXT: Maron’s special “More Later,” directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, is set for a December release on Epix and new season of IFC’s “Maron” follows in 2016.
Robyn Von Swank IFC
MASTER OF DISGUISE
IMPACT: With a second consecutive Emmy nom, McKinnon has not gone unnoticed as a standout on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.” And her star continued to rise when she was tapped to play Hillary Clinton in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential race. An uncanny incarnation of Justin Bieber, spot-on impersonations of Jane Lynch and Ellen DeGeneres and a hilariously bawdy take on Supreme Court judge Ruth Bader Ginsberg are just a few of McKinnon’s other killer characters.
NEXT: McKinnon hits the big screen as part of the all-female crew in the 2016 “Ghostbusters” reboot, and lends her voice to animated “The Angry Birds Movie.” And, of course, much more Hillary hilarity to come.
Thomas Middleditch, T.J. Miller, Kumail Nanjiani, Martin Starr, Zach Woods, Amanda Crew, Josh Brener, Matt Ross, Suzanne Cryer, Jimmy O. Yang
IMPACT: HBO’s “Silicon Valley” showrunners Mike Judge and Alec Berg made this list last year, but their work on the even stronger second season became a perfect showcase for the small screen’s most gifted comedic ensemble. Middleditch earns special mention as perpetually put-upon leading man Richard Hendricks, and Critics Choice award winner Miller’s slovenly patron Erlich is a consistent scene stealer, but every member of the cast played an essential role in making the Emmy and Golden Globe nominated series a can’t-miss comedy.
NEXT: While each of the stars works on their individual projects during hiatus, season three boots up in 2016.
Courtesy of HBO
MARK TWAIN HONOREE
IMPACT: This year the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts presented the renowned comedian with the nation’s top honor for comedy, the Mark Twain Prize. Murphy was feted for his commercial film success as well as his time on “Saturday Night Live” (and Murphy also participated in the venerable sketch series’ 40th anniversary special in February).
NEXT: A dramatic turn in “Henry Joseph Church,” playing the father of comedy legend Richard Pryor in Lee Daniels’ biopic “Richard Pryor: Is It Something I Said?” and an unspecified comedic project in development at Netflix.
Courtesy of Newscom
IMPACT: Consummate funnyman Rudd returned to his camp counselor role for Netflix’s “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp” this year, but an even greater testament to his comic charms came from “Ant-Man,” where his star turn elevated one of the odder superheroes in the Marvel staple to a worldwide box office haul over $500 million.
NEXT: Reprising his Scott Lang duties for “Captain America: Civil War” and an upcoming “Ant-Man” sequel, Rudd will also lend his voice to raunchy animated comedy “Sausage Party.”
IMPACT: Best known by her YouTube pseudonym IISuperwomanII, Canadian comedian Singh nabbed the prize for first-person series at this year’s Streamy Awards and was also up for entertainer of the year. Her sketch videos, often inspired by her Indian heritage, have racked up over 1 billion views on YouTube (a collaboration with James Franco and Seth Rogen on “How My Mother Stole Christmas,” drew more than 2.7 million on its own). Singh’s 2015 world tour sold out multiple dates in India in a matter of hours.
NEXT: Singh’s concert movie, “A Trip to Unicorn Island,” is due out via YouTube Red in 2016.
Jim Smeal Rex Shutterstock
IMPACT: The bona fide comedy legend scored her 22nd Emmy nomination as a bohemian pot-smoking divorcee in Netflix’s “Grace & Frankie” and then picked up more awards buzz by returning to the big screen as the equally feisty title character in indie dramedy, “Grandma.” With six Emmy wins and one Oscar nom (for 1975’s “Nashville”) to her credit, the 76-year-old actress proves timeless talent makes an impact at any age.
NEXT: Tomlin will be back as Frankie on Netflix in 2016.
BOX OFFICE POWERHOUSE
IMPACT: Coming almost exactly a year after he starred in one of mainland China’s biggest domestic hits of 2014 (Ning Hao’s romantic comedy “Breakup Buddies”), the multihyphenate Xu notched another enormous success with “Lost in Hong Kong.” Featuring Xu as director, star and producer, the sequel to his hit “Lost in Thailand” notched the biggest opening day for a Chinese film in the country’s history, and the third-biggest in China overall.
NEXT: Xu stars in the Tang dynasty adventure “Monk Xuanzang,” due out in February.
ALUMNI: Kevin Hart
IMPACT: Hart toplined two successful comedy features, “Get Hard” and “The Wedding Ringer,” but his biggest impact came in his continued domination of the standup circuit, with grosses in the first half of the year alone exceeding $20 million, according to PollStar.
NEXT: More big-screen shenanigans in “Ride Along 2” and “Central Intelligence” (with Dwayne Johnson) and no end to drawing massive crowds on stage.
Courtesy of Kevin Hart
ALUMNI: Keegan-Michael Key & Jordan Peele
IMPACT: The dynamic duo surprised everyone by announcing the end of their celebrated Comedy Central sketch series while its fifth (and final) season was still airing, and after scoring a series-best five Emmy noms.
NEXT: The feature film collaboration, “Keanu,” is due in 2016. Key stars in indie comedy “Don’t Think Twice,” while Peele writes and directs horror pic “Get Out.”
Jim Smeal Rex Shutterstock
ALUMNI: Julia Louis-Dreyfus & Armando Iannucci
IMPACT: Somehow, HBO’s “Veep” only got funnier in its fourth season and finally scored an Emmy for comedy series. Plus, star Louis-Dreyfus and showrunner Iannucci picked up extra Emmys of their own — her fourth in a row as lead actress and his first for writing.
NEXT: Iannucci has stepped aside to return to his native U.K., but a fifth season is on the 2016 ballot.
ALUMNI: Amy Poehler
IMPACT: After a big 2014, Poehler arguably hit it even bigger in 2015: Hosting the Golden Globes for the third time; toplining the farewell season of NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” (and nabbing a sixth consecutive lead Emmy nom); voicing Joy in animated smash “Inside Out”; and exec producing Hulu’s “Difficult People” and Comedy Central’s “Broad City.”
NEXT: Feature films opposite Tina Fey (“Sisters”) and Will Ferrell (“The House”).
Picture Perfect/REX Shutterstock
ALUMNI: Amy Schumer
IMPACT: Speaking of hitting it bigger in 2015, Schumer built on a breakout year with 12 months of omnipresence thanks to season three of Comedy Central’s “Inside Amy Schumer,” the box office hit “Trainwreck” (which she wrote and starred in), an HBO standup special, hosting “Saturday Night Live” and winning the first-ever Emmy for sketch series.
NEXT: More “Inside,” another feature, and delivering on a multimillion-dollar book deal.
ALUMNI: Jill Soloway & Jeffrey Tambor
IMPACT: “Transparent” blew critics out of the water when it bowed on Amazon in 2014, and leading man Jeffrey Tambor and creator Jill Soloway went on to score Emmys and Golden Globes in 2015 for their work. For comedy veteran Tambor, the Emmy was a first despite multiple previous noms.
NEXT: Hotly anticipated season two of “Transparent” drops in December.
ALUMNI: Cecily Strong
IMPACT: The “Saturday Night Live” scene-stealer scored a major career coup by hosting the 2015 White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner back in April, becoming one of very few women to ever land the coveted emcee gig (and the first since Wanda Sykes in 2009).
NEXT: She’s currently in her fourth season on “SNL” but will also be seen supporting Melissa McCarthy in a pair of big ticket releases: “The Boss” and “Ghostbusters.”