“There's a lot to be said for making people laugh. Did you know that that's all some people have? It isn't much, but it's better than nothing in this cockeyed caravan.”

Thus spoke the title character, a newly enlightened movie director played by Joel McCrea, at the conclusion of Preston Sturges’s immortal comedy, “Sullivan’s Travels” (1941).

The only part of that statement I’d change is “it isn’t much.” In fact, it’s plenty. Our ability to laugh at our shared human foibles is what causes many of us to get out of bed and go out in the world rather than simply put the sheets over our heads.

Laughter, of course, is particularly therapeutic in troubling times: it’s no coincidence that some of our most enduring film comedies were made during the Great Depression. In good times or bad, we hold a special place for comedy, and for those gifted clowns and performers who create it.

Below are listed twenty of these players, whose careers span the life of movies. As brief tribute, I’ve listed just one of their finest films, along with a wise and witty quote that comes from the actors themselves, not one of their characters.

Heartfelt thanks to all of them, simply for making us laugh!

W.C. Fields

Funny movie: The Bank Dick

Funny quote: “Always carry a flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite, and furthermore always carry a small snake.”

Mae West

Funny Movie: I’m No Angel

Funny Quote: “I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.”

Groucho Marx

Funny Movie: Duck Soup

Funny Quote: “Those are my principles, and if you don't like them . . . well, I have others.”

Bob Hope

Funny Movie: Road to Morocco

Funny Quote: "I grew up with six brothers. That's how I learned to dance...waiting for the bathroom." 

Rosalind Russell

Funny Movie: His Girl Friday

Funny Quote: “Acting is standing up naked and turning around very slowly.”

Peter Sellers

Funny Movie: The Pink Panther

Funny Quote: “There used to be a real me, but I had it surgically removed.”

Elaine May

Funny Movie: A New Leaf

Funny Quote: “I will tell you something, but I warn you, it is a lie.”

Peter Cook

Funny Movie: Bedazzled

Funny Quote: “I have learned from my mistakes, and I am sure I can repeat them exactly.”

Mel Brooks

Funny Movie: The Producers

Funny Quote: “I love spaghetti and sex, sometimes together.”

Woody Allen

Funny Movie: Love and Death

Funny Quote: “My one regret in life is that I am not someone else.”

John Cleese

Funny Movie: A Fish Called Wanda

Funny Quote: “If God did not intend for us to eat animals, then why did he make them out of meat?”

Richard Pryor

Funny Movie: Richard Pryor Live in Concert

Funny Quote: “I met the President. We in trouble.”

Madeline Kahn

Funny Movie: Young Frankenstein

Funny Quote: “Husbands should be like Kleenex — soft, strong and disposable.”

John Belushi

Funny Movie: Animal House

Funny Quote: “I owe it all to little chocolate donuts.”

Bette Midler

Funny Movie: Get Shorty

Funny Quote: “Don't I look fabulous? I'm a triumph of science and fiction.”

Eddie Murphy

Funny Movie: Trading Places

Funny Quote: “Anything that you have to acquire a taste for was not meant to be eaten.”

Lily Tomlin

Funny Movie: Grandma

Funny Quote: “If love is the answer, could you rephrase the question?”

Bill Murray

Funny Movie: Rushmore

Funny Quote: “The best way to teach your kids about taxes is to eat 30% of their ice cream.”

Diane Keaton

Funny Movie: Annie Hall

Funny Quote: “Just have fun. Smile. And keep putting on lipstick.”

Robin Williams


Funny Movie: Aladdin

Funny Quote: “Reality is just a crutch for people who can’t cope with drugs.”

More:  14 Legendary Actors Give Us 14 Inspiring Quotes About Acting