The 25 Funniest Musicals Ever

Andrew Rannells and company
Andrew Rannells and company. Getty

When people think of musicals, they tend to think of musical comedy. Often, people assume that musicals, by definition, are meant to be light-hearted and funny. Despite this, some of the most iconic and recognizable musicals of all time are extremely serious, albeit with occasional overtones of levity. The following musicals accomplish a mix of both serious tone and comic relief:

  • Rent
  • West Side Story
  • Gypsy
  • Fiddler on the Roof
  • The King and I
  • Les Miserables
  • The Phantom of the Opera
  • Cabaret
  • A Chorus Line
  • Show Boat
  • Carousel

The History of Musicals and Comedy

The irony of the former misconception is that, for about 30 years, musicals were almost completely devoid of humor. From about 1970 to 2001, it seemed as though musicals had forgotten how to be funny. The dearth of levity was likely due to a combination of the horrid 1970s economy, a general darkening of the American psyche, and a growing cynicism about previously cherished institutions. At the same time, the '60s and '70s saw the deaths of many old-time musical practitioners and the rise of some darker voices in the field.

For the next three decades or so, it was rare to see any new musical comedies. It seemed that musicals could be spectacular, moving, and portray and elicit large-scale emotions, but that they could not be funny. Occasionally, a show with a comedic sensibility would appear, but it was usually tempered with cynicism or snark. For example, the musicals Grease and City of Angels fit this description.

Musicals With Dark Humor and Moody Undertones

During this time, the rise of a new sub-genre emerged that Christopher Caggiano, theater writer, and fanatic, likes to call the Campy Off-Broadway Bloodbath. This sub-genre is exemplified by musicals such as the Little Shop of Horrors, Bat Boy, and Urinetown. These shows were often hilarious, but the humor was dark, and relied on alienation and ironic detachment. The only genuinely sunny musical during this era was Annie, and even that show had a small dose of vinegar amid the sweetness, as seen in the song 'We'd Like to Thank You, Herbert Hoover."

Writers Became Funny With The Producers

The Producers came in 1967 and sparked a means for comedy in musicals again. Despite Mel Brooks performance in the musical version of Young Frankenstein, he single-handedly ushered in a musical-comedy renaissance, thanks to the gangbusters success of The Producers. This allowed writers to become interested in writing humor for audiences, and subsequently, new writers entered the field with the expressed purpose of making the audience laugh again at the theater.

25 Musicals Bound to Make You Laugh

After The Producers, a rapid succession of musical comedies followed. Here's just a sampling:

  • Avenue Q
  • Hairspray
  • The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
  • Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
  • Legally Blonde
  • The Wedding Singer
  • Curtains
  • Spamalot
  • The Drowsy Chaperone
  • 9 to 5
  • The Book of Mormon
  • Xanadu
  • Sister Act
  • A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder
  • Something Rotten

With a tip of the hat to Mel Brooks, the following is a list of the funniest musicals of all time. Notice that The Producers ranks high on the list, but doesn't quite top the list.

  1. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum 
  2. The Book of Mormon
  3. Urinetown
  4. Avenue Q
  5. The Producers
  6. Guys and Dolls
  7. Bat Boy
  8. Anything Goes
  9. Little Shop of Horrors
  10. The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
  11. The Drowsy Chaperone
  12. Kiss Me, Kate
  13. Spamalot
  14. Hairspray
  15. Little Me
  16. A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder
  17. How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
  18. Xanadu
  19. Ruthless
  20. The Great American Trailer Park Musical
  21. Finian’s Rainbow
  22. On the Town
  23. Me and My Girl
  24. Sweet Charity
  25. Where’s Charley?

Honorable Mentions

The following musicals include moments of humor and comedy but did not make the top 25 list.