Comedians can be dated back to 425 BC, when Aristophanes, a comic author and playwright, wrote ancient comedic plays. He wrote 40 comedies, 11 of which survive and are still being performed. Aristophanes' comedy style took the form of satyr plays.
The English poet and playwright William Shakespeare wrote many comedies. A Shakespearean comedy is one that has a happy ending, usually involving marriages between the unmarried characters, and a tone and style that is more light-hearted than Shakespeare's other plays.
Charlie Chaplin was the most popular screen comedian of the first half of the 20th century. Chaplin and Stan Laurel were protégés of Fred Karno, the English theatre impresario of British music hall, and in his biography Laurel stated, "Fred Karno didn't teach Charlie [Chaplin] and me all we know about comedy. He just taught us most of it". Chaplin wrote comedic silent films such as Modern Times and The Kid. His films still have a major impact on comedy in films today.
One of the most popular forms of modern-day comedy is stand-up comedy. Stand-up comedy is a comic monologue performed by one or more people standing on a stage. Bob Hope was the most popular stand-up comedian of the 20th century, and also starred in numerous comedy films over a five-decade span. Other noted stand-up comedians include Billy Connolly, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Jerry Seinfeld, Dylan Moran, Lee Evans, Patton Oswalt and Jo Brand.
Radio has been a proving-ground for many comedians. Ricky Gervais began his career at a London radio station called XFM and Chris Morris began his career at Radio Cambridgeshire. The League of Gentlemen, Mitchell and Webb and The Mighty Boosh all transferred to television after broadcasting on BBC Radio 4. Between 2002 and 2011 BBC Radio 6 Music used to feature regular shows presented by comedians including Phil Jupitus, Stephen Merchant and Adam & Joe. Now BBC radio comedy is mainly available on BBC Radio 4 and . Before television, radio was one of the main ways to enjoy comedy, The Goon Show and Hancock's Half Hour being among the most popular early shows.
On television there are comedy talk shows where comedians make fun of current news or popular topics. Such comedians include Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien, Graham Norton, Jim Jefferies, James Corden, Jonathan Ross, David Letterman, and Chelsea Handler. There are sketch comedies, such as Mr. Show with Bob and David and Monty Python who created their sketch comedy show Monty Python's Flying Circus (a BBC show that influenced Saturday Night Live), then there are sitcoms, for example Roseanne, Only Fools and Horses and Not Going Out, as well as popular panel shows like The Big Fat Quiz of the Year, Have I Got News for You and Celebrity Juice.
Comedy is increasingly enjoyed online. Comedians with popular long-running podcasts series include Kevin Smith, Richard Herring and PewDiePie. Comedians streaming videos of their stand-up include Bridget Christie, Louis C.K. and Daniel Kitson. Many comedians publicise their work and build an audience through social media, especially .