Back by popular demand (i.e. my own), I'll be making another top five list for this week's column. Today's topic: Top Five Stand-up Comedians of 2006. I feel as though I cannot say "ever," and I'd like to be more specific than just saying "recent."

I realize it may be a little early for a year-end wrap-up list, but the year is about 92 percent complete. Plus, Comedy Central's "Last Laugh '06" airs Dec. 10, which I can only assume means there will be no more laughter for the following 21 days. This gives you less than 10 days to track down and laugh at these comedians until 2007 rolls around.

No. 5: David Cross. This is the one comedian on the list I unfortunately have yet to see live. He is also one of two whom I did not see live in 2006. As a result, along with the fact that he hasn't released any new material, I cannot accurately comment on his current stand-up comedy. To be honest, I simply love listening to his albums, Shut Up, You Fucking Baby! and It's Not Funny, regardless of the year. The way he twists and plays with current events and social concerns is skillful, fascinating and influential. Plus, I needed a No. 5.

I can say, though, that his acting career on television (I'll ignore his motion picture endeavors — "Curious George," "She's the Man" and "School for Scoundrels") has been going down a good path. "Freak Show," which recently wrapped up its first, and hopefully not last, season on Comedy Central, was basically Cross's stand-up in cartoon form, combining real life issues with larger-than-life analogies. For instance, in the finale, an acute commentary on religion involved a battle between a giant robotic Jesus and a Jewish monster made entirely of foreskin.

No. 4: Jim Gaffigan. This is the other comedian I did not see live in 2006. Instead, I saw him in 2005 for the taping of his Beyond the Pale CD and DVD. Nonetheless, those items came out in 2006, hence one of many reasons he belongs on my list.

In Beyond the Pale, Gaffigan let his "inner voice" excel. This is the whispered, running commentary he provides to his own comedy. Imagine an old-fashioned, elderly person in the audience who doesn't quite "get" this "new-fangled comic oration." That pretty much sums up the inner voice. It has become Gaffigan's trademark, and in 2006, he honed it to perfection.

No. 3: Patton Oswalt. This guy was a blast to see live. He recruited audience members to go back to the bar and get him drinks. Needless to say, by the end of the show, he was sufficiently lit up. Even in his inebriated state, his comedy was still as well-crafted as ever.

Like Cross, Oswalt is able to transform simple observations into over-the-top tales. This year, his 2004 Comedy Central special "No Reason to Complain" was released on DVD. This is stand-up comedy like stand-up comedy ought to be performed — audaciously, ingeniously and uproariously. He even finds a way to make his bad jokes come alive. At one point, aware of his lowbrow shtick, he jokingly makes a raspberry into the microphone with personal disgust. Of course, the crowd guffaws in approval.

No. 2: Demetri Martin. Here's a stand-up comedian that seemingly blew up overnight, though he has actually been around for quite some time. His witty wordplay and clever one-liners rival, and sometimes respectfully imitate, the likes of such legends as Steven Wright.

2006 was a big year for Martin. He released his delightfully droll debut album These Are Jokes, he solidified his position on "The Daily Show" with his hip and hilarious "Trendspotting" segments and he landed a deal with Windows to create several short films at www.clearification.com. If you don't know the name Demetri Martin, you will soon. Although, if you didn't know his name, you technically just learned it.

No. 1: Zach Galifianakis. I hold a special place in my heart for Zach Galifianakis. I saw him perform in Milwaukee in May, and over the years, he has made me laugh harder than any other comedian I have ever listened to or seen perform. He has never released an official CD and is finally releasing a public DVD this month through Netflix called "Live at the Purple Onion."

On top of that, his role as director Alan Finger in Comedy Central's "Dog Bites Man" was superb. Though officially a main character, he remained in the background through most of the series. However, the moments he stepped up, he shined. His character was so superb that I, in fact, dressed up like him for Halloween.

Following the Milwaukee show, I had the opportunity to meet him and take a photograph, and I will always remember the brief look of pseudo-hatred he gave me while taking the picture followed by a kind smile and handshake. This ability to go in and out of character on a dime makes Galifianakis a standout in the field of avant-garde stand-up comedy and stand-up comedy in general.

If you follow my column closely, this one may have made me sound like a broken record; I've done my fair share of top five lists. However, I prefer to look at it this way — the record is not broken. It's a good record, and it's worth listening to more than once. In any event, I have some stand-up comedy albums to revisit and less than 10 days to laugh.

Mike Peters is a senior focusing on communication arts, film and business. Want to share your idea for yet another top five list? Send him an e-mail at [email protected].