Pictured: Eliot Glazer, Illustrated by Hilton Dresden
There’s a million options for overpriced standup and improv comedy in New York City – walk down any main drag of Manhattan and you’ll have 15 fliers stuffed in your face for supposedly “cheap” laughs. But for real good, up-and-coming, off-the-beaten-path comedy that will leave you aching and inspired. Below, we’ve compiled five shows you won’t find in a Google search of ‘best comedy in New York,’ but are havens for local laughers looking for a great night of insightful, inspired content.
Curated by comedic duo Steven Phillips-Horst and Eric Schwartau, Talk Hole offers some of the best in alt comedy that New York has to offer. The intimate show takes place in Asia Roma, at 10 Mulberry Street, so you can eat delicious spring rolls while you watch your standup.
Amanda Duarte hosts this unique show where New York artists, comics, writers, and illustrators present work that didn’t make it past the cutting room floor. That means New Yorker comic artists presents cartoons that never hit print, standup comedians like Cole Escola present bits that never saw their headlining sets, and writers like Isaac Oliver read passages that didn’t quite make the memoir. Monthly at Judson Memorial Church.
Eliot Glazer (yes, Ilana’s brother) hosts this musical revue several times a year at The Bell House in Brooklyn, where his classically-trained operatic voice recreates nostalgia-camp-pop anthems by the likes of Avril Lavigne, Nickelback, and Kesha.
Just for its name alone, this standup show at Q.E.D. in Queens earns a spot on our list. The venue is known to host some of the coolest, freshest mics in up-and-coming comedy, and “Tina Fey” boasts an impressive monthly roster that’s included everyone from Jena Friedman to Dan Perlman.
Ok, this one isn’t really underground, but we had to include it, since every Sunday, for FREE, you can witness some of the best improv comedy on the planet at the UCB Theater in Chelsea. A rotating team of Upright Citizens Brigade legends, include Tami Sagher and Shannon O’Neill, are accompanied each week by a surprise celebrity monologist- they’ve had everyone from Mike Birbiglia, to Amy Schumer, to Amy Poehler join their roster in the past. It’s an absolute New York must-see.
“We’re tired of trying to make people laugh with our humor. We want to make people cry.” -Tim Heidecker
Largely overlooked comic genie Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim once again team up for their signature, home-grown blend of deadpan, satire, and gross-out humor. Their new TV show, Bedtime Stories, featuring John C. Reilly, Zach Galifianakis, and Jason Schwartzman, premieres tonight at 12:15am on Adult Swim. From the look of the trailer, Bedtime Stories seems to be a much more cinematic, narrative-based venture than we’re used to with Tim and Eric, with higher production quality and level of accessibility.
Tim and Eric are most known for their previous show on Adult Swim, Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! which ran for three years until 2010 and featured brilliantly surrealistic and often satirical humor/anti-humor, including public-access television–style musical acts, bizarre faux-commercials, and editing and special effects chosen to make the show a parody of camp. The creators of the show have described it as “the nightmare version of television.”
In line with the content of their previous television series, Bedtime Stories embraces the absurdity of American suburbia in a uniquely dark, Twilight Zone kind of way. Heidecker and Wareheim, who cite David Lynch and the Coen brothers as their storytelling influences, said that for their new series they were inspired by Louie‘s format of multiple episodes that loosely connect with recurring cameo/celebrity appearances. Unlike most of their previous work, their new series is focused much more on narrative and storytelling. “We wanted to tell little short stories that have a darker edge, kind of a nightmarish quality to them but still funny and absurd and go the opposite direction from the lo-fi aesthetic that we’ve established,” Heidecker said in a recent interview.
“I feel like most of life is a nightmare,” Wareheim said in response. “You have a couple friends and a couple beautiful moments, but everything else … and this show kind of embraces those moments of, like, ‘I cannot believe that this is really happening.'” Wareheim continued by noting that for the tone of the new series they were going for something like The Shining. “Real psychological horror, which I think we’re almost there in some of these episodes. Like, true horror. Not gore, but true really-fucking-frightening.”
Even though they seem to be approaching a well-earned level of funding, through all their work the comedic process is rooted in an intimate level of comfort that they’ve established since their filmmaking days at Temple University in Philadelphia, where they first met. “I’m trying to make Eric laugh and the cameraman laugh, and he’s trying to make me laugh when he’s on camera, and that’s always at the heart of everything we do,” Tim said. “And that’s really the end of the conversation.”
Upon being asked if perhaps they have taken comedy to the limit of where it can go, Wareheim responded: “We are going to take it beyond that limit. Just flip it inside out. It’s this ever-expanding universe of comedy and we’re just going to keep on trucking.”
Tim and Eric’s Bedtime Stories premieres tonight at 12:15am on Adult Swim.
Smart phones have created and ended comedy careers. In the age where everyone has a computer/video camera in their pocket, smart phones are ruining live comedy. Obviously, there are the plain rude assholes who sit in the front row and text their friends while standup shows are going on. (Don’t even get me started about people who forget to turn their ringer off.)
The immediacy of blasting out misquotes and out of context material on social networks has literally ruined comedians’ careers.
Comedy is an ever-evolving process; comedy clubs used to be a safe haven where a performer could get on stage, work out material, and have the creative license to take a chance with the risk of failing. The routine was a present moment experience and wouldn’t go beyond the room.
Now, a joke in-formation uttered by a comedian runs the risk of being broadcast on YouTube and blasted out on the Twittersphere. Cell phone cameras have hurt comedians’ development of material as fans post unauthorized YouTube videos before comics wish to share the material with the entire world.
Chris Rock stands firm that smart phones are ruining comedy. “The sad thing, with all this taping and stuff, no one’s going to do stand-up,” Rock stated. “And every big stand-up I talk to says, “How do I work out new material? Where can you go, if I have a half an idea and then it’s on the Internet next week?””
Rock references his infamous “Niggas vs. Black People” routine from his 1996 Bring the Pain standup special, an act he estimates took six months to hone and perfect. (Imagine the early days of that routine.)
“You know how racist that thing was a week in?” Rock said, “That’s not to be seen by anybody.”
Rock said he would perform more often in small comedy rooms — if he did not fear that fans would post video recordings of his sets. “I’ll go back to comedy clubs when they get a real no-camera policy, the same way they did with smoking.”
The casebook example of a comedian’s career ruined by a cell phone video is Michael Richards. One little racist rant captured at the Laugh Factory — and blasted out to the world — put the nail in the coffin of his career. By no means am I saying being racist is funny (comedy is always the weak taking on the powerful), but when we see the out of context video on YouTube, we have no idea what on before or after the two-minute racist rant that was heard around the world. (My theory is Richards was trying to be “edgy” like hack Carlos Mencia — and horrifically failed. After all, the sign does say, “Comedy Club.
Another prime example is Dave Chappelle’s show last year in Connecticut – where he stopped his performance after being heckled. Chappelle went on unannounced at the gig so he could work out new material. After getting annoyed by an onslaught of requests to do his Rick James impersonation, Chappelle left the stage. When the video was posted on YouTube, the media jumped to the conclusion that the comedian was having a meltdown:
Live comedy is just that — a live event. And cell phone are ruining live comedy. Video didn’t kill the comedy star; Daniel Tosh’s rape joke and Tracy Morgan’s homophobic routine both gained a mainstream media frenzy when their acts when their jokes were paraphrased on Twitter. The only solution is for comedians to perform solely for the Amish.
“Funny”: most novelists really, really aren’t. Oh, they try: they sputter and spoof and it is all so hugely embarrassing for everyone involved. Kind of like blogging. Anyway, a week from today you’ll have the opportunity to hear from a trio of authors who could actually bust your gut.
The Center for Fiction in midtown Manhattan will host the event, “Comedy In Fiction,” moderated by Vol. 1 Brooklyn’s Jason Diamond (he of the infamous headbutting incident that scandalized the literary world last summer), on April 11, at 7:30. You can RSVP on Facebook.
The funny writers featured are: savage satirist Sam Lipsyte, whose collection The Fun Parts came out last month; Fiona Maazel, who celebrated the launch of her madcap but tender new novel Woke Up Lonely last night; and the incomparable Jim Shepard, a short story master we assume will have some withering put-downs for the other two. So come on out! It’ll be such a witty, droll, humorous affair.
I don’t know how Jenny Slate and Gabe Liedman do it, but I could watch these two people sit around and make silly jokes and laugh at each other for hours, because they are two of the funniest humans on this planet. It’s a good thing that the pair have a new episode of their hilarious (and, sadly, sporadic) webseries, Bestie X Bestie. Thanks, buds! You saved the day!
And for those of you who aren’t familiar with the series, here are the previous episodes. Enjoy!
Everyone knows that your body is 70% water, but did you know the other 30% is brain juice? We all have powerful ideas inside our sacks of bones, and conceptual consultants Christina Boucher and Seth Dodson stopped by TEDxWindyCity last month to share their quick and easy ways to extract those ideas out of each and every one of you. Check out this fantastic NED Talk that gives pro-tips on harnessing those brilliant ideas. (One quick helpful hint: drinking!)
The second season of “The Mis-Adventures of an Awkward Black Girl,” the popular web series created, produced, written and staring 28-year-old Issa Rae, came to an end last Thursday. Since this viral, award-winning show debuted back in 2011, we’ve watched J, the endearing socially inept lead character, fumble her way through her relationship with White Jay, a dead-end job, and the mundane occurrencesthat make up her days. “Long hallways are the epitome of discomfort. I already said hi to this woman, what other interaction can we possibly have? ” J asks in her voice-over. “Am I supposed to look at her the whole time? Do I act like the blank walls are interesting enough to stare at?”
Such are the awkward trials and tribulations of J’s life and, for that matter, many of ours, regardless of race, which explains why a diverse segment of viewers were instantly drawn to this hilariously relatable show and why, after having run out of money in the midst of the first season, Rae managed to rack up $56,000 in donations to complete the season from fans through a Kickstarter campaign.
“Awkward Black Girl” has garnered much praise and attention not only for its brand of relevant situational comedy in the vein of Curb Your Enthusiasm and Seinfeld but also for its refreshing lead character that debunks all the ubiquitous stereotypes associated with African-Americans on the small or big screen. J is far from the one-dimensional roles we are accustomed to watching most black actresses play. She’s neither a comforting girlfriend, nor is she the overcompensating strong, got-it-together shot-caller or the angry sassy sista. Instead, she is the almost never seen vulnerable, self-conscious black woman that the mainstream media would like you to believe doesn’t exist.
“We’ve been denied a normal reflection of ourselves for so long. Not an overly dramatic, cool, or violent one, but just a normal character,” explains Rae over the phone from L.A. where she lives and shoots the series. “With ‘Awkward Black Girl,’ I sought to create a girl who just happens to be black that goes through the same things that everybody else goes through. Being awkward and black is never seen as a good thing.”
Rae should know.
When her family moved from Potomac, Maryland to L.A., Rae first understood there was a narrow definition of blackness and being awkward wasn’t one of the conventional identifiable descriptors. In Potomac she attended a diverse school for gifted and talented kids and was accustomed to being herself with no reproach, but at her predominantly black high school in L.A., a nerdy Rae’s blackness, or lack thereof, was up for debate. “I just did not fit in all. I wore my hair nappy; I didn’t have a perm like everyone else. To them I talked white and my sense of humor was white,” recalls Rae, who kept a low profile and sought refuge in theater class where she uncovered a budding interest for acting, writing, and producing, which then developed into her passion when she attended Stanford University. While in college Rae wrote and produced plays, and in 2007 she created her first hit web series, “Dorm Diaries,” which took a look at being black at a prestigious school.
“In college, the black, white, Latina friends I made all had the same specific kind of humor I had,” Rae says. “I realized then that it was universal, even if I didn’t see any people of color on Seinfeld. I knew we could and should all be included.” But not everyone agrees. After ‘Awkward Black Girl’ won the 2012 Shorty Award for Best Web Show, Rae was bombarded by racist tweets questioning the show’s merits. Some of them came from fellow web series creators stunned that they had “lost to a niggerette,” as one so cleverly pointed out to Rae. The tweets included such shocking and tasteless gems as, “#ThingsBetterThanAwkwardBlackGirl the smell coming from Trayvon Martin,” “Congrats on winning do you get 3/5 of the award?” and, “Of course the black one wins. Fuck the Shorty Awards.”
“The bewilderment that our show not only exists, but that it could actually be good is indicative of how mainstream media thinks,” Rae pointed out in an essay on XOJane following the show’s backlash. “This mindset is exactly why creative shows of color don’t get to exist on television anymore. There’s an overbearing sense of entitlement that refuses to allow shows of color to thrive. How dare we even try.”
“Some people are really closed minded,” says Rae. “It shows how brave other people are who got passed the word black in the title and watched and related to the show. I wanted to put black in the title. Why not? Why ignore it? It’s obvious, right? I’m black.” But that’s not where her identity ends. “At its core, the show is about this awkward girl who goes through ridiculous situations that forces everyone to relate,” Rae explains. “When people dismiss it as a black show, they just don’t get it.” The show also co-stars a racially diverse group of actors.
Grammy award-winning hip-hop producer Pharrell Williams, who in his own right has broadened hip-hop’s musical and stylistic landscape with his eclectic beats and whose rock band N.E.R.D. helped redefine the meaning of cool for a generation of young black males, reached out to Rae during the first season. “He was like, ‘I’m awkward and nobody believes that people like us exist,’” she remembers of their first conversation. “Awkward Black Girl” was exactly the sort of content Williams was after for his new video network web site, IAMOTHER.com. “Pharrell told me he wanted to be part of ‘Awkward Black Girl,’” she says. IAMOTHER.com is now funding the show, with the recently wrapped second season being the start of Williams and Rae’s thriving partnership. “He is the best,” she says. “The first thing he told me is that he wouldn’t change anything about the show. That’s exactly what I wanted to hear.”
Following Williams’s call, the offers have kept coming in from TV executives eager to develop this unique show. While bringing “Awkward Black Girl” over from the internet to the small screen is a very exciting prospect for Rae, she’s wary of losing the creative control that comes with producing your own work for the web. “The raw expression gets filtered ‘cause so many people get their hands on it,” she says. “It becomes about what is going to make money, and that’s not what is really important on the web.” Rae also admits that “Awkward Black Girl” is “just too close to me to just hand it off to anybody.”
Although she would be open to having the show air on a cable network. When she got a call from Shonda Rimes, the creator behind the wildly successful Grey’s Anatomy andScandal, Rae expressed her fears that “Awkward Black Girl” couldn’t work on network television; Rimes agreed and asked Rae for some more ideas. Rae pitched her a show she briefly worked on as a minisode on the web. “I wrote ‘I Hate L.A. Dudes,’” she says. “I had no idea where I was going with it, but I just knew that it was true to my life.” The short featured an L.A. man’s lengthy grooming session in front of the mirror before heading out on a date. “I do hate L.A. men tremendously, and Shonda does too,” she laments. “They suck! They are really sipping on their own Kool-Aid, and they swear they are the best thing since sliced bread.” Rimes loved the pitch, and she sold the half-hour comedy show about a young aspiring journalist navigating the L.A. dating scene to ABC. Rae will write and co-produce (but in which she will not star).
“I’ve been enjoying branching out and doing other things,” says Rae. This includes not only making the jump to network television but also creating content for other web series. Rae is in high demand, but despite her busy schedule, “Awkward Black Girl” continues to be her priority. The second season finale ends with a very big announcement—well possibly. “Next on Awkward Black Girl: An ABG Movie?” flashes on the screen before the credits role. “We are trying to make a feature-length film happen,” says Rae. She wants to create the kind of cult classic that she loved watching in the ‘90s, when movies starring black actors were more prevalent. “Love Jones and Love & Basketball were the kind stuff I wanted to write when I was younger,” she says. “It wasn’t about the struggle. They were basic love stories.”
Rae will no doubt add a healthy dose of clumsiness to her big-screen love story. This season ends with White Jay professing his love, following a relationship hiatus, to J, who has been missing him and waiting for his call. A self-conscious J uneasily responds with, “Oh, thank you! That’s what’s up. That’s great. High-five!” Awkward!
If you’ve never done your ears the favor of hitting up Left Handed Radio, you’re not laughing as much as you could be. The monthly sketch comedy podcast—imagine an absurdist sketch show performed completely in the dark—is written and created by UCB vets Adam Bozarth, Dan Chamberlain, Anna Rubanova, Matt Little, and a rotating cast of ringers who manage to make you forget anything so cheap as a visual gag. Today, however, they’ve got a new video, “Zone,” a Funny or Die exclusive to boot.
Left Handed Radio is known in part for its surreal and madcap “Sequel Machine” experiments, in which they read us treatments for films like Dark Knight 4 and 9thmare on Elm Street, each page of which is penned by a new author who has only read the previous page. “Zone” has LHR playing with film tropes once again: this time, it’s the expository and perhaps overeager guide one bewildered survivor must rely upon during a technological apocalypse.
Forget the sci-fi blockbusters this summer; pretty sure I just want to see the rest of this movie.
Los Angeles has never been known as a theater town, which is odd when you really consider how much acting, writing, and directing talent resides within its city limits. While film and theater are vastly different mediums, you’d think the self-proclaimed entertainment capital of the world would have more a stage presence. However, there’s only a few, gleaming early 20th Century theaters like The Pantages—which hosts big Broadway exports on a seasonal basis—and a handful of small, independent establishments like Brimmer Street and the Pasadena Playhouse, locations that Angelenos really have to search out in order to see a show. With all the driving, parking, cramped seating and competition against all the modern movie theaters in town, it’s no wonder stage is kept afloat primarily by dedicated thespians and couples trying to have a “unique” night out in LA. However, there is one notable exception: the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, located in the charming and bustling neighborhood known by locals as Franklin Village, the West Coast version of the UCB Theater in Chelsea.
Just as Second City and Groundlings launched the careers for many of comedic actors over the past 40 years who are now household names, UCB has become the newest, most popular kid on the improvisational block since a few of its founders are Amy Poehler and Matt Walsh, who currently rank among the small screen comedy elite. Just about every night the four-plus hours of improv shows and short comedic stage plays sell out with lines that stretch much of an L.A. block. While the improv shows can be hit or miss—as it’s much like watching a professional sports team scrimmage—a new series of short, comedic one acts have really been taking UCB to the next level. One night last week, I caught a double bill of King of Kong: The Musical—which needs to be seen to be believed—and True Hustle, the one-woman show about a fresh L.A. fish who lands a gig as a talent coordinator at a porn company. Both are edgy and uncompromising in their own unique ways.
King of Kong: The Unauthorized Musical follows the basic beats of the popular documentary sped up into a hyper-drive of hilarious musical numbers and was funny enough to draw out lawyers from the studio which owns the film. True Hustle, starring Marie Lively and directed by Happy Endings and Community writer Annie Mebane, appears to be a bit of biography from Lively about her time employed at a major porn company run by a guy named Larry who works in a “Death Star” off Wilshire. You can make your own conclusions about that—though the one act is a hilarious, shocking and ultimately poignant take on a Hollywood dreamer who quickly comes of age from her place behind the scenes in the porn biz. It’s rare to see such uncompromised, original works in a place like Hollywood, but for now you can on an almost night basis at the UCB. Assuming you can wrangle a seat.