New Yorkers can be particular about everything. I get coffee at the greasy diner on my corner because they already know how I like it: black. The coffee's not that great, but I like the familiarity. When it comes to entertainment, however, I prefer to be surprised. I want my comedy unfiltered. The good news is, we live in the comedic center of the universe. It’s easy to find funny people to follow. The trick is narrowing your list to a manageable few. We can’t go out every night, after all. That’s where I come in: As a booker for some of the city’s top joke-telling talent, a commentator on season two of CNN’s History of Comedy, and a network scout for CBS, it’s my job to know who’s merely good and who’s going to be legendary. Here are a few folks I’d happily put in the latter camp.
Backstory:Emma Willmann always gives her audiences a big dose of self-deprecating, bubbly, small-town energy. She has been racking up the credits since her 2016 debut on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. Her sweet run includes a recurring role on the CW's Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and a spot on HBO's Crashing. Her Netflix quarter-hour will air in August. Oh, and she cohosts the podcast Inside the Closet with fellow comic Matteo Lane. NYC is great for comedy because…“I am not sure if this is a chicken-or-the-egg situation, but for me it's all the other awesome comics here. There are so many good comedians, that it constantly makes you step it up in a way I haven't experienced anywhere else.” NYC is hard for comedy because...“It's also just impossible: You know you love comedy if you're doing it in New York. There is nowhere to hide. It’s just you and your words against the elements.” Choice bit: “I used to go back and forth [over] when I would come out of the closet in my stand-up, but now I do it right away because I don’t want anyone thinking I am an awkward-looking straight girl.”
Backstory:Erik Bergstrom is a comedian and New Yorker cartoonist. As that suggests, he’s a one-liner pro. While he survived stage-four Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2015, which isn’t funny at all, hearing him joke about it is. His Comedy Central half hour was released in 2016. He has also appeared on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, MTV, VH1, and Fuse. Bergstrom is currently writing a memoir and recording a comedy album. NYC is great for comedy because…“You can get up onstage multiple times a night and really hone your craft. It’s also the historical home of stand-up. Audiences come here from all over the world.”NYC is hard for comedy because... “While you can get onstage often, the sets are short. It’s a showcase town. That means a show usually has several comics doing five to 12 minutes. I started doing stand-up in NYC 11 years ago—the competition and learning curve was sharp. I started from scratch in the toughest city. I had to work hard to keep my jokes short and to the point, and to be more comfortable onstage than off. I also think this is why NYC is the best. It makes you stronger.”Choice bit:“I was in Times Square today. If I’ve learned anything from Times Square, it’s that Hello Kitty is not a man to be trifled with.”
Backstory:Janelle James is on the comedy fast track: She was named one of the Just for Laughs New Faces in 2016, and one of Brooklyn's 50 Funniest People, and earlier this year she was featured in The New York Times. James has opened across the country for everyone from David Cross to Chris Rock. And you can catch her Netflix quarter-hour this August.NYC is great for comedy because…"It's the best place to do multiple shows a night and meet every comic in the world.”NYC is hard for comedy because…"You gotta meet every comic in the world."Choice bit:
"When you first get to New York and see a rat, you climb all over everything and everyone to get away from it. Ten years later, you pick it up with your bare hands and fling it, ’cause you got places to go and shit to do, dammit!"
Backstory:Katie Hannigan has appeared on Oxygen, MTV, and CollegeHumor, and will be making her late-night network debut on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert in the fall. While her material is edgy, her mild-mannered delivery ensures that she can say anything she damn well pleases. Hannigan hosts the podcast Apodcalyspe, about survivalism and end times.NYC is great for comedy because…“New York is the world capital of stand-up! We've got the most comedy clubs, a comedy scene full of brilliant gems, and you can take the train home after you have free drinks at your show and not have to worry about killing a family of five!”NYC is hard for comedy because... “NYC has a reputation for being rude, but if anyone is rude to you here, it's mostly likely a Midwestern transplant who's been pushed past the breaking point.”Choice bit: “New York is a barren winter wasteland for half of the year, there are more rats than people, and the trains don't actually work.”
Backstory:Sam Morril has numerous late-night sets under his belt and a killer Comedy Central half hour. He recently taped an hour special, produced by Amy Schumer, which will air on Comedy Central in September.NYC is great for comedy because…“You have the opportunity to do multiple sets and get funnier quicker here. It's a good place to develop material. Also, this city is inspiring. The way the news cycle is nonstop, NYC just doesn't stop. It hurls shit at you all day. You'll be struggling to think of something funny, then see a couple screaming at each other. ‘You have a small dick, Tony!’”NYC is hard for comedy because…“You've definitely got to have heart and drive to stay in it, especially in the heart of winter. Also, everything can feel so intense here. I'll be on the train at 3 a.m., tired because I hung at the Cellar too late, and a guy just comes on and screams in my face, and I wanna be like, ‘Hey, I'm not absorbing material right now. Let’s all take a break.’”Choice bit:
"On the subway, crazy people will shout out 'Hold the door!,' so once I held the door. This guy gets on the train and starts cursing everyone out, one by one. They're all looking at me like it's my fault. Then the other day an old lady screamed, 'Please hold the door!' I said, 'I'm not falling for that one again.’”
Backstory:Born and raised in the Bronx,Petey DeAbreu has love for bodega cats and Cardi B, and believes we should all observe Shabbat (as this will clearly help eliminate gang violence). He can be seen on Comedy Central digital, on the road with Ilana Glaser of Broad City, and hosting one of the most popular shows in New York City right now: Better Days. DeAbreu also hosts the podcast Hope of the Hood, which features conversations with folks like Glaser and Claw Money. NYC is great for comedy because...“The diversity in the crowds is almost like performing for the United Nations every show.”NYC is hard for comedy because... “Last I checked we were at 2.8 million comedians. But on the flip side, it's very rewarding if you're fortunate enough to stand out and be heard among those numbers. Just being heard feels like you hit the Lotto.”Choice bit:“Did you know that almost every borough in NYC has a beach? My favorite is the Bronx's Orchard Beach. Some of the most beautiful people in NYC go there. If you ever want to see someone in a bathing suit with Timberlands on, that's where you wanna go. It's like sexy yet safety at the same time—get out the water and do construction right away.”
Photo credits: Janelle James, Katie Hannigan, Sam Morril, and Petey DeAbreu by Mindy Tucker; Erik Bergstrom by Matthew Salacuse; Emma Willmann by Phil Provencio.
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