All across this city, there are funny people who want to make you laugh. But how to find the best ones? We asked the city’s comedy tastemakers—club bookers, improv teachers, already-famous comedians, borderline-creepy groupies—to tell us about their favorite up-and-comers. Then we invited our ten nominees to the Gotham Comedy Club to perform a show. For each other. (They are comedian’s comedians, after all.) Later, we assembled the stand-ups for a postmortem at New York’s offices.
New York: So, how did you enjoy performing at 5:30 in the afternoon for a room full of other comedians?
Reese Waters: The idea was scary. But in reality it was okay.
Ophira Eisenberg: The fact that there was a stage and a mike made this better than a lot of gigs.
Sara Schaefer: Yeah—I think most of us have done shitty open-mikes that were way more awkward than this.
NY: Was there a joke you heard from someone here that you wished you could steal?
Carla Rhodes: I’d never seen Hannibal [Buress] perform before. He cracked me up. I just liked his laid-back energy with the clever, almost surreal scenarios.
Claudia Cogan: I really like Kumail’s “Cheese” joke. [“Have you heard of this new drug cocktail called Cheese? I looked it up and it turns out that ‘Cheese’ is Tylenol PM and heroin. So really—it’s heroin. Heroin is doing the heavy lifting. My advice? Just do the heroin. It’s very powerful.”] You really ripped that apart. It was very intellectual but also visceral. I want to mimic that.
RW: I love when comedians create situations like that, where they can just repeat themselves and it keeps getting funnier. I’ve tried, but I can’t do that. People just look at me like, “You said that already.”
Kumail Nanjiani: I say “heroin” seventeen times in that joke. I had a friend count for me once.
NY: There wasn’t a lot of political or topical humor in your acts—it was mostly observations and stories. Is that a sign of the times?
Max Silvestri: The problem is that, when you comment on political news, it doesn’t feel new. Especially in New York. You’re performing to an audience that’s so media-savvy. They read blogs all day, they watch The Daily Show, so by the time you comment on something, how are you going to improve on all that?
RW: When I first started, I didn’t want to reveal too much about myself, so I’d talk about stuff that was as generic as possible, like the bus or the sandwich shop. But I noticed that when I talked about things I cared about, like dating or sports, my inflection changed. My delivery changed. Because I was excited to talk about those things.
SS: I was the opposite. I started out telling personal stories, and only recently learned to talk about topical things. To me, that took confidence—I had to convince myself I had something to say about current events that would relate and be accessible.
NY: Have you noticed a change in the comedy scene because of the recession?
OE: The recession has been good to comedy in New York. Because comedy is cheap.
CR: I think art always flourishes during down periods. We cheer the world up.
NY: That’s refreshingly optimistic. Does anyone care to share the bombiest bomb they ever endured?
Craig Baldo: I once did a gig on a cruise for eight hundred 80-year-olds from Ohio. And when you bomb the first night, then you’re stuck on a boat for a week with eight hundred 80-year-olds who hate you. I’d pass old women who’d say, “There he is, Harvey. There’s the comedian we hate.”