When real life becomes even more ridiculous than satire, then what role is there for comedians to play? And how should comedians talk about serious issues while still keeping their senses of humor? Those are two of the questions I posed to comedians on the front lines of the discussion, and on the red carpet of the Golden Probes, a satirical award ceremony mocking misogyny. Among the comedians I chatted with: Comedy Central’s Jordan Klepper and Dulce Sloan, Lizz Winstead and Franchesca Ramsey, Brian Unger, and Margaret Cho. So let’s get to it!
You may or may not remember seeing J. Keith van Straaten in roles on "Curb Your Enthusiasm," “Gilmore Girls,” “Beverly Hills, 90210,” and ads for McDonald’s, Nike, Pizza Hut, Cheez-It, and many more. But if you did, then you’re just the sort of trivia expert who would have loved watching van Straaten host Comedy Central’s TV game show “Beat The Geeks.” He currently contributes to an NPR game show, Ask Me Another, while hosting his own comedy game show podcast, Go Fact Yourself. We got just the facts from van Straaten this summer, so let’s get to it!
Ted Alexandro has made multiple appearances on David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Kimmel, Craig Ferguson and The View, had two half-hour specials on Comedy Central, and spent the past couple of years touring theaters and arenas around the world with Jim Gaffigan. He also is one of the co-founders of the New York Comedians Coalition, which successfully organized hundreds of comedians to negotiate the first pay raise in decades in New York City’s comedy clubs. When he’s at home in his native New York City, you can often see Alexandro perform at The Comedy Cellar. He just released his third self-produced stand-up comedy special, “Senior Class of Earth,” out now via All Things Comedy. Alexandro sat down with me at our neighborhood comedy hangout, QED, in Astoria, so let’s get to it!
Darrell Hammond started carving out a career for himself with voiceover work in central Florida after graduating from the University of Florida. More than a decade later, a chance Clinton impersonation during a performance at Carolines scored him his fateful third-times-the-charm audition for SNL in 1995. And more than two decades after that, he’s still hanging around 30 Rock, now providing the lead-in voiceover intros for SNL. And he’s just put out the audio narration of his 2011 memoir, God, If You're Not up There, I'm F*cked. Hammond also has narrated an Audible Original called That’s Clinton recorded live at The Comedy Cellar, and is performing in a special all-star cast reading of the script, Have a Nice Day, recorded live in NYC for Audible with Billy Crystal, Kevin Kline, Annette Bening, Robin Thede and more in a dark comedy about a President trying to save his marriage and his country at the same time. So let's get to it!
Most people still think of Mary Lynn Rajskub as the counterterrorism techie Chloe from FOX’s hit series 24. But Rajskub has a long and storied comedy resume, from Mr. Show and Larry Sanders in the 1990s, to a prime time sketch TV effort with Kelsey Grammer in the 2000s, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Californication, to the movie Night School which opens this fall with Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish and many other comedians. I sat down with Rasjkub to talk about her own post-grad journey. So let’s get to it!
Maria Bamford is one of the most exciting stand-up comedians working today. You may have seen her starring in her own Netflix series, Lady Dynamite, based on her own life, or Target’s holiday season TV commercials, based on your own. Bamford has been on the front lines of revolutionizing stand-up comedy, from The Comedians of Comedy Tour with Patton Oswalt, to performing for her parents in The Special Special Special, and making web series such as The Maria Bamford Show for Super Deluxe. Maria has been open about her mental health as well as her financial health, and we talked about as much as we could between her shows at The Bell House in Brooklyn. So let’s get to it!
Mo Mandel is a stand-up comedian who created and executive produces Comedy Knockout for truTV, where comics zing each other and try to win over the studio audience. Before that, he hosted truTV’s BARmageddon and appeared more than 40 times on the panel of Chelsea Lately. You’ve seen him as a co-star on such TV series as Modern Family, Castle and Happy Endings, on his own in a half-hour Comedy Central special and an hour special that debuted on Seeso but is now on Amazon, Negative Reinforcement. And you can hear him in a podcast he co-hosts with his girlfriend, Dr. Ashley, called The Full Release. Mo has been a veteran of Comedy Central contests, but we’re all winners at Montreal’s Just For Laughs festival, where Mo and I met up in July 2018. In fact, Mandel just inked a new deal with Amazon to develop an animated comedy series called 2051.
So let’s get to it!
Sam Morril is one of the fastest rising-rising stand-up comics in NYC, having just come off hosting two seasons of People Talking Sports on the MSG network. Morril also has performed on America's Got Talent, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Conan, and Last Comic Standing. He's risen from Comedy Central's Comics to Watch to his own hour special on the network, premiering September 14, 2018. It's called Amy Schumer Presents: SamMorril: Positive Influence. So let's get to it!
Jonathan Katz won Comedy Central’s first-ever Emmy Award for his critically-acclaimed animated series, Dr. Katz, in the mid-1990s. He followed that up with a Peabody Award in 1998. Twenty years later, he’s entertaining us anew with therapy sessions with his famous funny friends in a brand-new Dr. Katz: The Audiobook, for Amazon’s Audible. But before he ever began his comedy career, he led a wonderfully weird life that included becoming best friends with playwright David Mamet in college, writing songs and the story for one movie (House of Games) with him, and touring as the musical director with the one and only Robin Williams. I paid Dr. Katz a house call to sit down and hear all about it, as well as how he lives with MS, in this very special episode of Last Things First. So let’s get to it!
Elayne Boosler’s comedy career began by working the door as the hostess at the original Improvisation club in New York City in the 1970s. For over forty years, she has appeared on seemingly every talk show ever on TV, has written and starred in five of her own one-hour Showtime standup comedy specials, written and directed two movies for Cinemax. She self-financed that first special, 1985’s “Party of One,” because TV networks would not let a female standup have a special. In 1993, Boosler was only the second woman to perform at the White House Correspondents Dinner, and the first comedian to be televised live on C-SPAN. She’s now putting out a boxed set “Elayne Boosler – Timeless”, which includes four of her iconic specials plus a brand-new CD of stand-up. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Tails of Joy – the animal rescue non-profit she founded in 2001. There’s a lot to get to, so let’s get to it!
Maeve Higgins was a bestselling memoirist and comedian in her native Ireland when, at the age of 31, she decided to move to America. So immigration isn’t just the subject of her hit podcast, Maeve In America: Immigration IRL, but also a first-hand experience. She co-hosts Neil deGrasse Tyson's StarTalk on National Geographic, as well as the weekly comedy showcase Butterboy in Brooklyn with Aparna Nancherla and Jo Firestone. She has written for The New York Times and The Irish Times, and her new book – MAEVE IN AMERICA: Essays by a Girl from Somewhere Else – is out now. We talk about our respective Irish heritages, what it’s like teaching comedy in the Middle East while ISIS is around the corner, and much more. So let’s get to it!
Judd Apatow and Pete Holmes first met on a podcast, and ever since, have developed a wonderful working relationship. Holmes first pitched the idea for Crashing to Apatow on his late great TBS late-night show, and I caught up with both the stand-up comedian and the writer/director/producer on the set of HBO’s Crashing at The Comedy Cellar, where they were filming an upcoming episode for the comedy’s third season. Apatow and Holmes told me why Pete makes Crashing different from all of the other TV series about comedians, how they keep it real onscreen and onstage, and much more. So let’s get to it!
Zainab Johnson had other plans for her life, perhaps professional basketball or teaching, before a tragic accident changed her life and her worldview. Johnson tells me how she absorbed the lessons of the comedians she hung out with before jumping into comedy herself. So far, so good. After being named a New Face at Montreal’s Just For Laughs Festival in 2014, she has appeared on HBO’s All Def Comedy, NBC’s Last Comic Standing, Arsenio, BET’s Comic View, MTV’s Acting Out, and AXS-TV’s Gotham Comedy Live! She’s also developing a TV series with the help of Wanda Sykes. So let’s get to it!
In 2011, Rafinha Bastos was named the most influential person on Twitter. Not then-President Barack Obama. Not the Pope. Brazilian comedian and TV personality Rafinha Bastos. Bastos has upward of 12 million Twitter followers now. He sat down with me during Montreal’s Just For Laughs festival to talk about how his dreams shifted from journalism to basketball to comedy, how free speech isn’t so free in Brazil, and how he’s following in the footsteps of Gad Elmaleh and Bassem Youssef in making a name for himself as an English-speaking comedian, too. Bastos will have a new Netflix comedy special out in September 2018, while he also hosts Ultimate Beastmaster alongside UFC star Anderson Silva. So let’s get to it!
Paul Mecurio is seen every night by audiences of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, as he warms them up before the CBS cameras turn on for taping. Mecurio graduated from law school and started out on Wall Street, though, before ever discovering his passions for comedy and getting a big break by selling a joke to Jay Leno. Mecurio has known Colbert for more than two decades, as he was one of the original writers hired for The Daily Show with Craig Kilborn back in 1996. Along the way, he has won an Emmy and a Peabody. He also played a role in a notorious live radio stunt by Opie and Anthony. He's now got a new Off-Broadway show a couple of blocks away from his day job on Broadway called Permission to Speak with Paul Mecurio, where he interacts with the audience to engage in their stories. The show opens today and runs through August 15, 2018. But first he gave permission to speak to me and tell some of his own stories. So let's get to it!
Allan Havey is a comedian and actor who hosted a late-night talk show for the Comedy Channel (before it was Comedy Central) called Night After Night with Allan Havey. You might not have heard much from him in the 1990s and much of the 2000s. But he’s certainly enjoying a renaissance in the past decade, since acting in the 2009 Steven Soderbergh film, The Informant! then continuing with appearances in Louie on FX, followed by The Office, Mad Men, W/Bob & David, The Man in the High Castle, Bosch, GLOW and Billions. Havey has continued to perform stand-up comedy all these years, from the Comedy and Magic Club in Hermosa Beach to The Comedy Cellar in New York City’s Greenwich Village. In the summer of 2018, he’s taking his act across the pond to the UK and a monthlong stint at the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. But first he’s talking to me. So let’s get to it!
This is a special edition of Last Things First, recorded live during Clusterfest 2018 in San Francisco. Comedy Central was kind enough to ask me to host a series of Clusterfest panels for the media that they called fireside chats. In this session, I welcomed the Roastmaster himself, Jeff Ross, and two-time Roast Battle runner-up Matt Broussard to talk about the art of roasting, the development of Comedy Central’s Roast Battle series (which tapes its third season this July), and the upcoming Comedy Central Roast of Bruce Willis. So let’s get to it!
Sam Grittner is one of the best comedians on Twitter. Don’t take my word for it? OK then how about Rolling Stone, Huffington Post and famous comedians such as Weird Al Yankovic, who are among the tens of thousands who follow him and have put him on best of lists in four of the past five years. Grittner also created the parody account @tonightongirls in 2013 and served as lead writer for Internet Action Force, a short-lived comedy video experiment by the New York Post. He hosts a monthly show in Brooklyn that donates all its proceeds to charity. Time to Feel Good, while also talking plainly about mental health and addiction. So let’s get to it!
Paula Poundstone started her comedy career in Boston in the late 1970s before taking her act and her life on the road to San Francisco. Poundstone broke through in a big way in 1984 when Robin Williams asked her to perform stand-up on the episode he guest hosted of Saturday Night Live. She would go on to film two comedy specials for HBO and one for Bravo, become the first woman to deliver the keynote address at the White House Correspondents Dinner back in 1992, write columns for five years in the 1990s for Mother Jones magazine, and become a fixture on the NPR quiz show Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, where you can still hear her regularly. In 2017, she published her second book, The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search For Human Happiness. And in June 2018, Poundstone invited me into her home in Santa Monica to sit with her dog and many cats to see if we could find some more happiness to share. So let’s get to it!
This is a special edition of Last Things First, recorded live during Clusterfest 2018 in San Francisco. Comedy Central was kind enough to ask me to host a series of Clusterfest panels for the media that they called fireside chats. In this session, I welcomed Sasheer Zamata, Roy Wood Jr., and Mark Normand. We joked about whether comedians should ever apologize, about getting advice from comedians at the top of the ladder as you’re climbing it, and preparing for the next big thing in your careers. All that and more in this episode of The Comic’s Comic Presents Last Things First, so let’s get to it!
Romesh Ranganathan was a math teacher before devoting his life to stand-up comedy in 2012. Since then, he has found great success in the UK, nominated for Best Newcomer at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2013, and with TV appearances on Live at the Apollo, many panel shows, and his own BBC series for two years, Asian Provocateur. For his next trick, Romesh came to America to see if he could duplicate his comedy success in the States and filmed it for a new TV series, Just Another Immigrant, which premieres in June 2018 on Showtime. Of course, he’s not just another immigrant, but he wanted to show us what it’d look like if he were, uprooting his wife, three kids, and Sri Lankan mother from West Sussex to Los Angeles. So let’s get to it!
This is a special edition of Last Things First, recorded live during Clusterfest 2018 in San Francisco. Comedy Central was kind enough to ask me to host a series of Clusterfest panels for the media that they called fireside chats. In this session, I welcomed Jim Jefferies, Rachel Feinstein, Nikki Glaser and Sam Morril, and we quickly got into the headlines of Roseanne Barr and Samantha Bee making public apologies, whether comedians should ever have to apologize, and how comedians can work together. All that and more in this episode of The Comic’s Comic Presents Last Things First, so let’s get to it!
Nemr grew up in San Diego and then moved back with his family to Lebanon, where he almost singlehandedly introduced the Middle East to the idea of live stand-up comedy. He definitely introduced many American comedians to Middle Eastern audiences over the past decade and more, and he has since toured both there and here in the States as a headliner. You may have seen him on CNN and Comedy Central’s The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, and NEMR put out his first American stand-up special, No Bombing in Beirut, in 2017 for Showtime. He sat down with me at ShowBriz Studios to talk about growing up in two completely different cultures and starting comedy scenes from scratch. So let’s get to it!
Joshua Jean-Baptiste and Edson Jean met as students at New World School of the Arts in Miami, where both learned how to become multi-hyphenates in this new world of show business, as actors, playwrights and filmmakers. Jean’s college thesis, the short film The Adventures of Edson Jean, was licensed by HBO, and he has appeared in TV and film projects including Moonlight, War Dogs, Ballers and Bloodline. With Jean-Baptiste, the duo pitched a digital series about Haitian-Americans growing up and living in inner-city Miami called #Josh. They won Adaptive Studio’s first Project Greenlight contest for a digital series, and the product, GROWN, debuted in late May on Complex.com. So let’s get to it!
Mark Viera has entertained audiences around the world with stories of growing up, getting married and raising kids in the Bronx. Viera has released a Showtime special, “Tales of a Nuyorican,” opened on tours with singer Marc Anthony and comedian Gabriel Iglesias, and performed everywhere from cruise ships to the Leathernecks of the U.S. Marine Corps. Viera sat down with me to talk about his career, about the ups and downs of selling and reselling a network sitcom based on his own life, and about Laff Mobb’s Laff Tracks on truTV, where you can see his comedy stories brought to life. So let’s get to it!