Gina Yashere first came to the attention of Americans in 2007 when she appeared on season five of Last Comic Standing (the first international season, which also featured finalists Amy Schumer, Doug Benson, Lavell Crawford and winner Jon Reep). But Yashere already had plenty of successful experience with comedy contests in her native England, a finalist for the Hackney Empire New Act of the Year and then on The Big Big Talent Show. The daughter of Nigerian immigrants, Yashere rose from elevator engineer to sketch comedy player on The Lenny Henry Show, to the first and only British comedian to perform on HBO’s Def Comedy Jam. She now lives in New York City, where she just released her newest stand-up special, Ticking Boxes, on Seeso, and began work at her new job as a correspondent on The Daily Show on Comedy Central. So let’s get to it!
The child of Afghan immigrants, Fahim Anwar grew up in Seattle, went to the University of Washington and got a job at Boeing in aerospace engineering to make his parents proud. But Anwar had a different dream, and no, I don’t mean the dancing machine Lance Cantstopolis. He took a job in Long Beach so he could drive to stand-up open mics in Los Angeles, and he was able to quit the day job once gigs on TV shows such as Chuck and Disaster Date proved he had staying power. He’s also performed on Conan, Late Night with Seth Meyers, The Carmichael Show, @midnight, and the movie Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. His first one-hour special, There’s No Business Like Show Business, is out now on Seeso. Well, there’s no place to discuss the comedy business quite like the basement of The Comedy Store on the Sunset Strip, where Anwar and I could catch up and make sense of it all, so let’s get to it!
The Umbilical Brothers aren’t actually brothers, but the comedy bond between Australians Shane Dundas and David Collins has lasted for three decades and taken them all over the world with their dynamic duo act that mixes mime, slapstick and stand-up. They’ve performed on late-night for Letterman and Leno, after James Brown at Woodstock ’99, for the Queen of England, and most recently on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. The Umbilical Brothers have a monthlong run of Speedmouse (re-squeaked), an updated version of their 2004 show, playing in New York City at Theatre 80, where I caught up with the fellas to find out how they’ve stuck together this long. So let’s get to it!
Kate Berlant and John Early are unique characters in stand-up comedy, and yet you almost always see them together, whether it’s in each other’s half-hour specials for Netflix’s The Characters, in their joint project for Vimeo, 555, or on the bill together on shows from New York City to Los Angeles and stops in between. Berlant was one of Variety magazine’s 10 Comics to Watch in 2015, filmed separate TV pilots for both Comedy Central and truTV, and hosts a monthly show at the UCB theater in Los Angeles. Early co-stars in the TBS series, Search Party, and appears in the Netflix series, Love, HBO’s Girls, and the Netflix series of Wet Hot American Summer. They share their story of making it together their own unique ways, so let’s get to it!
Emmy-nominated actor and comedian Billy Gardell starred in the hit CBS sitcom, Mike & Molly as Officer Mike Biggs for six seasons, and you can see him still in syndication there, as well as in his other previous recurring roles on Lucky; Yes, Dear; and My Name Is Earl. He now co-stars as the colorful Col. Tom Parker in the CMT series, Sun Records. But it almost didn’t happen for the journeyman stand-up comedian and Pittsburgh native, and Gardell tells me all about that and more. So let’s get to it!
Ritch Shydner had quite a run during the comedy boom of the 1980s, making multiple appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and Late Night with David Letterman, playing Al Bundy’s co-worker on Married With Children, appearing in small roles in big movies such as Roxanne and Beverly Hills Cop II, and writing for Roseanne, The Jeff Foxworthy Show, and The Mind of the Married Man. He’s also written jokes for Foxworthy, Ron White and Jay Leno. In 2006, he co-authored a book of outrageously true road stories from stand-up comedians, “I Killed,” and later performed in the great documentary on stand-up, “I Am Comic.” He’s got a new book out now, recounting not just his life in the 80s comedy boom, but everyone else’s, too. It’s called “Kicking Through the Ashes.” So let’s get to it!
Jo Firestone can be seen on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and The Chris Gethard Show, and heard on WFMU. Jo was recently named a New Face at the 2016 Just For Laughs Festival. And if you like puns, check out Punderdome: A Card Game for Pun Lovers, based on the live show she started with her father that’s been written up in The New Yorker. Jo has carved out her own charming niche in comedy, and frequently does so by mounting her own shows around New York City – among them, the NYC Annual Inner Beauty Pageant, the Unexpectashow, and The Incredible Game Show Showcase. You also can see her wonderfully weird web videos with Aparna Nancherla on RIOT’s YouTube channel. So let’s get to it!
Scott Aukerman got his first big break as a writer/performer on the HBO cult classic, Mr. Show with Bob and David. But he’s responsible for many more big breaks, not only as host of the Comedy Death Ray and Comedy Bang Bang live shows at M Bar and the UCB Theatre, but also as host of the Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast and TV series on IFC, as well as the co-founder of the first major comedy podcasting network, Earwolf. He has won two Emmy Awards for making Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis, one for an episode which starred President Barack Obama, the other for an episode with Brad Pitt. He’s also met U2 thanks to his podcast with actor Adam Scott, and now makes Seeso streaming shows Bajillion Dollar Propertie$ and Take My Wife. His newest venture is Michael Bolton’s Big Sexy Valentine’s Day Special for Netflix. Aukerman spoke to me from his home with wife Kulap Vilaysack in the Hollywood Hills to explain the long and winding road his career has taken him on, so let’s get to it!
Mike Royce was a stand-up comedian and audience warm-up guy for The Maury Povich Show and Spin City before he broke through as a writer for the Sklar Brothers and their MTV series, Apartment 2F. He later helped his friend Ray Romano on a book and eventually his hit CBS sitcom, Everybody Loves Raymond. Since then, Royce has gone on to run the shows for Louis CK’s Lucky Louie, TNT’s Men of a Certain Age, and FOX’s Enlisted. All of those are more heralded now than their ratings ever were, and Royce won the Peabody Award for co-creating Men of a Certain Age. Now he’s co-written and co-showrunning the new version of Norman Lear’s One Day at A Time, which is available exclusively on Netflix. So let’s get to it!
Matt Iseman was a jock when I first knew him as a college classmate of mine at Princeton. After graduation, Matt went to med school to become a doctor, only to diagnosis himself as a comedian. Since then, he has shared an Emmy win for the cable show, Clean House, hosted Sports Soup and Scream Play on E!, and appeared in TV ads and Transformers 2. But you know him best now as the host of NBC’s American Ninja Warrior, and he’s a contestant on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s season of Celebrity Apprentice on NBC. What’s it like to rub shoulders with Ahnold and a bunch of people who were famous when Matt was a kid? I asked him, so let’s get to it!
Caitlin Barlow, Katy Colloton, Cate Freedman, Kate Lambert, Katie O’Brien and Kathryn Renée Thomas met in various Chicago improvisational theaters, and with a shared name and a dream between them, formed The Katydids. They’ve sold a sitcom to NBC and a feature film screenplay, but none of that might have been possible if their independent web series hadn’t caught viral fire first with the right people at the right time. Teachers led them to a deal with TV Land, an executive producer in Alison Brie, and showrunners in Ian Roberts and Jay Martel. Teachers begins its second season on TV Land in January 2017, and The Katydids met up with me in Viacom’s brand-new Hollywood office complex to share their journey. So let’s get to it!
Colin Quinn is the godfather of contemporary New York city comedy in more ways than one. After his first TV break as the sidekick on the 1980s MTV game show, Remote Control, Quinn helped usher other comedians onto TV as host of Caroline’s Comedy Hour on A&E, then a generation later as host of Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn on Comedy Central. In between, Quinn wrote for In Living Color, co-wrote and produced the movie Celtic Pride, and became one of only a handful of comedians to anchor Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live. More recently, he’s hit Broadway and HBO with his show, Long Story Short, played Amy Schumer’s dad in the movie Trainwreck, ran a coffee shop on the HBO series Girls, starred in his own webseries, Cop Show, written a book, blew up Twitter and created two more critically-acclaimed one-man shows, Unconstitutional and The New York Story, both available on Netflix. He’s just filmed a new TV pilot and is hard at work on his next stage show. So let’s get to it!
Laurie Kilmartin produced one of the best stand-up specials of 2016, “45 Jokes About My Dead Dad,” streaming exclusively on Seeso.com. Kilmartin is a writer on Conan, a former finalist on Last Comic Standing, and the New York Times best-selling author of "Sh*tty Mom." You can hear her on the Nerdist podcast, The Jackie and Laurie Show, with Jackie Kashian, where they talk about their lives as working comedians. But right now, you can hear Laurie talk to me in-depth about working through motherhood, tragedy and everything else. So let’s get to it!
Jason Zinoman is the comedy critic for The New York Times, and has written a new book about David Letterman which will come out April 2017. But first, Zinoman joined me once again to close the book on 2016. Who was the Most Valuable Performer in comedy in 2016? Who were the stand-out stand-ups? We discuss the year's work by Amy Schumer, Kate McKinnon, Jeff Ross, Maria Bamford, Tig Notaro, Donald Glover, Reggie Watts, Chris Rock and Louis CK, plus stars on the rise such as Rory Scovel, Kate Berlant, and John Early. And Zinoman also challenged me to define whether our current comedy boom is still booming, or whether the bubble is ready to bust. So let's get to it!
Nina Conti is the only child of actors – her father, Tom, is a Tony Award winner and Oscar nominee. As for Nina, she began her career as an actress at the Royal Shakespeare Company before her mentor Ken Campbell convinced her to become a ventriloquist. Nina won the BBC New Comedy Award in 2002, best show at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 2008, and has performed in many British TV shows since, as well as the HBO comedy series, Family Tree, with Michael McKean, Christopher Guest and Chris O’Dowd. She’s made two documentaries, “Clowning Around” where she trained as a clown performing in a children’s hospital, and “Her Master’s Voice” where she took her mentor’s puppets to the official Vent Haven Museum in Kentucky. She spoke to me about vocal and theatrical acrobatics, which she puts on full display with great charm in her new improvised show, In Your Face, at the Barrow Street Theatre in New York City for a limited time only. So let’s get to it!
There’s only one Sinbad the Sailor in fictional lore, and only one Sinbad worth knowing about in the funny business. There really is nobody quite like him, and we’ve seen it since he broke through in a big way on Star Search in the 1980s, through his role on the NBC Cosby spin-off sitcom, A Different World, through hosting It’s Showtime at the Apollo, through four separate HBO specials in the 1990s, and even through a short-lived reality series on WE TV and even a round with Donald Trump on Celebrity Apprentice more recently. He seems to be winging it up there onstage, but always crushing. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say he’s been jingling all the way. Sinbad sat down with me between shows at Carolines on Broadway to keep it 100 and then some. What does he have to say about Cosby, Trump, Redd Foxx and more? So let’s get to it!
Kevin McDonald is one of the original founders of The Kids in the Hall, the legendary sketch comedy troupe that started in Toronto, then became internationally famous over five seasons in the late 1980s and early 1990s thanks to HBO and later CBS. McDonald’s recurring characters included The King of Empty Promises, and Sir Simon Milligan, the host of the horror-themed TV show, The Pit of Ultimate Darkness. McDonald has guest-starred in many actual TV shows over the past two decades, reunited with Kids in the Hall for multiple tours (most recently in 2014), toured as a duo act with Scott Thompson, and gone solo as a stand-up, sketch comedy teacher and all-star guest improviser. He now has his very own podcast, a variety show called fittingly enough, Kevin McDonald’s Kevin McDonald Show. So let’s get to it!
Jessica Kirson has a captivating stage presence that bowls you over with laughter, whether you’re a schmuck in the front row or one of the so-called celebrities on NBC's Celebrity Apprentice. Kirson has a featured role onscreen and behind the scenes in the new Robert DeNiro movie about an aging insult comic called, The Comedian. She has also appeared on The Tonight Show, Last Comic Standing, The View, and Comedy Central, and guest starred this fall on the new CBS sitcom, Kevin Can Wait. I can’t wait to hear more about Kirson’s past, so let’s get to it!
Kirson also just launched a new podcast with her friend Frank Liotti, all about food addiction, called Fat Pig.
One of the all-time greatest cast members of Saturday Night Live, Dana Carvey found his comedy greatness early, winning the San Francisco Comedy Competition when he was 22, then co-starring in a sitcom with Mickey Rooney and a young Nathan Lane, and a bit part in This Is Spinal Tap. Carvey joined SNL at the age of 31 and revolutionized the show’s impersonations by becoming President George H.W. Bush. Carvey also chopped broccoli, pumped you up with Hans and Franz, played Wayne’s sidekick Garth in Wayne’s World, and was and still is the Church Lady. Isn’t That Special? Yes. Yes, it is. Carvey came back in 2016 in a big way, presiding over a comedy game show on USA called First Impressions and releasing a new Netflix special, Straight White Male, 60.
It’s my pleasure to catch up with him, so let’s get to it!
Yousef Erakat has upward of 10 million YouTube subscribers for FouseyTube and won the 2016 Entertainer of the Year honors at the Streamy Awards, and yet he said during his acceptance speech at the Streamys that he might also be the most hated personality on YouTube. And still, he reads the comments. Yousef sat down with me to talk about how he went from theater classes to vlogging to prank videos and now to movie theaters. He appeared onscreen in 2016 in Tyler Perry’s Boo: A Medea Halloween, and stars in the new YouTube Red romantic comedy, We Love You. It’s out Nov. 22. So let’s get to it!
Dan Levy started comedy at the age of 9 and was competing at the HBO U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen while still a college student at Emerson College. Levy has toured with Aziz Ansari, John Mulaney and Whitney Cummings, and his 2012 album for Comedy Central, “Congrats on Your Success” debuted at #1 on iTunes. He co-starred on HBO’s Enlightened, and has hosted two shows in the past year, the stage show “Baby Talk” for JASH and the stand-up showcase show “Coming to the Stage” for Hulu. He’s currently a writer for ABC’s hit sitcom, The Goldbergs, and his first hour comedy special, Lion, premieres in November 2016 on Seeso. So let’s get to it!
Before we ever heard about Trevor Noah in America, Loyiso Gola was the star of his own TV satire in South Africa, Late Nite News with Loyiso Gola. He appeared in a PBS documentary in 2014 hosted by The Daily Show’s Hasan Minhaj called Stand Up Planet, and now in 2016, Gola is ready for his global close-up. His first stand-up special, Live in New York, is the first solo comedy special presented by Vimeo, and Gola sat down with me just after the New York Comedy Festival to talk about his journey and how to create your own comedy scene no matter where you are in the world. So let’s get to it!
Rory Albanese joined The Daily Show with Jon Stewart shortly after graduating from college in 1999, and rose from the ranks to become executive producer by the time he left in 2013, and was the showrunner for The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, also on Comedy Central, where you also started to see him more in front of the camera as a contributor and panelist. He released his first half-hour stand-up special in 2010. So what’s next for Albanese? I asked him, so let’s get to it!
Nicole Byer first captured the comedy world’s attention as part of the improv group, Doppelganger, which also featured future Saturday Night Live player Sasheer Zamata. Byer co-starred in a late-night sketch show on FOX produced by The Lonely Island called Party Over Here. She’s also appeared on Lady Dynamite, Transparent, 30 Rock and the movie, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates. Nicole’s relationship with MTV began with appearances in webseries, then on TV with Girl Code and Ladylike, and now her own starring series based on her life, Loosely Exactly Nicole. She caught up with me before her first-season finale, so let’s get to it!
Norman Lear is a television legend. Writer, producer and creator of all-time classic sitcoms of the 1970s – including All in the Family, Sanford and Son, One Day at a Time, The Jeffersons, Good Times, and Maude. Lear made satire tackling race, class, and gender inequalities and things that matter to people, at a time when nobody else on TV dared to do so. At one point, he had five of the top nine TV shows in America. Lear left TV to found the progressive organization, People For the American Way, and later purchased the actual Declaration of Independence so Americans of all ages could still see it. Now 94, a new documentary about him from American Masters, “Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You” premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, and it’ll make its broadcast debut Oct. 25, 2016, on PBS.
So let's get to it!