Yakov Smirnoff got his big break in America thanks to Mitzi Shore, who not only put up the Soviet immigrant in her home behind The Comedy Store in 1977 but also gave Yakov’s father a full-time job, too. Smirnoff himself became a big star during the Reagan years, starring opposite Robin Williams in Moscow on the Hudson, recurring on NBC’s hit sitcom Night Court, and getting his own Showtime special and short-lived sitcom. What a Country! He also performed several times for Ronald and Nancy Reagan, including a headlining gig at the 1988 White House Correspondents Dinner. In the 1990s, Smirnoff found a new professional home in Branson, Missouri. He still performs in Branson two months a year, when he’s not back in LA where he’s a Comedy Store regular, or out on the road with his new Happily Ever Laughter tour. There’s a lot to talk about, so let’s get to it!
Keith Malley and Chemda Khalili began podcasting out of their apartment in Queens in March of 2005, three months before Apple recognized podcasting officially on iTunes. “Keith and The Girl” quickly became one of the most popular podcasts, and by 2011, they’d launched a VIP service that garnered some 50,000 paid subscribers, who pay monthly or annually for access to 10 additional podcasts and bonus content. They have written two books together, 2010’s What Do We Do Now? Keith and The Girl’s Smart Answers To Your Stupid Relationship Questions, and The Ultimate Podcasting Guide in 2014. They’re still at it broadcasting several times a week, and caught me up on everything in honor of their 14th anniversary as a podcast. So let’s get to it!
A classically trained theater major who grew up in New Orleans and Minnesota’s Twin Cities, Lyric Lewis took her degree from Syracuse and headed straight for Hollywood, where she auditioned for The Groundlings. Over the course of several years, Lewis worked her way up the ranks, eventually reaching the cast of the Sunday Company. Then in quick succession, she landed a spot in the CBS Diversity Sketch Comedy Showcase, Just For Laughs New Faces Characters, and a role in the reboot of MADtv for The CW. That didn’t last, but she rebounded with a role in the NBC sitcom A.P. Bio, prompting Entertainment Weekly to call her your new comedy crush when A.P. Bio debuted in 2018. Lewis also has appeared in FX’s Baskets, and Comedy Central’s Drunk History. She sat down with me inside The Groundlings training center before season two of A.P. Bio premieres to tell me all about her comedy journey. So let’s get to it!
Steve Agee had a bizarre enough life behind the camera before he ever got his first big shot in front of it thanks to Sarah Silverman. Agee edited footage for MTV’s reality shows such as The Real World, then got a job writing for Jimmy Kimmel Live, where he’s responsible for launching the famous Kimmel bit, Unnecessary Censorship. Since co-starring on the Sarah Silverman Program, Agee is recognizably cast as “that guy” on sitcoms such as “New Girl,” “You’re The Worst,” and “Superstore.” He currently cohosts a podcast with E! late-night talker Busy Phillips called We’re No Doctors. And Agee landed his first leading role in a feature film, the new indie movie Boy Band. Written and directed by the Levinson Brothers, Boy Band is about a late-90s boy band that got old and fat without realizing it, with Agee’s bandmates played by Seth Herzog, Jordan Carlos and Dave Hill. There’s a lot to get to, so let’s get to it!
In 2019, Dane Cook is heading out for his first full national tour in six years, and he’s calling it his Tell It Like It Is tour, playing venues such as the Wang Theater in his hometown of Boston and Radio City Music Hall in New York City. How is it now for Dane Cook? Cook sat down with me in The Comedy Store’s podcast studio this month to talk through his comedy and personal demons, as well as go back with me to his historic and pioneering rise through social media in the mid 2000s, culminating in HBO specials, double-platinum records, selling out Madison Square Garden, hosting Saturday Night Live twice and starring in major motion pictures. He was the comedy star of the late 2000s. Dane Cook has been through a lot since then and come out the other side. And he’s ready to talk all about it. So let’s get to it!
Henry Rollins was the legendary frontman for hardcore punk band Black Flag in the 1980s, then his own Rollins Band into the 90s and early oughts. Rollins also has written more than two dozen books, appeared in movies such as Heat, Lost Highway and Bad Boys II, on TV in Sons of Anarchy, as well as hosting series for National Geographic and the History Channel, and putting out several spoken word specials. Rollins currently hosts a weekly radio program on KCRW and co-stars in the new SyFy series, Deadly Class. His newest talking show, Keep Talking Pal, premiered on Showtime in 2018 and is available now everywhere via Comedy Dynamics. There’s a lot to get to, so let’s get to it!
Sam Richardson is best known for playing Richard Splett, the only optimistic voice in Selina Meyer’s administration on HBO’s Veep. Richardson spent summers in his childhood across the globe in Ghana with his mother’s side of the family. But he’s also a Detroit native through and through, getting his comedy start as a teen taking classes at Second City Detroit, and later co-creating and co-starring in two seasons of “Detroiters” with his best friend, Tim Robinson, on Comedy Central. You’ve seen Richardson in a variety of roles on screens big and small over the past five years. In 2019, he’s part of Veep’s fond farewell from HBO, as well as the premiere season of “Champaign, Ill.,” on YouTube Premium, where he co-stars with Adam Pally as members of their best friend’s entourage who lose their best friend and everything else. There’s a lot to get to. So let’s get to it!
Shaun Latham found the key to his successful comedy career not in Los Angeles or New York City, but in Indianapolis. That’s where he developed the most in recent years, and found a home with the Pat McAfee Show podcast and a hit web series, 20 Dollar Chef, through Barstool Sports. Latham, who went on the road opening for Gabriel Iglesias and got his first TV credits on Fluffy’s Comedy Central showcase, Stand-Up Revolution, recently did make the move to the Big Apple, where he is hosting his own SiriusXM talk show weekday mornings on the Barstool Sports channel, and preparing to get in the ring for Barstool’s Rough and Rowdy 7 Super Brawl in Atlanta. There’s a lot to get to, so let’s get to it!
Gaby Dunn is a journalist, comedian and actress, who with comedy partner Allison Raskin, wrote, performed and produced the successful YouTube comedy channel “Just Between Us,” with more than 700,000 subscribers. Their young adult novel, “I Hate Everyone But You,” was a New York Times best-seller. Dunn’s podcast, Bad With Money, was named one of the top 10 podcasts of 2016 by The New York Times. Gaby has turned her podcast into a new book, “Bad With Money: The Imperfect Art of Getting Your Financial Sh*t Together.” It’s out now. Gaby pulls back the curtain on the real economics of making money, or failing to, while making YouTube videos and other social media content. So let’s get to it!
Fred Armisen was one of the longest-serving cast members of Saturday Night Live, spending 11 seasons as Fericito, Prince, Barack Obama and more. He has since gone on to star in eight seasons of Portlandia on IFC, two seasons of Big Mouth on Netflix, another two seasons of Documentary Now! on IFC, one season and counting of Forever on Amazon Prime Video, and put out his first solo comedy special in 2018, Standup for Drummers, on Netflix. That doesn’t leave him much time to lead the band for Late Night with Seth Meyers. But a third season of Documentary Now! premieres in February 2019, and there’s a lot to get to, so let’s get to it!
Gina Brillon was born and raised in the Bronx, New York, and already knew she wanted to be a stand-up comedian before she grew up, starting her career when she was still 17. Brillon became the first Latina winner of NBC’s Stand Up For Diversity competition in 2012, and since then has held sitcom development deals not only with NBC, but also with CBS and ABC. Brillon tours regularly with Gabriel Iglesias when she’s not headlining comedy clubs on her own, and she recently began what could be a recurring role on ABC’s hit sitcom, The Conners. There’s a lot to get to, so let’s get to it!
Before we turn our calendars to 2019 and start making jokes about writing 2018 on all of our checks that we no longer write because we live in a digital age, it’s time once again for our annual tribute to the year’s most valuable players in comedy. This is the fourth time that New York Times comedy critic Jason Zinoman has joined me for this annual debate, and Zinoman got me thinking about whether we should expand our honors to include not only the comedy MVP candidates, but also Rookies of the Year, Comeback Comedian of the Year, and more. Do we talk about Hannah Gadsby? Of course we do. We also get into Tiffany Haddish, Michelle Wolf, Hasan Minhaj, Donald Glover, Kate McKinnon, John Mulaney, Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Ellen DeGeneres and more. So let’s get to it!
Brian Regan is most comedians’ favorite comedian. Even if you might not recognize him or place his name, Regan has stood out among stand-ups for the past two decades, with multiple comedy specials to his credit – including Comedy Central’s first and still only live special, recorded at Radio City Music Hall. Regan performed 28 times on David Letterman, and since added a few Fallons. As part of his deal with Netflix, Regan is releasing a four-episode series that’s part classic stand-up routines, part new sketches based on those premises. He produced it with Jerry Seinfeld. Stand Up and Away! comes out this Christmas Eve. So let’s get to it!
Adam McKay won the Academy Award for best screenplay for his adaptation of The Big Short. His newest film at the end of 2018 is VICE, McKay’s darkly satiric yet mostly true retelling of the life and career of Dick Cheney. He has come a long way since his Second City days as an improviser and founding member of the Upright Citizens Brigade. McKay is a former head writer for Saturday Night Live, where he first teamed up with Will Ferrell on sketches and digital shorts. Their first feature film together was 2004’s Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. McKay also wrote and directed Ferrell in Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby, Step Brothers The Other Guys, Anchorman 2, and on Broadway and HBO in a send-up of George W. Bush called “You’re Welcome America.” Together, McKay and Ferrell formed Gary Sanchez Productions in 2006, and a year later, helped launch Funny or Die. In 2018, McKay had one of his busiest years yet, bringing the series Succession to HBO, executive producing several other TV series, and finishing work on VICE. All while surviving a heart attack. There’s a lot to get to, so let’s get to it!
Sarah Cooper could have enjoyed a lucrative career in tech, only she didn’t enjoy Google as much as she did making jokes about it. She began performing stand-up in 2010, and in 2013, saw a blog post she wrote about how to look smart in meetings go viral and land her a three-book deal. She has moved from New York City to Silicon Valley and back again, and her third book, How To Be Successful Without Hurting Men’s Feelings, is out now. So let’s get to it!
Rosebud Baker has two famous names if you know where to look. Her family business isn’t exactly Citizen Kane, although if you were paying any attention to politics, then you know a life of stand-up comedy and podcasting about Justin Bieber is a far cry from her grandfather’s past as Secretary of State for President George H.W. Bush. Rosebud started out as an actress — she co-starred in the 2010 Sundance reality series, Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys, and now co-hosts a podcast about Justin Bieber called Two Less Lonely Girls. In between, Rosebud has written for Someecards, Elite Daily, The Frisky and more, and she’s starring in a brand-new Amazon Prime series, Inside Jokes, which followed her journey as a New Face at the Just For Laughs comedy festival in Montreal. So let’s get to it!
Comedy fans have known and loved Jason Mantzoukas for years. Even if you don’t know the name, you’ve probably known and loved Mantzoukas and recognized him from his scene-stealing roles FX’s The League, or Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Drunk History, Transparent, I’m Sorry, No Activity, The Good Place, Big Mouth, or in movies such as The Dictator or The House. And you’ve certainly heard him as one-third of the hit podcast How Did This Get Made? Mantzoukas now has his first starring role in a movie, alongside Tony Revolori in The Long Dumb Road. Mantzoukas sat down with me to talk about his own long and not so dumb road from Boston to Morocco to New York City to Hollywood. So let’s get to it!
Anthony Cumia was installing heaters and air conditioners at 33 when a song parody he wrote about OJ Simpson caught the attention of a Long Island radio DJ named Gregg Hughes. Hughes invited Cumia to sit in with him, and from there, The Opie and Anthony Show was born. That was 1994. Twenty years later, SiriusXM fired Cumia after one ill-advised stunt and Tweetstorm too many, and ended the jock duo’s reign of shock and comedy. But Cumia rebounded by starting a livestream from his home. Now he’s built a thriving network of 10 shows out of a Manhattan studio called Compound Media, and he just published his memoir, Permanently Suspended. There’s a lot to get to, so let’s get to it!
Orlando Leyba was born in Puerto Rico but deported to the Dominican Republic with his mother when he was just a small child. Leyba and his mom eventually made it back to the United States, and he got his start in comedy in Miami. Through hard work and timing, he’s risen up the ranks, and in the past year, recorded stand-up for LaffMobb’s Lafftracks on truTV, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, and HBO Latino’s Entre Nos. Leyba was a Comic to Watch at the 2018 New York Comedy Festival, and is the first HBO Latino comedian to have his own half-hour special. It’s called Adorable and is out now. So let’s get to it!
Carolyn Taylor, Jennifer Whalen and Aurora Browne met while performing with Second City Toronto. Later, Meredith MacNeill befriended Carolyn on the set of This Hour Has 22 Minutes. These four Canadian women joined forces to create, write, executive produce and Star in their own hilarious sketch comedy series, Baroness Von Sketch Show. They’re in production on season four for the CBC, while season three premieres this November on IFC. So let’s get to it!
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!