Mark Lonow is an actor, producer and talent manager, but he's perhaps best known for something else he did offstage -- going into business with Budd Friedman to save the Hollywood Improv and help oversee its expansion as the first major comedy club chain. But there's a lot more to Lonow's story, from his job as a teenager at the legendary Pip's in Brooklyn, to the improv/sketch trio he performed in with his wife and Henry Winkler which led him to Budd in the first place. From his own starring turn on TV in the 1970s, to organizing the strike against the Comedy Store in the late 1970s, to his extended family with Claudia Lonow and Michael Rappaport, to exeutive producing multiple specials and projects for Lewis Black, to seeing comedy through the 1980s boom, the bust of the 1990s and now the rebirth and boom of the 21st century. As we prepare to look back at 1970s Los Angeles comedy through Showtime's adaptation of the book, I'm Dying Up Here... who better than someone who lived through it to tell us what's next for comedy today. And why he still wants to be part of that. So let's get to it!
Lavell Crawford is best known for his portrayal of Huell, the bodyguard for Saul Goodman on Breaking Bad and now Better Call Saul. Originally from St. Louis, Crawford rose up the comedy ranks from Showtime at the Apollo to Comicview to Def Comedy Jam to runner-up on season five of Last Comic Standing. He since has been seen multiple times as a panelist on Chelsea Lately and The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, on the big screen in 2016 for both The Ridiculous 6, and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates. He provides a voice on Comedy Central’s animated series, Legends of Chamberlain Heights, and headlines a summer 2017 stand-up theater tour called Comedy’s Most Wanted. So let’s get to it!
Scout Durwood grew up in the Kansas outskirts of Kansas City with dreams of becoming the next Julia Roberts. Instead, after first playing soccer and then becoming a cabaret singer, Scout’s first major screen credit came in the MTV reality dating stunt, A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila. Durwood shook that off to remain entrenched in New York City’s cabaret and burlesque scenes as a funny singer, taking a one-woman musical to the Edinburgh Fringe, winning the Moth StorySLAM, and then re-trying reality television years later in Los Angeles with Oxygen’s Funny Girls. Scout stood out there, but she really shined more recently as a star of the MTV comedy Mary + Jane, produced by Snoop Dogg. She now has completed a project that perhaps best represents her spirit of whimsy and her many talents – Take One Thing Off, her first album for Blue Elan Records, 19 tracks produced by Dave Darling that breaks up her funny songs with funny stand-up bits recorded at The Pack Theater in Los Angeles. So let’s get to it!
Norm Macdonald is Canada’s most-famous play-by-play golf commentator on Twitter. Of course, you know and love Norm Macdonald even more for his years anchoring Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live in the mid-1990s, followed by The Norm Show on ABC. He’s also much beloved by David Letterman and many other comedians for the way he breaks down jokes to their humorous essence, whether it was his memorable Roast of Bob Saget, or in his criticisms of aspiring stand-ups on Last Comic Standing. He’s been Col. Sanders for KFC, and written a fictionalized memoir, “Based on a True Story.” His second stand-up special and first for Netflix, called Hitler’s Dog: Gossip & Trickery, is available for streaming now. So let’s get to it!
Aunty Donna is an Australian sketch comedy group that includes no aunts and no Donnas, but instead one Mark Samual Bonanno, Broden Kelly and Zachary Ruane. They burst onto the comedy scene Down Under with their first show in 2012 at Melbourne’s comedy and fringe festivals. They produced a new show each year since, taking three of them to the other side of the globe at the Edinburgh Fringe, and they’ve accumulated almost 150,000 YouTube subscribers by the time they sat down with me at ShowBriz Studios, where they’re prepared to launch their first North American tour starting in May 2017. So let’s get to it!
Eddie Pepitone has been called “The Bitter Buddha,” which also is the title of the 2012 documentary about the comedian, a New Yorker by birth who has called Los Angeles his home for the better part of the twenty-first century since landing a role in the hit movie, Old School. You’ve seen and heard him in many TV shows over the past decade, including The Sarah Silverman Program, Bob’s Burgers, Maron, Community and a recurring bit as Conan O’Brien’s late-night heckler on Conan. His first Netflix special is In Ruins, and he plays a tortured soul in Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell, which wraps its third season on Adult Swim this May. How close is that to real life? Pepitone sat down with me during the Moontower Comedy Festival in Austin, Texas, to talk about his comedic journey from Chicago City Limits to Hollywood, with a detour into the chaos of politics after the 2016 presidential election, his Twitter feed, and how he can find any serenity today.
So let’s get to it!
Joe DeRosa started his comedy career in the urban rooms of Philadelphia, and not long after he moved to New York City he earned a spot touring with Dave Chappelle. With Bill Burr and Robert Kelly,DeRosa co-wrote and starred in a short film called CHEAT, which they also turned into a book. DeRosa also has written for TV shows including The Pete Holmes Show and Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp; and like Burr, he also has ties to the Breaking Bad universe, appearing onscreen as the veterinarian Dr. Caldera on AMC’s Better Call Saul. He released three previous comedy albums for Comedy Central records, and his new hour special, which he directed, “You Let Me Down,” premiered in February 2017 on Comedy Central. You can hear DeRosa on several different podcasts, most recently engaging in Emotional Hangs with Kurt Braunohler. He and his dog checked in with me from his home in Southern California, so let’s get to it!
Americans may know Aziz Ansari, Hari Kondabolu or Russell Peters, but Vir Das is the biggest Indian-born comedian and Bollywood actor back home, where he hosted up to four shows at once on Indian television. Das first came to America for college, and he’s back now on an American tour promoting his first Netflix special – TENT – which he filmed in both New Delhi and New York. His 2017 tour also will take him to 20 countries on six continents, including Canada, Australia, Switzerland, the UK, Scotland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, South Africa, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, Belgium, Nigeria and France. Das also curates Weirdass Pajama, India’s largest comedy festival, so let’s get to it!
Ian Harvie came out to his family three times in Maine, as gay at 19, as transgender at 22, and as a stand-up comedian at 33. Now a trans man in his 40s, Harvie produced one of the best stand-up specials of 2016, Seeso’s “May the Best Cock Win.” In between, he met Margaret Cho thanks to MySpace, eventually becoming her opening act across North America, taking his own solo shows to the Melbourne comedy festival and San Francisco Sketchfest, starting his own comedy festival back home in Maine, and appearing onscreen in Amazon’s award-winning series, Transparent, and ABC’s soapy drama, Mistresses. He shares his relentlessly positive outlook with me and lessons he has learned along the way, so let’s get to it!
Jimmy Pardo and Matt Belknap are some of the funniest comedy pioneers around. Matt Belknap was an aspiring screenwriter when he launched a message board for Tenacious D fans that became something larger, ASpecialThing.com. Around the same time he decided to start his own record label, he also convinced stand-up comedian and host with the most Jimmy Pardo to launch a weekly podcast. Never Not Funny debuted in the spring of 2006, put up a paywall in 2008 because how were you supposed to make money making podcasts? And in 2015, Never Not Funny joined the Earwolf podcast network. They’d just completed their eighth annual Pardcast-A-Thon raising more than six figures worth in donations to Smile Train when I convinced them to come back into their studio to meet up with me and travel back down memory lane. So let’s get to it!
Jay Chandrasekhar has spent the past two decades writing, directing and acting in film and television. With his group Broken Lizard, he has co-written, co-starred and directed their feature films, Super Troopers, Beerfest and Club Dread. He’s also directed the big-screen version of Dukes of Hazzard, small-screen episodes of Arrested Development, and appeared in a memorable stunt for Jackass 2. But Chandrasekhar also spent some of his formative years studying improv comedy from the legendary Del Close in Chicago, editing the late Mitch Hedberg’s film, Los Enchiladas!, and bringing sketch and improv comedy to New York City when the only other game in town was a plucky group from NYU called The State. Chandrasekhar shares stories about all of that, plus the successful Indiegogo campaign to fund Super Troopers 2, in his new memoir, Mustache Shenanigans, and also in a sit-down with me in the offices of Dutton’s Penguin Random House. So let’s get to it!
Jim Norton is a best-selling author and comedian you've seen in multiple stand-up specials on HBO and EPIX and in recurring roles on Louie and Inside Amy Schumer. But you've likely also heard him for almost two decades now every morning on the radio -- first as the third mic with Opie and Anthony, then second mic with Opie, and now co-hosting his own SiriusXM program weekday mornings with Sam Roberts. Norton's newest stand-up special, his first for Netflix, is called Mouthful of Shame. Jim sat down with me at the Olive Tree Cafe above the Comedy Cellar to talk about how we all can get over our personal shame, how he was three years sober when he finally felt ready to pursue his comedy dreams, how Jim Florentine, Andrew Dice Clay and others helped him along the way, why he chose to work with Jay Leno, how to stay above the fray when comedians attack other comedians, and having gratitude that you can get Robert De Niro to spank your bare ass. There's a lot to get to, so let's get to it!
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!