John van der Put is a magician and comedian from the UK much better known by his stage name as Piff the Magic Dragon. Piff has performed at the Edinburgh Fringe, toured with Mumford and Sons, fooled Penn & Teller on television and charmed the United States on America’s Got Talent. Piff has held court for the last few years as a headlining act on the Vegas Strip at the Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel and Casino. Variety named Piff of the magazine’s 10 Comics to Watch in 2019, and in the summer of 2020, Piff won the inaugural TBS Tournament of Laughs competition. In the fall of 2020, the Flamingo moved Piff into its even bigger 800-seat theater, although he could only sell 20 percent of the tickets due to pandemic protocols. Over Zoom, Piff told me about all of the stages magicians have to go through before they even hit the stage, the economic barriers to entry and success for elite magicians, and how the other Vegas headliners made Piff feel welcome when he first arrived in America — plus how he paid them back by including them in his TV gigs. So let’s get to it!
Dana Gould is a stand-up comedian, writer and performer who wrote and performed on The Ben Stiller Show and spent eight years as writer and producer on The Simpsons. His stand-up special, I Know It’s Wrong, was one of the best specials of the 2010s decade. In 2016, Gould created the IFC comedy horror series, Stan Against Evil. In 2021, his latest project is a webseries called Hanging with Doctor Z, with Gould in the starring role as the Planet of the Apes character hosting a talk show with modern-day celebrities. Gould caught up with me over Zoom to talk about his love for performing as Dr. Z on multiple levels, how his message to the comedians at Just For Laughs Montreal in 2015 still resonates personally with him today, and more. So let’s get to it!
Erica Rhodes is an actress and comedian who got her start at the age of 10, performing on the nationally syndicated public radio hit, A Prairie Home Companion. Rhodes began her stand-up comedy career two decades later, inspired by a bad audition. But things have looked up for her since then. She has guest starred on such sitcoms as New Girl, Modern Family, and Veep, put out her first comedy album, and competed on the NBC series, Bring The Funny. Her first hour-long special, La Vie En Rhodes, is out now via Comedy Dynamics, filmed in the summer of 2020 in the parking lot of the Rose Bowl to an audience of 400 cars. Rhodes and I talked about the unique nature of adapting her hour for COVID-19 conditions, finding her voice, writing for Medium, and what she learned about herself in the past year, experiencing career highs and personal loss during the pandemic. So let’s get to it!
Maronzio Vance has appeared on Wanda Sykes: Wanda Does It, Jamie Foxx's Laffapolooza, Last Comic Standing, and The Tonight Show, and put out a half-hour special on Comedy Central, back when those credits seemed to mean something. Vance has released a double-album of comedy called 20, out on Blonde Medicine, laced with his understated style and cutting wit. The album’s title refers to the 20 years he has spent in Los Angeles since leaving his native North Carolina. We talk about how the pandemic has changed his hair, as well as his outlook on life and comedy, with words of wisdom from Patrice O’Neal, Katt Williams, Mike Birbiglia, Christopher Titus, Paul Mooney, Daniel Tosh, Arnez J, George Wallace and more — plus the backstory and potential future of his working relationship with basketball star Ron Artest. Or Metta World Peace. Or perhaps both of them? So let’s get to it!
Ester Steinberg started performing stand-up on the lunch tables of her high school in Tampa before attending NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. While living in Los Angeles before the pandemic, she produced and hosted a regular comedy show in the Kibitz Room of Canter’s Deli, co-starred in the Oxygen reality series Funny Girls, and got New Faces at Just For Laughs Montreal in 2015. She has since appeared in episodes of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Adam Ruins Everything, and released a comedy album, “Hebrew School Dropout.” In 2021, she’s out with her first stand-up special, Burning Bush, filmed outside the Rose Bowl during the pandemic just weeks after she’d given birth to her first child. We talk all about that, how she managed to put together a new hour under quarantine, double standards for sexiness among comedians, and more. All roads lead to Rome, so let’s get to it!
Eric Andre may just be America’s, if not the world’s greatest prankster (with all due respect to Britain’s Sacha Baron Cohen and Canada’s Nathan Fielder). After first rising on the comedy scene as a stand-up, Andre first made waves in TV with appearances on Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23, 2 Broke Girls, and Man Seeking Woman. But it was his chaotic Adult Swim anti-talk show, The Eric Andre Show, that made his name in the business. Netflix released his debut comedy special, Legalize Everything, in 2020, and has followed up with Andre’s bonkers big-screen achievement, Bad Trip, which co-stars Tiffany Haddish and Lil Rel Howery as the three comedians act crazier than humanly possible in front of unsuspecting Americans up and down the East Coast. It’s both wild and wildly funny. Andre talked to me about the magic of improvising with complete strangers, the importance of showing Black comedians successfully pulling off pranks, and how Lil Rel’s traumatic first day of filming actually convinced Tiffany Haddish to join in on the fun. So let’s get to it!
Danny Jolles is a stand-up comedian best known for his role acting and singing as George on The CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. His other TV credits include Hulu’s Ramy, Comedy Central’s Corporate, Netflix’s Aunty Donna’s House, and Quibi’s Royalties. As a stand-up, Jolles was a New Face at Montreal’s Just For Laughs in 2017, and followed that up with a performance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Jolles filmed his first stand-up comedy special, Six Parts, in a variety of unusual locations, including a surf shop, hair salon, art gallery and a gym. We spoke about the making of that special and putting it out on YouTube for free, his younger days in online sketch comedy with the likes of Jack Quaid and Matt Rogers, the secret to booking national commercials, and the lasting impact of Adam Schlesinger and Kevin Barnett. There’s a lot to get to, so let’s get to it!
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, RushTix provided special ticket offers to subscribers for live events including comedy shows, concerts, and theatrical productions in the San Francisco Bay Area. The lockdowns across America in March 2020 changed everything. Jill Bourque pivoted RushTix to become a provider solely of live-streaming comedy shows centered on allowing fans to interact with their favorite comedians. Other companies have similarly pivoted during the pandemic. Comedians Ben Gleib and Steve Hofstetter tried something different, creating the Nowhere Comedy Club (headquartered in the very specific somewhere of Gleib’s home) to replicate the live comedy club experience for fans anywhere and everywhere. As we mark one year of pandemic lockdowns, I spoke with both Bourque and Gleib about their separate efforts to keep comedy alive online, and where they see the industry going from here. So let’s get to it!
Christina Anthony is an East St. Louis native who came up through the Chicago comedy scene. Anthony joined The Second City, where she performed with e.t.c. and the touring company, and co-wrote three award-nominated sketch revues for the legendary comedy institution. But she almost never got the recognition she deserved in Chicago or Los Angeles, and was ready to hang up her acting career before responding to one last audition call. Her perseverance has paid off, as Anthony won the role of Aunt Denise on one episode of ABC’s black-ish, which led to a co-starring role as Dee-Dee on the spin-off sitcom, mixed-ish. Anthony sat down with me to talk about her path, not giving up on your dreams, and speaking up for a better, more inclusive comedy community. So let’s get to it!
Gary Anthony Williams has been improvising since the 1980s, when he was part of an Atlanta troupe called Laughing Matters. You’ve seen Williams on TV shows such as Boston Legal, where he played a crossdressing lawyer, or as Abe on Malcom in the Middle. He also co-starred on The Soul Man on TV Land, and provided voices for animated shows from The Boondocks, American Dad!, Doc McStuffins, and Bless The Harts. He currently co-stars on Netflix’s The Crew with Kevin James as the guy who makes the car go. Williams joined me to talk about his life and career, founding a short film festival during the digital boom, and whether the craziest improv he’s ever seen came while performing on Whose Line Is It Anyway? or while announcing The Eric Andre Show. So let’s get to it!
Dan Ahdoot is a stand-up comedian who has performed on The Tonight Show, and developed TV shows with FOX, CBS, NBC and Freeform. But Ahdoot is enjoying his greatest success now, with recurring roles on not one but two Netflix hit series — as a car salesman for “Karate Kid” Danny LaRusso in Cobra Kai, and as an engineer working for The Crew with Kevin James. That’s not quite what his parents had in mind when he was studying pre-med at Johns Hopkins, but it’s worked out quite OK. Ahdoot joined me to talk about working in the pandemic, his past experiences on series such as Bajillion Dollar Propertie$ and Kickin’ It, how far he’s come since Falafel Phil, and his own podcast, Green Eggs and Dan. So let’s get to it!
Identical twins Keith and Kenny Lucas were born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, separating only to attend different law schools at Duke and NYU. They reunited after both quit the law to pursue a comedy career together, with a stoner persona that eventually got them a Netflix special in 2017, The Lucas Bros On Drugs. They’ve also enjoyed writing and performing with the sketch group Friends of The People on truTV, and their animated series, Lucas Bros Moving Co., on FOX, as well as appearing in roles on 22 Jump Street, The Grinder, and Lady Dynamite. In 2021, you’re getting to see a more serious side from Keith and Kenneth, as they’ve completed a 10-year journey to bring the story of Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton to the big screen in the film, Judas and the Black Messiah. The brothers joined me over Zoom to talk about working with their friends, how the death of Kevin Barnett impacted them, and what it means to not just be an armchair revolutionary. So let’s get to it!
A comedian, actor, and writer, Patton Oswalt has been making people laugh professionally since his late teens. He first became known to millions as Spence on the sitcom The King of Queens, and brought the alternative comedy scene to the screen thanks to The Comedians of Comedy tour, which begat a 2005 movie produced and distributed by Netflix, and a Comedy Central series. Since then, you’ve seen him on TV in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Justified, Veep, Happy, Veronica Mars, BoJack Horseman, Will and Grace, and on the big screen in Blade: Trinity, Big Fan, Young Adult and the voice of Ratatouille. He’s currently heard on ABC’s The Goldbergs, and Peacock’s A.P. Bio. Oswalt won both the Emmy and the Grammy for his 2016 stand-up special, Talking For Clapping, and received nominations again for his 2020 special, I Love Everything. Oswalt caught up with me via Zoom to talk about performing comedy virtually during the pandemic for RushTix, and walked with me down memory lane as we reminisced about adapting to the evolving technology during the digital comedy boom. So let’s get to it!
Erin Jackson had quite the 2020, starting it by performing on Late Night with Seth Meyers, and ending it by filming a set for Netflix as part of the second season of Tiffany Haddish Presents They Ready, alongside the likes of Tony Woods, Dean Edwards and Godfrey. Jackson came out of the D.C. comedy scene in the early 2000s, had Ellen DeGeneres encourage her to quit her day job, and previously appeared on two different seasons of Last Comic Standing, as well as Live at Gotham and CONAN. Jackson released her first comedy album, “Grudgery,” in 2018, and joined me over Zoom to talk about her life and career and developing a Netflix-ready set during the pandemic, so let’s get to it!
How are we supposed to make any sense out of this year in comedy, 2020? There’s only one way I know how…that’s by reuniting with Jason Zinoman of The New York Times, the Siskel to my Ebert in comedy criticism, to hash out 2020 and give some shout outs to the most valuable players in comedy…so let’s get to it!
Among those shouted out: Dave Chappelle, Conan O'Brien, Eddie Pepitone, Beth Stelling, Mike Birbiglia, Amber Ruffin, Amy Schumer, and Sarah Cooper and all of the other selfie stars who made us laugh on social media this year.
Michael Kosta is a Senior Correspondent on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. Prior to The Daily Show, Michael co-created, produced and starred in the E! network’s The Comment Section, guest-hosted G4’s Attack of the Show and co-hosted Crowd Goes Wild on FOX Sports with Regis Philbin. He also served as a correspondent on The Soup spinoff series The Soup Investigates. Kosta has made the late-night rounds over the years from NBC to TBS and back to Comedy Central, and at the end of 2020 has released his first one-hour stand-up special for Comedy Central. Michael Kosta: Detroit. NY. LA includes material filmed in a theater in his native Michigan, as well as club sets at New York Comedy Club and the Hollywood Improv. Kosta joined me over Zoom to talk about making the move from tennis pro to stand-up comedian, lessons he’s learned along the way and more, so let’s get to it!
Kansas native Jeremiah Watkins trained at both The Second City and The Groundlings, and has become a fixture at The Comedy Store in Los Angeles as part of several trademark shows; among them, he was one-third of “The Wave” for Roast Battle as it developed and grew from late-night Tuesdays to multiple seasons on Comedy Central. He’s still the bandleader for Monday’s Kill Tony. And for more than a decade, Watkins has hosted an improvised riffing showcase there called Stand-Up On The Spot. You also may have seen and heard Watkins as the the saxophone-playing roadie for The Goddamn Comedy Jam. As a solo artist, he hosts his own podcast, Jeremiah Wonders, and was a New Face in Montreal’s Just For Laughs in 2018. At the end of 2020, Watkins has released his first stand-up special through Comedy Dynamics. “Family Reunion” really does bring it all back home quite literally for Watkins, as he filmed his special over the 2019 holidays with his family and friends in attendance at The Comedy Club of Kansas City. Watkins joined me in New York City to talk about the special, his career and more, so let’s get to it!
Colin Quinn seems to have his finger on the pulse of stand-up comedy and America just about as well, if not better, than almost any other comedian in America these days. His most recent solo stand-up special, 2019’s Red State Blue State, poked holes in how united Americans could be in this digital era where everyone’s opinions can carry equal weight, no matter how outlandishly crazy or off-base they might be. Quinn’s special even premiered on CNN, although it’s now on Netflix along with his previous two shows (Unconstitutional, and The New York Story). He followed that up with a book, “Overstated: A Coast-to-Coast Roast of the Fifty States” And when the COVID-19 pandemic began shutting down American businesses and comedy clubs with it in mid-March, Quinn not only predicted the near future for stand-up (performing for cars at drive-ins) but also got an HBO Max showcase for himself and his friends. It’s aptly-named Colin Quinn & Friends: A Parking Lot Comedy Show. I sat down with Quinn over Zoom this week to find out what else the comedian and former Saturday Night Live Weekend Update anchor can tell us about the state of comedy, SNL and America today, so let’s get to it!
Sam Reich was 21 when CollegeHumor hired him as its first Director of Original Content in 2006. In a few short years, the success of in-house webseries such as “Hardly Working” and “Jake and Amir” got Reich and CollegeHumor a sketch comedy show on MTV. While that show didn’t last, Reich helped executive produce, write or direct several others. Among them: Adam Ruins Everything for truTV, Hot Date for POP, and "Rhett and Link's Buddy System" on YouTube Red. In 2020, Reich acquired CollegeHumor from IAC, where he continues to oversee the making of original comedy videos for the channel’s 14 million subscribers on YouTube. He’s also CEO for Dropout, a subscription-based streaming platform he founded — its shows include Um Actually, Dimension 20, and the game show, Game Changer, which Reich himself hosts. It’s been a long, strange trip making comedy videos, and it’s not over yet for Reich, so let’s get to it!
Negin Farsad began her comedy career while advising campaign finance policies for the city of New York, and over the course of the 2010s, she has mixed social justice and comedy on stage and on the road. She made and performed in a road-trip documentary across America in 2012 called “The Muslims Are Coming!” She has delivered multiple TED Talks, one based on that documentary, and another on her book, “How To Make White People Laugh.” Since 2016, she has hosted a weekly podcast on the Earwolf network called “Fake the Nation,” and has become a regular on the NPR comedy quiz show, “Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!” She also has appeared on HBO’s High Maintenance, and written for Jena Friedman’s Adult Swim specials, Soft Focus. Farsad sat down with me to focus in on her own career and how she remains optimistic about comedy’s ability to positively influence public perceptions and policies. Even on the eve of the 2020 election. So let’s get to it!
Melinda Hill moved 27 times as a kid before making her biggest move from Kansas to Los Angeles to make it as an actress. She studied with The Groundlings, where she performed as a tooth fairy alongside Kristin Wiig. She starred in a Creed music video. She competed on America’s Got Talent. She performed on Adventure Time, Lady Dynamite, The Late Late Show, and Reno 911! She made a webseries for Funny or Die with Maria Bamford, and another one for My Damn Channel called Romantic Encounters. And for 10 years, she helped run a popular Monday night stand-up showcase in Hollywood called What’s Up Tiger Lily. This year, she performed in an upcoming movie with Diane Keaton and Jeremy Irons, started a podcast called Let’s Process This about creative people overcoming trauma, and turned her own personal trauma into comedy in her debut stand-up special, Inappropriate, out now via Comedy Dynamics. So let’s get to it!
J-L Cauvin is a native New Yorker who started his stand-up comedy career in Washington, D.C., while going to law school at Georgetown. His first big break came in 2007 when he performed on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, but J-L has found many more fans and followers thanks to his uncanny impersonations, whether they’re of people he has been told he looks like, which includes Barack Obama, Adam Sandler, or Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, or by lampooning other comedians such as Louis CK, JB Smoove, George Lopez, Gary Gulman, or Adam Carolla. J-L’s Carolla impersonation got the attention of Carolla himself, leading to multiple appearances on his top podcast in recent years. Since 2016, J-L has found his mockery mark in Donald Trump, releasing multiple videos and two “Fireside Craps” albums as Trump that have hit #1 on the iTunes comedy charts. At the start of the COVID-19 shutdown in March 2020, J-L released a video, “Donald Trump vs. God on Easter PPV” that went viral, with more than 2.5 million views so far. J-L caught up with me just prior to the 2020 elections to talk Trump, why he hasn’t done a Biden impersonation, and his own long and winding career, so let’s get to it!
So much has changed in the world since the last time I caught up with Lewis Black in September of 2016. But last things first, obviously: Black managed to film his last live show before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down live stand-up comedy, recording his March 13, 2020, performance at Four Winds Casino in Michigan and releasing it in October 2020. It’s called, appropriately enough: “Thanks For Risking Your Life.” Black spoke with me over Zoom about the special, about his longtime support for the National Comedy Center in Jamestown, NY, and about America’s seeming lack of community in 2020, which prompted me to ask Black if his former boss, Jon Stewart, won the battle against CNN’s Crossfire but ultimately lost the war against cable news. So let’s get to it!
Adam Conover is a comedian and writer best known for the truTV series Adam Ruins Everything, which he created and hosted from 2015-2019. Conover’s comedy career began while still a student at Bard College, where he was part of the sketch comedy group, Olde English, along with future Bojack Horseman creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg. Olde English performed at the HBO Aspen comedy festival in 2007, and in 2012, wrote and released the feature film, The Exquisite Corpse Project. Conover also began writing and making videos for College Humor, where his 2012 parody Mitt Romney Style has earned more than 64 million views and counting on YouTube. College Humor also helped give birth to Adam Ruins Everything. Conover sat down with me in Los Angeles in February 2020, just as he began his newest gig as host of the Nickelodeon game show, The Crystal Maze. We spoke about the heady early years of Internet comedy videos, and how Facebook and other factors brought it all crashing down, even before the COVID-19 pandemic took the comedy industry by storm. So let’s get to it!
When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down everything in March of 2020, thousands upon thousands of comedians suddenly experienced the existential dilemma that comedian Mike Birbiglia had depicted in his 2016 movie, “Don’t Think Twice.” Birbiglia himself didn’t think twice, however, quickly starting a nationwide fundraising campaign called Tip Your Waitstaff, with proceeds going to the employees of comedy clubs suddenly shuttered for who knows how long. His conversations with other comedians has prompted Birbiglia to start his own podcast, Working It Out, in which he and other stand-ups riff on premises with hopes of turning them into full comedy routines. Birbiglia already has successfully mined his own life and observations into four one-man shows, Sleepwalk With Me, My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend, Thank God For Jokes, and The New One. The first he adapted into a feature film; the latter three he filmed for Netflix, and the newest one, so to speak, also is a new book that includes more poetry from his wife, J. Hope Stein. You may have heard him tell his stories on Ira Glass’s This American Life, or also recognize Birbigs from the movie Trainwreck or from his TV roles in Girls, Broad City, Orange is the New Black, and Billions. So let’s get to it!