As we put a bow on 2019, it’s time once again for me to sit down with New York Times comedy critic Jason Zinoman to look back on the year’s best and brightest moments in comedy, and which comedians brought out the best. We couldn’t help but discuss cancel culture, and whom that actually applied to this year. We also talked up the big years for Sebastian Maniscalco and Tiffany Haddish, the greatness of Gary Gulman and Anthony Jeselnik, and breakthroughs for Jacqueline Novak, Ronny Chieng and Ramy Youssef. We noted big years for Amy Schumer, Nikki Glaser and Julio Torres. We debated the relative greatness of Bill Burr and Dave Chappelle. We noted the other ways comedians made themselves noticed, whether they were clowns in real life, or amusing us via Instagram and Twitter. And we paused to reflect on how Joe Rogan became the biggest talk show host around. All that and more marked the year in comedy of 2019. So let’s get to it!
Becky Robinson grew up in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon, and studied business at San Diego State University before she threw her everything into show business. A video she made of a McDonald’s wedding proposal gone awry went viral in the summer of 2015, leading her to multiple gigs, first going undercover as an on-the-street correspondent for Funny or Die, then as herself showing off her freestyle rapping chops on MTV’s Wild N’ Out with Nick Cannon. In 2018, Robinson went to Montreal to showcase with other New Faces in the Characters category, while also developing her own potential sketch comedy series with E! Comedy Central sent her to Comic-Con 2019 in character as techie Alan Gingrich. Now she’s shopping her potential TV series to other networks, while also showing off her range in her first headlining tour, called Snow Circus. She sat down with me as herself in New York City just before her tour launched at Gotham Comedy Club, so let’s get to it!
Abby McEnany stars as a fictionalized version of herself in the new Showtime series Work In Progress. On Showtime, Abby is a 45-year-old overweight queer dyke from Chicago who plans to commit suicide in 180 days if her live doesn’t get any better. Can she become a work in progress before it’s too late? In real life, McEnany is still queer and based in the Windy City, but a little bit older and happier, thanks in part to her longtime involvement in Chicago’s improv comedy community — she’s been a mainstay of improv Olympic’s weekly improv group Virgin Daiquiri for the past decade. That group’s alums include SNL stars Aidy Bryant and Cecily Strong. McEnany created Work In Progress with another Chicago improviser, Tim Mason, and they independently filmed the pilot, premiering it in January 2019 at Sundance. Showtime picked it up to series, and Lilly Wachowski came on board as a co-writer and showrunner. Abby walks me through all of those progressions, both personal and professional, so let’s get to it!
Jeff Garlin is a comedian and actor who honed his chops in the 1980s with The Second City, alongside the likes of Stephen Colbert and Amy Sedaris. You know him from playing Larry David’s friend Jeff Greene on HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, as well as playing the patriarch of the ABC sitcom family, The Goldbergs. You’ve heard his voice in such Pixar classics as Wall-E and Toy Story 3 and 4, and he has written and directed three feature films: I Want Someone To Eat Cheese With, Dealin’ With Idiots, and Handsome: A Netflix Mystery Movie. Garlin goes even deeper into his movie credits during his 2019 Netflix comedy special: Our Man In Chicago. But as he’ll tell you then and now, nothing is more fun than making it up as we go along, so let’s get to it!
Erik Rivera got heavily involved in comedy in the wake of 9/11 while studying at Pace University just blocks away from the World Trade Center. Rivera’s TV credits include performing on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Last Comic Standing, his own hour special, “I’m No Expert,” as well as a season of reality TV with his wife on Oxygen, “Living With Funny.” In November 2019, Rivera stars in his own HBO half-hour special, “Super White.” He worked with Eva Longoria years ago trying to develop his life into a half-hour sitcom, and as he has Longoria still in his corner for another development deal in the making, Rivera sat down with me in his home in Burbank to talk about where his life and career have taken him, and might take him still. So let’s get to it!
Elliott Morgan is one of the members of The Valleyfolk, a crowd-funded Internet comedy troupe that won the inaugural season of NBC’s Bring The Funny in the summer of 2019, winning $250,000 and an invitation to perform at the Just For Laughs comedy festival in Montreal. That’s a long way from central Florida, where Morgan grew up and got married at a young age. Morgan grew up in comedy online thanks to a gig as one of the original members of SourceFed, a Google-funded YouTube channel that had more than 1.6 million subscribers when it stopped making videos in 2017. He talks to me about all of that, plus working on Hollywood Boulevard as a costumed character, releasing an early stand-up special on Vimeo, working with historic YouTube accounts and what it means to be a YouTuber now, and joking through his failed marriage on his second stand-up special, “Holy Shit,” which he released in October 2019 via Comedy Dynamics. There’s a lot to get to, so let’s get to it!
Celeste Barber had appeared on Australian television as a regular on the hospital soap opera All Saints in the late 2000s, but that wasn’t translating into fans or followers on social media. Then Barber decided she’d have fun re-creating the outrageous photo shoots of celebrities and models, and posted her results on Instagram with the hashtag #CelesteChallengeAccepted. Eight months after she took on that challenge in 2015, her hashtag and her Instagram account went viral. Fast forward to 2019, and Barber has published two books (one nonfiction and one for children), toured the US with a stage act, gained more than 6.1 million Instagram followers, and now filmed and released her first comedy special for Showtime, Celeste Barber: Challenge Accepted. I caught up with Celeste in Showtime’s offices in New York City, so let’s get to it!
Matt Besser is known as one of the co-founders of the Upright Citizens Brigade, which began as a sketch comedy group in Chicago, moved to New York City, got a TV series on Comedy Central, and opened up theaters and schools teaching improv and sketch comedy in both New York and Los Angeles. Besser also created and starred in a second Comedy Central series, the parody debate show, Crossballs, and over the years has performed as a guest star in sitcoms such as Fresh Off The Boat, Modern Family, Parks and Recreation, and Community. But Besser’s stand-up career predates his association with the UCB. He has four stand-up comedy albums out, including the audio version of his first solo comedy special, 2016’s “Besser Breaks The Record.” His second stand-up special, “Pot Humor,” was filmed for Comedy Dynamics in a cannabis club in Portland, Ore., full of stoners, including Besser. You can hear Besser hosting his popular improvised comedy podcast for Earwolf, called Improv4Humans, and still find him every weekend at the UCB Theatre in Los Angeles performing the theater’s signature ASSSSCAT shows. That’s where I caught up with Besser recently. We had a lively discussion about changing attitudes toward both pot and improv over the course of our lifetimes, the highs and lows of both. So let’s get to it!
Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe are an award-winning writing and directing team based in Los Angeles. They became friends and collaborators while performing together in New York City on an Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre sketch team called Onassis. They formed Gulp Splash Productions in 2015. Since then, they have written and produced three short films, which have appeared in more than 70 film festivals worldwide. They’ve also directed two episodes of Adam Ruins Everything for truTV. But it’s their first feature, “Greener Grass,” that has everyone talking. What began as their first short film, directed then by Paul Briganti, premiered at SXSW in 2016, where it won festival awards and begat a TV deal with IFC. DeBoer and Luebbe ended up turning Greener Grass into their own calling card, directing the feature film adaptation, which premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and got bought by IFC Midnight. In the film, they co-star as best friends, or are they frenemies, in a surreal suburban community where everyone drives golf carts and wishes they had what their neighbors have. It co-stars Beck Bennett, Neil Casey, Mary Holland and D’Arcy Carden, and opens in movie theaters and On Demand in October 2019. I sat down with the filmmakers in Hollywood, so let’s get to it!
Josh Gondelman is a writer and comedian who currently writes and produces comedy for Desus and Mero on Showtime. Before that, Gondelman spent five years at HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, earning multiple Emmys and other awards for his work on the writing staff. Much before that, before his comedy career took off, he taught preschool in the Boston area. As a performer, you’ve seen him tell jokes on Conan, The Late Late Show with James Corden, and Late Night With Seth Meyers, or heard him on one of his three comedy albums. As a writer, his work also has appeared in McSweeney’s, New York Magazine, The New Yorker, the Modern Seinfeld parody Twitter account, and more. His book of essays, “Nice Try: Stories of Best Intentions and Mixed Results,” is out now. So let’s get to it!
Jim and Jeannie Gaffigan have survived and thrived in ways they couldn’t have imagined when they pulled the plug on their TV Land series in the summer of 2016. Within months, Jeannie was diagnosed with a life-threatening brain tumor, and the couple, who have five young children, wondered what would happen next. Jeannie writes about all of that in her new book, “When Life Gives You Pears: The Healing Power of Family, Faith, and Funny People.” Jim, meanwhile, was nominated for Grammy Awards in both 2018 and 2019. And in August 2019, Gaffigan became the first stand-up comedian to launch a special with Amazon Prime Video as an Amazon Original with “Quality Time.” Jim and Jeannie gave me some quality time in their New York City apartment to talk about everything they’ve been through together, so let’s get to it!
Evan Shapiro had run cable TV stations IFC, Sundance Channel, and Pivot before he launched Seeso, a streaming comedy service owned by Comcast and NBCUniversal in 2016. Shapiro went independent for a couple of years after that, but in May 2019, he took the reins as president of the National Lampoon, where he’s in charge of all development, acquisitions, and production on television, digital and audio content for the entertainment company. Shapiro helped rebrand the Independent Film Channel as a home for celebrated comedy in IFC, and brought podcasters to TV with Comedy Bang! Bang! and Maron. What can he do to revitalize the National Lampoon brand? He’s already working with the Forever Dog podcast network to develop some of their shows for TV. Shapiro, who also teaches TV at NYU, invited me to his unconventional offices at Soho House to give us a crash course in what’s happening with comedy these days. So let’s get to it!
Quinta Brunson took classes at The Second City in Chicago and Los Angeles and was performing with iOWest when she first found success not onstage but online, thanks to a 2013 Tumblr video, followed by a series of shorts she made for Instagram known as “He Got Money” or “The Girl Who’s Never Been on a Nice Date.” A gig with Buzzfeed followed suit, where she developed, wrote and starred in series for Facebook Watch, YouTube and Go90. Brunson has appeared on shows on ABC, The CW and Comedy Central, writes and provides a voice on Adult Swim’s Lazor Wulf, and had a deal to develop a sitcom for CBS with Jermaine Fowler and Larry Wilmore in 2018. That fell through, but in doing so, opened the door for Brunson to join the cast of HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show. Brunson sat down with me to talk about the first season on HBO and what’s to come. So let’s get to it!
Julio Torres described himself as a Space Prince before casting himself as a Chocolate Prince in the surreal bilingual TV series, Los Espookys, which he co-created, co-wrote and co-stars in for HBO. Originally from El Salvador, Torres first moved to New York City to study at The New School. After his funny friends helped him with his immigration process, he joined the most American of comedy institutions, Saturday Night Live, as a writer, known for his distinctive short films that have filled us in on “Wells For Boys,” the font Papyrus, and the inner thoughts of a sink. Torres animates even more objects in his first solo comedy special, “My Favorite Shapes,” which premieres on HBO in August 2019. I had only a few minutes of alone time with Julio at HBO headquarters, so let’s get to it!
After performing a half-hour stand-up special on Comedy Central and writing a book on depression, what came next for comedian Jacqueline Novak would bring her to her knees. So to speak. The actress Natasha Lyonne has presented Novak in her first Off-Broadway show, “Get On Your Knees,” currently enjoying a limited run in the summer of 2019 at the Cherry Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village. It’s billed as “the most high-brow show about blow jobs you’ll ever see,” and it’s directed by the comedian and actor John Early, who also cast Novak in his own Netflix special. I sat down with Jacqueline at the Cherry Lane before one of her shows to talk about her place in the Georgetown University comedy community (which includes her show’s executive producer, Mike Birbiglia, her producer Mike Lavoie, as well Nick Kroll and John Mulaney) and how I hope to see her film and distribute “Get On Your Knees” to schools across America. So let’s get to it!
Brent Weinbach is an innovative and weird stand-up comedian, befitting of someone who won the Andy Kaufman Award in 2007. Since then, he has masterminded hit YouTube videos such as “Gangster Party Line,” “Man Gives Birth” and “Ultimate Drumming Technique.” With DJ Douggpound, Weinbach co-created and directed the Streamy-nominated web series, “Pound House.” Weinbach also has appeared on multiple episodes of IFC’s “Comedy Bang! Bang!” and Comedy Central’s “Another Period.” Even mainstream audiences have gotten to experience Weinbach courtesy of his stand-up sets on Conan, Lopez Tonight and The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail. His stand-up special "Appealing to the Mainstream" originally debuted on Seeso in 2017 and is now available on Amazon Prime. He also regularly headlines a show called Brent Weinbach and Friends at the Hollywood Improv, which is where I caught up with him in 2019. So let’s get to it!
Marina Franklin is a Chicago native who has called Harlem home long enough to see her New York City neighborhood gentrify around her. She also has traveled the world as a comedian, performing in festivals from Melbourne to Montreal, from Kilkenny to Bonnaroo. Franklin’s onscreen credits include appearances on Chappelle’s Show, The Jim Gaffigan Show, Crashing, Louie, and The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, as well as performances on The Awkward Comedy Show and Showtime’s Women Who Kill. Her podcast, Friends Like Us, features female comedians of color talking about the topics of the day. And she has a friend in Conan and Team Coco, who have featured her on TV, on tour, and showcased the trailer to her first solo stand-up special, “Single Black Female,” which comes out in July 2019 via the Comedy Dynamics Network. There’s a lot to talk about, so let’s get to it!
With degrees in English and Theater, Catherine Cohen not only graduated from Princeton University but also delivered a humorous speech at her own graduation. Five years later, Cohen became one of New York City’s newest It Girls, bringing the cabaret community back into the mainstream of comedy. She’s all over magazines such as Interview and GQ. Onscreen, you’ve already seen her in the finale of Comedy Central’s Broad City, as well an episode of HBO’s High Maintenance. Sh’ll soon appear on the big screen in the movie, Lovebirds. And all the while, Cohen holds court in the East Village with Henry Koperski as her accompanist on piano, weekly at Alan Cumming’s Club Cumming, and monthly at Joe’s Pub. In August 2019 she’s taking her show to the UK for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, “The Twist...? She's Gorgeous.” We caught up with her in San Francisco in June, where Cohen performed on several shows as part of Comedy Central’s Clusterfest. After our chat, we’ll listen to her first breakout song with Koperski, “Look at Me.” So let’s get to it!
Bashir Salahuddin and Diallo Riddle met in college and became fast friends and comedy partners. But they did not take the typical path from Harvard to Hollywood. Their scenic route through show business included making their own videos before YouTube, to web series for a shuttered HBO website, to writing for Comedy Central’s Chocolate News, and eventually to joining the original Late Night writing staff for Jimmy Fallon — where they birthed successful bits such as Slow Jam The News. When they left Fallon, they found individual success — Bashir in GLOW and the upcoming Top Gun sequel, Diallo in the sitcom Marlon — and together wrote for the variety series Maya & Marty. In July 2019, Bashir and Diallo have not one but two new comedy series premiering — the sitcom South Side on Comedy Central, and the variety spoof Sherman’s Showcase on IFC. There’s a lot to get to, so let’s get to it!
Michelle Collins has that gift for gab that translates hilariously well both as a stand-up comedian and as a talk-show host. Collins co-starred for one season on ABC’s The View, and has gone on to host several after-shows for reality series. Among them: ABC's After Paradise, TLC's 90 Day Live: A 90 Day Fiance Fan Aftershow, and Lifetime's Little Talk Live. She can currently be heard hosting her very own morning show, The Michelle Collins Show, live weekday mornings on SiriusXM satellite radio. And she has a live stage show, “Strong Monster,” in which she recounts her life as well as the latest musings from the world of pop culture, via stories, slides and songs. She’s taking that show from New York City to London in July 2019. But first, she sat down with me to talk about her journey from Miami to Best Week Ever and beyond, so let’s get to it!
Connor Ratliff can be seen twice a week performing live at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York City with two of its most prestigious improv groups — The Stepfathers on Friday nights, and ASSSCAT 3000 on Sunday nights. He also served as the warm-up comedian and erstwhile presidential candidate from The Chris Gethard Show on public access as well as cable TV, and stars in a Comedy Central web series, Dollar Store Therapist. You more likely recognize him from scene-stealing work in critically acclaimed TV series such as The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Orange is the New Black or Search Party. Ratliff also created and stars in a long-running UCB staple called The George Lucas Talk Show, where he interviews real comedians and celebrities while pretending to be the Star Wars creator. A documentary film crew is currently capturing what makes that work, and Ratliff took a moment to sit down with me to talk all about it, and the ups and downs of his comedy career. So let’s get to it!
The daughter of a Swiss mother and Pakistani father, Sabrina Jalees is a Canadian by birth who became famous in her native land by starring or hosting in several TV and radio shows north of the border. After immigrating to the U.S., Jalees found herself starting over and coming out. Since 2015, though, she has found success here, too, performing on Comedy Central’s The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, Adam Devine’s House Party, Amazon’s Transparent and Netflix’s The Comedy Lineup. She also has written for sitcoms on NBC, ABC and TBS, and is on the current writing staff for the Netflix animated hit, Big Mouth. Jalees began the 2019 development season with a script deal for her own sitcom on FOX, and ended it with a co-starring role on the CBS sitcom Carol’s Second Act, which premieres this fall starring Patricia Heaton. There’s a lot to get to, so let’s get to it!
Alyssa Limperis is an actress, writer and comedian. Although she has performed with the Upright Citizens Brigade on one of their house sketch teams, and currently co-hosts a UCB podcast called Crazy; in Bed, Limperis first found success by following her own path, carving out a career by convincing Conde Nast to make comedy videos featuring her character work. She caught everyone’s eye, and their mothers, when she began writing, acting and editing her own mom videos, and uploading them to Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. Every once in a long while, if you’re lucky enough, you feel as if you’re on the ground floor of witnessing something awesome before the rest of the world catches on. I’ve already compared Limperis in print to the late great Gilda Radner. Let’s hear how Limperis herself describes her life and career. So let’s get to it!
Natalie Palamides grew up in a small Western Pennsylvania town but could not be contained by convention or conventional wisdom. After an internship with Conan during college, she trained with the Pig Iron Theatre Company in Philadelphia, then headed to Hollywood to work with the Upright Citizens Brigade and other theater groups in Los Angeles. You’ve heard her voice on TV as Buttercup in the Cartoon Network’s Powerpuff Girls. In 2017, Palamides took the Edinburgh Fringe by storm with her first show, LAID, winning the Best Newcomer award, and returned the following summer with an ambitious follow-up NATE. Both shows were co-directed by celebrated clown Dr. Brown. Palamides was named one of Time Out LA’s 10 “Comedians to Watch” in 2019. Let’s hear all about her then, so let’s get to it!
Erin Foley’s first big show business credit wasn’t performing comedy, but rather playing a Rolling Stone magazine fact checker in the Cameron Crowe movie about his teen years, Almost Famous. So let’s get to the facts. Foley has performed on Conan, Arsenio Hall and starred in her own half-hour Comedy Central special. She has written on comedy shows for network and cable TV, and starred in a series of interstitials for the Lifetime Channel called Mixologist and a Movie. Her podcast on the All Things Comedy network, Sports Without Balls, is moving up to the big leagues in the summer of 2019. And she just released a new stand-up album, “Deep Dive,” on 800 Pound Gorilla Records. There’s a lot to talk about, so let’s get to it!