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!
Calise Hawkins is a stand-up comedian and writer based out of Jersey City, where she raises her daughter, Asha. You may have seen her stand-up on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (NBC), Russell Simmons Presents Live At The El Rey (Comedy Central), Stand Up in Stilettos (TV Guide Channel), and Nick Mom’s Night Out (Nickelodeon). She was a cast member of Oxygen's Funny Girls and has written for multiple shows on Comedy Central and the Disney Channel. Among them: Disney's Walk The Prank, Disney's Just Roll With It, Adult Swim's Soft Focus, Comedy Central’s @midnight, Comedy Central's Hood Adjacent, MTV’s Totally Clueless, Girl Code, Charlemagne’s Uncommon Sense. For her 40th birthday in 2020, she recorded and released her first comedy album, “Calise Hawkins is 40 AF.” Hawkins spoke with me over Zoom about helping other comedians in show business, learning to help herself, single motherhood, how Hollywood writers room experiences left her feeling insecure, and what she learned in the making and writing of Comedy Knockout on truTV. So let’s get to it!
Beth Stelling grew up in Ohio before moving to Chicago to study with the Steppenwolf Theatre, after which she began pursuing her career in stand-up comedy. She was named best stand-up in Chicago the year before she got New Faces at Montreal’s Just For Laughs comedy festival, then moved to Los Angeles. She has released two comedy albums, “Sweet Beth” and “Simply the Beth,” performed on Conan and Jimmy Kimmel Live, and recorded half-hour specials for both Comedy Central and Netflix. More recently, Stelling also has found success behind the camera as a writer on series such as I Love You America with Sarah Silverman on Hulu, Crashing on HBO, and provided on-set punch-ups for the 2019 movie, Good Boys. That year, she also launched a podcast with her mother for Earwolf’s Stitcher Premium series called “We Called Your Mom.” Beth’s first hour stand-up special, produced by Team Coco, was filmed March 7, 2020, in Minneapolis — Beth Stelling: Girl Daddy premiered in August 2020 on HBO Max. I sat down with Stelling over Zoom to talk about all of that, as well as where the comedy industry may go from here in treating women and women of color better whenever we re-emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. So let’s get to it!
Joe List began his stand-up career in Boston in 2000 after graduating from high school, rising up the ranks in Boston’s heralded comedy scene before moving to New York City. He has toured with the likes of Louis CK and Nick DiPaolo, and since 2013 has co-hosted the popular podcast Tuesdays With Stories with comedian Mark Normand. List’s singular credits include performing on The Late Show with David Letterman, half-hours on Netflix and Comedy Central, and reaching the finals of the final season of NBC’s Last Comic Standing. List has recorded two previous comedy albums, and his first solo hour special, “I Hate Myself,” premiered in August 2020 on Comedy Central’s YouTube Channel. It had earned more than a half a million views in its first week, which is when I sat down with him over Zoom to talk about his life and career. So let’s get to it!
The world knows Stephen Glover as Steve-O, a daredevil famous for his stunts with the Jackass crew on MTV, a spin-off series Wildboyz, and four Jackass movies. It’s landed him on Dancing with the Stars and a Comedy Central Roast. When I met Steve-O in 2010, he was newly clean and sober and pursuing a second life as a stand-up comedian. We reconnected in the summer of 2020 over Zoom in two separate conversations. We talked about getting mentored in comedy by Dane Cook, how he joined the ranks of touring stand-up comedians almost immediately because of his celebrity, and had to figure out how to give everything he had to make it work. We also discuss the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Clown College (he studied there, while I didn’t get accepted), his relationship with his father, and his new comedy special, Gnarly, which is available now through his website at steveo.com. So let’s get to it!
Sebastian Maniscalco met Pat McGann in the early 2010s, when Mansicalco was headlining Zanies in Chicago and McGann was the house MC. They eventually became friends and working partners, with McGann warming up the audience for Maniscalco’s Showtime special which taped in Chicago, and then traveling with Sebastian on the road for the past several years as his opener or feature act. All while Maniscalco’s star rose to include arenas such as Madison Square Garden and roles in major motion pictures. In July 2020, Sebastian paid it forward for McGann, executive producing and introducing McGann for his first solo hour: Sebastian Maniscalco Presents Pat McGann: When’s Mom Gonna Be Home? It’s available for rent or purchase online now. Sebastian and Pat sat down with me on Zoom to talk about the working relationships between headliners and features, and how their own career paths came together. So let’s get to it!
Discussions of racial representation and onscreen depiction of the police both hit home for Carlos Alazraqui. Born to Argentinian parents, Carlos has spent the most time onscreen as Deputy James Garcia on Reno 911!, which aired from 2003 to 2009 on Comedy Central, spawned a movie in 2007 and has returned to mobile phones courtesy of Quibi in 2020. You may recognize his voice from a multitude of animated toons over the past three decades, starting with Rocko’s Modern Life on Nickelodeon and including Family Guy, The Fairly OddParents, SpongeBob SquarePants, The Adventures of Puss in Boots, Camp Lazio and many many more. He won the San Francisco Comedy Competition in 1993, defeating fellow finalists Marc Maron and Patton Oswalt, and gained even more notoriety in the 1990s for voicing the chihuahua in Taco Bell’s radio and TV commercials. We talk about all of that, plus how he continues working during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how he navigates debates about race and culture. So let’s get to it!
Jamie Kennedy still may be best known for playing Randy Meeks in the big-screen Scream franchise, but Kennedy has enjoyed a wild and varied acting career since he broke out of background work in the late 1980s. His credits include Romeo + Juliet, Bowfinger, Enemy of the State, As Good As It Gets, Three Kings, and his own vehicle, Malibu’s Most Wanted. On the small screen, he recurred on both the drama Ghost Whisperer and the animated toon, The Cleveland Show, but created and starred in his own sketch/reality show for the WB, The Jamie Kennedy Experiment. Kennedy celebrated turning 50 in May by releasing his newest stand-up special, “Stoopid Smart,” via Tubi. You also can see him this summer on Pluto TV hosting the latest season of Comedy Dynamics’ stand-up showcase series, Coming To The Stage. I spoke with Kennedy in June, so some circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and nationwide protests may have changed since then, but the facts of Kennedy’s career remain the same. So let’s get to it!
Smosh became the first popular YouTube channel in 2005 and has remained among the most popular channels on YouTube ever since. It would take almost 15 years, however, before Smosh followed other YouTubers by embarking on its first live tour in February 2020, which ended just as the coronavirus pandemic was sweeping the globe. As of June 2020, Smosh had earned more than 25 million subscribers to the main comedy channel, plus another 7 and a half million for Smosh Games, and another 7 million for Smosh Pit. Over the first 15 years, they created mobile apps and games, made a feature film in 2015 and another movie specifically for YouTube’s premium customers, and lost a co-founder along the way. Co-founder Ian Hecox sat down with me over Zoom to talk about it all, from the humble beginnings in flash animation on Smosh.com to now working alongside and for fellow first-generation YouTubers Rhett & Link, and more, so let’s get to it!
Greg Warren grew up in St. Louis the son of a wrestling coach, and enjoyed a successful high-school and college wrestling career himself before he discovered stand-up comedy while still a student at the University of Missouri. Neither stints at West Point or Proctor & Gamble could sway Warren as much as stand-up has, a career he has pursued, consistently touring comedy clubs on the road for the past 20 years. His “Flute Man” bit ranks as one of the most requested bits in the history of the Bob & Tom Show on syndicated radio. Warren has performed on late-night TV, put out a half hour Comedy Central Presents, and recorded albums and specials for SiriusXM and Dry Bar Comedy. After using Los Angeles and New York City as bases while working the road, Warren moved back to St. Louis, and last summer, recorded a new hour special across the Mississippi River in Illinois. “Where The Field Corn Grows” comes out in June 2020 as both an album and a video special via 800 Pound Gorilla Records, and Warren joined me over Zoom to talk about his new special and more. So let’s get to it!
Ramy Youssef is the son of Egyptian immigrants, growing up in New York and New Jersey, who jumped into sketch comedy as a teenager. It paid off for him initially with a role on the Nick at Nite sitcom See Dad Run. Youssef took what he learned there, as well as his work on shows such as Mr. Robot, and friendships with the likes of truTV’s Friends of the People and NBC’s The Carmichael Show, and applied it to his own show, Ramy, which premiered on Hulu in 2019. Youssef won the Golden Globe in 2020 for best actor in a comedy series for portraying a young Muslim in New Jersey trying and often failing to do the right thing. Ramy and I spoke over Zoom about celebrating Ramadan in quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how he and we might wonder how to do the right thing in real life, even when we’re unsure what the right thing might be. So let’s get to it!
Rhys Darby is an actor, writer, podcaster and stand-up comedian from New Zealand. North American audiences first got to know him as Murray the manager from HBO’s Flight of the Conchords and more recently as Nigel the guide in the Jumanji movies. His other film and TV credits include Yes Man, The X-Files, Wrecked, What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople. His sound-effect skills and voiceover work can be heard in such projects as Voltron: Legendary Defender, as well as his four previous stand-up specials. A fifth special, Mystic Time Bird, is due out in 2020. Also new from Darby: a Spotify podcast about aliens, called “Aliens Like Us.” Darby caught up with me via Zoom from New Zealand, so let’s get to it!
When I sat down with Fred Willard in February 2020 inside his home in Southern California, he was noticeably weak — I held his microphone for him throughout our conversation — but his mind and his sense of humor was quite intact, and he was still working. In fact, Fred received a phone call during our interview inviting him to the Modern Family wrap party, and talked to me about being ready and willing to drive into Hollywood with only a morning’s notice to appear on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Willard was a deadpan king of comedy and an improvisational genius in all sorts of supporting roles in television and movies from the 1960s until his final days. We spoke about all of it over the course of an hour, from how he got involved with The Second City and Ace Trucking Company, to Fernwood 2 Night and Real People, hosting Saturday Night Live in 1978, meeting Christopher Guest and his memorable roles in This Is Spinal Tap, For Your Consideration, and of course, Best in Show. He had a funny story about how he scored a role in Everybody Loves Raymond. Willard also talked about what would be his last venture, playing Steve Carell’s father in the new Netflix farce, Space Force. Willard died peacefully at home on May 15, 2020. He was 86. He was the only live-action actor in a Pixar animated movie in WALL-E, perhaps because he always animated every project he worked on. Fred Willard most certainly will be missed. But let him tell you why in his own words, so let’s get to it!
Josh Thomas is an Australian comedian, actor and writer who broke out on the scene as a teenager, winning best newcomer at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 2007 for his first solo show, “Please Like Me.” Thomas went on to stage his stand-up at the Edinburgh Fringe and Montreal’s Just For Laughs before developing his first TV series, also called “Please Like Me,” which documented his coming-out process and aired originally on Australian TV before getting picked up for multiple seasons in America via the Pivot cable channel. His follow-up to that, “Everything’s Gonna Be OK,” premiered in January 2020 on Freeform. The first season in full is available for streaming on Hulu. Thomas sat down with me via Zoom to talk about all of that, why working with bugs and teenage girls makes perfect sense, and more, so let’s get to it!
Over the past 25 years, Judy Gold has starred in her own half-hour stand-up specials for HBO, Comedy Central and LOGO, has won two Emmy Awards for writing for The Rosie O’Donnell Show, and appeared on numerous daytime and late-night talk shows. Gold has written and starred in two Off-Broadway solo shows: The Judy Show – My Life as a Sitcom, and 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother. Her recent TV credits include Showtime’s I’m Dying Up Here and FX’s Better Things. She has performed in New York City’s Shakespeare in the Park, portrayed Linda Tripp in Clinton! The Musical, and had gotten cast in her first Broadway production for fall 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic shut that down. At least she still has a new book ready to come out in July 2020, “Yes, I Can Say That: When They Come for the Comedians We Are All in Trouble,” as well as her own podcast: “Kill Me Now.” Fortunately she’s still alive and well and willing to talk to me during quarantine over Zoom — so let’s get to it!
Dan Whitney had a pretty good comedy career, including a TV appearance on A&E’s An Evening At The Improv. But Whitney’s career as Larry the Cable Guy has been far more lucrative and longer-lasting, going on some three decades since he first started calling into radio stations as the character who still says, Git-R-Done! Larry became the breakout star from the Blue Collar Comedy Tour and its subsequent TV series, becoming the top Billboard comedy artist and touring act of the mid-2000s. He got his own Comedy Central Roast in 2009, hosted three Christmas specials for VH1 and CMT, starred in four movies as Larry, voiced a tow truck in the two animated hit Cars movies for Disney/Pixar, and hosted a History Channel show for three seasons. He continues to co-host a SiriusXM comedy channel on satellite radio with his comedy pal Jeff Foxworthy, and they put out a joint Netflix special together. He and his wife also have run the nonprofit Git-R-Done Foundation since 2009 to benefit childrens’ and veterans causes. Dan sat down with me from his kitchen in Nebraska to talk over Zoom about all of that and more, including his newest solo stand-up special, Remain Seated. So let’s get to it!
Maysoon Zayid is an actress, comedian, and disability advocate, who has attracted more than 16 million views to her 2013 TED talk, “I Got 99 problems…palsy is just one.” A decade before that, Zayid co-founded the New York Arab-American Comedy Festival. Her past credits include contributing to MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann, appearing in the Adam Sandler movie, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, and headlining the Arabs Gone Wild comedy tour. In 2019, she recorded an Audible original audiobook, “Find Another Dream,” and she recently fulfilled her lifelong dream by landing a gig as a recurring character on the longtime ABC soap opera, General Hospital. She connected with me via Zoom during the coronavirus pandemic to check in, so let’s get to it!
Lane Moore is a comedian, writer, actor, and musician. She hosts the show Tinder Live, swiping through dating profiles and baiting potential suitors, with a panel of funny people and a live audience to guide her. She also fronts the band, It Was Romance. And as a writer, Lane Moore has published jokes in The Onion, and offered sex and relationship advice as an editor for Cosmopolitan magazine, where she won a GLAAD award for expanding the magazine’s queer coverage. In 2018, Moore released her first book of personal essays, “How To Be Alone: If You Want To, and Even If You Don’t.” I sat down with Moore for a conversation over our respective laptops during the first month of the coronavirus quarantine to talk about her life and career, how we’re adapting to a world without traditional comedy stages, and what it’s like for many millions of us to suddenly learn how to be alone. So let’s get to it!
Comedic actors Jonathan Braylock, Jerah Milligan and James III host their own podcast, Black Men Can’t Jump (In Hollywood), examining the problems of racial diversity in show business through reviewing movies of the past which featured actors of color. They also have firsthand experience with the topic. In 2014, they became part of the first all-black house team at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York City. Their comedy troupe, Astronomy Club, was named one of Comedy Central’s Comics to Watch in 2016, and produced a digital sketch series for Comedy Central in 2018. In December 2019, Astronomy Club debuted a six-episode series on Netflix with executive producer Kenya Barris and showrunner Daniel Powell. I sat down with Jonathan, Jerah and James in North Hollywood in February 2020, back when they still thought they were participating in a regular “pilot season,” to talk about how some things had changed while others hadn’t. So let’s get to it!
Tammy Pescatelli lost her agent and manager back in 2016 after she spoke out about joke stealing and parallel thinking, but that’s not the first time in her career that Pescatelli did something her reps disapproved of — years earlier, Pescatelli continued performing in comedy clubs and theaters while more than eight moths pregnant, long before it became popular for women in comedy to do so. But Pescatelli is a funny woman of a certain age — she competed on seasons 2 and 3 of NBC’s Last Comic Standing, and after the birth of her son, she starred in her own reality series on WE tv called A Stand Up Mother. Since then, she has featured in Jenny McCarthy’s Dirty Sexy Funny special for EPIX, and formerly co-hosted Stuttering John’s Podcast. In March of 2020, Pescatelli has two new specials available for streaming or purchase. She’s part of Showtime’s MORE FUNNY WOMEN OF A CERTAIN AGE – headlined by Caroline Rhea and also featuring Carol Leifer, Carole Montgomery, Julia Scotti, and Thea Vidale. Pescatelli also stars in her own hourlong stand-up, The Way After School Special, filmed at her old high-school gym in Ohio. Tammy and I get into it, so let’s get to it!
Justine Marino is a comedian who joined The Groundlings shortly after moving from Denver to Los Angeles, and found herself working as a tour guide at Universal Studios while also performing stand-up at night. Her first big break came in the Jenny McCarthy comedy special, “Dirty, Sexy, Funny” which came out on EPIX in 2014 and also featured a then-unknown Tiffany Haddish. Later that year, Marino got New Faces at Montreal’s Just For Laughs Comedy festival. More recently, she developed a live comedy dance competition with Heidi Heaslet at The Comedy Store called Stand Up 2 The Streets, which has been developed into a TV series for E!. The Funny Dance Show debuts in March 2020 on E! I sat down with Marino in Los Angeles to chart all of her comedy and dance steps, so let’s get to it!
Born in Taiwan to Taiwanese and Japanese parents, Atsuko Okatsuka is a stand-up comedian, actress and writer. Since putting out her first hour comedy special in 2018 as part of Hulu’s Comedy InvAsian series, she has made the shortlists of comedians to watch by both New York Magazine’s Vulture site as well as Time Out LA. Atsuko also has written for two different series on Adult Swim, The Eric Andre Show and Soft Focus with Jena Friedman. She’s the creator and host of “Let’s Go, Atsuko!” a woke Japanese game show that’s a hit with live audiences as well as a podcast, and she’s developing it as a potential TV or streaming vehicle, too. Atsuko released a new stand-up album in 2020, “But I Control Me,” via Comedy Dynamics. She sat down with me in her Los Angeles home to talk about making it in America as an immigrant, twerking with her grandmother, and so much more. So let’s get to it!
In 2020, Tom Papa released his fourth stand-up comedy special, and first for Netflix, called You’re Doing Great!. And Tom Papa is doing great. He’s a regular performer on NPR, starring in his own segment on the weekly syndicated show, Live From Here, as well as a recurring role on the panel for NPR quiz show, Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! He also has a weekly SiriusXM show and podcast featuring his funny friends called Come To Papa. That’s not to be confused with the NBC sitcom he once starred in called Come To Papa, or his former NBC reality show with Jerry Seinfeld called The Marriage Ref. Or Papa’s current weekday SiriusXM talk show he co-hosts with Fortune Feimster for the Netflix is A Joke radio channel, What a Joke with Papa and Fortune. Did I mention Papa’s bread-baking show for the Food Network, or his books? His second book, You're Doing Great!: And Other Reasons to Stay Alive, is available for pre-orders and more online now. Papa sat down with me at SiriusXM’s Los Angeles offices to break it all down, and build us all up. So let’s get to it!
Lizz Winstead is a Minnesotan through and through, even though she has spent the better part of the past three decades in New York City. Winstead first moved to New York to pursue her stand-up comedy career, became a segment producer for The Jon Stewart Show in 1995, and while that talk show ultimately didn’t last long, Winstead found herself getting offered her dream gig by Comedy Central a year later. That gig? Co-creating The Daily Show. She later pivoted to radio, serving as the original program director for Air America Radio, where the 2004 lineup included Marc Maron in the morning, Janeane Garofalo at night, and Al Franken at midday — Winstead, meanwhile, co-hosted a show from 9 to noon with Public Enemy’s Chuck D.. and a previously unknown radio host from Massachusetts named Rachel Maddow. Since then, Winstead has mounted a live parody of morning TV, written a book of essays called “Lizz Free or Die,” and came out of that process realizing she could be even more activist in her comedy. Her book tour begat a new organization, first called Lady Parts Justice League and now known as Abortion Access Front, or Abortion AF for short. Winstead is currently touring towns and cities across America with her Feminist Buzzkills of Comedy Tour. I caught up with her during a break between tour stops, so let’s get to it!
Derek Gaines grew up outside of Philadelphia, and moved to New York City with his “6 Foot Nothing” crew after cementing his status as one of Philly’s Phunniest. After performing as a New Face in Montreal at Just For Laughs, Gaines began scoring TV credits, hosting MTV’s Broke A$$ Game Show and delivering jokes on cable outlets from truTV to VH1 to AXS-TV. Since 2017, Gaines has steadily appeared in higher-profile roles and series, starting with the revival of Will & Grace on NBC, where he plays Sean Hayes’s boss, and also including The Last O.G. with Tracy Morgan on TBS. In 2020, you can see Gaines on the big-screen in his former roommate Pete Davidson’s movie, “The King of Staten Island,” and you can hear Gaines on his first comedy album, Fuccboi Ground Zero. Gaines sat down with me to talk all about it, so let’s get to it!