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!
David Wain has been on the cutting edge of digital comedy since the turn of the century, making short films for his live comedy shows with Michael Showalter and Michael Ian Black, debuting a webseries (Wainy Days) on the streaming platform My Damn Channel in 2007, helping Rob Corddry take his webseries Childrens Hospital to TV with Adult Swim and winning multiple Emmys for it, and adapting his first feature film, 2001’s Wet Hot American Summer, into two separate spin-off series (a prequel and a sequel) for Netflix. He’s directed multiple feature films amid all of that, including The Ten, Role Models, Wanderlust, They Came Together, and A Futile and Stupid Gesture. His most recent trick he pulled off? Getting the funny folks of Childrens Hospital out of the hospital and around the world on an action-adventure caper called Medical Police. The ten-episode season debuted in January 2020 on Netflix. I sat down with Wain before the series premiered to find out how he has adapted to all of the ways TV has changed in the 21st Century. So let’s get to it!
Joe Pera is a Buffalo native who studied film and began his stand-up comedy career at Ithaca College. After college, Pera moved to New York City, where he started a regular showcase with his childhood friend Dan Licata and Charles Gould called the Dan, Joe and Charles Show. Pera’s comedy voice made the leap to late-night TV in 2016 with the animated Adult Swim infomercial, “Joe Pera Talks You to Sleep.” Adult Swim liked it so much they’ve kept bringing Pera back, first with the Christmas special, “Joe Pera Helps You Find the Perfect Christmas Tree,” and two seasons of “Joe Pera Talks with You.” You also may have seen Pera on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert or Late Night with Seth Meyers. I sat down with Pera in a diner near his Brooklyn apartment to talk about his life and career, and what may come next. So let’s get to it!
In an email to me on Jan. 3, 2020, Chloé Hilliard proclaimed “This is the YEAR of CHLOE!” and she may well be right. Hilliard already kicked off 2020 by releasing her first stand-up comedy album, “Big Dick Energy,” and has followed that up with the publication of her first book, “F— YOUR DIET: And Other Things My Thighs Tell Me,” from Simon & Schuster. Hilliard, whose TV credits include The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Last Comic Standing, tells me about her previous life as a culture and entertainment journalist for for Essence, Vibe, and The Source, how she decided to make a break for it as a comedian instead, and why she wanted to write about society’s relationship with food, and what it means for us. So let’s get to it!
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!