Niccole Thurman is an actress, writer, and the co-host of the podcast, The Scroll Down with Marcella Arguello. Originally from Kansas, Thurman studied acting at the University of Kansas before finding her place in comedy through The Second City in Chicago. She served as a correspondent on Comedy Central’s The Opposition with Jordan Klepper, and you might also have seen her on such shows as Netflix’s Grace and Frankie, HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show or NBC’s Superstore. You currently can hear as the voices of Jabberjaw, Squiddly Diddly and Dee Dee Sykes in the HBO Max series Jellystone, and spot her in picture frames and flashbacks on the NBC sitcom, Kenan. Her recent writing credits include the 2020 Primetime Emmy Awards for Jimmy Kimmel, IFC and AMC’s Sherman’s Showcase, HBO Max’s Haute Dog, FOX’s Let’s Be Real for Robert Smigel, and the Peacock competition show, Baking It, for Maya Rudolph and Andy Samberg. Thurman sat down with me to talk about how she found her point of view through her various gigs as well as her growing social media presence. If you like this conversation, please consider subscribing to my Substack called Piffany at Piffany.Substack.com so you can read bonus commentary on this episode as well as more comedy news and insights. Thanks in advance, and now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to it!
Bill Engvall is a Grammy-nominated comedian from Texas who made up one-fourth of the mega-successful Blue Collar Comedy Tour alongside Jeff Foxworthy, Larry the Cable Guy and Ron White, touring from 2000 to 2006 and making a sketch comedy show together. Since then, Engvall also has starred in multiple solo stand-up specials, his own TBS sitcom, The Bill Engvall Show, made it to the finals of season 17 of ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, and had a recurring role on Tim Allen’s FOX sitcom, Last Man Standing, in the role of Reverend Paul. He put out his own podcast, “My Two Cents,” as well as weekly videos to his followers, “Sunday Morning with Bill.” In the summer of 2021, Engvall announced he’d be embarking on his final comedy tour, announcing his retirement from stand-up after more than 40 years. But you’ll still see him in the new reality TV series, Blue Collar Auction, and Engvall sat down with me to talk about his career and the lessons he has learned along the way. If you like this conversation, please consider subscribing to my Substack called Piffany at Piffany.Substack.com so you can read bonus commentary on this episode as well as more comedy news and insights. Thanks in advance, and now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to it!
Julie Seabaugh grew up on a farm and discovered stand-up when Dave Attell performed during her senior year at the University of Missouri, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism. In 2003, after moving to New York City, Seabaugh launched her earliest independent effort into comedy journalism with the online magazine, Two Drink Minimum. A career with alt-weeklies followed, with stops across the country from the Village Voice in NYC to the Riverfront Times in St. Louis, Las Vegas Weekly and LA Weekly. In 2018, she published her first book, Ringside at Roast Battle: The First Five Years of L.A.'s Fight Club for Comedians, and her love of Mitch Hedberg led to producing/hosting 2020’s Hope on Top: A Mitch Hedberg Oral History for SiriusXM’s Comedy Central Channel. Seabaugh caught up with me over Zoom to talk about her latest project, co-directing and producing the documentary Too Soon: Comedy After 9/11, which premieres on VICE TV on Sept. 8, just before the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that took down the World Trade Center. Her film also will have a commemorative screening on Sept. 11, 2021, at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. Seabaugh spoke with dozens of comedians for the documentary, and now she speaks to me. If you like this conversation, please consider subscribing to my Substack called Piffany at Piffany.Substack.com so you can read bonus commentary on this episode as well as more comedy news and insights. Thanks in advance, and now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to it!
Tone Bell is an actor, writer, and comedian from Atlanta who began his comedy career in Dallas before going Hollywood. Since winning the NBC Stand Up For Diversity competition in 2011, he has co-starred or starred in multiple sitcoms, starting with Whitney on NBC and including Bad Judge, Truth Be Told, Disjointed, and Fam. His film credits include Sylvie’s Love, Little, Dog Days, and The Weekend. Bell also has gotten to portray the legendary comedian Richard Pryor in the BET series, American Soul, and recently co-starred in the award-winning movie, The United States vs. Billie Holiday. which he jokes about on his second comedy album, One Night in Austin. Bell caught up with me over Zoom to talk about all of this and more. If you like this conversation, please consider subscribing to my Substack called Piffany at Piffany.Substack.com so you can read bonus commentary on this episode as well as more comedy news and insights. Thanks in advance, and now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to it!
Michael Hartney is an actor, writer and comedian who was the final artistic director for the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre when it shuttered its New York City operations in 2020, and one of the founding members of the nonprofit Squirrel Comedy Theatre. Hartney created the roles of Stanley and Mr. Williams in the original Broadway cast of School of Rock the Musical, and on TV, he has appeared on 30 Rock, The Politician, The Break with Michelle Wolf, and Throwing Shade, where he also served as a staff writer. He has been a Comedy Central Comic to Watch, a New Face at the Just For Laughs festival in Montreal, and he can be seen every Wednesday night hosting Characters Welcome, a streaming character comedy show. Hartney joined me over Zoom to talk about how he has navigated through the end of the UCB in NYC to the launch of the Squirrel Comedy Theatre, and everything in between. If you like this conversation, please consider subscribing to my Substack called Piffany at Piffany.Substack.com so you can read bonus commentary on this episode as well as more comedy news and insights. Thanks in advance, and now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to it!
Phil Wang was one of only two comedians from outside the United States to be invited to perform as part of Netflix’s The Comedy Lineup series in 2018. Born in England but raised in Malaysia until he returned to the U.K. at age 16, Wang graduated from the University of Cambridge with an engineering degree and the prestige of serving as a president of the Footlights, the legendary campus comedy troupe whose other past presidents have included Peter Cook, Eric Idle, Hugh Laurie and Douglas Adams. For his part, Wang’s credits have focused mostly on stand-up, releasing two previous specials for free on YouTube, making the rounds of the British comedy panel series, and guesting on series seven of Taskmaster. Philly Philly Wang Wang broke ticket-selling records at the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and he intended to film it for Netflix in May 2020, but had to put it off for a year due to the pandemic. Wang sat down with me to talk about his career and comedy philosophy. If you like this conversation, please consider subscribing to my Substack called Piffany at Piffany.Substack.com so you can read bonus commentary on this episode as well as more comedy news and insights. Thanks in advance, and now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to it!
What was podcasting like before the iPhone? Jesse Thorn knows. After college radio, Thorn, host of public radio’s Bullseye with Jesse Thorn, broadcast his podcast The Sound of Young America from his home, eventually building his own podcast network, Maximum Fun, which includes Stop Podcasting Yourself; Judge John Hodgman; My Brother, My Brother and Me; and dozens more. Thorn sat down with me to talk about those early years and the struggles that came with it, the power of building your own community, adapting podcasts for TV and streaming, and even some fun stories about the role Thorn played in the launch of Marc Maron’s podcast as well as working with a then-unknown Jonathan Van Ness. If you like this conversation, please consider subscribing to my Substack called Piffany at Piffany.Substack.com so you can read bonus commentary on this episode as well as more comedy news and insights. Thanks in advance, and now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to it!
Rob Barnett has been a radio DJ and program director, pivoted to TV as programming director for MTV and VH1 in the 1990s, pivoted back to radio to launch CBS Radio’s “Free” FM in the wake of Howard Stern’s departure, hiring Adam Carolla to replace Stern on the West Coast stations, then left to do his own damn thing online by founding My Damn Channel, where he funded original projects by Harry Shearer, David Wain and Don Was, and recruited folks such as Grace Helbig, You Suck at Photoshop, and Beth Hoyt, and funded more than 30 other original comedy series working with people such as Josh Gad, Maria Bamford, Illeana Douglas, Gilbert Gottfried and Coolio. Barnett also briefly worked with me and The Comic’s Comic. Fourteen years after launching My Damn Channel, Barnett has translated the life lessons he has learned in hiring and recruiting talent into a new line of work as a headhunter, and just published his first book on the subject, “Next Job, Best Job.” Barnett sat down with me to share stories about how radio, TV and Internet media used to work (or not work), and what he has learned about show business along the way. If you like this conversation, please consider subscribing to my Substack called Piffany at Piffany.Substack.com so you can read bonus commentary on this episode as well as more comedy news and insights. Thanks in advance, and now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to it!
Tig Notaro has both survived and thrived in the decade since she first disclosed her breast cancer diagnosis to a live audience in Los Angeles in August of 2012. Notaro has released three stand-up specials, two on HBO and one on Netflix, in addition to a road-trip special for Showtime, while she also was the subject of a documentary for Netflix. She poured some of her life story into her own series for Amazon Prime Video, One Mississippi, and wrote a memoir, “I’m Just A Person.” She has been nominated for two Grammys and an Emmy, gotten married and became a mother to twin boys. Notaro has more recently reached new heights with a regular role on Star Trek: Discovery, replaced a disgraced comedian in post-production on the hit Netflix zombie movie, Army of the Dead, and now has turned one of her stand-up performances at Largo into an animated special for HBO called Drawn. Notaro joined me to talk about making Drawn and reflected on her career up til now, so let’s get to it!
Julia Scotti is a comedian who has enjoyed a career resurgence in her 60s, performing on America’s Got Talent in 2016, and in 2020 as part of the Showtime comedy showcase, More Funny Women of A Certain Age, alongside the likes of Caroline Rhea and Carol Leifer. She currently stars in a new documentary from filmmaker Susan Sandler called Julia Scotti: Funny That Way. The film examines Scotti’s transition into womanhood, which happened only after she quit a 20-year career as a male stand-up. Scotti sat down with me over Zoom to talk about why she quit, what it felt like to come back to comedy 10 years after quitting, and the hurdles facing comedians of a certain age and certain gender. Can the comedy industry get its own act together? We talk about that, too, so let’s get to it!
Iris Bahr is a comedian, actress, playwright and author, born in New York City and grown up in Israel. You have seen her in a variety of supporting roles onscreen in the 21st century — most recently in 2021 as a spa nurse in HBO Max’s Hacks, and as a rehab roommate on ABC’s The Conners. Bahr’s other TV credits have included guest spots on Friends, The Drew Carey Show, Star Trek: Voyager, 9-1-1, Good Girls, as well as her own comedy series on Mark Cuban’s HD-NET called Svetlana, plus a recurring role as Rachel Heinemann on Curb Your Enthusiasm. In 2006 alone, she co-starred in the original pilot for The Big Bang Theory, co-starred on the big screen in Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector, and debuted her one-woman show, “Dai,” which earned her a Lucille Lortel Award and two Drama Desk nominations. She has written two books and co-authored a third, the Curb-inspired advice manual, “The Book of Leon.” Bahr spoke to me from Tel Aviv about her life and career, as well as her character podcast, X-RAE, which first introduced her to me in 2019. So let’s get to it!
Raised in Wisconsin, Pete Lee began his comedy career in Minnesota before moving to New York City after he made his TV debut on Comedy Central’s Premium Blend. It would take a few years after that to get his first Comedy Central half-hour special, and another five years to get his chance to perform on the Late Show with David Letterman. Other early credits included VH1’s Best Week Ever and truTV’s Comedy Knockout, but he has since become a favorite regular on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Lee tells me all about the circumstances in which he scored both of his late-night debuts, as well as his early nights at Acme Comedy Co., what he’s learned from Nick Swardson, Doug Stanhope and all sorts of stand-ups for whom Lee represents a change of pace. All that, plus stories about partying with Prince and Dave Chappelle, but not together, and the inner workings of his first hour special — Tall, Dark and Pleasant — which premieres in July 2021 on Showtime. So let’s get to it!
Rory Scovel is a stand-up comedian, actor and writer who came out of the Washington, D.C., comedy scene, and has managed to incorporate the lessons of improvisation into his stand-up throughout his career, from comedy competitions to late-night TV sets to his latest effort, the comedy documentary, Live Without Fear, filmed by Scott Moran out now on YouTube. Scovel also currently co-stars in the Apple TV+ series, Physical, opposite Rose Byrne. His previous credits include creating and starring in the Comedy Central series, Robbie, a Netflix comedy special, as well as appearances in the film I Feel Pretty, and sitcoms such as ABC's Modern Family and NBC's Superstore. In March of 2018, Rory decided to find out what would happen if he fully improvised an hour of stand-up for six straight nights at the Relapse Theatre in Atlanta. The results of which can be seen in Live Without Fear. How does he do it? Scovel tells me, so let’s get to it!
Rose Matafeo is a comedian, writer and actor from New Zealand who began her comedy career at age 15. In 2018, her stand-up show Horndog won the top comedy prize at the Edinburgh Fringe, and she subsequently recorded Horndog in posterity for HBO Max in 2020. She has become a fixture on TV panel shows in the UK, and you may have seen her as a contestant on the popular program Taskmaster, or performing her stand-up on Conan. She also starred in a feature film, Baby Done. For her latest trick, she has co-created and co-written her own starring sitcom vehicle, Starstruck, in which she finds herself in a rom-com collision with a famous movie star. Starstruck almost got sidelined by the COVID pandemic, but its first season has aired on the BBC and HBO Max, with a second season (and more) already written! Matafeo spoke with me about quarantining in New Zealand for five months while wondering if her TV show would actually happen, the relatively young age of the New Zealand comedy scene, memories from Montreal’s Just For Laughs, and why comedians think of other people as civilians. So let’s get to it!
Josh Johnson is a stand-up comedian and writer from Louisiana who began his comedy career in Chicago. Since moving to New York City, he has performed on late-night TV via Conan, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Kevin Hart Presents: Hart of the City, Netflix’s The Comedy Lineup, and a half-hour special on Comedy Central. He has written for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, and currently writes for The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. In June 2020, Johnson releases two major projects: an ambitious 33-track mixtape called Elusive, and his debut hour special, Trevor Noah Presents Josh Johnson: # (Hashtag), which premieres on Comedy Central before moving to Paramount+. Johnson caught up with me over Zoom to talk about the problems and opportunities afforded by the COVID pandemic, including the making of his mixtape and his special, as well as what we might expect or hope for the comedy industry as a whole coming out of the pandemic. So let’s get to it!
Paul W. Downs and Lucia Aniello began collaborating as comedy and life partners after meeting in 2007 at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre and Magnet Theater in New York City. Their early efforts included a webseries for Broadway Video’s Above Average Productions and a one-man show, The Paul Downs Experience, at the UCB in 2010. Since then, you’ve seen their work together or individually in the Comedy Central sitcom Broad City, miniseries Time Traveling Bong, a showcase special for Netflix’s The Characters, and the 2017 feature film, Rough Night. Behind the scenes, they’ve worked on The Other Two, Awkwafina is Nora From Queens, and The Babysitters Club. Their most recent achievement is Hacks on HBO Max, which they co-created, co-write, and on which Downs co-stars. Paul and Lucia sat down with me to talk about comedy mentoring from one generation to the next, how they and others have become stars without first becoming stars within the UCB orbit, and how getting into character to surprise a monster truck rally in Maine somehow also gave birth to the idea behind Hacks, perhaps the best new TV comedy of 2021. So let’s get to it!
Flula Borg is a German actor, musician, comedian and DJ who began making his mark on American audiences in 2015 — that’s when he broke through out of YouTube to become one of Variety’s 10 Comics to Watch, as he starred in an NBC pilot and co-starred in the smash hit movie, Pitch Perfect 2. Since then, Flula has popped up in a variety of supporting roles on shows such as Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Good Place, collaborated on videos with Sir Mix-A-Lot, Ed Helms, and Dirk Nowitzki, and toured on the road with Conan O’Brien and Team Coco. That was before the pandemic hit. Over the past year, Flula has worked with Jägermeister and Save Our Stages to rally support and money for live entertainment venues. Flula will have an even bigger profile this summer as he plays Javelin in the big-screen superhero flick, The Suicide Squad. Before that, he happily spoke with me a little bit about his work with corporate sponsors, his early days in America, collaborating with Grace Helbig, and along the way, we inadvertently came up with a pitch for Flula’s first comedy special and/or series for Team Coco and HBO Max. Call us, Conan! So let’s get to it!
Fresh out of Houston to Flatbush, Brooklyn, Kevin Iso’s friendship with fellow young comedian Dan Perlman led to making YouTube video slice of life sketches with their funny friends. They went from “Moderately Funny” to Showtime. In between, Iso’s stand-up landed him a showcase spot on Adam Devine’s House Party on Comedy Central, as well as This Week at the Comedy Cellar, a recurring role on Hulu’s TV adaptation of High Fidelity, and a writing gig on That Damn Michael Che for HBO Max. 2021 will see if Iso can really break out, as he’s the co-creator and co-star of his own series, Flatbush Misdemeanors on Showtime. Iso sat down with me to talk about managing his expectations on his way up the show-business ladder, so let’s get to it!
Originally from Boston, Sam Jay is an Emmy-nominated writer and critically-acclaimed stand-up comedian. After being named one of Variety’s 10 Comics to Watch in 2018, Jay made her Netflix debut on The Comedy Lineup and released her first album, “Donna’s Daughter,” with Comedy Central Records. Jay’s 2020 Netflix special, 3 in the Morning, was one of that year’s best. As a writer, her credits include the Emmy Awards, the MTV Movie & TV Awards, and until the end of 2020, Saturday Night Live. She left SNL to create, write and star in her own talk show for HBO, Pause with Sam Jay. Each week, Jay hosts a party at her apartment, where she and her guests explore different difficult topics, and then she hits the road to interview strangers about it. Jay invited me over via Zoom to fill me in, so before you hit pause, let’s get to it!
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!