Stand-up comedy is going through a very interesting resurgence right now that you may not be aware of. As the big name clubs are struggling to meet their bottom lines, the underground scene is blowing up. A new crop of amazing comedians (and some enterprising veterans) are redefining the genre, and you can get a front row seat.
Here is a list of comedians we at CraveOnline felt you had to get out to see, and that you might not have known about. Some are known names on film and television, others are more knows to comedy insiders, all are worth the price of admission. This list is also focused on the LIVE aspect of these comedians and, while I recommend seeing their tv specials and buying their DVDs (if available), you really have to be in the audience for these folks to truly understand while they are the next class of comedy royalty.
You may notice that a lot of comedy heavyweights are not on this list. If you get a chance to see Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy, or Eddie Izzard live, we highly recommend you do that too, but you don’t need a list like this to tell you that. We also admit we could write this list 10 times over and not run out of comedians that are well worth seeing, so if you don’t see your favorites here, its not a deliberate snub, just tweet out the comedians you love to me at @saxcarr and we’ll consider them for our next list.
But on that subject… if you haven’t seen Louie CK live yet, get on the internet RIGHT NOW and find tickets. Louie is one of the last remaining comedy gods, and its only a matter of time before he pulls a Steve Martin and retires. Of course he is too famous for a list like this because you SHOULD already know. After all, he has a whole TV show on HBO where he does great stand-up in the opening credits. But please, if you take anything away from this list, go see Louie CK. But I digress…
Want some comedy gold, press the next button to get it started.
#10 Kumail Nanjiani
Every now an again a great comedian will slip past your social radar, for me this was Kumail Nanjiani. When I first saw him on stage I had no idea who he was, or that he had opened for Zach Galifianakis, and appeared on several late night talk shows. Well I saw very quickly that I had been missing out. Now Kumail is one of my absolute favorites to watch (a feat made easier by his regular weekly hosting gig at Los Angeles’ Meltdown Comic’s now famous Meltdown Show) and easily one of the stronger comics I have ever seen. Something about Kumail’s delivery makes every turn of phrase seem interesting and hilarious. I’ve seen shows where he repeats the same sentence (often one culled from a previous improvisation) a few times and it just keeps getting funnier. This guy could easily make you laugh for hours by reading the phone book, and on top of all that he’s a fantastic joke writer so he can leave that phonebook at home. Go see Kumail for yourself, and run doubly fast if he’s performing anywhere near his sometimes hosting partner Jonah Ray. When you do (or if you watch this clip) you might find as I have that the key to Kumail’s success is word choice… I can’t explain that any more, but you will agree. Here’s the clip!
#9 James Adomian
You may remember James from our “10 actors to watch in 2011” list. Here he is again, and without apology. If you want to really understand why James is so amazing it’s because of his gift for impressions. We’ve seen dozens of comedic impressionists come and go (Vegas is full of them) but James out-does them all with one simple trick… he’s actually funny too! You see, your average comedian/impressionist is basically a bunch of good impressions with brief spots of average jokes. James is funny even when he’s not George W. Bush, or Jesse Ventura, and that’s the place where he excels past his impressionist contemporaries. Check him out in your town if you can, or listen to him as a recurring guest on Comedy Death Ray Radio. While normally we are trying to show clips of their standup here, this sketch with Adomian as Orson Wells is so good every person should see it:
#8 Ed Greer
Ed is probably the biggest “long shot” on this list, having been on the scene the least time of anyone we are about to mention. Don’t let that fool you! Ed Greer can hold his own with anyone you see here and more. Greer’s comedy defies classification as it is all at once intelligent and approachable, egalitarian and niche. His comedy deals with racial issues in one joke, and Batman in the other, and most audiences can make the leap right along with him without any trouble. Ed stands out in his delivery, which borrows equally from the college professor and the street preacher with touches of somehow being everyone’s big brother and an added splash of rap. Yes, if you are lucky your Ed Greer set may contain a rap or two, my favorite deals with Superman. Here’s Ed rocking the mic:
#7 Andy Kindler
In many ways this is a list of unique delivery styles and Andy Kindler’s self-referential meta-comedic style is no exception. No matter how long, and how frequently you see Andy he’ll always spend more time talking about his set then he will doing actual jokes and you will be glad of it. About a year ago I actually heard him talk about this stylistic choice on stage and he mentioned that for the first few years he was repeatedly told NOT to perform with this style and just kept doing it. And now his style is so bizarrely enrapturing that you can’t turn away. It’s almost like learning the craft of comedy from the funniest possible teacher. If you like smart, neurotic comedy, you’ll become an addict for sure. Here’s a taste of the meta-comedy master:
(this clip takes a bit to get going, hang on, its worth it!)
Natasha and our previous comedian Andy Kindler were both judges on the most recent Last Comic Standing, just saying. It was good to see two comics of this caliber at the judges table. Natasha is someone you really have to see live to appreciate, and this comes from a very interesting comedic history. When she stated her act centered on her playing a spoiled wealthy debutant, and this was a great show to see. Then she progressed into sarcastic commentary on pop-culture and beyond. Then somehow she blended them seamlessly together. Now a Natasha show is a wonderful wild ride of various types of independently wonderful comedy blended together into something bigger then all of its parts. All this is even further enhanced from her years working the Los Angeles underground circuit while leads her to be a strong audience-work comic and surprisingly capable of dealing with hecklers for a girl who’s probably under 90 pounds. Go see this girl. Also watch this clip!
#5 Eddie Pepitone
Comedy is not therapy, and comedians who come from an angry, annoyed place tend to lose the audience. Eddie Pepitone is an exception. His caustic ranting and daring ability to take things way past where most people are either afraid to go, or perhaps don’t know exist. Not a lot of people would write a joke about being raped by a poltergeist, but this is just the beginning of the world of Eddie Pepitone. But more than almost anyone on this list you HAVE to see Eddie live. Why? Because its when things go slightly off what the plan was that Eddie really shines. I’ve seen improvisations, mixed with equal parts anger and absurdity, which made me tear up.
He may not like me to bring this out in the open, but one of the other amazing things about Eddie is that after he rants on stage like an angry lunatic and storms off… if you catch him in the lobby, he’s the nicest, sweetest man you’ll ever meet. You’ll be asking yourself if his stage persona is just an act, or if somehow his performances are curing him on his dangerous dangerous insanity cathartically. One description I read of Eddie is that he has a mind built for comedy, and a soul built for tragedy. Somehow that’s a beautiful thing. Check out this clip:
4. Thai Rivera
Some comedians make it all seem like a magic trick: So quick, so funny, and so effortless. You end up asking yourself if they are master joke writers, or simply natural talents. Thai Rivera may somehow be both. An openly gay comedian who speaks somehow more openly than others (if that’s possible) his blunt delivery and clever turn of phrase keep you laughing and wondering what he’ll say next. Something in Thai’s willingness to be embarrassed by his own stories makes you stop thinking about the subjects and puts you in the situations yourself. If you get a chance follow Thai on Twitter, but only after you’ve seen him live. This will make his twitter feed one of your favorites, because his sardonic whit, and obvious refusal to back down from any conflict make his twitter an endless stream of hints to amusing pithy verbal brawls you’d pay anything to see. While you’re at it keep an eye out of Thai on stages near you and pay what it costs to have an experience you won’t regret. Expect to be sore from laughing. Here’s Thai pushing the envelope as only he does best:
3. Bill Burr
Bill Burr is one of those brazen pontificators that make comedians jealous. His ability to tell it like it is, and have it be both funny and poignant is something everyone hopes to bring on stage. Burr is what I would call a joke killer. If you watch him deal with a subject he tends too so definitively that those jokes you’ve been making on a similar topic just don’t seem funny anymore. Believe it or not this ability to nail a joke so effectively that it’s pretty much the definitive joke, makes Bill a sort of comedian’s hero. “The Comedian’s Comedian” is a title he’s been honored with more than once.
This might also be from a famous Philadelphia show in which after the audience turned on the comedians and further heckled Burr very mercilessly. Departing from his written material Burr lampooned the audience, Philadelphia, and anything he could think of in a 10 minute tirade of curses and rude suggestions. When it was all over, he got a lengthy standing ovation. Not many people can do that.
Burr has given me the hardest time picking a clip to show you, its all so golden. If you like this clip, check out the rest of his work, its well worth it, and see the man live, he’s our hero.
#2 Kyle Kinane
To appreciate Kyle you have to really take in the experience of his performance. His full beard and either drunk or faux drunk performance gives the impression of a funny off duty sea-captain. Maybe this is what Quint from Jaws would be been like as a comedian. Then you take all that, and smash in a staggering intellect and an ability to self-deprecate that both border on the dangerous. Kyle Kinane is just such an unique experience that you walk away feeling like you can check something off your bucket list. He’s lung capacity testing funny and in a rolling lilt that somehow ups the ante to a belly laugh, then only pulls back a small amount before pushing forward until you laugh in a way you thought you had forgotten how to after childhood. His subject matter is surprisingly varied too, with to deepest philosophy sharing a joke with a love store for some simply carnal pleasure. Check Kyle out live at your first opportunity, and do the smart thing and buy tickets to two nights and a row because Kyle gets my award for comedy you just HAVE to see twice.
Special bonus, here are 2 videos form Kyle, one fantastic animation, and a clip of his routine:
#1. T.J. Miller
You’ve probably seen T.J. Miller in one of the countless films he’s done in the past few years, and you might even be a fan. Let me be the first to tell you that if you haven’t seem him live, you have no idea what you are missing. T.J. Miller is one of the most gifted stand-ups I have ever seen, and even more magical because more often than not, he’s making it all up. His hyper-unique brand of improvised stand-up is so funny so frequently that at a recent show I had trouble catching my breath, and this was during a twenty minute rant that centered around a chair that was left on stage. There is just something about T.J. that makes his every observation staggeringly funny and its well worth the prize of any admission. Part of his gift comes from a clear disregard for what’s “over the top” and his oft-improvised stories take long strolls into farce which only pushed this strange impossibility of his comedy even further. But you don’t have to take my word for it, and nor should you, get out there and see this guy by any means necessary and you will have a night you won’t soon forget. Here’s a clip of T.J. working the audience as only he can:
(I picked this clip because the youtube comments are so amazed by his improv they don’t belive its real)