Illustration: Franziska Barczyk
When Vulture started compiling the Comedians You Will and Should Know in 2013, the curation process was easy. Comedy Central plucked comedians from relative obscurity and turned them into stars overnight (Amy Schumer and the Broad City stars were on that first list). Talent would get buzz and high-profile development deals off modestly budgeted web series (Issa Rae was on that list as well). There were stand-ups who were both established and beloved in the comedy community, but found themselves waiting for Hollywood gatekeepers to catch up (i.e., Kumail Nanjiani, John Mulaney, Hannibal Buress, Pete Holmes).
Now, nearly a decade later, the meaning of success and being “known” has changed completely. Though many comedians still make a name for themselves via the traditional Hollywood route, new avenues such as TikTok, Instagram, and podcasting have given talent the ability to deliver work directly to fans while never having a big onscreen opportunity or special. That provides us an opportunity — as we talk to industry insiders about who they think is going to be the next Jerrod Carmichael, the next Chelsea Peretti, the next Bo Burnham — to also recognize the varied and always-evolving pathways a comedian can take to reach those heights.
As is the process every year, the list starts by polling dozens of industry professionals, including the comedians featured on last year’s list and in-the-know tastemakers like comedy-club bookers, producers, talent scouts, podcast-networks heads, comedy-record label founders, streaming-network execs, comedy photographers, and many more. Our goal is not to tell you who our favorite young comics are (though we like these people!) but to capture the Zeitgeist on the ground. The 24 comedians below, resulting from recommendations from 93 respondents in and around the industry, are the performers who have people working in comedy most excited. Some have had a more classic rise, making their name in indie rooms and comedy clubs, while the success of others was generated almost entirely online. Either way, learn these comedians’ names now, because sooner than later, you’re going to start seeing them everywhere.
When Niles Abston recorded his first DIY comedy special, Girls Don’t Twerk to Jokes, at a house party in February 2020, he’d never performed an entire hour of comedy. He readily admits he wasn’t sure whether he even had an hour’s worth of material. In an industry obsessed with the idea of “paying your dues,” that’s the type of admission that’s traditionally been ill-advised. Then again, Abston has built an impressive following independent of the approval of industry gatekeepers, so for him, it’s right on brand.
Abston’s special is brimming with sly jokes about growing up Black with money, wanting to be a rapper, and southern homophobia, and it serves as a showcase for his affable charm and effortless demeanor. He subsequently cut it into clips and used the videos on social media to grow his already swelling grassroots fan base and drive audiences to his live dates. While he recently filmed his upcoming second special in Chicago, Abston’s artistic ambitions extends beyond stand-up: In March he released his first short film, Notice to Quit — a tonally adventurous ride we referred to as “the best short we’ve seen in the past couple of years” — and he recently finished writing on the upcoming third season of FXX’s hit comedy Dave.
Brooklyn should have a bylaw instating that Dylan Adler is the only person allowed to do musical comedy without a permit. He’s doing backflips around everyone else in that oversaturated market — literally. Adler has been performing in New York spaces like Union Hall and Club Cumming for years, but his live comedy ascended to a whole other level when the NYU music-school grad stepped away from the piano bench. Now, when he performs a creepy-perfect parody of Lin-Manuel Miranda or does a musical number about what he thinks football is (his vocal runs on the word “fumble” are worth the cost of admission), he confidently gestures to whoever’s working the booth and tells them to “Play the track, daddy,” or “Hit it, father!” He’ll punctuate a non-sequitur about dating or his family or both (“One time at a family gathering I made a joke about the sexual tension between my twin brother and me … and it bombed!”) with a big ecstatic scissor kick or a jumping jack. When he personifies his depression, his eyes roll back into his skull, he slithers his tongue demonically, and he croaks “I’m Jafar, bitch” in a way that really sounds more like Yzma.
All of this physicality is a bonus because Adler is, above all else, sharp. He fires off switches from micro-impressions to one-liners about trauma before you even know what’s hitting you, making his act a well-oiled machine or a tight package (sultry entendres intended). Recently, he took Asian American excellence to delirious heights when he performed a song about his love of Japanese Breakfast a.k.a. Michelle Zauner live onstage with a completely giddy Japanese Breakfast a.k.a. Michelle Zauner. He is also releasing an album of his comedy special, Rape Victims Are Horny Too, with Kelly Bachman. If you can’t go see him live, Adler was a standout ensemble member on TikTok’s first live sketch-comedy series, Stapleview.
Brittany Carney observes her surroundings from a bird’s-eye view. Born and raised in Japan, the That Damn Michael Che and Teenage Euthenasia writer moved to the U.S. later in life, giving her a detached perspective on some of our culture’s most specific oddities. “People ask me often, ‘Do you know a lot about anime?’” she says in a joke about growing up in Tokyo. “But I was in Japan. Not the Midwest suburbs.”
Sometimes, she flies down from her perch to meet audiences at their level, but just as often she demands they come up to her altitude: bulging her eyes, cracking her voice, and speaking with an arresting delivery to throw them off-balance before hitting them with clever, well-timed jokes about topics like organic deodorant, being a mammal, and climate sustainability. In one joke, she tells a story about a preschool student of hers asking why mother frogs don’t have boobs. “Oh, I don’t need more salary,” she screeches, affecting the maniacal laugh of a person on the verge of a breakdown. “I get paid in curiosity.”
A classic Nore Davis joke is one that feels very, very specific and is instantly recognizable as a universal experience. Davis, who’s released several albums and appeared in shows like Inside Amy Schumer and Last Week Tonight, has a particularly memorable joke about how students assume teachers don’t have a life outside of school. It’s a premise that’s well-worn enough to be almost too obvious, even when coupled with his performance of an imaginary teacher robot shutting down and powering up in a cubby overnight. But the joke becomes fully his when it transitions into his mother’s own experience as a teacher, reacting to being recognized outside of school as though she’s a bored, blasé celebrity inundated with fans. He embodies the student first — an overwhelmed, ecstatic adult losing his mind when he spots his elementary-school teacher. Then Davis becomes his own mother, eyes rolling, resigned. “Hey baby,” he says, in his mother’s voice, his hand waving in half-greeting, half-dismissal.
That joke is a stand-out, but it’s also representative of Davis’s broader approach: His work often comes from personal or family material, and his typical framing is loving, lived-in, and relaxed. Even when he mimics an overwhelmed energy, or when the pace of a joke demands speed, his persona has a confident chill that becomes an irresistible framing for material on politics, current events, and parenthood.
In interstitials he recorded for Comedy Central’s Ilana Glazer Presents: Tight Five in 2021, Alex English workshopped a joke about Malcolm X’s “fuckability,” then immediately doubled down on its shock value: “I’ll only know if it’s funny if the NAACP calls for me to apologize.” It’s the quintessential English joke, one that addresses his identity as a Black and gay man but conveys that he’s more than happy to set aside allyship for a strong joke — or for that matter, a blessed hairline.
The benefit of this approach is that English is the perfect mouthpiece for takes the average progressive wouldn’t feel comfortable voicing but is happy to laugh at, especially when English is punching down at himself. Not that English traffics exclusively in contrarianism — though irreverent, he injects nuance into discussions of race, sexual orientation, and gender that might otherwise feel staid. In addition to his stand-up, English has written and performed on such notable shows as Pause With Sam Jay, That Damn Michael Che, and The Rundown With Robin Thede. He’s best known for writing on SNL, where he’s worked since 2021 and once penned a Cut for Time sketch called “Jail Ad,” notable for Willem Dafoe’s repeated, incredible delivery of the phrase “vampire-looking headass.”
Here’s the key to understanding Lisa Gilroy’s comedic gifts: She used to host popular Canadian children’s show The Zone (her co-host, Suki, is now better known by his drag name, Priyanka). This makes perfect, but also kind of twisted, sense. Gilroy is a character chameleon who can slip into an upper register to play a misbehaving fifth-grade boy on a school trip or flatten out her affect to become the trendy L.A. hostess who’s paid to neg you (“I have never been more pleased or delighted to announce anything in my life but the wait is gonna be two hours”), or play a garbled, disturbed personification of a period, or, with Hannah Pilkes, an incestuous Oppenheimer brother.
In the comments section on these TikToks, viewers compare her to Jenna Marbles or Kristen Bell, which certainly gets at her “funniest girl in the sorority” energy (there’s that Canadian approachability), but Gilroy tempers it all with more of an edge, like when she narrates a skincare routine that slowly escalates into murder. This past year, Gilroy broke out as a recurring Comedy Bang! Bang! guest, where she’s shown off her improv skills and stretched her Silly Putty voice into different imaginary oddballs. There is no sketch show big enough to contain all that Gilroy has to offer, but we can think of at least one that would be a nice start.
Holmes Holmes is an enigma. Their hometown? Many. Their name? An SEO-defying tautonym, like William Carlos Williams or Ford Madox Ford. Their comedy? Very hard to describe without using the word cooch. Holmes came out of the experimental Chicago scene that gave us other zeitgeist-definers like Sarah Squirm, Meg Stalter, and Caleb Hearon, the latter of whom was Holmes’s partner in a series of quick early-career Twitter sketches, the two of them bouncing off each other spitting fictional gossip. Their solo videos, however, are where they really make their case as one of the funniest people you can possibly follow.
On TikTok, Holmes rants to the camera, eyes wide and on the verge of tears, about various scenarios: ruining their sister’s graduation due to a disruptive itch in an unspeakable place; finding a note from their birth mother wedged in their vag and trekking to find her; laying a dinosaur egg and being upset not at their situation, but at their friend who’s trying to steal the spotlight. In another medium, these would make for a compelling, surrealist chapbook of short stories. Instead, they’re monologues delivered dead-serious, sometimes in a fake upper girly-girl register, sometimes in a husky but hurried whisper. You feel a little bad for Holmes’s characters, but you’re mostly disgusted by them. Onstage, they can take more time exploring these threads, like in their serialized live-dating show at L.A.’s Elysian, billed as the “first pansexual bachelor.” Currently, you can catch Holmes on the Fox comedy Welcome to Flatch, which is entering its second season and is much stranger than a network sitcom has any right to be. That’s Holmes’s power.
Leiby’s work lives in the “Millennial Thoughts About Dating” neighborhood, presented from her frank, matter-of-fact persona: pragmatism with a hint of neurosis. They are jokes about the reality of living with a body, especially a female body — the mortification and concern of having a hot surgeon; the realization that what your neighbor thinks are your wild sex sounds are actually the sound of you putting your jeans on every morning. She established herself as a comedy writer with credits on The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, The President Show, and The Opposition With Jordan Klepper, but it was her unfortunately timely hour-long performance Oh God, A Show About Abortion that catapulted Leiby into the spotlight in the last year.
“Anything we do related to our bodies and our physicality is inherently a political thing,” Leiby told Ilana Glazer earlier this year, though the show is intended to push back against the notion of abortion as a remarkable, guilt-laden experience. “Step one is the normalization of abortion,” Leiby said. “Beyond that, the way we talk about it needs to change. It needs to allow people to have or not have feelings about it.” Oh God accomplishes that by presenting Leiby’s abortion as matter-of-fact: ridiculous, a nuisance, a frustrating obstacle, but not a source of angst or dismay. After all, as she tells Glazer: Her root canals were more traumatic.
Unlike other comedians of his generation, Andrew Lopez doesn’t have a variety of stand-up clips available to watch online. But why would he? As a tour opener for Jo Koy, he regularly plays crowd-pleasing sets to arena-size audiences, and as an experienced writer he currently has two projects in development with Amazon and one with FX. For Amazon, he’s adapting the book Son of Good Fortune into a comedy series produced by Riz Ahmed and Lulu Wang, and turning a This American Life episode into a romantic-comedy film called Slow Burn. For FX, he’s working with Christopher Storer (The Bear) and Hiro Murai (Atlanta) on a pilot he’s set to produce, write, and star in. So you’ll forgive him for not posting stand-up clips on TikTok.
In 2020, Lopez made a brief appearance in Koy’s Netflix special In His Elements, where he showed a glimpse of the writerly sensibilities he leverages while working on these projects. A better distillation of his voice, though, is in the Instagram video above, where he tackles the oft-discussed subject of representation in media and carves out a clever angle to breathe new life into it. Talking about the film Crazy Rich Asians, he says, “I drove to the Arclight at eight in the morning, and me and 14 Asian people tailgated that bitch like it was the Super Bowl.” He continues, “You want to know why Asians talk about that movie so much? Because it took my entire life to see Asians on a movie screen. But Hollywood made six Air Buds in seven years!”
It’s not easy for a comedic persona to feel warm and biting at the same time, but Ever Mainard pulls it off. Mainard has a background in improv at Second City and has begun to build acting credits (the best is their 2020 appearance in a Team Coco “Meet the Staff” video as “heron/bear sex prop maker” Marcy Cramer), but they’re most notably a stand-up. Their strongest characters and scenes rest on a careful line between bodily disgust and bodily outrage, though. On one side, a story about working in a West Hollywood gym and refusing to deal with a cock ring found in the showers. On the other, a grim and remarkable joke about a game show called Here’s Your Rape! where women realize they’ve finally made one of the many errors they’ve been warned will lead to being sexually assaulted.
Mainard’s striking combination of genial prickliness (and sometimes giddy emptiness) shows up in their social-media content on TikTok and Twitter, too. Nothing says “celebrating your COVID diagnosis” like throwing on a wig and becoming a woman who’s still gonna feed her bird.
Jaye McBride tells capital-J jokes — as in, set-ups and punchlines. She’s a master in the ancient art of leading the audience down a path then blindsiding them with a twist: “My dad died around Christmas, which was tough. I didn’t know what to ask for … because I already got what I wanted!” In such jokes, McBride uses the rhythms of tried-and-true Borscht Belt mother-in-law schtick to get the audience comfortable enough to laugh at a joke about trauma. That’s harder than McBride makes it look. She also gets belly-laugh zingers out of wordplay. A joke about her Irish Catholic upbringing plays like the Adirondack Trail — a long walk, but worth it: “My grandmother had ten kids. Ten. And she had two miscarriages, so she was pregnant 12 times in 16 years. She didn’t have periods. She had commas.” It’s exactly what you want from a club comic: to feel like you’re in good hands, but also like you might end up gasping at a joke about necrophilia.
This summer, McBride appeared on Amy Schumer’s Parental Advisory Netflix comedy special and recorded an upcoming comedy album, Anatomically Incorrect. McBride is a trans comedian who’s been out and in the game longer than nearly anyone, and while she didn’t always incorporate her identity into her act, it now makes for richer, riskier, more honest material. Now, she implicates herself in those family zingers, ratcheting up the tension: “I have an uncle who’s a priest. He does not like this at all,” she says, with that “this” meaning anything from raunchy stand-up to the mere fact of her existence. “He said, ‘I don’t ever wanna watch you do comedy, because I don’t wanna listen to you talk about having sex with a man’ … So I just send him pictures.”
Amy Miller’s jokes have an unmistakable bite to them. She displayed her lacerating wit during her semi-finals appearance on Last Comic Standing in 2015, in a special she recorded for Epix’s series Unprotected Sets in 2020, and most recently, with a 2022 half-hour special for Comedy Central called Ham Mouth. Watching Ham Mouth can feel almost like a roast where Miller addresses a dais populated by all the world (including herself) and picks off targets one-by-one. She goes after her family’s weight (“I have a huge family. There’s also a lot of people in it”), straight girls who exclusively date tall men to “feel safe” (“Bitch, why are you always in danger? Are you talking shit?”), and even the network that produced her special (“I accidentally turned 40. They might actually edit that out, because I think it’s illegal to say on Comedy Central — if you’re a woman”).
As evidenced by the latter joke, Miller’s often at her best when she turns her attention toward topics where she feels a degree of righteous anger. “Sorry that I jerked off in your direction,” she says after making a lewd gesture during a joke on her 2022 album, California King. “It’s a big problem with comedians. I should have asked for your consent — or just lied later and said that I asked for your consent — and then changed the whole story so I can do conservative comedy now.” She’s the rare comic with the chops to pull off jokes of this nature without audience reactions descending into clapter.
Clare O’Kane’s career has most recently been notable for her work as a writer: She has credits on Hulu’s Shrill, the animated series Fairview, and was hired as a writer at SNL for its 47th season. O’Kane’s stand-up, though, is a fantastic illustration of what makes her distinctive. In a joke for Comedy Central, which O’Kane includes in her 2018 album Let It Be, she describes her love of “going PP,” which she eventually clarifies is Planned Parenthood. The joke slides in a few different directions, skirting around some of the most direct abortion-access material and landing instead on O’Kane’s ability to describe her physical ailments in medically accurate terms.
But there’s a moment even earlier in that joke that feels like the pinnacle of an O’Kane observation. It’s not that she needed an abortion, or that she loves Planned Parenthood, or even that she was dating a bassist. It’s that the bassist had “a booger wall,” which O’Kane takes great pleasure in describing. Her sensibility is messy, which sometimes manifests as physical grossness and sometimes (as in an album joke about her dead mother) is about going just a tad too far.
There’s a certain type of comedian who coasts on rhythm, inertia, and persona. They draw analogies — “That’s like if …” — and generate reflexive laughs for jokes that don’t quite hold up under a microscope. Laura Peek writes comedy like she wants to put these comedians out of business. She tells mathematical jokes like ”You ever walk into a Quality Inn and think, Honestly, I would have gone for quantity at this point?” and “I washed myself like a woman in a movie who is trying to forget a memory” that work on paper just as well as they do onstage.
In this way, Peek’s comedy is a throwback. Her work shares DNA with that of Taylor Tomlinson, both in her commitment to strong punchlines and the way she speaks reverentially and critically about her Southern upbringing, similar to how Tomlinson discusses the church. She reaches into this well frequently, not just to ridicule people she believes have regressive beliefs, but to comment on elements of it that have shaped her. It’s the basis of one of her best bits about attempting to quit smoking, a habit she jokes that no one in California has. “One thing I’ve never tried is the stop smoking pill. It’s called Chantix,” she explains. “Three of the actual side-effects of Chantix are hallucinations, delusions, and night terrors … Chantix: You can’t smoke if you’re hiding from demons in your neighbor’s crawl space.”
Plenty of fitness influencers blew up on social media during the pandemic, but none were as entertaining as Creeper, the creator and coach of the CholoFit workout. He’s got nearly 600,000 followers on Instagram, over 700,000 on TikTok, and has spawned spinoff programs including CholoSpin and Choloquatics, where his knee-high socks and bandana are not considered optional. Creeper is the most popular creation of L.A. comedian Frankie Quiñones, who has been doing the character live and online since 2013. Like all of Quiñones’s characters, Creeper reinvents Latino comedy clichés with a combination of physicality, real-life inspiration, and a subtle bit of commentary: Creeper is an amalgam of classic “cholo” tropes right down to his chanclas, but his fitness classes send up a certain type of gentrifying workout studio. Other characters, like Emo Primo, Pachanga, and Juanita Carmelita, are part of the Quiñones cinematic universe, and all of them shine in his 2021 HBO special Frankie Quiñones: Superhomies; that latter character, also known as JC, is openly based on Quiñones’s mom.
If you’re less of a TikToker and more of a cult-comedy nerd, you might know Quiñones as a member of The Dress Up Gang, a surreal sitcom created by and co-starring his then-roommates Donny Divanian and Cory Loykasek. Now, he stars opposite Chris Estrada on This Fool as Luis, an ex-gang member turned reluctant rehabilitation center member. With the stamp of approval from comedy icons like George Lopez and Will Ferrell, Quiñones’s career will go as high as his socks will take him.
Pat Regan is a “Comedian You Should Know” the way that ice cream is a “Treat You Should Know.” If you follow queer stand-up and don’t know Regan yet (seemingly impossible), you’ve certainly at least noticed his influence. Regan has a famously infectious cadence, examples of which include the increasing cultural penetration and ubiquity of the word “famously.” It’s the sort of unmistakable delivery that made his performance as a twink on a shrimp boat the single weirdest scene-stealing character in the already deeply quirked-up comedy Search Party. In his stand-up, Regan will drop a mundane celebrity fact and then clarify to audience members, like a concerned mother at an anti-library rally, “and actually, they don’t teach that in schools.” He says therapy “saved my life” … but mostly because it’s a really good — say it with me — place to charge your phone.
Regan hyperbolizes the daily little indignities of everyday life and undercuts the big issues with clever deadpan, making them seem a little less scary (he doesn’t want to go to heaven when he dies because having to deal with God “seems annoying”). His act is peppered with self-deprecation both specific and relatable, and includes honest admissions related to topics like body dysphoria, something most male comedians don’t touch. He has a lovable quality that’s earned devoted fans, both in his stand-up and as the co-host of the wildly popular podcast Seek Treatment with his friend Catherine Cohen, which functions like a group-therapy session for anyone who’s ever cried in a Sweetgreen. On the podcast and in his stand-up, Regan defies cliché at every turn, proving that you can be hot and also nice, gay and also from Long Island, cool and also obsessed with track-and-field. More recently, Regan has appeared on Ziwe and written for Hacks, which is a huge win for him and his family.
Hidden underneath all the contagious aggravation comprising the bulk of Yamaneika Saunders’s material, there’s a sillier and more character-driven comic who peeks her head out from time to time. Perhaps she’d reveal herself more if there weren’t so many stupid people and ludicrous ideas deserving of her ire. Saunders gets riled up about everything, from bridal-dress fittings to people’s poor airplane etiquette, and by the time she’s done fervently dissecting these issues, it’s impossible not to feel a sense of relief from a pocket of tension you may not have even realized you were carrying.
At her best, Saunders animates her observations with doses of absurd imagery and committed impressions. Joking about the particulars of “fat pads,” she says, “I went to the public pool this week with the pad on. I soaked up all the water in the pool. It was crazy. The kids were like, ‘Mommy, where’s the water?’ She was like, ‘It’s in that bitch’s pad.’ Now I have to keep my pussy open until 8:00 p.m., because the kids want to swim.” Saunders unites these sensibilities effortlessly in her role as Dr. Saunders in Flatbush Misdemeanors, a belligerent therapist who refuses to indulge her client Dan’s bullshit and simply berates him until he fixes his behavior. Hardly her first acting gig, Saunders has also appeared on That Damn Michael Che, Life and Beth, and Pause With Sam Jay, among others.
Julia Shiplett’s comedy is weaponized brightness. She has appeared in comedy series like High Maintenance and Love Life, and those millennial slice-of-life series are a good fit for her style. She does jokes about dating, weddings, aging out of your 20s, and observational bits about, for example, how weird it is to still have physical keys. But it’s refracted through Shiplett’s dark-cheerful worldview: They’re familiar scenes that become weirder, sometimes to the point of discomfort.
One typical Shiplett joke dismantles the appeal of astrology, starting with the cheerful greeting “Happy Virgo season!” then immediately twisting it around to describe the way astrology becomes an excuse for terrible behavior. “I don’t have a fear of intimacy, I had an eclipse on my birthday!” Shiplett says. She’s particularly good at that kind of combination of cultural observation and personal anecdote, and it’s what distinguishes her work. It’s not just weird that physical keys still exist. It’s that we also get the image of Shiplett, locked out of her apartment, yelling through her door to ask Alexa about Zoë Kravitz’s birth sign. (“She’s a Sag, by the way.”)
Front-facing comedy savant (and soon, an actor on the Apple TV+ series Platonic) Vinny Thomas has probably shown up on your Twitter or TikTok feed, but it’s difficult to say exactly what character you would’ve seen him portray. Unlike comedians like Sarah Cooper, whose most famous work is lip syncing Trump, or someone like Meg Stalter, who plays a version of her comedic persona filtered through a range of character types, Thomas is remarkably versatile. He plays with accents and vocal ranges. His face morphs into desperation, alarm, smugness, fake delight. Sometimes he plays animals, with their deepest animal desires filtered into hilarious human contexts: “You better work bitch!” yells a pigeon at a Pride parade, before adding, “Throw out some bread, bitch!”
In spite of how disparate Thomas’s characters are, the unifying pleasure of them is in his ability to find and fully embody unexpected perspectives, voices that are simply absurd or that find pointed ridiculousness in political contexts. They’re completely distinct characters, but in Thomas’s hands, a gay-pride pigeon and a man organizing a white-supremacist rally are cut from the same cloth. Their needs are simple, and voicing those needs out loud makes them suddenly, delightfully preposterous.
If Yedoye Travis sets his sights on a subject that’s been tackled before, you can rest assured he’ll have the freshest take on it. Comedians have been making jokes about R. Kelly for over a decade, with everyone from Pete Davidson to Whitney Cummings lamenting how difficult it is to boycott his song “Ignition (Remix).” But Travis’s joke is the definitive entry into the canon — the one that should be loaded in a time capsule and shot into space. “R. Kelly is not, nor has he ever been, a good musician,” he begins. “His music is not sexy. It’s just about sex. There’s a big difference. Teenagers talk about sex, but are they sexy? Not if you’re not R. Kelly.”
A large part of Travis’s comedic success stems from his wide lexicon of pop-culture references. He’s a master at weaving in just the right reference at just the right time — just off-beat enough without being too obscure — to temper his sometimes heady forays into challenging subject matter. Explaining the concept of white privilege in one joke, he says, “It’s like in X-Men when Magneto walks out over open air and a bridge forms under his feet. That’s white privilege. You know when you just go somewhere you’ve never been and suddenly there’s infrastructure?”
Adding to his resume, Travis has worked on Peacock’s Saved by the Bell reboot, wrote the Batman comic book Legends of the Dark Knight, and appeared as an actor on NBC’s Mr. Mayor. He also writes brilliant essays about labor challenges and predatory behavior in comedy in his spare time.
Surrender yourself to the smooth stylings of New York comic Ikechukwu Ufomadu. Let his dulcet tones wash over you while he does his signature crowd work, starting the show by asking, “Anyone else wearing shoes tonight? [Crowd cheers.] So I suppose I’m preaching to the choir when I say, [Mildly Seinfeldian voice] ‘Can you believe these things?’” Ufomadu talks with an affect that suggests smoking jackets and snifters and plays clever, circuitous word games — talents he displays on “Words With Ike,” his recurring, recently Emmy nominated segment on the FX short-form showcase series Cake. It’s a segment that drives home a feeling that Ufomadu loves comedy because he loves language. In it, he walks through wheat fields and rivers of tactical words and invites viewers to “take a stroll with old Lady English down Lexicon Boulevard.” Sometimes, Ufomadu abandons language altogether, such as when he recites a sonnet mostly in grunts, or sings “New York, New York” entirely in frog ribbits, or does a bit that can only be transcribed as singing “leedle-laddle-leedle-laddle-loo” for two minutes straight.
Maybe you’ve seen him on cool, New York-y shows like Ziwe, or Chris Gethard Presents, Flatbush Misdemeanors, or The Special Without Brett Davis; maybe you’ve seen his cartoonified visage as a regular on Stephen Colbert’s Tooning Out the News. Ufomadu has extreme “former gifted kid” energy, tempered by a delightfully stupid streak, like when he gives a PowerPoint presentation that devolves into two separate recitations of Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song.” Ufomadu is that rarest of things in the world of alt-comedy: a true gentleman scholar.
For Devon Walker, crowd work isn’t really crowd work, because he doesn’t make it look like “work” at all. When he riffs in a room it’s unlabored, casual, and inviting — more of a crowd hang. He’ll tease a funny moment out of the blandest of audience “woos” or involuntary vocalizations: “Don’t uuugh out loud!” In another set, he shuffles offstage and hides from the audible despair he hears when he asks if there are any parents in the house. Few young comics have been as unshakeable from the jump as this Austin native, whose easy stage presence complements his deft material. In one bit (in the video above), he pins white appropriation of Black culture on Eddie Murphy in the ’80s for doing too good of a job at teasing white folks, and then demonstrates exactly what that looks like. (It involves going to a very nasally place).
During lockdown in 2020, Walker took his humor to Comedy Central and starred in comedy shorts for their social-media channels that ranged from personal — like a talk with a fictional therapist about familial hangups — to silly, as in his collaborations with Grace Kuhlenschmidt about withholding rent or dating the same girl. Now, Walker writes on Big Mouth and Phoebe Robinson’s series Everything’s Trash. His latest hour of stand-up, which he’s been testing live this summer, is entirely based on audience interaction. That’s what we’re talking about when we talk about strong crowd work.
You don’t need to listen too closely to hear the moments when Sheng Wang’s laid-back delivery feels indebted to his hero Mitch Hedberg. Rather than coast on the advantages of this shared affect, though, Wang is a razor-sharp joke writer — filtering often mundane subject matter through his skewed perspective and then trimming every ounce of fat away to deliver precisely scripted jokes. In one joke lampooning the idea of people teasing him for wearing a bike helmet, he says, “That’s my favorite kind of humor: talking trash about safety … If I see a pedestrian crossing the street, I say, ‘Yo, check out that momma’s boy, looking both ways.’ When I cross the street, I look one way: directly at the sun.”
The degree of polish on Wang’s material is unsurprising, given how long he’s been at the craft. He helmed his own half-hour Comedy Central Presents special back in 2011, has appeared on shows like Last Comic Standing and New York Stand-up Show, and worked as a writer on the NBC series Fresh Off the Boat for several seasons. Frustrated that Wang has continued to fly under the radar despite his considerable talents, his good friend and fellow comic Ali Wong recently took it upon herself to change his fortunes: In June, she made her directorial debut shooting Wang’s first hour-long special, titled Sweet and Juicy, slated to hit Netflix on September 6.
Although Celeste Yim’s career began as a stand-up in Toronto, their work over the past several years has pivoted toward writing, garnering Yim an avalanche of recognition. Their play Not Only Is Everyone As Wonderful was produced in Aspen and New York; they’ve written for Vice and the Globe and Mail; they participated in the National MFA Playwrights Festival.
But what they’ve become most known for is their work on SNL, where Yim was hired as a writer in 2019. Their sketches often reflect the exhaustion and claustrophobia of representation issues: For example, a spoof of the “It Gets Better” campaign mocks the simplicity of gay social acceptance. One of Yim’s most notable SNL pieces is the “Weekend Update” segment they wrote with Bowen Yang about the burden of having to respond to anti-Asian hate crimes. There’s often a sense of political responsibility to Yim’s work, but Yim is equally remarkable in sketches that are beautifully brainless. The best of those is “L’Eggs,” a sketch co-written with Aidy Bryant, that begins from a place of total nonsense (sales representatives for L’Eggs pitching to high-school kids) and gradually accelerates into an unhinged romp about panty hose. The only Celeste Yim SNL sketch even better than “L’Eggs” is “Bonjour-Hi,” a perfect combination of Yim’s interest in identity (in this case: Quebecois) and absurdism (also Quebecois).
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