Comedy Survey: The Best In The Biz Take Stock (Part III)
Much like the rest of the world, comedy has found itself entering a new era in recent years. However, on this side of the live business, there has been more money than ever. Without the need for massive tour buses to shuttle artists and equipment from show to show, low overhead and a desperate need for laughs have been raking in the money. At the same time, with a world in turmoil, less-than-sensitive jokes bring about worries over safety and security, and comedians have a high potential for being “canceled” for their comments. With so many changes in the industry, Pollstar reached out to some of the biggest movers and shakers in comedy to answer some questions. This is the third and final part of the survey.
Senior Partner / Senior Executive VP Head of Comedy Department / Gersh
Talent Manager / Levity Live!
Partner & Head of Comedy Touring at UTA
Partner / Brillstein Entertainment Partners
Manager / Vector Management
Agent at CAA
Arson House Entertainment
Agent, Comedy Touring / UTA
Agent, Comedy Touring / UTA
Founding Partner & President of Talent Levity Live
Head of Comedy Operations, Live Nation
Stephen Gordon Walker
Talent Manager at Levity Live
Partner & Co-Head of Comedy Division / WME
Senior Comedy & Podcast Touring Agent / WME
Parter, Comedy Touring / WME
Head of Comedy Touring / CAA
Derek Van Pelt
Partner / Mainstay Entertainment, Trevor Noah’s manager
Up-and-coming comedian or comedians you think should be on everyone’s radar (and why)?
Kyser: Comedians that should be on everyone’s radar are Brittany Carney, Sheng Wang, Pat Regan, Yedoye Travis and Tata Sherise.
Walker: OMG… the lovely Leanne Morgan! Have you heard of her? Maybe not. But- the women in your life probably do! Leanne has been a standup for over 22 years- her Drybar special reached over 50M people across various platforms, she gained 2M followers on socials during the pandemic, and is now selling out theatres across the country. Her first major streaming special comes out in 2023 and we’re launching a theatre and arena tour with her as well. Also: Mark Normand and Chelcie Lynn will be household names over the next few years. Had some of the most fun at their shows during at Moontower and Netflix is a Joke Festival.
Murray: Trevor Wallace. He’s really funny, has a great point of view that resonates with a huge audience.
Feigin: Stavros Halkias. Stav is absolutely hysterical and unapologetically himself. His quick wit interacting with the crowd, impeccable timing, and authentic and relatable material will put him on everyone’s radar. He self-released his first stand-up special on YouTube in June and it already has 3.5 million views and we are announcing his 2023 international theater tour, “Stavros Halkias: The Fat Rascal Tour,” later this month.
Beales: Dusty Slay! Still a club act, but the poster child for what blue-collar comedy looks like in the modern era and has been so dubbed by Jeff Foxworth as the guy to continue the legacy started by him, Larry, Ron and Bill years before.
Blake: JR De Guzman was one of Variety‘s Comics to Watch this year and I just love his musical comedy. I also love the infectious charisma of Marcello Hernandez, one of SNL’s newest cast members. Jimmy O. Yang is also poised to have a big year ahead of him!
Nuciforo: There is an incredible next generation of concert headliners on the rise: Matteo Lane, Ali Siddiq, Mark Normand, Hannah Einbinder and Stavros Halkias, to name a few.
Greenstein: Although no longer up-and-coming – Andrew Schulz should absolutely be on everyone’s radar.
Scott: Love what Zack Zucker is doing… Refreshing to see clown work go over so well in so many rooms. Giancarlo Soresi is great and very dramatic for a standup. Really excited about Maddy Smith who’s incredibly versatile across standup, roast, and TikTok… A great follow. Would love to see a Chloe Fineman stage show, a fantastic talent.
Skikne: Mark Normand. Mark’s touring business grew immensely the past year. He is incredibly prolific, a hard worker, and among the most talented joke writers.
Marmel: Fortune Feimster, who has a unique point of view, is both joyful and welcoming in her comedy.
Berkowitz: Sam Jay. She’s a genius saying something no one else is saying from a perspective that no one else has.
Van Pelt: Scott Seiss. He’s known as Angry Retail Guy online, but is an incredible stand-up and writer.
Levy: 1. Trevor Wallace – he’s a hard worker with hilarious sketches on social media, an addicting podcast, and his stand-up is hilarious. 2. Claudia Oshry – While her Instagram and podcast may be where her audience is most loyal, her stand up has gotten better and better every time she goes out. 3. Trey Kennedy – He came out of absolutely nowhere to sell a ton of tickets all over the country and put together a great hour of stand up. He’s known for his sketches but he made a leap from comedy clubs to major theatres in months, not years. His fans are all over the country, not just on the coasts, which makes him more unknown than some of industry darlings that get more ink.
Comedian that made you laugh the hardest this past year, and why?
Feigin: Yvonne Orji made me laugh the hardest with her surprise joke about me at the taping of her new HBO stand-up special, A Whole Me. You need to be able to laugh at yourself sometimes too!
Walker: It’s a blur – there are so many! Anjelah Johnson-Reyes comes first to mind. She has had a rocket ship of a year and is back on the Pollstar75. I’ve seen her hour 50+ times by now, and she gets me laughing time and time again!
Levy: Chris Fleming – he’s weird, he’s confounding, he’s brilliant, he is off-center in the best way.
Blake: I saw Dave Attell earlier this year and his sense of humor just kills me. I’m not going to even attempt to tell his jokes here.
Van Pelt: I’m biased, but Trevor Noah. He has a bit he’s closing with for his Netflix special we’re taping in Toronto that is one of the funniest 10-minutes I’ve ever seen.
Scott: The cast of Righteous Gemstones, especially Edi Patterson. Love everything about the character…
Skikne: Nathan Fielder. His latest HBO series “The Rehearsal” is one of the greatest accomplishments in comedy television.
Marmel: Taylor Tomlinson who continues to write some of the most truthful and fearless material, always with a solid punchline and high jokes per minute.
Greenstein: Chappelle … and why… because it’s Chappelle. Brilliant, relevant, prolific, important, fearless, honest and of course hysterical.
Murray: David Spade on the golf course.
Beales: Simon Gibson – his loud, in-your-face, self-deprecating style is so reminiscent of Farley and Galifianakis always has my sides hurting.
Nuciforo: My kids telling me dad jokes they heard on the internet. I’m a sucker for dad jokes.
Kyser: The comedians that made me laugh the hardest this year were Brian Simpson, Michelle Wolf, Shane Gillis and Craig Conant.
Comedian(s) who first got you into the biz?
Marmel: Seeing Sam Kinison at the height of his popularity at the Comedy Store. I never knew comedy could be that rock & roll until I saw that.
Murray: Louie Anderson, John Pinette, Brian Regan, Mitch Hedberg, Dave Attell.
Scott: The comedians at Miami Improv in Coconut Grove circa 2005…
Berkowitz: Greg Giraldo- the greatest ever.
Russell: In early 1994 one of the older kids on the bus to school let me listen to Adam Sandler’s “They’re All Gonna Laugh At You!” I listened to it every day for 2 months. I loved it. I needed more comedy. My Dad had a VHS of Eddie Murphy’s “Delirious”. I watched it and after that, I became obsessed with stand up. A year later, Dana Carvey had an HBO Special called “Critic’s Choice”. To this day, I can still recite (most) of the hour of material by memory. From there it was a windfall of comics that I still love to this day, but those were the first.
Skikne: Neil Hamburger (aka Gregg Turkington) and Reggie Watts. I began my career in the music world, but I was a longtime comedy fan. Neil and Reggie both perfectly straddled what was exciting in comedy and music at the time, and they inspired me to transition into the comedy business.
Walker: My buddy Mike Holleran took me to my first two standup shows back in 2014: Mike Birbiglia at Hard Rock Live and John Mulaney at Plaza Live. I was forever changed! I left my job at NBC Sports and moved to LA to work in comedy not long after those shows. While not a funny person myself, I’m so grateful and honored to be able to help artists bring joy into the world on a daily basis!
Kyser: The comedians that inspired me to join the industry are Mitch Hedberg and Robin Williams.
Greenstein: Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Carlin & Sketch wise, certainly Monty Python.
Beales: Sebastian Maniscalco was the first comedian that I ever worked on where I had to really dive into the deep end on the live side. Whitney Cummings produced a Comedy and Burlesque show years ago that was the first thing that ever paid me when I moved to Los Angeles. But I remember in high school I found Freddy Soto’s comedy special and it felt like a hidden gem that I discovered. That really got me into standup comedy originally.
Blake: My parent’s had George Carlin’s ‘Class Clown’ album and I can still recite the Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television.
Van Pelt: I fell in love with stand-up comedy as a teenager, falling asleep to comedy albums from Steve Martin, Woody Allen, Lewis Black, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, etc. I always wanted to be in this business. My first break was representing Amy Schumer and soon after I started working with a little-known comedian from South Africa, Trevor Noah. It’s been a hell of a ride ever sense.
Feigin: Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy and Joan Rivers – the old-school classics.
Levy: Mike Birbiglia, Bill Burr, Colin Quinn, Lewis Black.
What shows were the biggest stand-outs you’ve seen this year?
Walker: To many to count! But- first one that comes to mind is Fortune Feimster’s at the Ace Hotel as part of the Netflix is a Joke Festival. One of the best hours of comedy and live shows of 2022. It is delightful and truly romantic!!
Van Pelt: Roy Wood Jr working on his next hour.
Levine: Chris Rock and Dave Chapelle’s UK/Europe dates were incredibly special and fun. Ask anyone who had the privilege of attending.
Feigin: Taylor Tomlinson show was just hte biggest stand-out for me this year. The best comics don’t just tell jokes, they move us. Taylor is not just exceptionally funny, she is also extremely honest and vulnerable.
Berkowitz: Bill Burr at Fenway Park, John Mulaney at the Hollywood Bowl, Amy Schumer being brought on stage by Madonna for her sold out Whore Tour last week, Kevin Hart and Chris Rock sharing the stage in 6 NY area venues and Kevin crushing every night closing the show after the GOAT Chris Rock proved why he is still the best.
Levy: John Mulaney, Nick Kroll, Chris Distefano, Zarna Garg.
Greenstein: Chappelle at the Hollywood Bowl. Chappelle & Chris Rock together at O2 in London.
Beales: The show Fortune Feimster did for her latest 1-hour special is incredible. It’s a masterful piece of storytelling and joke writing, weaving in call backs and insider references and adding a heartwarming personal touch that’s just an absolute joy all around.
Murray: Nate Bargatze is quietly becoming one of the biggest ticket-selling comedians in the business.
Blake: Gabriel Iglesias at Dodger Stadium, Jo Koy at his multiple Forum shows in Los Angeles or Katt Williams in Las Vegas. All are specials for on Netflix for everyone to see!!
Marmel: The top standout show for me this year was Chris Rock at the Hollywood Bowl during Netflix Is A Joke Comedy Festival, followed closely by Sebastian at the Wynn, taping his Netflix special in a throwback to the “rat pack” days and Taylor Tomlinson running her new set for her upcoming theater tour at the Irvine Improv.
Skikne: Kate Berlant’s hilarious and brilliant off-Broadway show “Kate” is a game changer for comedy and theater. Also, “Tim Heidecker Live” was the perfect night of comedy and music, and it gave audiences the rare opportunity to see multiple sides of Tim on stage.
Kyser: Bill Burr at Punch Line San Francisco, Kevin Hart at Punch Line Philly and the entire Netflix is a Joke Festival were super special and unique experiences. Those were the highlights for me this year.
Favorite joke/story by a comedian (you don’t have to repeat the whole thing)?
Walker: Within weeks of her Netflix special JOKES dropping, Whitney Cummings was already back at the Comedy Store and Hollywood Improv doing 4-6 sets per night crafting her new hour. Her new material absolutely destroys- excited to see where she takes this new hour!
Berkowitz: Mike Birbiglia scolding an audience for laughing during a moment of silence during his Broadway show (you have to see it!).
Kyser: Josh Wolf – Thunderclap. If you want to hear the story, you’ll have to go see him!
Levy: My rabbi told me an old favorite during his sermon at Rosh Hashannah: Jacob is on his death bed. He’s got only minuts to live. He wants to just die in peace but his wife of 60 years, Besty, is with him. She comes to his bedside and says, “what can I do for you? What will make you happy? You can’t die! What will I do without you?” Jacob just say, “Betsy I want you to marry Randally.” His wife says, “But Jacobe you HATE Randall,” “I know,” he says.
Blake: Anytime Gabriel puts me into his set just kills me… especially during a special. At Dodger Stadium he told a joke about how his agent was slacking off and didn’t book him on Halloween one year… needless to say I brought him an offer for Halloween this year and he passed!!
Feigin: Bert Kreischer’s “The Machine!” I’ve heard it literally hundreds of times and it never gets old.
Beales: Bert Kreischer has a school raffle ticket story that is legendary. I wouldn’t do it justice. You’ll just have to see it live!
Skikne: I wouldn’t dare.
Van Pelt: Trevor Noah’s Indian Restaurant experience.
Marmel: Bert Kreisher’s story of the passing of his dog, Priscilla. It’s sad, it’s touching, it’s hilarious and every person who has ever had a pet can relate.
Greenstein: It’s like asking me which of my kids are my favorite. Can’t list just one!