Stand-Up Starter Pack
Netflix released “The Characters” on March 11, an eight-episode series that allowed comedians 30 minutes of creative free reign on Netflix’s budget and platform. Netflix has sponsored stand-up specials before, but the sketch-based project sees the platform investing in comedy at an even more involved level.
To garner some hype for our favorite comedians, Scene has compiled a “Stand-Up Starter Pack” in light of the release. Check back tomorrow for Scene Editor Erin McAuliffe’s write-up on “The Characters” and the eight comedians featured on the show.
Wei Lin — Iliza Schlesinger
Iliza Schlesinger’s wit and humor leaves my non-existent abs aching with pain. Beyond the performing style of most stand-up comedians, Iliza full-out acts. Her numerous characters come to life: the Pinterest-crazed girlfriend, the alcoholic party goblin, her rendition of Satan and many more. She’s not like other comedians who spend all their stage time cracking jokes. She utilizes an assortment of guttural sounds and speaks in voice parts ranging from high-pitched sopranos to deep bass notes. She even imitates a raptor’s mating call. Voice aside, Schlesinger is a very animated comedian; she prances, crouches, struts and tweezes imaginary nose hairs. She makes stand-up comedy a truly immersive experience.
Where she might alienate a crowd is her focus on quirks and contradictions of women: obsession with all things fall-related, “basic white girls,” body image, dating and sexual deviance among others. While she might portray women as insecure, clingy, helpless and dramatic, Schlesinger’s hyperbolized skits can make even the most driven, self-identified feminists laugh, whether she’s talking about pumpkin-spice everything or women who don’t wear jackets when going out in the winter. If you are a feminist – which you should be – just keep in mind that she is a comedian. Schlesinger’s goal is to make you laugh, and if she does, she’s done her job.
Netflix is currently streaming her two shows “War Paint” and “Freezing Hot.”
Jack Riedy — Kyle Kinane
Kyle Kinane is a genius at sounding dumb. His raspy voice, familiar as the voice of Comedy Central promos, sounds weathered by too many late nights. It’s a perfect match for his bawdy tales. Kinane’s comic persona suggests an older cousin you haven’t seen in years, drunk off cheap beer at a backyard family reunion. A seemingly boastful story about doing psychedelics in the desert swiftly pivots into a soliloquy on self-imposed boundaries when he describes how he knew he had to keep his pants on. And that leads perfectly into the time he got kicked out of Canada.
Kinane’s stand-up specials are full of these yarns, drawing real pathos out of otherwise juvenile subjects. He’s overeducated and underutilizing it, turning his creative writing degree into a punchline. There’s no premise that he can’t wring maximum hilarity out of. A cop joining the party downstairs from a crime scene becomes a 10-minute reflection on growing out of youthful debauchery. A fall while drinking in the shower leads to pondering the absurdity of arbitrary societal rules about where and when it’s shameful to drink, and later, whether it’s possible to know if you are truly in love. Kinane’s mix of genuine curiosity and day-to-day cynicism is gut-bustingly funny. In an early routine, Kinane rouses an audience to hear “Uncle Barbecue tell his dum-dum stories.” While his flair with self-deprecating nicknames is impeccable, make no mistake: this is brilliant comedy.
Matt McMahon — Rory Scovel
Rory Scovel is one of those alt comedians that practically every other comedian loves. His style of stand-up is so natural and off-the-cuff it seems like he’s constantly coming up with new material on the spot; nearly every set is unique and unexpected. Sometimes he does his shows in a Southern accent, or as a German import, or as a hip, young priest or even, one time, as a member of The Five Footprints, a fake Christian a cappella group that filled in for a no-show at Outside Lands and sung almost exclusively about sex and violence.
As often as Scovel goes conceptual — like in his “Conan” appearances with fellow alt comedian Jon Dore — he just as often undercuts himself completely and winds up even funnier for having done so. No matter what he decides on doing for any given performance, Scovel’s creativity and rule-breaking are always on display. See his unconventional set on the last season of Comedy Central’s “The Meltdown” in which he tells only one joke, but the entire set is nonetheless some of the most brilliant stand-up to have aired on TV in recent years.
Kelly McGarry — Amy Schumer
Labeled a “sex comic,” Schumer makes all the clever observations that you wouldn’t say even if you had thought of them. Whoever you are, she’s guaranteed to touch on some topic that offends you in any given hour-long special. As Schumer said while talking about a particularly raunchy topic, “If that provides you with discomfort, then you’re just looking at it the wrong way.” That attitude carries through all of her work.
But it’s not about rapid-fire controversial statements — delivery is what makes it all worthwhile. Anything she emphasizes is probably sarcastic, but she only gives away the most clever bit as her voice trails off in a downplayed punchline, like when she says, “My boyfriend looks like one of the guys from ‘The Hills … Have Eyes.’”
A lot of what she says is ridiculous, but she goes beyond laughing at herself. She has used comedy as a platform to make statements that are important regardless of how silly they sound. She’s straightforward – and hilarious – about all the things we, as women, are told we’re not allowed to talk about.
And that’s without even mentioning her brilliant series “Inside Amy Schumer” or the movie “Trainwreck,” which she wrote. Schumer’s full-hour specials are more easily found on Spotify or YouTube, and she is featured in appropriately-titled “Women Who Kill” (2013) on Netflix.
Adam Ramos — Louis C.K.
A comedian comes around every once in awhile and changes what comedy means to society. Figures like Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Eddie Murphy and Jerry Seinfeld have all done this. Today we have Louis C.K., the undisputed best act in stand-up comedy. And this is without even mentioning his three-time Emmy-winning self-titled television show.
C.K. is self-deprecating without being whiny, he’s observational but provocative, he’s vulgar while smart. Dynamism and poise are rare qualities for a comic to exhibit, but for C.K. it all seems to come naturally in his supremely relaxed delivery. After nine stand-up specials, C.K. has yet to bore, not once relying on a single gimmick. Yet it’s honesty, in all its forms, that is at the core of what makes C.K. a very special comedian. Frank articulations of ridiculous tendencies and insecurities deep-seated in everyday life saturate C.K.’s bits, fluxing in between simple impressions and meticulously crafted stories.
Whether you’re new to comedy or an aficionado, give C.K. a chance. After all, great art can only be hinted at with words.
John Darr — Aziz Ansari
Aziz Ansari is a gateway comic. He makes jokes that are pretty universal and easy to understand. While his punchlines aren’t necessarily predictable, they’re rarely surprising. Ultimately, he’s a safe bet for some good laughs, and often, he simply isn’t that much more.
However, there is something Aziz has a knack for, and that’s sincerity. When he’s transitioning between jokes, he’ll often dive into a current issue or a personal situation with a surprising amount of empathy and thoughtfulness. Even though this tactic functions as a lead-in to a joke, Aziz’s divergences often carry a gravity that’s somewhat rare in comedy.
It’s no wonder that Aziz’s best work is his comedy-drama television show “Master of None,” where he pretty much sticks to the content of his stand-up but utilizes other characters to enrich his ideas with greater nuance and perspective. If Aziz could somehow translate that power to his stand-up, he might find a rightful place among the greats.
Erin McAuliffe — John Mulaney
John Mulaney was a writer at SNL for six years (he co-created Stefon with Bill Hader) and created and starred in the Fox sitcom “Mulaney” that received tarnishing “Seinfeld” comparisons in 2014 before it was cancelled. Although the multi-camera, semi-autobiographical format of the show didn’t work for Mulaney, his stand-up thrives on the slice of life scenarios he retells with wild gestures and spot-on voices.
The physical aspect of Mulaney’s humor shines as he squints his eyes, pouts his lips and flops his wrists to channel a “new in town … and it gets worse” panhandler rehearsing his pitch.
His voices range from a whiny signature that embodies both elderly crankiness and infantile cooing to the “carnival barker” voice that comes out when someone knocks on his occupied stall door to guttural sounds like the “oooooh” he describes as “a ghost trapped in a belly that flew out towards the light” during a bit about a prostate side-track during an attempt to get Xanax from his doctor.
Mulaney touts himself as the kind of person who might apologize to you if you spill soup on the pants that sit on his feminine hips, a sensitive topic teens have been known to harass him about. The “Early Life” section of his Wikipedia page mentions that he was an altar boy in the suburbs of Chicago born to parents who went to Georgetown University and Yale Law School with Bill Clinton — “whom Mulaney met in 1922.”
This upbringing doesn’t seem too conducive to comedic exploration, but his details, wording and delivery will have you howling in the hilarity of stories rooted in mundanities like McDonald’s drive-thrus, house hunting and doctors visits.
You can stream 2015’s “The Comeback Kid” on Netflix. His first two stand-up specials “New In Town” (2012) and “The Top Part” (2009) are available on Spotify.
Ali Lowery — Donald Glover
Perhaps one of the most versatile young entertainers in the industry, Donald Glover has earned IMDb credits as a writer, musician, actor, producer, director and — most relevant to this article — comedian. He’s so busy, the charming performer has only had time to put out one stand-up special on Netflix, a poor showing compared to Aziz Ansari’s three. We would be more disappointed if it weren’t for the fact that Glover has spent his time between sets writing for Emmy-winning television shows, starring in nominated ones and producing music that can now claim Grammy nods.
The lone special “Weirdo” leaves a lasting impression on its audience with Glover’s energetic style and jokes that live up to his alternative rap persona Childish Gambino. Utilizing his whole body to execute his humor, Glover shines in his storytelling and reenactments of events from his youth, occasionally throwing in the crude “insert sexual organ here” joke that only adds to the overall boyish vibe of the comic’s wit.
Whether it’s his on-stage, on-screen or on-record persona, Donald Glover is an entertainer you need in your life. You can watch “Weirdo” on Netflix.
Matthew Macke — Bo Burnham
I still remember when my brother and I stumbled upon Bo Burnham’s first special on Comedy Central back in 2009. We were falling over laughing. You wouldn’t think a gangly theater nerd with a knack for wordplay would be one of the best comedians working today, but that’s only because you don’t know Bo. Every now and then I still go back to his songs “I’m Bo Yo” and “New Math,” both from that first show. They are still on YouTube if you want experience the joy of a baby-faced Bo (he was 17 at the time) plunking out irreverent, pun-filled ditties on the keyboard in his bedroom.
In the years after his special, I was worried he had become a kind of one-hit-wonder, because I didn’t see anything new after that first special. That changed in 2013, when I saw “what.” appear on Netflix. It safely put to bed my fears that Burnham had lost his touch or used up his 15 minutes. “what.” is still my favorite comedy show of all time. It’s hard to call it stand-up, because it’s more like a comedy variety show. Honestly, you probably won’t be laughing out loud much, but you will be thoroughly entertained by the whole thing. There’s no way that I can explain it that will do it justice. It is as modern, experimental and intellectual as comedy can get while still being incredibly charming. If ever there were a stand-up performance that was mandatory viewing for millennials, this would be it.
Best of all, “what.” is free on YouTube. So anyone with an Internet connection can watch an entire hour-long comedy special as many times as they want without being judged by their parents, siblings or roommates because it keeps showing up on the queue.
Miko Malabute — Dave Chappelle
I know I’m not alone when I say that the word “comedy” is synonymous with the name Dave Chappelle. The man is known for some of the best comedic sketches that are still some of the funniest bits of comedy that I have ever seen, bar none. He has also inspired some bits of pop culture that might not be too apparent at first. The Twitter parody account of “Wu-Tang Financial” all started from his skit from “The Chappelle Show;” anytime anyone ever says, “I’m Rick James [expletive],” or mentions anything about showing disregard for a couch, it’s all because of Chappelle.
One of the greatest mystiques behind Chappelle was his decision to turn his back on fame and lucrative amounts of money when he abruptly left during the production of the third season of his Comedy Central show, unhappy with its direction as well as its effect on his professional and personal life. If anything, this type of moral integrity only adds to the legend that is Dave Chappelle, and left fans like me wondering what could have been if he truly had the freedom to execute his artistic vision.
His stand up delivery was the absolute best, and I won’t have anyone argue me on this matter. Not only was he able to make his audience laugh, but you could always hear a bit of truth to his routines, as he let you in on a small bit of his life — exaggerated as it may be — and allowed you a glimpse into the workings of a mind of a genius. And not just a comedic one.