There’s a lot of things with which Brooklyn has long been closely identified: bagels, beards, buns of the man variety. But recently Brooklyn has also become home to a verifiable comedy boom. The borough’s thriving yet low-key comedy scene is made up of myriad small venues that play host to some really big laughs. And beyond that, there’s just a lot of really, really funny people—some of them not even directly involved in comedy—who happen to live here, all adding to what can sometimes feel like an atmosphere of collective hysteria, which is particularly useful (if not absolutely necessary) in this stress- and pressure-filled place we call home. Here then are 50 people who are defining the borough’s current comedy scene. So Brooklyn, are you, like, ready to laugh?
Photos by Nicolas Maloof
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If you’ve ever watched TV and laughed, Allison Silverman is probably responsible. The Office, Portlandia, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, The Colbert Report, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, The Daily Show, all of these and more are tucked neatly under her belt. Yep, this means she’s been around a long time—she even made one of the first ever tattoos-and-kale-are-so-Brooklyn jokes in The New Yorker. But what that long time also means is that Silverman is living proof not just that women can be funny, but that they’re frequently, like, the funniest.
Consider yourself forewarned: If you enter the comments section with Franchesca “Chescaleigh” Ramsey, you might lose a limb. Confused about the new Ghostbusters trailer? Wondering why Caucasian is still a word we use? Be careful what you query. She has a quick, striking wit, and she’s not afraid to use it against anyone and everyone. A writer and contributor on Comedy Central’s The Nightly Show, Ramsey just started hosting a segment called #HashItOut, about Internet foibles. She also hosts MTV’s Decoded, where she asks, “What if you farted every time you were racist?” Essential viewing.
The first time Atlanta native Rob Haze made anyone laugh, he was in first grade. “I sang the Folger’s coffee jingle… and our whole class started laughing,” says Haze. “I got in trouble, and now I hate coffee.” This low-key delivery is a big part of the power of his standup; before you even know what’s hitting you, you’ll probably be doubled over in laughter, but Haze remains as even-keeled as before. Catch him on Adam Devine’s House Party on Comedy Central and on Viceland’s Flophouse, or while he’s touring stages across the country.
Lauren Maul says, “Up until the first grade, I considered myself a dramatic actress/serious playwright/fancy artist. I thought laughter was a sign of great disrespect and I had absolutely no tolerance for it.” So lucky us, then, that Maul changed her mind and learned to laugh. Now collaborating on a musical comedy project with fellow funny Brooklynite, Lane Moore, Maul is also co-creator of Dudes Being Dudes Being Dudes, in which non-white, non-gender conforming comedians dress up as white dudes, and tell jokes that real white dudes cannot, thus revealing the pitfalls of an all-white-male dominated stage.
Joel Kim Booster
Earnestness is perhaps the latest trope in comedy, and its sudden freshness has served as an anecdote to mean-spirited irony and vapid self-obsession. Joel Kim Booster is probably as earnest as they come, with his stand-up constantly exhibiting unrehearsed and off-the-cuff qualities. His comedy stands apart because there’s an inherent sweetness that is inescapably charming and sincere; his unbridled honesty feels less like the set-up for a punchline and more like an act of selfless catharsis the rest of us are lucky to witness in real time.
If you’ve ever seen Cole Escola live, you’ve probably seen him in his underpants. His character-based, one-man sketch performances often involve quick costume changes—an evening gown and a curly wig can transform him into Bernadette Peters, although a plain bob and a delicate plaid blouse can turn him into an Everymom. But the wickedly sharp, spritely Escola can sometimes command an audience in nothing but a pair of American Apparel briefs—which are attention-grabbing in their own right.
Clinton Hill resident Akilah Hughes provides the kind of sanity New Yorkers crave when confronted with the ridiculous scenario that is every-day life. For example, if you like iced coffee but it’s winter—know what? You can can drink it anyway! Hughes demonstrates that this is true (and exposes other bad and confusing deals, like soup and salad lunch combinations) in one of her many absurd-meets-good sense Internet videos. You can also see her on Refinery 29, Glamour.com, Jezebel, and—as she very well ought to be—on Femsplain, thanks again to all that good sense.
Albertina Rizzo has been writing for Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show since 2012, right after she officially “gave up on comedy” but then accidentally nailed her interview. Before Fallon, she mostly tweeted and played with her cats, but now she spends more than 12 hours a day writing jokes, on top of tweeting and playing with her cats. “With everything there is at stake in this election,” she wrote on Twitter, “if I got one wish, it would still be giving my cats the ability to speak.”
When we reached out to Greg Johnson for this list, he was excited to participate, but had a few questions. “I just… I mean, I’m very conscious of sounding like it’s an email, you know?” he said. “Plus, it’s gonna say I’m like supposed to be funny, you know. I don’t want to sound like a douchebag. Am I overthinking it?” Sure! But that’s basically Johnson’s charm. Onstage, Johnson is relaxed and intelligent, and introduces a bit about e e cummings by yelling, “ANY e e HEADS OUT THERE!” A stand up comedian since 1999, Johnson hosted a popular and long-running show at Rififi, has appeared on FOX News’s late night show Red Eye (which you may remember as an early ’00s clubhouse for Gawker writers), and currently hosts a few shows on BRIC TV, including the very aptly named showcase Stand Up Brooklyn with Greg Johnson.
Murf Meyer and Diana Kolsky
“Real Life Lovers” Murf Meyer and Diana Kolsky are hosts of the weekly podcast on the UCB Comedy Network, Ménage à Trois Radio, ”which drops every hump-day.” On it, they host famously funny people—like Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson as well as Amy Poehler—and discuss “your hearts and parts,” all things sex and sexiness. You can also see both on The Chris Gethard Show, and you can see Meyer in a recent appearance on Broad City.
In the past twelve months Josh Gondelman has released a comedy album called Physical Whisper, performed a stand up set on Conan, co-authored the book You Blew It! with Joe Berkowitz, and worked tirelessly behind the scenes as one of the many fearless and funny writers on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. If reading that extensive list of accomplishments made you tired, consider this: Almost any given night of the week he is performing stand up live on a stage somewhere in New York City. Gondelman deserves every ounce of accolades he gets, not only because he is earnest and kind in an industry that favors cruelty, but because he has worked tirelessly for each and every thing he’s earned. This kind of work ethic is no laughing matter.
A couple years ago, Sue Smith went to the Gathering of the Juggalos in Thornville, Ohio. To get there, she had to drive through her Pennsylvania hometown and skip a family reunion, but since she’s not friends with her mom on Facebook, it’s our little secret. Stunt comedy journalism like this is natural for Smith who has also hung out in Union Square to play “Sex Toy or Beauty Tool” with strangers; when she asks “Would you shove it up your ass?” her face is perfectly earnest and open. It makes us feel like yelling “Yes! We would!”
Headlines like “I Changed My Boyfriend and Now He’s Perfect” and “I Want a Good Sex” (plus stock photo of a leering woman in a shitty suit) are Nicole Silverberg’s bread and butter at Reductress. She’s also active at UCB and somehow finds time to keep a running list of things that make her cry, which she posted on Twitter recently. The list includes “woke up too early,” “had a good day which reminded me of how other days aren’t good,” and “nothing happened.” We get it. We do.
It’s hard to imagine Sabrina Jalees without the self-referential gay jokes, but she used to keep those to herself. As she once explained in Toronto Life: “At home, I was in the closet. My dad grew up in a village in Pakistan, my mom in a Swiss farm town… any liberal views on sexuality were obscured by mountains.” Eventually, her parents were supportive (“my dad expects me to have ten wives now”), and suddenly, everything was material. “I wish I knew I was gay when I was twelve. Sleepovers would have been amazing!” Jalees has appeared on Best Week Ever, The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, and Last Comic Standing. She writes for NBC’s Crowded when she’s not Snapchatting her beautiful wife and adorable dog.
Times change and the Internet happens, but Saturday Night Live is still a big deal. In just barely two years, Streeter Seidell has written skits for Tina Fey, Taraji P. Henson, Amy Schumer, Ryan Gosling, and tons more. Before he was a writer for Saturday Night Live, Seidell grew up in Connecticut, and so, yes, there is a picture of baby Seidell on the beach wearing a pink polo with a popped collar. Now he lives in Park Slope, where there are also pictures of Seidell and his wife with their brand new, beautiful baby boy.
Phoebe Robinson might have burst onto a much wider comedy scene recently as the co-host of one of the planet’s most popular comedy podcasts, 2 Dope Queens, which she co-hosts with another very funny Brooklynite, Jessica Williams, but Robinson has been making her own jokes, and doing it very well, well-before ear buds gave so many more people to her material. She has appeared on Seth Meyers’s show doing stand up (Robinson on interracial dating: the point of it is “to make hot Lisa Bonet babies… to create an army of vaguely beige-colored, 27-year-old gap models names Quinoa.”) She also did a monthly show at Union Hall, before it also became home to the live recording of 2 Dope Queens. So listen up, and laugh unabashedly with one of the funniest women in comedy today.
Saturday Night Live writer Jeremy Beiler used to babysit his sister Rachel, seven years his junior, in Madison, Wisconsin. He pushed her on their backyard swing set; when she swooshed toward him, Beiler pretended her feet slammed him in the face, and forced him backward. He screamed and cursed and checked to see if he had all his teeth, while she laughed uncontrollably. “I loved making her lose her shit,” Beiler says. His comedy career began and has continued on, with highlights including appearances on Inside Amy Schumer, as well as that time he turned Ryan Gosling into a genuine believer of Christmas in “Santa Baby” on SNL.
John Early is everywhere. And it’s no wonder: He’s a great actor, hilarious, able to be serious and emotional when it’s called for, and come on, obviously completely gorgeous. Oh! Another thing about him is that he’s a self-obsessed monster. Not in real life, I’m sure, but that’s basically the main character he does. Whether he’s a gay best friend, a put-upon dad, a nervous celebrity interviewer, or just doing stand up, his main mode is being totally into himself (and not that into you!). C’mon, you get it! Look at him. Then look at you. Not even close.
When Caity Weaver live tweeted an hour-long phone call with cable provider Optimum, we followed along her winding Twitter path, which climaxed with her almost, but not quite (and not really even close), talking to the president of the company’s cable division. Weaver provides the kind of weird Twitter we need. Via her platform at GQ, where she perfectly profiled the perfect (or “perfect”) human Justin Bieber, Weaver elevates pop culture coverage to searingly good cultural criticism. She also writes necessary articles like, “Who Tweeted It: Cher or Jaden Smith,” and, “When Did Being Old Become So Cool?” Do yourself a favor and google the time she took total advantage of TGI Friday’s all-you-can-eat mozzarella sticks while she was still at Gawker. It’s the best online journalism we’ve ever read.
Currently, Gabriella Paiella works as a staff writer at New York Magazine’s fashion and celebrity-facing blog The Cut, a perfect fit for an entertainment writer who playfully identifies herself as part of the clueless model/DJ Instagram celebrity elite. Paiella crafts bratty, perfectly aimed critiques that cut without drawing blood, and skillfully reveals this whole cultural criticism rat race for the fun and games it can be—in the right hands. Expect to see her byline in bigger and bigger places as this industry turns deeper and deeper into itself. Paiella is the kind of writer whose sophistication makes this ouroboros feel like a good thing.
Jordan Temple sounds pretty relaxed, but don’t let it fool you. He’s got something serious to say—albeit with giggly absurdity. Temple says he used to get teased for being an Oreo: black on the outside, white on the inside. “Yeah, I am an Oreo,” he said, “And any other cookie that can read better than you. That joke is about the state of our country’s reading levels, because [an] anthropomorphized Oreo is reading at a graduate level.” Like his bio says, he’s someone with “strong opinions people think are jokes.”
“Alt comic” is an overused, empty phrase at this point, signifying only that the person it describes doesn’t fit within the usual parameters of comedy (or, basically, someone who doesn’t do standard stand-up). Gary Richardson, by all technicalities, is what you’d call an alt comic. He has the remarkable ability to hone his skill with deadpan humor to make the most absurd character seem like a straight man—and to leave an unsettling mark when you realize the depths of his weirdness.
The Brooklyn comedy scene has blessedly become less bro-centric and straight dude-focused, and Sam Taggart is one of the guys directly responsible for it. Along with Bowen Yang, Taggart conceived and produced the Sex and the City-inspired Live on Broadgay and the gay teen “drama” series Lake Homo High (with more of an emphasis on melodrama played for the utmost campiest effect). Sure, the titles might not evoke sophisticated, highbrow affairs—Oscar Wilde it’s not. But like the most deliciously decadent items in Wilde’s oeuvre, Taggart’s comic endeavors are unapologetically, and hilariously, gay.
Aparna Nancherla makes us laugh in just about every medium: On her Conan set (yes, she was on Conan!!), she says she isn’t a bad person. If she hears someone sneeze, she’ll say bless you, or whatever. “But if someone sneezes three or more times, it’s like, get your life together.” Cosigned, so hard. But where Nancherla really shines is Twitter, where she has 94,000 followers (and counting). Need a perfect example of why? “Sometimes I feel sad for no reason but then I remember a few reasons.” Again, cosigned. So hard.
Matteo Lane likes to start a stand up set with a little bit of opera. A trained opera singer and oil painter, Lane likes to say that it was by singing a few lines is how he came out to his father. “It was a short conversation,” he said. Music is basically never far from Lane’s mind. Just the other day, he tweeted, “Christina Aguilera teaching singing lessons is like Jackson Pollock teaching someone how to paint a still life.” We don’t know enough about singing or painting to get that, but please don’t tell him.
Will Miles is a writer on probably the coolest show on TV right now, The Chris Gethard Show. It’s no wonder; his mix of honesty, sadness, and fun is pretty much a perfect fit. Race is a big part of Miles’s act, who says he “grew up black, and I’m still black today… I tried to use Ancestry.com, but it went back a few hundred years and then just said ‘boat,’” he said in a recent set. “Then my computer exploded.”
Eve Peyser’s voice is one that you’ll want to make part of your regular media diet. A regular contributor to New York Magazine, BuzzFeed, The New Inquiry, The Verge, The Daily Dot, she’s now a full-time writer for Cosmopolitan, which might not be a humor publication exactly, but benefits greatly from Peyser’s darkly humorous takes on technology and dating. She also hosts a comedy show called, perfectly, Just Pussy.
Kenny DeForest doesn’t want you to be comfortable. He wants you to think about race, about sex, and about all the bullshit that helps keep you comfortable. He thinks it’s hilarious to have to rapidly decide if you’re going to laugh when he says white men don’t get enough credit for letting women vote. “We didn’t have to do that!” Is this, like, okay for me to laugh at? Who am I sitting next to? Really, honestly? Just know that nothing is that perfect. Relax and laugh at what you think is funny.
You remember when a chocolate replica of your asshole was a thing you could buy for the person you loved on Valentine’s Day? The Internet was convinced that a dozen delicately carved, tasty buttholes was an excellent gift idea—Hadiyah Robinson, thank god, remained unconvinced. One of her best videos on the Internet Action Force warned “Just picture your grandmother buying your grandfather a box of her chocolate buttholes. ‘Mmm, that’s delicious,’ says your grandfather. ‘Just what I wanted!’” See? She’s hilarious.
After working as a hotel concierge for years, Anna Drezen decided to do something funny about it. With a friend who also worked in the industry, she wrote How May We Hate You?, which was just published. Drezen is an editor-at-large for Reductress, where her headlines are usually terrifying, i.e. “How To Use a Wire Hanger to Give Yourself a Mammogram,” and has proven her New York single woman bona fides with a tweet saying she hopes her obituary doesn’t read “Woman Beheaded on Subway Platform After Leaning Over Too Far to See if Guy Was Wearing Wedding Ring.”
Samantha Ruddy’s Reductress article “I’m The Chill Girl Who Can Hang With The Guys And Also Stray Cats” isn’t just a great piece of satire, it’s also the only article that site has ever published under the tag “dumpster lasagna.” This sense of the absurd meeting social commentary, is typical of Ruddy, who has an easy presence onstage that makes everything seem perfectly rational.
When we met Gordon Baker-Bone, he confronted the obvious: “It’s a kind of weird name.” The point is, he doesn’t shy away from things; in life or in stand up. “If you’re annoying, I’m going to go after you,” he says of his crowd. But if this makes it sound like Baker-Bone is something other than completely amiable and talkative, that would be wrong. You can see Baker-Bone headlining at clubs across the country, and in Brooklyn at places like the Knitting Factory. You’ll note a lot of his material still comes from TV. “I like TLC because they have… my favorite shows I love to hate,” he says, one of which is Toddlers in Tiaras. He suggests they should be called “prosti-tots. That’s an adorable word. You can use it.”
You can see Bowen Yang around Brooklyn in the usual spots; along with Sam Taggart, he has co-created the serial comedy Lake Homo High and produced the semi-regular Live on Broadgay, a dramatic reading of Sex and the City episodes starring gay men (and Jo Firestone). He’s also turned up in scene-stealing roles on Broad City and The Outs. While you could argue that it’s his hair that gives him his edge, you’d be doing a disservice to his unparalleled exuberance as a performer. He even manages to entertain those with the shortest of attention spans with his manic, theme park-set horror comedies Four Nights in Orlando and One Night in Anaheim, which you can find on his Instagram.
Chloé Hilliard grew up in predominantly Hasidic south Williamsburg, where her family was one of a handful (“like, one hand”) of black families, and it wasn’t until she was thirteen and “ready to become a woman at her bat mitzvah” that her mom explained, “we’re black.” Hilliard has made appearances on The Nightly Show, Last Comic Standing, and at Gotham Comedy Club; she’s also pretty good at giving advice on Twitter: “Y’all better make sure James Franco isn’t cast to play Prince.” Amen.
Erin Gloria Ryan
Wisconsin native and East Williamsburg resident, Erin Gloria Ryan is the current deputy editor at Vocativ, and is formerly of Jezebel and VH1’s Best Week Ever. But beyond all of that, Ryan is also insanely good on Twitter. Need proof? On Mother’s Day, Ryan tweeted “Happy Mother’s Day to my sweet sweet girl” and attached a picture of a pink IUD. Yes, Ryan is here to remind us that some of the best jokes do not come from traditional venues like stand up or late night TV, but via the sharp, aberrant brains that the Internet has now given us the pleasure of knowing.
Every comedian is a certain type of funny, and Brendan McLaughlin is the kind that makes you laugh harder a tick or two after the joke, because it’s only then you really get just how smart and funny and, well, even mean it was. McLaughlin is a fixture on the standup scene but you can also seem him lots of other places; he writes for Almost Genius, Best Week Ever, Nikki and Sara Live, and co-hosts a monthly comedy show, Soft Spot, with Claudia Cogan, at Threes Brewing in Gowanus.
We’re in the middle of what one might call a webseries boom, and the current wave of enterprising filmmakers owe a debt to Adam Goldman, who raised the bar with The Outs, which depicts the excruciating horrors of love and lust in modern-day Brooklyn (and managed to do so before Lena Dunham all but cornered the market)—with a queer focus. Goldman might not be on the Brooklyn comedy circuit, but he is certainly working on its very funny fringes.
Clark Jones is a brave man. Not only does he admit to going through a “Creed phase,” but he admits to shopping at Forever 21, which he calls “Rainbow for black dudes who’ve got their shit together.” He also talks about going home to have dinner with his dad and finding another young man there, who it turned out his father was mentoring: “I’m a 32-year-old stand up comedian with four-to-six roommates. I’m not saying my dad did a bad job raising me, I just don’t know if he’s ready for new projects.”
Jo Firestone is a busy woman. On Running Late with Scott Rogowsky last year, Rogowsky had Firestone give one-sentence overviews of all the shows she’d created—there were sixteen. Firestone Success Academy was “a night school-themed show that teaches people how to get an apartment and stuff”; Public Services was “a sewer-themed soap”—Firestone interrupted herself—“Now it’s really sounding so dumb!” With all due respect, we highly disagree. We’d binge-watch them all. Also host of Punderdome 3000, Firestone recently joined forces with fellow funny person Aparna Nancherla, for “Let’s Talk About Puberty,” a ‘70s-style talk show about exactly that: puberty. This is the comedy we need.
Greenpoint resident Gabe Gronli got his start in comedy during high school, doing a local access cable show with friends. Little did he know that, about a decade later, his niche interest would help land him a job as a writer for one of the universe’s funniest people, Stephen Colbert, on The Colbert Report. When Colbert took over The Late Show, Gronli went along with him. Gronli has an acute, off-beat sense of funny, and we’re very happy Colbert has him in his arsenal.
A regular bon vivant, Justin Sayre lives a bi-coastal lifestyle: he alternates between Los Angeles, where he is a writer for 2 Broke Girls, and New York. The velvet-tongued Sayre relies doubly on the silly and the provocative, incorporating skits (“seventh-gradetheatricals,” as he calls them) and fiery rants to entertain, and then inform, his audience. But most of all, Sayre keeps a torch burning that has dimmed with gay culture’s assimilation into the mainstream, offering a much-needed light in an otherwise dim and too-safe comedic space.