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comedy specials that are changing the game


When you imagine a stand-up special, you might think about Eddie Murphy in a skintight leather suit or Richard Pryor directly in a spotlight against a black background or George Carlin standing in front of a huge USC mural. These are the images that tipify the modern comedy special. When audiences tune into Comedy Central or HBO, they expect a (cough) man, a microphone, and the laughs of a roaring crowd over sharp jokes. But as stand-up comedy got more popular, so did the stand-up special. Now there is a seemingly endless list of new comedy specials to watch. Streaming sites like Netflix have produced more specials in the last few years than audiences have ever had before (in fact, they released a new comedy special every week in 2017). With the influx of new specials, many have started to play with both the limits of structure and content when crafting their hour. From sincerity about hard subjects to the complete lack of an audience, these 8 comedians challenge the limits of what a comedy special can be:

8) Neal Brennan: 3 Mics, Netflix (2017)

Neal Brennan’s 3 Mics deconstructs three types of comedy. He labels each mic: one-liners, stand-up, and “emotional stuff.” By labeling the mics and physically moving in between them, he makes the audience hyperaware of the types of performance they are watching. While most stand-up specials will naturally have at least a little bit of all three categories, Brennan seems to be teaching the audience how to understand the comedy writing process. While the three modes are completely different, his crass one-liners, his tight stand-up, and his honest look at depression meld together to paint a full portrait of the comedian.


7) Wyatt Cenac: Brooklyn (2014)

Wyatt Cenac’s Brooklyn could have been a very traditional stand-up special. But Cenac made it unique by not only taping it in a tiny Brooklyn venue, but also acting out a handful of his jokes with puppets superimposed over his set. The puppets break the confines of the club and introduce an element of imagination and whimsey while Cenac is talking about heavier topics like the death of his father when he was a child. If it wasn’t hipster enough, Cenac released a limited edition vinyl album if puppets weird you out.

6) Judah Friedlander: America is the Greatest Country in the United States, Netflix (2017)

Judah Friedlander created a truly DIY special. America is the Greatest Country in the United States was filmed over a collection of nights at the famed Comedy Cellar in New York City. The first stand-up special from the self-proclaimed “world champion” is comprised almost entirely of crowd work. Filmed on a shoestring budget in black and white, the special feels like a mix between a documentary and a found film. Some jokes are repeated. Different nights are smashed together, creating an absurdist picture of political comedy in a post-Trump America.

5) Maria Bamford: The Special Special Special (2012)

Maria Bamford was already a celebrated stand-up in 2012 for her less-than-conventional approach to comedy, but The Special Special Special played with the very concept of what a comedy special can be. Filmed entirely in her California home with only her mother and father in the audience, Bamford creates an often uncomfortably intimate space. Jokes that should have had uproarious laughter by a crowd are instead punctuated by a single chuckle from her dad. While The Special Special Special doesn’t contain many of the mental illness-related jokes she would later be praised for, its tone is fascinating and unshakable. Her newest special, Old Baby, continues to challenge the form as she performs in a wide range of different venues from a living room to a library to, yes, a bowling alley.

4) Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King, Netflix (2017)

For stand-ups, a microphone in hand can almost be a security blanket. But not only does Minhaj not need the crutch, it would have held him back in his first Netflix special Homecoming King. He moves around the stage quickly, at times running and jumping. He shows the audience family photos on the giant screen behind him. While most comedians tell jokes about their families, Minhaj pushes it further. At times, Homecoming Kingfeels like a memoir reading or a one-man show. Not every story is happy—much of the special revolves around being brown in a post-9/11 world. While Minhaj tries to punctuate each story with a joke, the realities of racism leak into this special in a way that forces you to think and remember and examine what it means to be a person of color in America.

3) Bo Burnham: Make Happy, Netflix (2016)

Musical comedy specials have always felt a little different, but Make Happy stands out for its last 15 minutes. Bo Burnham explains in the special that he has been performing since he was a teenager and this is all he knows. He asks the audience, “What? Do you want me to be funny and make a point?” And then he goes on a 10-minute Kanye West-style rant which starts about Pringles and ends in an opus on the nature of the relationship between performer and audience. He captures the feelings of a clown that is trying to give the audience the happiness that his declining mental health won’t let him have. Make Happy follows his 2013 special What?, also on Netflix, where he truly broke free from ‘guitar guy’ criticisms, masterfully blending stand-up, song, and performance art.

2) Drew Michael, HBO (2018)

Drew Michael has a frenetic energy that leaves the watcher in a suspended state between agitation and alarm. Michael forgoes both audience and theater and instead performs in a space that looks like a photographer’s studio on a spaceship. Directed by fellow comedian Jerrod Carmichael, the look is unlike any special you’ve ever seen. His intensely personal jokes are intercut with FaceTime conversations with a girlfriend-type, but the most striking thing about the special is his delivery. Michael approaches extremely well-written jokes with a delivery so angry that the special feels like a psychotic take on a one-man show. Without an audience, all the viewers hear are their own laughs; the audience gets to decide what is funny without feeding off of a larger audience. Drew Michael is an experience. As Michael says in the special, if a joke isn’t for you, ignore it and let it hit the person that it is meant for. Drew Michael isn’t for everyone and that might be the most revolutionary thing about it.

1)Hannah Gadsby: Nannette, Netflix (2018)

Truly the stand-up special that launched 1,000 opinions. Is it comedy? It has all the trappings of a comedy special. There is an audience. It is taped inside a large theater. Comedian Hannah Gadsby—previously an unknown here in the States—even starts with typical stand-up material. It isn’t until the last third of the special that the intensity ramps up as she starts expressing her personal trauma and you see the special for what it really is: a discussion of comedy as a coping mechanism. Parts of the special feel like Gadsby is putting comedy on trial. Other parts feel like she’s putting men on trial. But more importantly, Nanette is a love letter to women in the #MeToo era.

10 Times Bill Cosby Was Creepy AF



10 times Bill Cosby was creepy af

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Many Bill Cosby fans were shocked when the legendary comedian was accused of sexually assaulting numerous women. But maybe we shouldn’t have been so surprised. After all, Cosby, who was recently found guilty of aggravated indecent assault and sentenced to up to 10 years in prison, has a history of bizarre and downright creepy behavior. Here are 10 times that Bill Cosby was a total creep:

1. His advice to George Lopez

During an interview with Howard Stern back in 2016, Lopez recalled a conversation he had with Cosby after taking over as host of Playboy Jazz Festival several years earlier. According to Lopez, Cosby gave him some weird tips about dealing with the opposite sex. “He says, you know, like, ‘If you meet a lady, man, put her in the audience. Don’t bring her backstage,’” Lopez said. “If you want to get blown, keep her out there … None of it had anything to do with jazz, by the way.”

2. His conversation with Kenan Thompson

George Lopez isn’t the only comedian who has recently come forward with a weird Bill Cosby story.  New Emmy-winner Kenan Thompson revealed in 2015 that Cosby also gave him some bizarre advice when they worked together on the Fat Albert movie. “There are little indicators of things that happen that you just go, ‘Hmmm, that was a little different,’” Thompson told Late Night with Seth Meyers. “And one of them was this story that he told me, where he was like, ‘You know, life is good in the movies or whatever, but you just be ready, because when this movie comes out, you’re going to need two dicks because women are going to be all over you.’”

It’s no wonder Thompson called Cosby a “monster” during a stand-up set that same year.

3. His books

Bill Cosby wrote three books in the late 1980s, and they are chock-full of examples of his dirty mind. Just take this passage from Love and Marriage, where he described how he preyed on women back in high school: “It was in those basements that I tried to squeeze girls as if they were melons to see which ones might be ripe for going steady with me. Sometimes I managed to lure one of them outside to sit with me in a car for a little kissing and rubbing; most of the other girls I managed to lure away from the crowd just sat there like statues, hoping that this moment would pass and they could get on with their lives. “

Or this excerpt from Fatherhood: “A father… knows exactly what those boys at the mall have in their depraved little minds because he once owned such a depraved little mind himself. In fact, if he thinks enough about the plans that he used to have for young girls, the father not only will support his wife in keeping their daughter home, but he might even run over to the mall and have a few of those boys arrested.“

4. His anti-prejudice special

Back in the 1970s, Cosby starred in a TV special where he played the ultimate bigot. The satirical program was designed to teach viewers about prejudice. But it also revealed Cosby’s disturbing views of women. Toward the end of the routine, he stated, “They’re not pieces of flesh, but if I want to take one out, I’ll take her out. I buy the dinner—she didn’t pay for it. I expect something in return!” He even said that women are not as strong as men and that women are only supposed to “have babies” and “wash dishes.” While Cosby was ostensibly in character at the time, he may have been expressing his true views through the guise of comedy.

5. His interview with Sofia Vergara

Fans got to see Bill Cosby’s creepy antics for themselves when he filled in on The Late Show back in 2003. Cosby interviewed Sofia Vergara and spent the entire conversation ogling over the actress. “Men look at you, and they only think of sin,” he told an uncomfortable Vergara. “… Now what you have on tonight is wonderful. This is wonderful. And when you walked out, many, uh, many people became attentive.”

6. His weird rider

While visiting The Late Show, Cosby had a truly odd request. He reportedly wanted some of the young female staffers to stare at him. “He’d include as a request, before he arrived, that the young girls, interns, and assistants, all had to gather around in the green room backstage and sit down and watch him eat curry,” a source told NY Daily News. “No one would say anything, and he would sit silently eating and make us watch and want us to watch.”

7. His joke about a special barbecue sauce

During one episode of The Cosby Show, the comedian joked about a special barbecue sauce he makes that causes women to become “huggy buggy.” Sure enough, daughters are all over their significant others after having it. Cosby’s character then attempts to seduce his wife (played by Phylicia Rashad) by saying he has a cup of the sauce waiting for her upstairs. While this just seemed like an innocent joke at the time, it’s hard to watch this scene without thinking about the reports of Cosby drugging his victims.

8. His Spanish Fly “joke”

This wasn’t even the first time that Bill Cosby joked about drugging women. In 1969, he released a comedy LP called It’s True! It’s True! that featured a bit about Spanish Fly. Cosby “joked” about using the aphrodisiac to drug and lure women. “Spanish Fly is groovy,” he said. “Yeah boy. From then on, man, any time you see a girl: Wish you had some Spanish Fly boy. Go to a party, see five girls standing alone—boy, if I had a whole jug of Spanish Fly I’d light that corner up over there.” The only thing worse than the joke itself is hearing the audience members laughing in the background.

9. His thoughts on birth control

Yet another standup routine that predicted some of Cosby’s predatory ways came on his comedy album Those of You with or Without Children, You’ll Understand. During that record, he stated why he didn’t think he had to talk to his son about birth control. “It’s the female’s job to protect herself,” he said. “It’s like a goalie… you have to keep people from scoring on you.” Men continue to use similar explanations to justify rape.

10. His “gift” for a female journalist

Reporter Dana Kennedy did a story on Bill Cosby back in the early 1990s. And while she maintains that Cosby never tried to seduce her, she did notice his creepy tendencies throughout the interview. At one point, he told her, “Tell me what you want to ask and we’ll see how it goes. If it doesn’t go well, I’ll give you a piece of fruit. I’ll give you an apple or pear and you can be on your way.”

Sure enough, within days of the story being published, Cosby mailed Kennedy a dying apple.

Dave Chappelle

Dave Chappelle’s Netflix special Bird Revelation is the perfect rape joke

Dave Chappelle slaps the mic to his knee and laughs—he’s playing the famed Comedy Store. “Everything’s funny, until it happens to you.” From the start of his Netflix special The Bird Revelation, Chappelle’s brow is furrowed, face flat, as he levels his Black experience to that of white feminists who dragged him in the name of #MeToo for expressing “as little empathy as possible.” The audience laughs with the Chappelle’s Showstar as he wonders aloud, “What happened to me? Where did I go for 12 years if I wasn’t raped? Maybe these rapes aren’t the worst of it.”

Chappelle’s entire set is a rape joke, one that won’t leave you holding your sides with laughter, but instead giggling as he does. Chappelle uses an extended metaphor, rather than a quick rumination on men being men. He doesn’t rely on a penis punchline to get the audience to chuckle. The Bird Revelation has been regarded by The New York Times as “the first comedy special to focus on the #MeToo movement.” It is my favorite exploration of the subject. Chappelle captures, at times clumsily, but most pointedly, why I don’t care about the Brett Kavanaugh sexual assault allegations.

This Netflix special is not about the Kavanaugh allegations directly. Although Chappelle does cut to the chase on Louis C.K., Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, and Kevin Spacey. It was released in December 2017. When I first watched it, Kavanaugh was not a name I had heard. At this point, I can’t remember when I first heard it. The entire Ford v. Kavanaugh case has been a concern I haven’t given much energy too. Other things have been on my mind.

“It’s funny for a Black dude to see white people go through this because this is how it always is for us,” Chappelle says straight up. In The Bird Revelation, he talks about the 400-year nightmare that underpins our country—uses his experiences in Hollywood as a metaphor of a kind of rape. He hints throughout his set about why he left Chappelle’s Show in 2006, and the U.S. altogether. Iceberg Slim’s Pimp: The Story of My Lifeis what Chappelle refers to when he says “I’ll tell you what happened to me, but I can’t say it directly.” He says, “[In the memoir,] Iceberg Slim is trying to control a woman that he finds uncontrollable.” He calls this bit the capitalist manifesto, and “the reason [he] went to South Africa.”

Black paranoia sets the tone in Chappelle’s most intimate of his four Netflix specials. Often this is where we see great Black American comedians at their best: when they take a subject so aching in America’s current consciousness, and sit it next to our country’s greatest sins. Chappelle thinking through #MeToo reminds me of Paul Mooney in his special Analyzing White America. Mooney talks with white Americans who are troubled by 9/11. On stage he is in black, on a high stool, and says “I want to thank white America…because [Black Americans] will get through this terrorist stuff. White folks made us tough. Because they been terrorizing us for 500 years.”

Chappelle is a comedian of this tradition of joke-making. In The Age of Spin: Dave Chappelle Live at the Hollywood Palladium—one of his first two Netflix specials—he describes the wilds of Hollywood. The Washington, D.C. native gives us a portrait of a superhero who, as he puts it, “Rapes, but saves a lot of lives.” The superhero rapist is, at first, a fictional character in a movie pitch who resembles our current U.S. President. Then later, the superhero rapist is Bill Cosby, who was recently sentenced to 3-10 years in prison for his sexual assaults. But Chappelle in The Bird Revelation, like Mooney and #MeToo, misses it in regards to Black women. He flicks his cigarette, continuing with man-behind-the-desk authority. He says “You notice, a lot of Black dudes haven’t been getting me-too’d.” Chappelle adjusts in his seat. “The reason is because Black women, [since] slavery, won’t tell on us. Because they know that no matter how bad us Black dudes are, white dudes are very mean.” Chappelle gets it mostly right. He hits on a truth, but forgets Anita Hill.

Twenty-seven years ago, law professor Anita Hill accused then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. Thomas dodged these accusations in a frenzy, securing his Associate Justice seat. The Hill-Thomas hearings are obviously urgent today. Hill is a Black woman, who came forward about a Black man, whose harassment against her needed to be considered and tried. Hill coming forward has set a tone for Ford v. Kavanaugh and sparked an on-going national discussion about sexual harassment. Former Vice President Joe Biden, then Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, told TeenVogue “I wish I had been able to do more for Anita Hill.” He retrospectively admitted, “I owe her an apology.” The U.S. justice system has never been fair. The Hill-Thomas hearings are infamously known for how poorly they were handled. Hill faced harsh judgement about the case, her race-gender, and her character. She did so with meager defense or support. There was no trending hashtag for her back then.

#MeToo was started by Tarana Burke, an activist known for her work around sexual assault and abuse. But in classic white American tradition, the #MeToo movement has become a cacophony of white feminists. Those feminists are who Chappelle is addressing when he says “I am not saying [jokes] to be mean. I am saying it because it’s funny.” Many did not find his jokes funny, and I thought as a survivor of sexual assault I wouldn’t either. But when a joke is funny, it’s funny.

After watching The Bird Revelation, I turned my television off wondering why Dave Chappelle has rape on his mind? “You know what ladies, you’re right! And they coming for you bitches”, he warns. “To be honest with you, your lives look terrifying to me. I know nothing about being a woman, but I know fear.” I connect with Chappelle here, and am glad he is back from his longtime at-sea, back from searching for his peace of mind—wherever Hollywood had flung it.

Elayne Boosler

The Comedy Master Who Hasn’t Gotten Her Due: Elayne Boosler

Elayne Boosler in a screen shot from her “Party of One” special, part of a box set of her work.CreditCreditShowtime Networks

In booksTV series and documentaries, stand-up comics of the 1970s have become nearly as mythologized as the auteurs of the New Hollywood. If Richard Pryor, David Letterman and Andy Kaufman were the Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola of the club scene, then Elayne Boosler is the Hal Ashby, the misunderstood master who never got proper due.

This makes the release of her new box set “Timeless,” which includes four of her old specials along with one new album, a prime opportunity to reassess her role in the comedy canon.

The Brooklyn-born Ms. Boosler, now 66, started performing at the fabled Improv in New York in 1973 and before the decade was out, she was widely regarded as an elite club comic on both coasts, one of the few female stars in male-dominated rooms. Richard Lewis called her the “Jackie Robinson of stand-up in my class.”

Yet she never got her big break in the form of her own network sitcom or talk show and had very limited success getting booked on the “Tonight” show, where Johnny Carson preferred female comics who were not aggressive. When Larry King asked Ms. Boosler on CNN, “Why is comedy considered not for women?,” the question answered itself. Ms. Boosler’s career clearly suffered from systemic sexism, the impossible bind that demanded women command the stage without being too, well, commanding. You see this perhaps most clearly in her positive reviews, which maintained that she was not abrasive or feminist, as if that would scare away audiences. (She actually could be both, but that was part of her charismatic power.)

She also developed a reputation in the industry for being difficult, and untangling this from the sexism can be hard. Yet the narrative surrounding her — of a career thwarted — can be overstated, when the stand-up special has become such an important genre. Make no mistake: Ms. Boosler was its first female star, regularly putting out hours of jokes on cable in the 1980s and early ’90s that represented a break from the past. Unlike the acts of Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller, there was not a whiff of the borscht belt or the coffeehouse about her material. Her act — hard-hitting, topical and dense with punch lines — anticipated the future of comedy better than most if not all of her peers.

Decades before Hannah Gadsby argued that self-deprecating bits by comics from marginalized communities amount to humiliation, Ms. Boosler took pride in being a female comic who didn’t make herself the butt of the joke. Much of her act, alternating between scathing political gibes with raunchy takes on the life of a slovenly single woman, would not be out of place in the current material of Amy Schumer, Michelle Wolf or Ali Wong

Her 1986 debut special, “Party of One” on Showtime, was a major breakthrough. (HBO debuted “Women of the Night” the following year, a showcase for female stand-ups that introduced a generation of stars including Rita Rudner, Paula Poundstone, Joy Behar, Susie Essman and Ellen DeGeneres.) “Party of One” is dedicated to Andy Kaufman, Ms. Boosler’s ex-boyfriend and sometime collaborator who died in 1984, and it focuses on the absurdity of dating with the giddy glee of a long-awaited debrief with your best friend. She makes walks of shame or sex talk gone wrong seem like ridiculous fun, and domesticity (cooking, cleaning, doing laundry) seem like a bore. Men, she sighs, expect her to cook breakfast the morning after sex. “They want things like toast,” she says, exasperated. “I don’t have these recipes.”

She’s surgical in her attack on double standards in show business and beauty, including how men have more leeway in aging, echoing jokes on her new album, “The 50/50 Club,” that poke fun at the way weight makes a woman invisible: “If I gain 10 more pounds, I’m going to spy for the government.”

Her second and third specials, “Broadway Baby,” and “Top Tomata,” were even more political, if still not the least bit dogmatic, skewering the gender pay gap, sexual harassment and the way female candidates are expected to hold back emotions. (This was about Geraldine Ferraro, but just as relevant today.)


These specials suffer from overproduced introductions that are at odds with Ms. Boosler’s comedy club roots. “Party of One” opens with cameos by Bill Cosby and Mr. Letterman that are transparent attempts to establish her bona fides by using major stars of the day. “Broadway Baby” begins with a tepid song-and-dance number and a scene of her as a showbiz-besotted kid. This straining for broader appeal also shows up in the choice of jokes, which lean heavier on dogs and baseball than, say, her more ethnic material. “Pac-Man is the history of the Jewish people,” goes one of her lines from the 1980s that doesn’t appear in this set. “Being chased while eating.”

A more convincing argument for Ms. Boosler’s place in the pantheon can be found in her regular appearances on “Late Night With David Letterman.” It’s common today to see female comics fusing a feminist sensibility with frank, giddy discussions of sex, but that wasn’t the case on television in the early 1980s. Her jokes arrived with a knowing attitude that fit the insider mood of that NBC show, which booked her one month after its premiere, the first woman to do stand-up there. She set a brazenly attention-getting tone from the start with an obscene joke about why women prefer slot machines to men. As her eyes darted back and forth, slyly, the crowd howled. She then moved onto one of her most reliable jokes, one rooted in her days working as a waitress when she heard men order for their dates with the phrase “The lady will have …” She pointed out that this makes it seem like there’s only one lady and then flipped her mop of curly hair, pantomimed chewing gum and quipped: “O.K., the slut will go get it.”

After her last joke, Paul Shaffer played the J. Geils Band song “Centerfold”and Ms. Boosler curtsied.


An earlier version of this article misspelled the surname of the bandleader on “Late Night With David Letterman.” He is Paul Shaffer, not Schaffer.

Cedric The Entertainer

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John Mulaney on His 5 Favorite Comedy Albums

John Mulaney
John Mulaney photo courtesy of Netflix

John Mulaney’s latest stand-up special, Kid Gorgeous at Radio City, came out on Netflix in the spring, and it remains one of the year’s best. (It also just picked up an Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special.) On September 28, it’ll be released on vinyl courtesy of Drag City, which means you can now put it on your turntable and listen to Mulaney yelling about street smarts and that time Mick Jagger told him he wasn’t funny.

Since he’s responsible for some of the most outstanding comedy records of the last decade, we asked Mulaney to talk to us about his five favorite comedy LPs. “I went for albums and moments that earned a Mount Rushmore spot in my brain rather than, say, recommending the top five albums everyone should hear,” he explained over the phone. “A lot of people have heard the great ones, but these are the ones that meant a lot to me.”

Ali Wong: Baby Cobra (2016)

Baby Cobra looms large in my head because it’s like a machine gun—like when an old gangster would have a Tommy Gun, take that stance, and just let loose. With hour-long comedy albums, it’s damn near impossible for the whole hour to be great. But there are a few absolutely perfect hours, and this is one of them. It’s just nonstop, relentlessly funny, and absolutely tough. If you’ve seen the film of the special, she comes out extremely pregnant and she does not shoot to wound. She shoots to kill on every joke. Watching and listening to that special, I’ve just never been so happy for someone—and also so like, “Shit, I’ve got to work hard.”

Eddie Izzard: Glorious (1997)

I lived in Ireland my junior year of college, and I got Glorious on CD. I just listened to it on a Discman on the bus in Dublin. It was a big deal to me. I had always kind of wanted to be a comedian, but that was the first time I was like, “Oh, that’s how I would do it too.” Not that I thought I could be as good as him, but Glorious is divided up into the Old Testament and the New Testament. That’s how he says the hour’s going to be. He starts on the Old Testament, and it’s like a long run with tons of tangents. Then, about a half hour in, far from the beginning of the premise, he finishes a bit and then pauses and goes, “So, the New Testament,” and it gets this huge laugh. It was so funny to me, to go back to the thesis statement that the show was going to cover the Old Testament and the New Testament when it hasn’t at all. He trusted that the audience was paying attention to the show, which speaks to his natural ease. I loved it.

Nichols and May: Mike Nichols & Elaine May Examine Doctors (1961)

I got this album for Christmas when I was in junior high. The last track, “Nichols and May at Work,” is an outtake from recording the album, they were just improvising dialog in a studio. They’re trying to do a piece where a son goes to his mother and says that he wants to become a registered nurse—let me state in ink, in Pitchfork, that the premise does not age that well. It’s something you just have to experience, because two people that funny laughing that hard is really, really, really funny.

You hear how they start. He goes, “Oh, I have an idea. I’ll be a son. You say, ‘What do you want to be?’” She goes, “What do you want to be?” He goes, “No no, start off like, ‘You’re getting older now.’” They’re going through the beats of what the sketch will be. She doesn’t know what he’s going to say, and he just can’t get through it from the beginning. I think it might be the happiest thing ever recorded.

Spalding Gray: It’s a Slippery Slope (1998)

His monologues were branded as theater, and I think they are; he was not doing stand-up comedy because he was literally sitting at a table. He didn’t write jokes, he just told you something one of his parents said or some other detail from his life. But his monologues bank on the same thing a comedian hopes for as their career develops, which is a place in your mind: If you’re familiar with their past material, you know walking in who this personality is and you’re willing to learn more about him and watch him change and hear the latest developments in his life and have him show different sides of himself.

Slippery Slope is about him learning to ski at the same time as he was having this total mental breakdown. He talks about how he left the girlfriend who he’d lived with and then actually married, and the audience has gotten to know her over many years. Now he’s had a child with another woman. He knew he wanted to be with this new woman and his son, and also he couldn’t leave the woman he was with. It borders on extremely unlikeable. I remember hearing him get interviewed by Terry Gross about that monologue, and she said something like, “You know, I hate to say this, I didn’t like you in that one.” He said, “I’m not a nice guy, Terry.” Not a lot of people will admit that, and maybe more people should.

Earthquake: About Got Damn Time (2005)

The great thing about stand-up comedy is that, as a fan but also as a comedian, you interact with people with whom you might not have a lot of shared autobiographical details. I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Earthquake the comedian, and there’s bits in this show where I don’t understand the reference at all. He talks about playing the card game spades and having a “possible,” which I guess is a move or situation in the game. I have no idea. But it makes me laugh so hard, because he’s dying laughing talking about it, and the audience is dying laughing.

This is not a proper album, but I would listen to this with headphones. It’s just a powerhouse of a special. He has a joke about the next guy to try to date Michael Jordan’s wife after they got divorced—it is so funny, and I will not quote it. Honestly, just trying to mix Spalding Gray and Earthquake and Bernie Mac into some kind of amalgam has been the goal of my career.



Amy Schumer

Amy Schumer Tells Comics There Is a Comedy Topic That Should Be Off Limits

 says she is tired of hearing men joke about their ignorance. Specifically, she’s done with hearing male comics on stage saying they don’t know how to act around women now. She’s sick of comedians joking that they’re afraid to be alone in a room with a woman, or asking if its okay to say hello. “STOP.” she wrote on Twitter.

Schumer feels that the joke belittles victims who have been wronged. “Stop making fun of the terror and indignity most have us have faced in our lives,” she wrote after pointing out that somewhere between 1 in 3 and 1 in 6 women are victims of assault.

To those who are actually confused about how to act, she suggests they simply ask, “and don’t make it a joke,” she wrote, adding “because that’s harmful and we don’t want to hear that kind of joke right now. Mmmmmkay?”

Schumer has always been considered part of the “no topic off limits” comedians, and several of Schumer’s comedy friends tell jokes that sound a lot like the ones mentioned in her tweets. She’s not naming names.

It will be interesting to see if her comments have any effect.

Comic Jaye McBride Breaks Through the Trans Barrier

Comic Jaye McBride Breaks Through the Trans Barrier at Broadway Comedy Club


Trans comic Jaye McBride

(Jaye McBride photo from Facebook)

Comedienne Jaye McBride has been named the first transgender comic to be passed into regular rotation at Broadway Comedy Club. While trans comics have long performed at nightspots around the city, McBride stands alone as the first to reach that lofty rung of Manhattan’s show business ladder.

She hit that milestone after an audition a few days ago, where Broadway Comedy Club Owner Al Martin caught McBride’s act for himself. “Jaye was amazing and the crowd loved her,” Martin attests. “Our crowd was comprised of 50 per cent New Yorkers and 50 per cent tourists. Both groups loved her. She killed and that’s my criteria when judging comics. I ask myself ‘is this comic incredibly funny?’. Jaye absolutely is. So I immediately passed her into the club.”

That’s a boost that every comic hopes to hit on the way up. What does that mean for McBride specifically? As the first Manhattan Comedy Club to place a transgender comic on their “passed” roster, MCC says that now McBride will perform on a regular basis at the venue. Certainly there are other hills to climb — and many of them are familiar to audiences who have followed stand-up comics from Bob Hope to Phyllis Diller, Richard Pryor and Jeff Foxworthy. Every one of them, whether they went on to cable specials, TV sitcoms or multi-million dollar movie deals, had to pass through the same ring of fire to be where McBride now finds herself.

For her part, the comedienne is taking it all in stride. “To be honest,” McBride said after the announcement, “I didn’t know that I was the first trans person to be passed in the city. I kind of suspected as much because I pretty much know every trans comic in the country. We all know each other; we’re like the Amish,” said McBride.

She also has a sense of perspective about her newly improved fortunes. “I’m very excited to be part of the Broadway Comedy Club lineup,” she’ll say now, “but also to be an example to other trans kids to show them that there is a place for us in the world. I’m not exactly Jackie Robinson, I mean for starters, I tell more d*¢k jokes and throw like a girl, but I think it’s a huge deal that this club believes in me. I can’t wait to show them that they made the right call.”

McBride, while not yet a household name, has already been seen by audiences across the globe. She’s been a headliner for years in smaller markets and appeared on the bill alongside such established names as Aziz Ansari, Gilbert Gottfried, Jim Norton & Bobcat Goldthwait. She’s also participated in The Boston Comedy Festival, The Maine Comedy Festival and the She Devil Comedy Festival and was recently invited to the Big Pine Comedy Festival.

In addition to stand-up, Jaye writes for Lady Parts Justice League and speaks at colleges and groups all across the country with her lecture about being transgender called Trans 102: the Chamber of Secrets. Having transitioned in 2007, Jaye is uniquely qualified to talk about awkward first dates, strained family relationships and self-acceptance.

Her opportunity arose when the founders of YAAAS! Fest — NYC’s biggest LGBTQ Comedy Competition — first approached the MCC owner earlier this year and vouched that McBride was ready for a larger spotlight. Martin says that “the organizers of YAAAS! Fest told me she was funny, and that Jaye had actually started doing comedy in Upstate New York. So I called an upstate comedian who told me that Jaye not only performs upstate but also has a big following in Albany and Syracuse. That intrigued me. I thought: “if she is knocking them dead in Upstate New York, I wonder how she would do here in the city?’”

Comic Drew Tessler — the host of this year’s YAAAS! Fest — applauds the decision. “We were so excited to find out that Broadway Comedy club added Jaye to their regular line up of comics. We made Broadway Comedy Club the home for YAAAS! Fest because its owner has always proudly showcased comics from the LGBTQ community. Our YAAAS! Fest Board could not be more excited for Jaye and to partner with Broadway Comedy Club this year.”


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The Joke i Most Regret

The Joke I Most Regret

Comedians reflect on old material, evolution, and accountability.

Photo: Photos by Getty Images

To err is human; to forgive, divine is a proverb that seems to have been rejected by a large sector of the comedy community.

Perhaps it’s a generational thing, but there’s this school of thought that pervades certain comedic circles where jokes are just that and nothing more, so if you’re offended as an audience member, then you are too sensitive or don’t have the mental bandwidth to understand such brilliant joke architecture. Apologies, accountability, and assuaging feelings are for suckers.

Of course, not all comics hold this belief. Many performers are committed to making comedy a less hostile and more inclusive environment for not just marginalized people onstage, but also the ones in the crowd, too. At the very least, not as many comics are allergic to criticism or being considerate as you might think.

As the discourse rages on about whether or not political correctness is destroying comedy (spoiler alert: it isn’t), these 13 comedians decided that self-interrogation is ultimately a good thing. They opened up about the material they’ve performed that hasn’t aged particularly well and how owning up to it has helped grow their comedic voices.

“Weird Al” Yankovic

Weird Al. Photo: Debra L Rothenberg/Getty Images

I tend to go for what I consider “family-friendly” humor. A lot of the material I’ve done just the last year in particular is pretty dark and twisted, but there’s no harsh profanity. There’s nothing overtly sexual. It’s the kind of music that families can listen to on car trips and nobody gets too embarrassed. Having said that, listening to some of my old material, there are some words and terms that I’ve used that have dated very poorly that I would not use in present day. But you have to realize that in the time they were written, they weren’t considered as much of a slur. In fact, there are some words that I use that are completely innocuous in North America which are horrible slurs in other parts of the world, which is something I also had to learn. I try my best not to offend.

There are a couple songs in the ’80s where I use the word “midget,” which in the ’80s was not that much of a slur. It was not a kind word, but it was not a slur. These days, I do not say that word. In fact, at one point on this tour, I sang the song that had that word in it and I stopped the whole band and just explained to the audience how language has evolved over time since I originally wrote the song — this whole diatribe about why I used the word then and I wouldn’t use it now. And then we resumed playing and ended the song. Language changes over time.

Some comics make it their thing never to apologize for anything. And as we are seeing today, some politicians are the same. If I feel like I did something that I’m sorry for, of course I’ll apologize. I mean, we all make mistakes and sometimes I did things I shouldn’t have done. And sometimes you have to call yourself out on it.

Paul Scheer

Paul Scheer. Photo: FilmMagic/FilmMagic

I was performing at the UCB Theater in New York City when it first opened. One of the things that UCB was really good at doing was teaching us to push limits. We were going to be, for lack of a better term, a punk-rock version of a comedy theater. There were shows that were set up there that were almost alienating to the audience. One of these shows was called the Sick and Twisted Sketch Show. Basically, everyone came with their own pieces and you performed the kind of material that you wouldn’t normally do that was a little bit dirty. After six or seven months, it became this competition between performers to see who could out-dirty each other. For context, this was a show where I remember someone wearing a Darth Vader mask and had a dildo and started fucking someone in the ass. I saw another person drinking a jug of milk and one person would punch him in the stomach and he would puke on the stage. It was next-level bad choices. You couldn’t even classify it as sketch comedy.

One of these shows was scheduled for the one-year anniversary of 9/11. I was in New York City during 9/11 and incredibly affected by that. That show came and it was almost like, “What can we do that will almost give the finger to 9/11?” That was the energy. I wanted to reclaim it, but what I ended up doing was something in terrible taste. I played a man who was trapped under the rubble and had just gotten out, and it came out that I wasn’t in the World Trade Center, but when I saw it on TV, I ran down there because I was an aspiring stand-up comic looking for TV airtime. I was in a suit that was incredibly tattered. Then I was doing material. Not even 9/11 material — just really terrible material while my suit was still kind of smoking. Every time I would get nervous, I would pat myself down and ash and soot would come off me because I was covered in baby powder.

With these taboo subjects, I used to revel in going the distance. When you’re starting off as a comic, that’s the instinct. If I say something so shocking, then it’s like, “Fuck them for not liking it!” It’s a cheap way to rest the blame on the audience. You see it in a ton of younger comics, then you get to watch their evolution into an adult. It’s something everyone goes through in different parts of their life. We’re all gonna say stupid shit. We’re all gonna do stupid shit. And you should make those mistakes. But you need to be able to own up to them honestly, too. When you get a bit older, you realize you don’t have to shock to be funny. One of the things I think about from my Human Giant days is how we walked the line of doing things that were really pushing boundaries, but also creating things I am still proud of. I’m very happy to have made these mistakes in a black box theater at midnight on a Saturday instead of on Instagram or on Facebook because I don’t want it cemented. I’m glad I was able to fail in the dark.

Sasheer Zamata

Sasheer Zamata. Photo: FilmMagic/FilmMagic

Years ago, I had a joke about how many white men I slept with. I can’t remember the set-up, but I would kind of strut across the stage in a braggadocious manner and say, “So many white men have moved in and out of this pussy you could call it Williamsburg! So many white men been eating out of this pussy you could call it Hale & Hearty! So many white men been beating up this pussy you could call it Rodney King!” And that last line always got a big reaction, which would be a combination of laughter, gasps, and groans from the audience. And I assumed it got that response because I was performing in front of sensitive white folk whose assholes tighten up whenever anyone talks about race. But then we hit a moment in this country where a lot of videos of police brutality were being posted online, and frequently. This violence wasn’t new — it’s just now we all have cameras in our pockets and social media that can make this issue way more public than it used to be. Seeing all this rampant injustice affected me, and dropping a reference of a horrific moment in history into a joke didn’t seem funny to me anymore. Honestly, regardless of the tense racial climate we were in and are still going through, I should’ve never brought up Rodney King while talking about something so inconsequential as how many white boys I’ve slept with. But I was young in comedy and probably thought saying something shocking would suffice instead of just writing a good button for that joke.

I didn’t tell that joke for very long, but I don’t think it would hold up [today]. The audience would tighten up even more today than they did years ago. I also stopped telling the joke because I drastically decreased how much I talk about sex onstage. I haven’t eliminated sex jokes completely, and I still enjoy hearing other people’s sex jokes. But for me, I just wanted to talk less about my sex life because I didn’t want people to think that’s all I care about.

Most people don’t understand that when you watch a stand-up set, you’re not watching a finished product unless you’re watching them tape their special. It’s a weird art form where in order to get better we have to work out our material in front of an audience, and sometimes that means trying something risky and seeing if it’s worth keeping in the set. We need an audience present to feed off their energy and feel their response, which could result in offending someone with a joke we’re trying. I do think we should give people room to grow and change. I wouldn’t want people to judge my character on things I’ve done and said ten years ago. I know way more about myself and other people now, and it wouldn’t be fair to think that who I was as a young comic — or person — is a representation of who I am today. But if a comic has been perpetually saying hateful things for years, and they’ve shown evidence that’s what they believe, and they’re not willing to be open-minded and learn from their mistakes, then cancel them. Bye, bye!

Joel Kim Booster

Joel Kim Booster. Photo: FilmMagic/FilmMagic

Unfortunately I’m still a young enough comic that I’m deeply in love with almost everything that has ever come out of my mouth, and I maybe haven’t had enough distance from some of the material I wrote six to seven years ago that I might find objectionable in the future. So this might be a little boring, but I have a joke currently in my act where I describe a particularly bad blow job I received from a Trump voter. And originally in the bit, I described it as “He gave head like he had a mouth full of braces.” I tend to do a lot of my writing and developing onstage, and it was the very first way I ever described it and it always got a laugh, so I never cared to really revisit it. It was a riff, not necessarily the punchline, so I just kind of kept going. Sometimes I’m lazy like that. It’s bad.

I did this joke for almost a year. Then I did a show in New York late last year, and I was doing a meet-and-greet after the show. A guy came up — he was so nice and sweet and told me he’d been a fan for however long and then he said, in a very jokey, non-aggressive way, “I didn’t love the joke about the braces though” and opened up his mouth, and sure enough, there was a full set of braces. He wasn’t mad — he made a joke about how great his blow jobs are. But it sort of stuck with me for a moment. I am such a sensitive boy myself, and it really made me think about this throwaway joke I had, and more so than anything else I realized, “That’s barely a joke.” It was very first-thought, no real joke-writing there. It was such a minor moment but it drove me nuts for days. I tried a few different things, and finally, now the joke is, “He gave head like he had a third row of teeth,” which gets a much bigger and consistent laugh now, and it’s just a much more evocative, comedic image than someone with adult braces.

As a human being, I find accountability to other people extremely important — especially to marginalized groups and those that are facing struggles that I’m maybe not. Like I said, I’m a very sensitive baby boy. But my only sense of accountability as a comic is an artistic one: Am I being honest? Am I making people laugh? Is this new or interesting? My sense of humanity and empathy generally tends to filter out bullshit before my artistic brain even starts up. So the thing about the man with the braces — he seemed fine. I was not the first or the last person to make a joke about adult braces in front of him, and he seemed like he would survive the small trauma of it. But I weighed it in my brain and I just couldn’t reconcile the balance. It wasn’t that funny, so why make someone feel bad even a little bit if I could write a better, funnier bit? Sometimes I don’t think we’re really willing to do that math. Is this joke worth being an asshole? Sometimes it is, and in this case for me, it wasn’t.

Cameron Esposito

Cameron Esposito. Photo: Scott Dudelson/Getty Images

I don’t really look at it like regret or shame. More like evolution. As I’ve aged as a human and a performer, I’ve gotten more information and I’ve adjusted my material and performance to reflect my current knowledge.

For instance: I used to talk about women getting periods. I had this bit I did about how our body smashes our bodies out of our bodies. I also have a lot of trans and non-binary humans in my life and in my audience, and they told me I might want to make it more inclusive. Now I use phrases like “people with vaginas” or “cultured female” and sometimes “men” and “women,” but I explain that I know those are reductive, binary terms. It is not complicated or annoying to include that extra context.

I see this three ways: Care about your audience, care about your art, or care about your bottom line. The first part is for folks whose goal is to leave the world slightly better than you found it. If that’s you, challenge yourself to listen to audience feedback and do less harm. For folks who care only about stand-up, love the art enough to expect it will demand evolution from you as a comic. Use current terminology or concepts because you care enough about stand-up to push the form forward. Finally, if you’re a cynic, remember this: 21 to 35-year-olds are your most likely live audience. Those are the folks who buy tickets. You want to keep selling tickets to that generation as you age through and out of it, so don’t piss off the youth. And the youth wants you to give a shit about racism, LGBTQ rights, feminism, etc. If you don’t give a shit about other people, evolve for your bank account.

Emily Heller

Emily Heller. Photo: Gabriel Olsen/Getty Images

I used to have a bit in my act about how there’s a voice people associate with gay men, but there’s no “lesbian accent.” I pitched that we introduce one, and that it should be a really bad, fake French accent. That joke might actually hold up, I don’t know, but the introduction I used to do to get into it was pretty shitty. I would say, “I’m not gay. I know I have to say that in order for people to know it.” It could be argued that there’s nothing necessarily homophobic about what I’m saying there — just that I get mistaken for a lesbian a lot. But it would be insane for me to claim that the laugh I was getting wasn’t at the expense of gay women.

I regret telling it for so long. I knew why people were laughing and I’m responsible for that. I wish I could say I stopped telling it because I wised up, but really, I think I did it on TV and then I considered it burned material. It wasn’t until recently that I started to wonder, “Yeeeeesh, what was I thinking?” Not to be all “But I have a lot of gay friends!” but when I started doing stand-up, I was fresh out of UC Santa Cruz, and I really didn’t have a lot of straight female friends. I’m straight, but my relationship to femininity felt like something I needed to explain to audiences. “Looking like a lesbian” was the laziest possible take on a subject I should have had more respect for. I was also writing a lot with Janine Brito, who is a brilliant lesbian comic I met in San Francisco. As a result I wrote way more about homosexuality than I probably should have, in part because I was hanging out with her so much, trying to keep up with her comedically.

Accountability is hard and not fun. But I can tell you a story I think about a lot. When I was in college, I saw a play called Carry the Tiger to the Mountain. It’s about the murder of Vincent Chin, a hate-crime in Detroit before hate-crime laws even existed in the U.S. He was a Chinese-American man who was beaten to death by Chrysler employees who were pissed off about the effect Japanese cars were having on the U.S. auto industry. Around this same time, I started getting into comedy. I had always been a fan, but I was starting to perform and go to more shows. I invited a friend to come with me to an improv show on campus. My friend was Asian-American — it was the same friend who had taken me to see that play. Because it was college improv, it was obviously fucking terrible, but the worst part was when one of the white kids onstage launched into a Family Guy–esque impression of an Asian person, which is to say it was extremely racist. I don’t remember what it was exactly, and I don’t remember if we stayed until the end or if we left right then. The next thing I remember is my friend sobbing in the parking lot. Frustrated, furious, sad. It was horrible.

I don’t remember if we talked about it in that moment or not, but I know Vincent Chin was fresh in both of our minds. Those two shows were connected. The effect they had was connected. Maybe that’s why I’ve never thought about “political correctness” in the way some comics do. To me, it’s never been some hypothetical hand-wringing, or some competitive exercise in self-righteousness. From the moment I started doing comedy, it’s been that image: my friend, crying in a parking lot, wondering if America will ever be safe for people who look like them, or if instead, we will continue to hate them so much that it will be normal for strangers to beat them to death. Wouldn’t you want to avoid making people feel like that? Especially at a comedy show?

Kyle Kinane

Kyle Kinane. Photo: FilmMagic/FilmMagic

I would do some purposely over-the-top jokes from time to time just to see if the audience was listening — clearly ridiculous jokes that I assumed would be seen as such, but since times have changed I guess now they’re considered regrettable. I used to get onstage and say “Rape? I can barely keep it up for a woman who’s into me.” Kind of like a low self-esteem Andrew Dice Clay routine. The truth of the matter was I was a constant limp dick for a long time because the only time I’d lose my inhibitions enough to go home with a woman was when I was wasted, so I was sexually worthless in the moment. I thought the joke was about maintaining a hard-on while under pressure, and not about how morally reprehensible the act of rape is. Like, someone is too lazy and psychologically frail to commit to raping someone.

It worked because people used to laugh at rape jokes. It doesn’t work now because it’s a rape joke. I was only doing it to shock and get attention. It’s not my view, and I’m not trying to rattle people with comedy. I’m not trying to pull a logical switcheroo on an audience: “Well, um, you see here, your offense is incorrect because technically the joke is about this instead of what I led you to believe.” I don’t believe in that whole “You might not think I’m funny, but it’s only because my comedy is intellectually superior” bullshit.

Comedians who grow with the times and allow themselves a change of heart on matters are more human to me, more connected to the zeitgeist, and therefore more interesting to watch. I want to see someone grow as a human and explore who they think they are with their comedy. The guys who complain about not being able to do rape jokes anymore seem like dudes who forgot to keep growing. They got comfortable with how things used to be. Comfort is a synonym for dry rot. And I’m sure the same will happen to some members of the PC scene as well. Eventually the righteous platitudes some folks are passing off as comedy will come around on them just the same. You still gotta have jokes. I’ll listen to you talk about all the social issues, but you still have to write some fucking punchlines. When it comes down to it, I’d rather watch a scumbag tell good jokes than watch a saint drag their ass all over the stage.

Anna Drezen

Anna Drezen. Photo: Comedy Central

Something that has been really bugging me lately, that I used to do constantly, is make generalized potshots at my own appearance onstage. Not specific things, like “I look like if Brendan Fraser were a new mom,” which is both specific and true. But like, “I’m so gross and huge and ugly, and here’s some jokes predicated on those generalities.” This was when I was 24 and a lot fitter and closer to the thing we’re all supposed to want to look like, but I also was very depressed and drinking a lot and terrified of never finding success or love or whatever. So instead of cultivating self-worth, I would get onstage multiple times a night and tell people about how gross and unfuckable I was — basically daring them to laugh. Like, “Either you don’t laugh and that means I’m not funny, or you laugh and that means I’m not pretty.” It truly had nothing to do with punchlines and everything to do with my very sick ego. I knew people weren’t laughing, which is kind of exactly what I wanted: I wanted the right to scream at myself in public, and then also get to feel like a bunch of people just told me how pretty I actually was. It was a full-on hostage situation.

Looking back now, I want to throttle myself. I wish I could go back in time and heckle myself with “Your body is great just as it is, but it’s also just going to keep getting worse until you die! Shut up!” It’s boring and toxic to try and tell women comics what they should or shouldn’t talk about; this isn’t to say women can’t dunk on their own appearance onstage. I’m talking about young women comics who aren’t yet out of college talking about how much weight they’ve gained recently — like yeah, it’s called puberty — or how ugly they are, and how “obviously no one would want to fuck me because duh, look at me,” and I see them getting a small thrill out of bullying themselves in public. People don’t mind laughing at a comic making fun of themselves when they know that your self-hatred is reasonable, limited, and based in reality, so they know it won’t metastasize into a full-blown crying jag.

I do make fun of my appearance onstage now, but it’s not from a place of festering self-hatred, so I don’t think Future Me will be heckling me anytime soon. I also keep it to specific ideas about specific aspects of myself that have actual jokes at the end of them. Not just “I hate my dumb bad body, okay?” Which honestly is something I would probably tweet.

Demi Adejuyigbe

Demi Adejuyigbe. Photo: Nick Eagleston

Because so much of my comedy has been made for the internet, I’ve gotten good at not making anything that is truly offensive — or, at least, at being able to realize it quickly. But the only piece of comedy I’ve made that I can recall feeling icky about is the Will Smith Moonlight credits rap. Every year for the Oscars — for the last four years, at least — I write a fake song based on one or more of the nominated films, and in 2017 I made one for Moonlight framed as a rap that Will Smith wrote and performed over the credits. The turn at the end of the song was Will Smith repeatedly rapping about how much he supports the gay community, despite not being gay himself.

No one has ever really called me out on it, but even as I published it I told myself that someone eventually would, and they’d be right. I even started trying to figure out how I’d defend myself whenever somebody did eventually come after me for it, which seems like a lot more of a mental strain than just having made a better joke in the first place. It’s not even that good of a song! I could’ve just not made it.

Jake Flores

Jake Flores. Photo: Suzanne Cordeiro/Corbis via Getty Images

I recorded an album when I was, like, 27. I was gearing up to move to New York and “make it.” I’ve since become very, very rich and famous, and now when I think about the jokes I chose to crystallize on that album, the chunk of material that glares the most consists of some lines about how some woman I had dated was “crazy.” I mean, she, as an individual, was completely corncobs. That part’s not untrue, but I think the premise was hacky and sort of pandering to popular tropes at the time: manic pixie dream girls, emo, pop-punk, “bitches be crazy,” that sort of thing. I mention pop-punk and emo because at the time it was considered “interesting” and “deep” and not “childish” and “mentally ill” to be a guy who antagonizes women. A lot of pop culture was very rewarding of that stuff. I think people are moving past it, but I may just be getting older and hanging around people that are also growing. I have no idea what kind of insane shit is cool to 22-year-olds right now.

A lot of times when you’re writing you’re trying to get your authentic point of view into the material, but you’re measuring it against what people react to, and it’s easy to get tempted by the gratification the audience gives you when you say “Women are insane!” You start lying to yourself and saying “I meant to do this the whole time.” I try to fight that. Stand-up is a pretty dorky art form to begin with, and if you start becoming what you think the audience wants, you can end up as a very lame person. You have to fight that impulse. I stopped doing it because it worked. It was bumming me out that people liked it because I think they liked it for the wrong reason. I think about that a lot in regards to Chappelle leaving Comedy Central. It’s a gross feeling realizing that a faceless mob is laughing out of sincere hate and not irony. I also don’t think the joke would work if I tried to do it today. After you understand why something sucks, it’s hard to sell it. Stand-up is dark magic like that — you’re looking in mirrors and messing with your ego and putting pieces of your soul into these things without even realizing it.

Should we hold comedians accountable for their jokes? This is kind of a hot take: No. People have gone completely bananas with what they consider the role of art and culture to be. I think this is because of Trump. Everyone feels powerless, and so they’re doubling down on this weird idea that culture affects society and not the other way around. It’s resulting in lame jokes. A joke’s supposed to give you a gut laugh — it’s not supposed to make you clap and think, “Good for that person.” Or at least it’s not only supposed to do that. And you have to break a lot of eggs to figure out how to get those gut laughs, so you’re probably going to say some weird shit the same way if you’re learning to play the oboe you’re going to make a bunch of messed up herky-jerky whistling toot noises. I don’t like my old jokes about women — not because they were offensive, but because of the subtext. What was actually being said was kind of bad. Irony is different. I could write a really offensive ironic joke about the same topic and I’d feel great about it, but that complexity is being lost, and that complexity is what helps people understand a thing that evoked a feeling in them. I had to grow to get where I am now. It wouldn’t have happened if I was just, like, fired from art.

Sabrina Jalees

Sabrina Jalees. Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images for More Than A Con

I started stand-up when I was 16 and a lot of my early stuff was about race. “I’m half Pakistani, half Swiss … I’m Piss!” It’s wild to think how much both comedy and me have evolved since then. But back then, Dat Phan was the champion of Last Comic Standing and I was the champion of being a closeted girl with braces and dangly earrings. I had this embarrassing joke: “I’m like a coconut: Brown on the outside, white on the inside!” It’s sad and weird and self-hating and truly not the way I feel at all. If anything, I’m like a lychee: weird, fun, exotic, delicious, expensive, and if you peel back the skin, very fleshy.

The bit did work — I think it lived in a time where acknowledging your race and making light of it was this new fun thing. I guess that’s kind of under the hood of the joke: I’m brown! I know it! But guess what, I’m white too! And that’s the real me. I will say, my Swiss mother brought the joke up not too long ago, laughed, and said, “It’s still one of my favorites. So clever.” So, the joke still has a demo.

The deeper I’ve gotten into stand-up, the more I’ve realized the most important thing, for me, is building material from a real feeling or thought. If I’m onstage talking about something that I don’t actually care about, it doesn’t matter how clever the joke is — it’ll never be great. When you’re starting out in stand-up, though, your first focus tends to be “How do I get to the laugh?” Playing purely for laughs can give you blinders that can leave you a lot like a coconut: brown on the outside, and like ugh-what-was-I-thinking on the inside.

Faith Choyce

Faith Choyce. Photo: YouTube/ WhoHaha

I used to do this bit about how some labia look like poorly made roast beef sandwiches. It was pretty gross, and it always got big laughs, but I stopped doing it when I realized it was pretty body-shame-y and I didn’t want to be the reason why even one woman out there felt terrible about her body. Thinking back, I’m surprised no one ever called me out on it, because the tone of it was so out of character with who I was and what I truly believed, both then and now.

I remember seeing this black-and-white art piece that was a collage of photographs of pussies of all sizes and shapes, and I just had an “a-ha” moment, realizing that I’d been inadvertently shaming women for their God/universe/whatever-you-believe-given diversity, for nothing more than laughs. I realized that there was no way that I wasn’t making some of the women in the room uncomfortable with that bit every time I told it, and if there’s one thing women don’t need, it’s another reason to feel unwelcome in comedy spaces. Plus, if I’m gonna make someone uncomfortable with my jokes, it should be for something that should change because it marginalizes other people, not the simple act of existing.

I think many comics are afraid of a slippery slope that once you can’t talk about one thing you won’t be able to talk about anything. I don’t believe that certain topics should be off-limits in comedy, but I do believe that if you’re going to stand behind a harmful point of view or push the envelope of what’s considered socially acceptable, you should also be brave enough to take the criticism that goes along with that. It’s not brave to be politically incorrect if you cry whenever people call you out or push back against the ideals you’re espousing. It’s fearful and it’s lazy. The fact is, no one is entitled to a paying audience, a TV show, a writers room gig. No one is entitled to their dream job. If you’re a really great comedian, your audience will follow you no matter what. You can book your own tours if you’re too “edgy” for comedy clubs and traditional rooms.

Patton Oswalt

Patton Oswalt. Photo: David Becker/Getty Images

When you’re young, you’re insecure. You’re not comfortable enough in making fun of yourself yet. You’re already terrified of being onstage. There was a lot in my early bits where I was targeting someone else when things weren’t going well. My targets were off. I wasn’t even doing specific bits. The stuff I really regret is that I was doing very hack jokes about midgets or someone who’s mentally handicapped just to get a rise out of the audience. Especially those ones where I love cursing. I loved the word “fuck,” but a lot of times, I was using it just as filler rather than meat. It’s more of the overall insecurity.

I did a bit — and I guess I was trying, in my young mind, to just offend — where I used the words “gay” and “retarded.” “Are there gay retarded people? If so, where’s their march? They should be allowed to have a march!” When I look back at the bit, it’s just lazy. I’m trying to say the word “retard” and get that easy laugh. I’m rarely embarrassed by anything offensive I do, but I’m very embarrassed when I’ve done something lazy.

It would be good to demystify a lot of what comedy is. Like, we aren’t these infallible joke machines. We’re humans trying to wrestle with the world. But there is all kinds of shit that I’m not a fan of. This whole “I don’t apologize for shit” or “real men don’t apologize” thing — that comes out of such obvious insecurity. It’s way more “alpha” to listen to your critics and say, “Shit, you’re right. I fucked that one up.” Also, by the way, this wisdom — or whatever level of wisdom I have — comes from years of me wrongly fighting against that and thinking I was some First Amendment Warrior, when what I was really doing was thinking I had gotten very comfortable when I wasn’t. Nothing ever stays the same, especially if you’re in the creative business. You either accept that and evolve, or you die. That was something I’m glad I came out the other end of. I am willing to change and grow. Also, the core of what makes a comedian good is you look at stuff in the world that everyone accepts and you tear it down a little bit to find out what’s funny in it. If I refuse to do that with my own work and I only do that with the outside world, that’s a pretty weak stance to have in life.

If you want see what a long and active career looks like, look at John Waters. He was all shock value coming up. Then he got to an age where he realized, “Oh, my stuff’s not shocking anymore. I’m gonna be America’s beloved uncle now.” Stuff that he used to do that got his films X-ratings and only shown at midnight are now throwaway jokes in PG-13 films. Literally. Pink Flamingos ended with Divine eating dog shit. Then there’s a shit-drinking joke in the first 20 minutes of Austin Powers. It’s just unbecoming to be the 50-year-old trying to shock people like they’re 19. Get out of the way and let the younger generation come up and shock people for a while.

Kevin Hart : Cold As Balls Ft Skip Bayless

Kevin Hart With Skip Bayless

Big Jay Oakerson

Big Jay Oakerson – Men Seeking Men – This Is Not Happening – Uncensored – Extended