A Casual Guide to Your Next [Hilarious] Standup Comedy Affair

If there’s one thing I want out of this life, it’s to be perpetually amused by my surroundings. Not a lot to ask, I say. That’s probably why I moved my offbeat extrovertedness to the Big Apple five glorious years ago: professional aspirations aside, the NYC comedy scene was definitely a draw for me (I’d already been a fan of standup, sketch comedy, and improv for the better part of a decade). And I’ve got to say, after unpacking my pipe dream collection and settling in to these skyscrapered surroundings, I was pretty happy with New York’s veritable cornucopia of laugh lounges. I think Dangerfield’s was my first stop, but within six months or so, I’d caught shows at Caroline’s, Gotham, Broadway, Comedy Cellar, Upright Citizen’s Brigade, Comix, People’s Improv Theater…well, you get the idea. Factor in all those obligatory two-drink minimums, and I was like an alcoholic kid in a comedic candy store.

But even now I occasionally meet “New Yorkers” who have yet to attend a standup comedy show. I find this baffling. It can’t be that these folks don’t like to laugh ever, because that doesn’t make any goddamn sense. We don’t live in a Wes Anderson film, after all. As it turns out (I’ve done a bit of anecdotal research on the matter), many people avoid comedy clubs simply because they don’t know what to expect from live comedy. Nor do they realize that each show generally consists of 5+ performers, and at least one of them must have a brand of comedy they—as audience members—can appreciate.

Which brings me to the list part of this article. There might be other things in the world that make you laugh, but much like ashleymadison.com, I believe there’s a comedian out there for everyone.

Not sure what kind of standup comic to get down with? Allow me to facilitate your next (metaphorical) affair with comedians who…

1)  Tell stories and share observations

You: Possess an active imagination; have an attention span of two minutes or more; enjoy the little details in life

They: Enjoy sharing pieces of themselves with the world; also enjoy the little details in life (multiplied by ad infinitum)

Storytelling is an art form, but some comedians have it down to a science. They know just where to pause; where to pantomime; where to dismiss one detail and augment another. Most comics nowadays have a story or two to tell—it’s not all one-liners and dick jokes, you know—but the good ones can keep an audience on the edge of their stools for minutes at a time with a single narrative thread.

Observational comics sort of work backwards, starting with relatable minutiae and building their jokes/stories from there. Afraid to get meta they are not.

Get to know a storytelling observationalist comic!


You might also dig: Patton Oswalt, John Mulaney, Dane Cook, Ron White, Jeff Foxworthy, Russell Brand, Louie CK, Bert Kreischer

2)  Insult people (including themselves)

You: Are cynical by nature; have a lot of personal flaws you’d rather not talk about; got arrested for road rage once; want those kids to get the hell off your lawn

They: Will exploit the personal flaws of anyone foolish enough to give them an excuse

This is the type of performer everyone is most afraid of; out of all the comedic genres on this list, insult comics are the only ones actively looking for trouble (spoiler alert: they usually find it). They’re confrontational, quasi-egotistical, and incredibly dexterous at finding new ways to verbally abuse one’s genitals. Hecklers beware.

Get to know an insult comic!


You might also dig: Robert Kelly, Lisa Lampanelli, Don Rickles, Jimmy Carr, Jeffrey Ross

Bonus anecdote: About a year before he died, I saw Greg Giraldo headline in NYC for my birthday. I was quite inebriated at the time. Greg spotted my drunkenness from a mile away (I’m a swayer), and I prepared to get flayed alive. But instead of unleashing the typical barrage of emasculating insults I probably deserved, he stopped himself and said, “Forget it, man, you’re doin’ a good enough job’a lookin’ stupid all on your own, aren’tcha?”

Fast-forward six months, and I’m at a Colin Quinn show at the Comedy Cellar. I was wearing a blue striped scarf at the time, and when Colin spotted it, he announced to the crowd that yes, John Mayer was indeed “in the house.”

It was a different time in my life.

3)  Walk to the beat of a different tambourine

You: Attended a liberal arts college; aren’t particularly bigoted toward anyone; went through a “cannabis phase” in your early 20s

They: View the world around them a little differently than most; have a stronger prescription than you

At the ripe old age of 28, I still watch old episodes of The Mighty Boosh from time to time, which means a) I dig oddball  humor, and b) everyone who told me I’d eventually grow out of Adult Swim can suck it. Standup comedy isn’t all about formulaic jokes, and some comedians develop such gloriously unique performing styles, they’re pretty damn hard to describe. Luckily, there’s YouTube.

Get to know a quirky comic!


You might also dig: Jim Gaffigan, Mitch Hedberg, Judah Friedlander, Demitri Martin

  • Pepper

    You’re lucky in NYC then, because the only standup comedy available here in PC-Land are super cleaned and extra checked just in case it upsets the harmonious balance of society.

    I dunno which category Greg Proops fall into though… and my first love of comedy is still of improv…

  • Inter Milan Kundera

    Add Garfunkel and Oates for musical comedy.

    Overall, two of the best comics working out there today are Chris D’Elia and Hannibal Buress. Buress is compared a lot to Hedberg, and reasonably so, but his special on Comedy Central is magnificent, and his work on the Eric Andre Show, while not suited for everyone’s taste, is good too.

    It’s a sin that D’Elia is so underused on Whitney. He’s a master of call-backs and crowd work and he has an energy that adds to his humor.

    Other noted comics: Rory Scovel (that guy from the beeping car commercials) Marc Maron (because he didn’t wear pants for his guest spot on Louie), the list goes on.

  • Inter Milan Kundera

    I forgot Kyle Kinane! Kyle Kinane too.

  • Travis

    Lewis Black should be up there.

  • @Inter Milan Kundera
    Good picks! Didn’t have nearly enough time to cover every good comedian that’s in the mix today…

    Sometimes when you read articles past the first paragraph or so you’ll find what you’re looking for.

  • J5

    At work I got sick of listening to music on youtube (work filters somehow only missed Youtube) so I started with comedy specials and came across Patrice O’Neal’s “Elephant in the Room.” While it’s a great special, it’s definitely not my favorite, but as I listened to more from Patrice I’ve come to respect that dude’s razor sharp cut downs & insults.

    Holy shit can he throw out some ego bashing insults.

    Heard some old O&A clips he was in that were great, followed by some “Remember when…” clips from right after he died that told by various comedians (from Louis CK to Colin Quinn) that were absolutely ridiculous. Finally I found myself watching some old Tough Crowd clips on youtube where he just smashes other comedians, like when saying Jim Norton looks like a shell-less turtle.

    With that being said, I nominate Patrice O’Neal be included in the Insult Category.

    (All that aside, great list & categorized perfectly.)

  • fred

    @J5 i was expecting 2 find patrice in the racy category but he does fit well in the insult.

    my i sugest to u bill burr as someone i think is a great comic (& an O&A regular)