The Year in Interviews

johnhodgman
In 2015, we interviewed over 150 people in the comedy world, from standups to writers to actors, artists, filmmakers, podcasters, and beyond. To wrap up the year, we asked our interviewers to round up the most notable, interesting, and insightful quotes from our conversations with some of the best people involved in comedy today:

nathanforyou-season3TELEVISION

Mike Schur: “I think one wrinkle for comedy is that it often takes half a year or sometimes longer for those shows to find their voice and settle in and for the writers to figure out how to write and for the actors to figure out how to act and to figure out what the themes of the show are and how to make everybody funny, and in this day and age people bail so fast. [laughs] They watch something twice and if it doesn’t make them fully entertained they’ll just bail, because why shouldn’t they? There’s a million other options. It’s like eating the first four bites of food at a free buffet and then saying like ‘I don’t like this, but I’m gonna keep eating the same food for another year just to see if it gets better.’ It’s a really hard sell for people. That is a true fact about comedy, and it’s true of almost every great comedy that’s ever been on the air. It’s true of Seinfeld and Cheers and even Friends to some extent — the shows where, if you watch the first six to ten episodes, are just not the same show as they became.”

Scott Aukerman: “But there is something exhilarating about having someone that I’ve never met before on the show and finding a common ground. There were things that have happened with those people that I’m not too familiar with like Schoolboy Q or Kid Cudi that were so fantastic. I was really nervous when in the second season I had to branch out and work with people I didn’t really know that well or with someone I had never met, and I think it’s really opened up the show in a great way. You’ll get to see these people do unexpected things that you would never see them do on any other show.”

Ilana Glazer: “We’ve always delighted in reality being more absurd than fiction. It’s like too true — the smallness of the apartments, Bevers the gross roommate — it’s too true and almost funnier than making it up out of nowhere. But yeah, the people who work on our sets — like Staci Greenbaum is our wardrobe supervisor, and she always makes a ton of jokes through her art, through costuming. And people are seeing that — I’m seeing in the reviews more that people are really noticing the work of our crew. Like our music supervisor — there’s jokes in the music all the time. We’re so lucky that everybody really has their comedy caps on. We really do have an incredible team in each act of making the show. It’s just as overwhelming as good reviews or hearing good things about the show from strangers.”

Ben Jones: “The truth is the whole show is a miraculous plate of spaghetti and meatballs tossed up into the air in slow motion. There is no way to control or even know if it will make it to air in one piece. This is its greatest strength, and greatest weakness. We have lots of ambitions, but mainly we are just trying to forge forward like a blindfolded duck driving a bulldozer.”

Nathan Fielder: “My favorite parts of the show are the situations where even I wouldn’t know how to handle it, in the hopes it leads to something fresh and honest. I feel like audiences can really feel when something is inauthentic. You can plan but if it doesn’t feel organic it won’t be interesting or funny.”

Chris Hardwick: “Two things make me really happy: when people do the show and say they can’t believe how much fun they had and when they say they’ve noticed a shift in the people coming to shows because of their appearances. I feel like a sort of proud uncle. They’re comedians; they’re earning the audience because they’re funny, but providing the platform is really cool.”

Robin Thede:: “You know, other people, other shows, they make it seem like it’s hard to hire a diverse staff. They’re like, ‘I don’t know, they’re just not out there!’ And it’s so not true — we had so many submissions from women, from minorities, from disabled writers. People are funny of all kinds, and lucky for us, we were able to pick out a really diverse room. We have absolutely the most diverse room in late night, and it’s great.”

Michael Koman: “The things I like most about [Nathan for You] are the things that happened in the middle of shooting that completely changed the direction of the piece we were working on. It always made it better, and we were so lucky. The two things that seemed the most beyond unlikely to me when they happened were that Sue had a personal experience with a ghost and was into having an exorcism, and then in the first season we were doing a piece at this clothing store and we hired this security guard named Simon who we discovered on camera happened to be obsessed with women’s breasts, which affected how he did his job. And it seems like the kind of thing where if you planned it it’d be so crude, and if I was watching the show I’d think ‘That can’t be what happened. That couldn’t have just been an accident.’ It’s like an actual miracle to me.”

Briggs Hatton: “We did, however, remark in the writers room that a lot of our tags this season feel almost like mini dramatic plays—plays in which the writers could explore ideas like: ‘Well, who exactly bought this giant fiberglass hand from Dean Pelton?’ Or: ‘What is this Tokyo teen’s home life really like?’ The tag for ‘Wedding Videography’ is so bizarrely meta I’m still surprised it moved beyond just being a room bit.”

David Cross: “In everything I do there are always a couple of little secret three-frame jokes. In one of the early episodes of Todd Margaret, he goes to get a liquor license and on the board behind him there’s meetings and stuff on a dry erase board and there’s all these Mr. Show characters who have meetings. You’d never ever catch that, but if somebody freeze-framed they’d see it. So stuff like that. So when our art department said ‘We need a diner menu, do you have any ideas?’ Shit like that is so much fun for me and it makes me giggle and I just spent a couple hours jotting down stupid things for it. It’s like three pages front-to-back — there’s some regular stuff on there, but there’s tons of ridiculous items. So there’s always shit like that in everything I do.”

Michaela Watkins: “I remember I was doing commercials and I was thinking, ‘Please God, let me do TV.’ And then I when was doing TV, I started doing independent films and I thought, ‘Oh my God, independent films are so liberating. It’s so gratifying and wonderful.’ Then all of a sudden TV sort of became gratifying and wonderful, because you got to do what you did in film, but you got to do it for even longer. Instead of an hour and a half movie, it’s like a five-hour movie.”

Simon Rich: “Television is cool because when you’re reading a novel, you can feel with your hands how many pages are left. Unless it’s a truly experimental novel, you have a pretty good sense of when things will resolve. And with a film, it’s a law that everything has to resolve, otherwise your movie will not get made. But with a television show, you don’t necessarily know going into each episode whether it’s going to be a redemptive ending or a harsh ending; you don’t know what if anything is going to be resolved; you don’t know whether or not the characters will learn anything. I find television to be an intrinsically less predictable medium than films or novels.”

Nathan Fielder: “I tried to have a good time, tried to make a good show, trying not to repeat ourselves. Actually, I didn’t try that hard to have a good time.”

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FILM

Matt Piedmont: “Yeah, to me it’s something you hear all the time: ‘Oh, just overlight it and do it and it doesn’t matter — just get the performance,’ which, you know, to some extent could be true for certain things. I think we love combining, even pretentiously, the love of cinema and staging and cinematography with the writing and comedy, and I think they can go hand-in-hand even though maybe the convention is that they don’t go hand-in-hand. I think that every time people watch something and go ‘Oh! That is a good combination!’ is what interests us. And again, it’s not an exclusive thing for us. Hopefully if you don’t know any references it exists as a cool fun thing, but if you do know some of the references or whatever, it can be a fun thing for those two people to enjoy.”

David Cross: “I’ve had this discussion with two different directors. This one guy was telling me how he had watched some movie on the plane on his iPad. It was a while ago and I forget which movie it was, but it’s a good movie, and I gave him shit about it, like ‘That’s a good story, that’s a good movie — don’t you feel like you would experience it in a deeper, better way if your focus was just totally on that story?’ And he was just like ‘Nah.’ Like, you don’t feel an obligation to these guys who work for 18 or 20 months busting their ass on this thing? And you watch it in between ordering fucking Pringles on your flight while people are, you know, running around and getting up and going to the bathroom and everything, on your little six-inch screen? ‘No that’s fine!’ … It doesn’t really matter what movie it is, but it’s a different, better, more fulfilling experience to watch it on a big screen with proper sound and no lights, uninterrupted, and you sit and you watch it. Whether it’s a dramatic movie or something silly like Anchorman, it’s just a different, better experience.”

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PODCASTS

Paul F. Tompkins: “When the medium emerged it was a thing that a lot of my friends were doing. It’s so much fun to play with that I couldn’t resist. And as much as I have a tendency to do too much and over schedule myself, podcasting is a lot of fun! The idea that you can just show up and play is just irresistible.”

Chris Hardwick: “One of the ways I learned to coax people into sharing things about themselves is to lead a little morsel on the ground so they can see you sharing and feel compelled to share something about themselves. That’s how people relate to one another. You wouldn’t go to coffee with someone and go, ‘So you went to this college mmhmm and then what did you do and then who did you meet and then who did you talk to?’ People start to feel like you’re taking too much from them, and that’s why it’s important to share experiences.”

Jessica St. Clair: “What’s so great about Comedy Bang! Bang! is that Scott [Aukerman] is so gifted as a host; he really allows the characters to come to life. He asks exactly the right questions so that maybe a one-off character suddenly has this real life. And the way Comedy Bang! Bang! is serialized, you’re able to build this whole backstory for a character that makes it so that in the end you wake up and go, oh, this could be its own podcast. But I don’t think that anybody has that idea going into it.”

Adam Scott: “It was pretty intense. I think sitting there with all four of them was particularly intense. You know, even sitting with just Bono and The Edge would’ve certainly been a big deal. But the fact that all four of the guys were there and for a kid who grew up in the ’80s… you know, surreal is kind of an overused word in this situation but it really was. It felt like sitting down with The Beatles or something. As a kid I thought so many times about what I would say to U2 if I got to meet them and here I was and I couldn’t think of anything because I was so freaked out.”

Paul Scheer: “Well you know what? I lied to The Wall Street Journal. I lied to everybody. But here’s the craziest thing: [Sylvester Stallone] said he wanted to do it, and I said no. When the show got more popular at the end, his publicity team called and they were like ‘He wants to do it!’ and I was like ‘No. I don’t want him to do it.’ [laughs] He should’ve done it…but it feels better that he never did.”

Marc Maron: “When I started the podcast I was in a pretty desperate situation and it was not a good situation. I didn’t really see any alternative. Things turned around in such a dramatic way and in such a way that really honors who I am, because it’s all sort of built on the podcast, which is all me.”

Dan Harmon: “The reason I podcast is because of my compulsion to try and make people like me. The focus of it is anxiety. When you say ‘I want to make people like me’ there’s two major components to that impulse, there’s the ‘make’ part and the ‘me’ part. You can really lose yourself in the making because you’ll do anything, and then you aren’t being you. The best case scenario is that you’re a version of yourself that people like, but it isn’t really you. The worst-case scenario, the more likely case, is nobody likes you at all and you’re not yourself, but like everyone else you’re emitting this desperation. It’s religiously important to re-calibrate and stand that honest ground and say what’s in my head so that I can test that ledge that exists between me and people’s truths about me and find out it’s not that dangerous to fall, and it’s not that high up even if I fell. I have a lot of anxiety about people catching me being the best human and kicking me out of society, and you need to address that. Any therapist knows that’s never going to happen and for me that’s truly never going to happen because I run my mouth continually and don’t get run out of town.”

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SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE

Matt Piedmont: “It is also the best thing in that you can write a different thing every week, which I think appeals certainly to my ADD sensibility. And as far as the structure of SNL, Lorne’s always fond of saying that you go on at 11:30 on Saturday because it’s 11:30, not because you’re ready — it’s because you have to go on. I found that I missed that very much and when I segued into directing commercials and stuff the pace and the stress of that is similar, but I really miss that. But once you leave Saturday Night Live, it’s still kind of like a breakup. It’s like this whole part of your life and then you don’t have it, and then you have to figure out what the next step is and it’s not quite as…you know. It’s your crystal meth and now you’ve gotta go down to coffee, so it’s a little bit of an adjustment. But once you get that adjustment, then you can move on to the next phase.”

Bryan Tucker: “The Peyton Manning episode was, I think, early in my second year, and I loved being part of that just because it came out so well and it was good to see that guy get a nice boost, because I thought he was a really nice guy. I’m a huge basketball fan, so when LeBron James hosted that was really big for me — it’s not often I get starstruck, but I definitely remember feeling a little nervous talking to LeBron and not wanting to ask him to do anything he didn’t wanna do, kind of being a little bit more of a fan when talking to him than a professional, maybe, than I should’ve.”

Fred Armisen: “Now that I know what’s behind it, no, I don’t go to a critical place. There are things that I love on the show, and because I know people on the show I just know what goes into it. And many of the writers that were there when I left are still there, so I’ll just go like ‘Oh, James Anderson did this one — this is totally him!’ or whatever, and then I’ll text him and go like ‘Did you write that?’ Or Sarah Schneider — her and Chris Kelly write these pieces, and sometimes I don’t know it’s them and I’ll write and go ‘Okay, who wrote this one? Who wrote that? Because that was the best thing ever, I can’t believe how great that was,’ and so many times it’ll be Sarah and Chris and I’ll be like ‘Why didn’t I know that? Of course it’s them.'”

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CHARACTERS

Rob Huebel: “I’ve certainly carved out a pretty good niche for playing either assholes or douchebags. You look at my IMDB and that’s how I make my living. I just think it’s a pretty great comedy type. I don’t think that I’m an asshole. I hope that I’m not. I just think that those guys are so funny. I really love it as a comedy stereotype, just the oblivious idiot. I think I sort of gravitated towards that early on in my career and I was just somehow good at it so I started getting cast as assholes a lot. It’s a tough business so if I have to play assholes I’m more than happy to do it. I’m pretty good at it.”

Jessica St. Clair: “The horrible thing is that Marissa is not that far from my real personality — I hate to say this, because she is insane. But I don’t do characters. I mostly play myself.”

Andy Daly: “I always say that I’m aware that the way I come across in the world is as a suburban guy, a happy guy, a friendly guy. That is who I am a lot of the time and it’s definitely how people receive me. To me, it’s always funny and always surprising to start off as a heightened version of that guy and then go someplace really dark and unexpected and wrong.”

Nick Kroll: “It’s not like I’m packing up Gil Faizon’s gross yellowed wig and shitty leather jacket and setting it out on a boat lit into flames — that would probably be a health code violation. I genuinely don’t know. It’s sort of like how the show was — you just try to let what organically wants to happen happen, you know?”

Mike Schur: “And so we just wanted to present a character, a female character, who was not just like…the word is always ‘strong,’ which I think is a kind of lame word to describe good female characters on TV, so it wasn’t just a strong character but an interesting, nuanced woman who was smart and was very career-driven and goal-driven, but who also had normal human flaws. Sometimes the way that people try to counter a negative representation of a certain person or kind of people is just by making them kind of superheroes, but we didn’t think that was realistic. No one’s a superhero. We just wanted to present a person who had a lot of different kinds of characteristics and who was nuanced and multi-dimensional in the kind of ways that, much more typically, male characters get represented on TV. So that was one thing, and 95% of that goal was accomplished when Amy Poehler agreed to be in the show because that’s what kind of person she is in real life, and we knew that if she did the show we’d just have to put her onscreen every week and a lot of that work would be done for us.”

Brett Davis: “I’m fascinated by people, and drawn to the sad and delusional ones. That’s a streak that runs through most of these characters. Plus, it’s fun to wear wigs and become somebody else and say terrible things I would never say.”

Scott Dikkers: “You want to use all of these tried and true structures when you do TV and movies but you want to give them a little twist, something modern, almost a veneer. Give them a different job, race or character traits and that’ll make it feel completely fresh to an audience. That’s all it takes and that’s really the best way to do it because you don’t want to take a chance making a new structure no one has tried before since we’ve been telling stories for hundreds of thousands of years, we know what works and we don’t need to reinvent that wheel. You try at your peril. I’ve tried and it doesn’t work.”

Jon Glaser: “I guess I just got it in me. I got that ability to be an asshole. I just like characters like that and for whatever reason I guess I’m just good at it … I remember when I was working at Conan we discovered early on that we both liked the confident jerk. Someone who has no reason being that confident but they are. It’s fun to play because you get to be smug and say a lot of really obnoxious fun lines that you’d never think of saying in real life. I don’t know what it is. Everyone has their thing they’re good at and I guess I’m good at playing a dick.”

Jack McBrayer: “I think people kind of ‘get’ it at this point. It is fun for me and I do like doing it, and I know I can do it. I would never turn down an opportunity to challenge myself or stretch myself, but I’ve definitely enjoyed playing a heightened version of myself because I mean, come on, I’m not the smartest person in the world, but I’m not as dumb as Kenneth!”

Tommy Wiseau: “I create different characters based on my vision. I always say, ‘If you don’t have vision, you don’t have nothing, basically.’ It’s funny sometimes people borrow my stuff which I don’t appreciate because I think any creative mind of person create something, he or she should be compensated for it. It seems some other stuff is not nice, then you go into this tight stuff, all the parodies, this and that. No, it’s bullshit because… You cannot have both ways. If you have respect, get it, your life doesn’t go that much.”

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WRITING

Chris Kelly: “We tend to like very small things blown out of proportion — maybe to a fault, but it makes us laugh. I remember we had this dumb joke at the end of ‘Christmas Mass Spectacular’ where we were like ‘This is only a joke for us — no one will like it, but we’ll take it out,’ and it was a joke about getting a glimpse inside the pastor’s house and being like ‘Whoa, there’s just a little table in there!’ We laughed so hard, and it’s a thing I remember from being inside my pastor’s little house and thinking like ‘That’s his whole house?!’ We just assumed it would be cut and then it worked at the table, and it’s such a fun surprise and you’re like ‘Oh, other people recognized it!’ Because we write so many sketches where it’s this little observation where no one’s on board.”

Chris Monks: “I wouldn’t trust your audience on Facebook. Half of them are your relatives and people who had crushes on you in high school anyway, so they aren’t exactly objective when it comes to praising your hilarious status updates about shitting your pants or whatever.”

Alex Rubens: “I think improv is a very worthwhile thing for anybody who wants to do comedy writing. Interestingly, the staff of Key and Peele, the writing staff, I was the only writer there who was not a brilliant, successful, extremely experienced improv comedian. Everybody there is a kind of an amazing comedic performer. I was the only guy there who was just a writer, but I had done improv in college.”

Dan Harmon: “I don’t think I work well when I’m thinking that my goal is to accomplish something. I think my best stuff is effortless and accidental and as a result of being behind schedule. When I think that I have an application or a goal, then I start making plans and then everything I do sucks.”

Scott Dikkers: “I think a lot of people are daunted by comedy writing because they think there are people that are comedy geniuses and that they could never do that which I don’t buy for one second. Those people have practiced and worked at it and those people are able to understand writing stuff that’s terrible and then keep going. Those are the skills that lead someone to be great at comedy writing. It’s not a God-given gift of just being incredibly funny.”

Jake Fogelnest: “I remember using this as an example when I was teaching sketch writing at UCB, because sketches are very simple to me and the formula to writing a sketch to me never changes. So when somebody asks me ‘How do you write a sketch?’ it’s always: Establish your premise right away. Joke, heighten the joke, heighten the joke. And then get out, quickly. That is the formula to every single sketch, and this is just such a small, perfect example of that formula at work. Very quickly, right at the top, he puts tacos in the mailbox, and then we just kind of heighten and explore that idea until literally it devolves into crazytown in a way that just warms my heart. It’s just so great. It’s my favorite thing — it’s super dumb and completely reasonable.”

Chris Monks: “You need to be nimble at those things to build a joke. Having a strong hook/premise right out of the gate is key too. With general fiction, like short stories, you can take time setting the scene, establishing characters, etc. Sure, go ahead, write a couple paragraphs about how that ottoman symbolizes your dad’s lack of empathy—here’s your Pushcart Prize. Short humor writing can’t get away with that. You need to establish what the gag is early on and then expand on it in clever and surprising ways that heighten the absurdity throughout the piece. And if along the way you expose some sort of hidden truth about the subject matter, all the better.”

Simon Rich: “The biggest weapon you have is performance, and then beyond that you have direction, so you can literally dictate what the eye is drawn to, which is an amazingly storytelling tool. Then you have music, which is unbelievably powerful or manipulative, depending on how you look at it. And then you have sound effects and special effects, which are extremely useful narrative tools. All these different weapons are as powerful as — if not more powerful than — dialogue. When I’m working in TV or film, I always try to ask myself what the best way to tell a story is, and often the best way is to have very few words written down.”

Alex Rubens: “I was writing for my whole life. I wrote for about ten or eleven years before I got anywhere. Got my ten thousand hours, or whatever. The way I broke in, and I think I wrote this down at some point, which is why I remember it, but pretty soon before I got my big break I remember sort of looking forward into the future at my theoretical future self who was a professional writer and saying to that person, ‘You’re not better than me, you’re just lucky.’ And it’s true. I am a better writer now, but I’m a better writer because I’ve spent years writing more. The more you write, the better you get. I got to work with fantastic people, but the core of what and who I am was the same before I made it anywhere.”

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STANDUP & PERFORMING LIVE

Tone Bell: “It’s a selfish thing, but I love not having to work with other people. On stage it’s all me.”

Matt Braunger: “All you can do is keep going up as often as you can and don’t be afraid to fail. I think the minute you look at it as like ‘Oh, I’ve been doing it a while, I got this’ then you’re kind of fucked up. I’m lucky that I kind of keep a childlike frame of mind. That doesn’t help me in a lot of other ways, I’m underdeveloped as a man, but as far as things being interesting and weird, you always have to somewhat delight in the process.”

Naomi Ekperigin: “It’s actually been interesting, because it has been like showing my family a newer side of myself. It wasn’t like we were closed off. I think it was just the nature of being the only child of a single parent. It wasn’t like performing around the dinner table the way you would have with a bigger family. Once I got into teen angst, it wasn’t like I was talking to my mom about any of my feelings. It wasn’t until the last few years where they’re like, ‘Oh, you’re doing this all the time.’ Again, once I got laid off and my mother was like, ‘Okay, what are you going to do with your life?’ and I had to explain what it was. She had to come see me do it. She had to see that people liked it. Then it was, ‘Oh, okay. I’ll let you do this. I’ll let you give this a try.'”

Brian Regan: “I think one of the things about comedy is that comedy’s like music. Everybody likes music, and everybody likes comedy, but not everybody likes every kind of music, and not everybody likes all kinds of comedy. To me, having a comedy club and not having any idea what kind of comedian is in there is just as absurd as just having a big building on the side of the road that just says ‘Music Club.’ ‘Hey, do you want to go to the music club Friday night?’ It’s like, ‘Okay, let’s go!’ You go in, you don’t know if it’s going to be reggae or rock or jazz. If you go in there and you go, ‘I didn’t like that music club, therefore I don’t like music!'”

Lil Rel Howery: “Standup will never stop, that’s something I will always do. I did have some tacos last night, those were excellent.”

John Mulaney: “As you said, I’m a human being, and I get depressed and have all those things that people have and luckily haven’t had them in horrible knockout doses, but you know, I’m susceptible to it like anyone else. But I’ve found that I can write a lot of jokes that are cranky, and I can pump them out. I’ve had times where I’m tired — maybe I’ve been on the road or was writing for a TV show like Saturday Night Live and I was just burnt out and tired of that — and I wrote a lot of jokes complaining about things. I had a whole chunk of material making fun of how there’s three Madagascars and two Rios and five Ice Ages, and I was doing it for a while and, you know, I’d see a billboard for Rio 2 and be like ‘What the hell is Rio 2 and what was Rio and why do these kids need so many sequels?’ And I thought it was funny, but it’s not a thing I wear well for long, and when it wears off for me I’m sort of like ‘Why was I so mad about Rio 2?!’ I’ll look through old notebooks and go ‘Oh, you were cranky then,’ you know? Even when I was very young I could be grumpy in the stuff I would write. And I’ll try it, and sometimes I’ll do it for months and then it’s just not something, ultimately, I wear well. But in terms of performing standup, yes — whatever’s going on in your life’s in the back of your mind, but that’s, for the most part, the fun of performing: I’m not faking fun or happiness, because it’s actually happening.”

Bridget Everett: “I do my little vocal warm-ups and stretches because it’s a full body experience. I have a couple glasses of Chardonnay and go and meet the guys backstage and I’m always pacing back and forth like, ‘What the fuck was I thinking? Why am I doing this?’ I’m nervous, then I go on stage, the footlights kick in and I rise to the occasion.”

Adam Newman: “They are laughing so hard it almost feels like they are laughing at me. I know these jokes, I’ve thought these jokes were funny, which is why I’m telling them but come on they aren’t that funny. I mean, people were falling out of their chairs. I think at one of the shows someone laughed so hard they threw up in the back of the room.”

Kevin Pollak: “It takes a very special breed of cat to think your voice needs to be heard — that’s almost absurd, especially when you factor in that public speaking is America’s #1 fear, above death. So who are these people who can’t wait to get onstage? And they’re not just narcissists. I really set out to prove that as well that there is a delight and a joy in performing, and it’s not just to get gratification.”

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YOUTH & GROWING UP

Jonathan Katz: “I’ve been in therapy all my life. Since I was a kid. And that’s the time to do it, when the childhood memories are still fresh.”

Keith Lucas: “I have a general theory that we’re all nerds growing up. I would say 80 percent of comedians were probably nerds. They were passionate about comics, or The Simpsons, or wrestling or some combination of the three. When we grew up comedy was the best outlet to let out your nerddom.”

Jemaine Clement: “You know, I used to have lots of nightmares about vampires as well as, you know, drawing them, and drawing demons and stuff… I remember this woman who came to the school, a school nurse, had seen my drawings and she bought me some marker pens and said ‘Will you draw me a drawing?’ My drawing was like… a demon in an army uniform, with a whole lot of demons behind him, saying, ‘The army of demons will never die!’ She was probably expecting me to draw a cat.”

Yannis Pappas: “Dude, my dream was to be a professional basketball player. I had a poster in college that had a hoop on it that said, ‘A dream is a goal with a deadline.’ I would pat it every time I went to class. It was delusional.”

Brooks Wheelan: “Whoever you are at 8 is whoever you are at 30. You’re just better at hiding it.”

John Mulaney: “I do see that I’m similar to my dad in a lot of ways in that I can seem kind of dry, humor-wise, where I like saying things in sort of a flat tone, and when I was a kid that came off as intimidating or something. I look back now and realize my dad was very, very funny, and I really appreciated that he wasn’t, like, rolling around on the floor talking like a little kid with us. He would be like ‘How are you? How’s fifth grade?’ …I remember my dad picked up a toy of mine — it was this little squeaky toy I had when I was little — and he said ‘Is this your toy?’ And it was really dirty…he said ‘Is this your toy?’ and I said ‘Yeah’ and he goes ‘This is grotesque.’ [laughs]I was really young. I remember feeling bad, looking back. And now it makes me laugh so hard.”

Barry Rothbart: “I was 18. You don’t know anything when you’re 18. I thought that I’d be discovered my first set. I was getting ready for SNL to discover me.”

David Cross: “There are two things happening simultaneously. One is I do believe, by example, that millennials as a generation are very narcissistic and culturally vapid — et cetera, et cetera — except, I would also qualify that statement saying that’s been said about every generation ever by the generation prior probably going back to the 1600s, you know? So that’s an observation I make, but it was an observation made about my generation by the generation before that, and their generation by the generation before that. I mean, I do believe those things, but the difference there is that we didn’t have social media growing up, but if we did we’d be the exact same kind of people. That’s just youth, you know?”

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CRITICISM, OUTRAGE, & POLITICAL CORRECTNESS

Nick Stoller: “I think it’s ultimately terrible for our brains and society in general, but it’s fun. [laughs] I’m so sure it’s bad for us just to be constantly looking at this stuff online, but I do it. It’s clearly something that is unavoidable.”

Chris Kelly: “I think in general there is this culture of, like…you know, there’s both sides, and I can understand both sides and the push-and-pull of, like, ‘We need TV to be better, we need TV to be more inclusive, we need TV to represent more people,’ but then there’s also the feeling that every sketch on SNL or every show on television needs to be all things to all people. And I’m not choosing a side, but it’s just interesting to me — it’s fascinating, because for me, as a gay person, I wanna see more gay people on TV, but I also recognize that if there isn’t a gay person in this specific storyline, that’s not really an affront on me. …ooh God, I really don’t wanna talk about this shit.”

Eddie Pepitone:“I wish more comedians would talk about the way people are getting fucked over. Most comics shy away from talking about social issues. It’s true that we have to entertain people, but I feel like most comedians stay away from touchy issues. I wish more comedians would speak truth to power.”

Margaret Cho: “When you can come at something that serious and really address it and talk about it, that’s really the magic of comedy. The alchemy of comedy. What we can do is really change the way that people think about it. I know that comedy’s been integral in the way that we view politics. Especially since the advent of The Daily Show, and Bill Maher. These are people that we really listen to when it comes to politics. And they’re comics. So I think that this is an important thing to acknowledge; that comedy can be very powerful in terms of healing and in terms of political action.”

Kurt Metzger: “Hey, I’m a fucking hack. In my opinion 80% of the time I’m a hack. I write 20 jokes and 1 or 2 will be memorable and the rest is pure garbage. Everybody is a hack at some point. It’s not like I make this separation between myself and others. I know when I’m being a hack. We’re all going to be that at some point. There seems to a lot of people who don’t want to look at their own shit because it hurts too much. When I have to look my garbage that I wrote, it’s like stabbing me. So that’s just a matter of being able to take the fact that you suck and acknowledge it. I don’t think it’s a sin to be a hack. I think the sin is not admitting to yourself when you are one. Maybe you did great with the crowd, but you know you sucked. It’s just being honest with yourself.”

Tommy Wiseau: “First of all, generally speaking, either any criticism. I don’t care what you do. In this case, I’m entertainer and how about, if you critics are directing approach, or acting. There’s nothing wrong, when you being negative because it’s all for challenge. Entertainment is challenge. I always say, I’ve been talking at a lot events at the schools, like those special events. Someone ask me question and I would say, ‘Be optimistic, but the same token don’t be too general, like if somebody criticize you, to be special about it.’ Again you as individual you have a right to put your all. That’s when the society can grow. Critique but the same token… Critique based on the fact, even though maybe you don’t like it.”

Jim Norton: “We all penalize each other like it’s a novelty. That’s why people are so stupid, because we’re all vulnerable to it, and yet we all attack each other with it. It’s amazing.”

Barry Crimmins: “I’ll do something in character at times, satirizing something and some people in the audience will start hissing as if I’ve suddenly gone over to the other side. I mean, the people’s coalition against humor, it’s an ongoing problem. They have been for quite a while. I think to handle it what you have to do is practically satirize people just taking everything so literally all the time. Although, there are an awful lot of people who rail against political correctness who in fact are… kids act like they’re rebels because what they’re doing is reinforcing an oppressive status quo. It’s a balancing act.”

Anthony Jeselnik: “I think it can help because when horrible things happen, and I understand you need to take some time, but when you can actually laugh at it, it’s a very visceral sign that it’s going to be okay. No matter how terrible something is, if you can find a way to laugh at it, then things are going to be all right. I think that the laughs you get when you know you shouldn’t be laughing, but you have to, I think that is the most human of laughs.”

Sam Morril: “Where’s the line? Where do we draw the line? Is there a line? I guess we know where the line is if it got a laugh or not.”

Anthony Jeselnik: “You should want art to bother you. You should want comedy to upset you. You should want that, and most people don’t.”

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STAYING TRUE TO YOURSELF

Rob Delaney: “I try not to ask for permission. It’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission. My wife, for example, is the only person that I would care if they felt a certain way about something. She is very funny. She loves comedy and a good story. She would rather that I tell a good story and be honest about it than do something that rang false. She’s wonderfully supportive.”

Brett Gelman: “At the end of the day I would prefer if everyone liked it, got something out of it. But me and all the people I work with we all want people to like the stuff and connect to it. But you can’t meet a person and try to be who you think they might want you to be. You can only be yourself or else your work will only be halfway there. The people I work with and respect put out what they need to put out. And hopefully people like it, but I try to be realistic when I’m doing something that’s dark or dirty or aggressive. It might turn some people off. Although I think they’re wrong and they’re my enemy. [laughs] I don’t think they’re crazy, they just don’t want that. I think it’s important to expose yourself to dark things because life is very dark at times.”

Lisa Lampanelli: “I got caught up in the ‘never enough fame or money,’ but then it was like last year I was like, ‘My God, nothing is going to fill the hole except service and self acceptance.’”

Tom Green: “People are much more media literate today. They know how the sausage is made as an audience. Some of the standard tricks for making television just don’t work anymore. So whether you’re at a show seeing someone work out a bit, or listening to a podcast and hear mistakes being made, I think we kind of like those imperfections now. We feel like we’re not being lied to as an audience. It feels very honest. So sometimes when you take traditional television introductions and throw them out into the world today, they can feel a bit forced. Audiences are looking for something different, and they want to listen to real conversations and honesty, as well as engage and interact.”

David Huntsberger: “If you’ve made something, I don’t know if you feel like you need someone to validate you. For me, I’ve always felt like comedy was going fine in spite of not being on any late night shows or whatever — you know. I’m maybe not at a level where I would like to be or something like that, but overall the validation is something I don’t think is healthy. I just don’t think that’s the best method.”

Matt Braunger: “I always say to young comedians a big part of a comedian’s job is to make the audience see things through their eyes. It’s the same with great art. If I see a movie I want to see the director’s vision, I want to see what the actor made of the character. If I look at a painting, I want to see why its that painter’s painting. You don’t see the forest from the trees a lot of times. I’m most proud of this microcosm of who I am. I talk about how old I am, this awful experience I went through, struggles and what that meant to me, why I should never get drunk and then get high, why the age 39 is so much lamer to me than the age of 40. Little things that I’ve been thinking about, where I went okay, I’m going to tell this story because this is me.”

Guy Branum: “I can’t live my life being scared of people who have un-nuanced views of the world. I just have to keep on going being a nuanced me.”

Michelle Buteau: “You’ll never strike a chord, for better or for worse, if you’re constantly worried about what people are thinking all the time. You just have to live your life … I’ve had a fully functioning adult life without the internet, so I don’t know what’s it’s like for 100 people to come down on me because I said this one word. I can actually go to sleep at night and not care, because it hasn’t been my world my whole life.”

Derrick Beckles: “I try to make things that I would want to watch and I’d be challenged by. When [a joke] lands you don’t really care if anyone else is laughing. That’s when you find an audience that actually does get it and is laughing and they want to see more because there’s nothing like people discovering things. I think Tim and Eric do things brilliantly and on The Eric Andre Show, I’ve been on Eric’s show and when the room of us get together people don’t really give a shit about who’s going to laugh, but people end up laughing because there’s so many ridiculous things going on. When people first experience it they’re going to be weirded out or they’re not going to get it, but once they get into it they see where it’s coming from. To me, that’s essential to things I make. It doesn’t make life easy. [laughs] It makes things interesting.”

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GOALS

Joe DeRosa: “At the beginning of every year I write a Microsoft Word list of the things I want to do that year. It is a short-term goals list where I hope they’ll eventually lead into my long-term goals. It’s how you get shit done! It’s an adult version of a dream board. I think you have to do it. When you have errands to run you write them down, when you go to the grocery store and want to be efficient you have a list, you don’t wander around aimlessly. I think it is important to do that with career goals too because you need to set your sights.”

Jen Kirkman: “I’ve been talking to younger women who say, ‘I look up to you, this is amazing, you’ve made it!’ If you think this is making it, you’re going to be so fucked! People need to look at it as a job until it’s your name on a late night show or you’re selling out theatres. If you don’t and you walk around thinking you’ve made it, you’re going to slip and get lazy. Maybe they look up to me because I’m outspoken about feminism, but it’s pretty easy to do they just have to do the same thing and they can be a role model too!”

Joe List: “It took me a while to realize this, but those guys who passed me were working way harder than me. For the most part, if someone’s doing well in standup comedy they are working really hard. So I started working a lot harder, and that’s when things started to come around.”

Jimmy Pardo: “I guess the goal now is to just be happy. Before it was all career-oriented or it wasn’t in the nineties when I was a drunken asshole and all I worried about was getting hammered. I’m more driven than I’ve ever been but at the same time I’m more at peace.”

ANXIETY, INSECURITY, & STRUGGLE

Dan Harmon:Everybody — thin guys, fat guys, everybody in between — all have a nagging suspicion that we’re not good enough for everyone else and they’re gonna catch us and put us all on an island somewhere. That really is the same for everybody whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat; any race or any gender. It’s really sticking your heart’s teeth into that. Your heart has teeth, you know?”

Doug Mand: “I think that anxiety is the #1 contributing factor to my comedic voice, if I have one. I live in a place of fear far too much. I spent most of my life scared of irrational things. I’m petrified of death. I recently started to become scared of flying. I’m someone who is generally nervous. I’m working on it and trying not to be that way. So it completely shapes the way I see things. Just from a bathroom point of view, when someone says to meet them in Santa Monica, my first thought is always, ‘How am I going to get there and what places can I stop along the way if I have to go?’ So when I’m writing, I have to actually work to not make all my characters have IBS.”

Sara Schaefer: “I do think I’m more creative when I’m happier. When I’m balanced and sleeping well and feeling good, those things. I feel more creative because I’m feeling more confident, and I’m feeling motivated and I have energy. But at the same time, when I went through my divorce it was the hardest time in my life. It was a major turning point in my standup because I basically went from—It wasn’t because I was depressed and suffering. I was having a completely new experience in my life. I was looking at things from a different point of view. I was taking risks that I wouldn’t have taken before. I was living more of a present life, because I was being pressed into a walk of life that I didn’t understand, and I was going through a major change. So in that way, even though it was suffering, the good material that came out of it was more from the positive aspects of that. It’s a weird juxtaposition of how that works.”

Chris Gethard: “I was really young when I started improv and I’ve always been really goofy-looking, and people really enjoyed picking on me. I was always like the kid brother. I tried to play high status, and it just never worked — I was much, much better at low status. And I came up at UCB during an era where all the people were powerhouses; I think I’m funny, but I’m not a powerhouse, so I needed to find my own way. Bobby Moynihan’s one of my best friends in the world, but doing improv with him, you’re not gonna outfunny Bobby, so you better learn how to facilitate and you better learn how to pass the ball and kind of be a point guard and help him. And it’s weird, because that’s the type of thing where when I was younger, sometimes I’d get offstage, and to be totally honest, my ego would be like ‘Ah man, I’m never the funniest one.’ I’d be on the stage with guys like Bobby and Zach [Woods] and Brian Huskey and Billy Merritt — I was on a team with Jack McBrayer when I was 22 years old — but it was just like ‘I’ve always been in the situation where people don’t see that I’m funny.’ And there was a lot of ego in that, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve really tried to chase the ego out of my life. But then I do think I’m pretty good at creating an environment where the funniest people can be at their funniest and where the fact that I’m a confident performer but also very at peace with the fact that no one totally respects what I say onstage [laughs] …allows things to move in a direction you don’t expect.”

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ADVICE

Jermaine Fowler: “When comics are in the room, people have tendency to try to make them laugh. That doesn’t really make you funnier. It makes you a comic’s comic, but you aren’t going to get a fan base doing that. You have to perform like you’re in a bigger room. Dane Cook got a lot of flak when he got famous, but he got famous because he worked hard. Apparently he went to open mics and stretched and performed as if he was in an arena. That’s what he would do and look how big he was at one point. You have to perform. How can you get better if you’re only doing jokes for comedians? How can you go home happy saying, ‘I made so-and-so laugh today?’ He’s not going to pay your bills. He doesn’t even care about you.”

Derek Waters: “Here’s an example: If someone is drunk and telling you a story…like in our show, if someone was like ‘…and then John F. Kennedy got shot,’ I’ll say ‘Well, wait. What did John F. Kennedy say in the car before he got shot to his wife?’ Or they’ll go ‘All right, so John F. Kennedy was born in..’ and I’ll say ‘No no no, just go back one second,’ and a drunk brain cannot go backwards that slow — it has to start all the way over. So my tip is that if someone drunk is telling a story and you didn’t hear what they said, just wait until they’re finished the whole story. Don’t cut them off. Let them keep going — let them get it all out. Or get up and walk away.”

Ben Wexler: “To me, the most important thing that I have found in being a showrunner is just being decisive. You don’t necessarily have to have a quick answer, but you do have to have an answer. I think people want to feel like there’s somebody who has a vision for what the show ought to be. Have confidence. There comes a point in your career where you have to take this leap of faith and be the person in charge instead of the number two or the number three. It’s all so subjective that you have to have the confidence that your version of ‘I think this is the best way to go’ is actually good. It’s really important to not be afraid of being the person who makes a decision. I actually love it. It’s the only job I ever want to do. It’s so much more fun and engaging and creatively fulfilling to actually be on the hook for whether something works or not. It’s more pressure, but it’s a lot more fun.”

Jonathan Ames: “Set aside time to write every day if possible, or three days a week depending on how you’re earning money in the meantime. And love whatever you do, because that will come through. Be inspired by it.”

Aasif Mandvi: “When I started on The Daily Show, I met with Stephen Colbert and he said three things to me about doing field pieces. He said ‘When you put a camera in someone’s face, they get a lobotomy. Remember that.’ He said ‘Find three things that are funny about what you care about and also find three things that are funny in the piece.’ And then also, ‘Use the silence. Always use the silence, because when you use the silence, people will fill that silence with whatever it is that they or their lawyers wish they never said.’ And those techniques have helped keep me in good status.”

Brooks Wheelan: “I feel like NY is great if you didn’t live in LA first. And you didn’t know it’s way easier to live over there. Sure comedy is amazing in NY. It’s by far the most standup I’ve ever done and I feel like I got much better living in NY. But I’d rather go to Walmart than draw a treasure map to go looking for blinds or an air conditioner. New York really shows you where you stand. I moved here thinking I was pretty good at standup and then I realized I was way too loose on stage. I would go up having fun and people would be like “nope, we need jokes. Give us jokes.” Living here really makes your set tighter. You can really tell the difference between NY comics and LA comics in that NY comics are just so much tighter with their jokes, which I totally respect after living here.”

Jay Pharoah: “Basically when you’re dissecting somebody’s voice, you kind of wanna think about two people who they sound like and then find the middle. Usually the middle of those two people is the exact voice. If you take Jay Z’s voice, Jay Z sounds like Christopher Walken, but he sounds like a cool Christopher Walken. So if you take Christopher Walken and you take a real swaggered-out Brooklyn accent and you put those two together, in between that you will find Jay Z’s voice. It’s scientific — you really gotta do an equation in your head. It’s kind of mathematical, it’s like the Pythagorean theorem. And if you can envision the person’s face while you’re doing the voice, usually it helps bring the character out more. That’s how I bring them to life: I visualize the person’s face saying the same stuff I’m saying at the same time. So when I’m doing an impression, I don’t even see you; I’m not looking at you. When I’m doing an impression, I’m in my brain and I’m trying to channel that person. I’m trying to match that person to what I’m saying exactly at that point. It’s kind of weird, truly…I’m a weirdo, man.”

Jonathan Katz: “I’ve gotten really good advice from some people about comedy. One of them is that the best comedy is the most personal.”

Kurt Metzger: “It’s a very simple thing. It’s not really having to learn it, it’s having to unlearn a lot of bullshit that gets in the way of being funny. It’s like any other kind of art. Like when I went to art school. They were like just draw what you see. Don’t draw what you think you see or what you think should be there. Look at what’s there and draw it. That’s comedy. Don’t put what you think it should be. Don’t put what you think the moral thing should be. Just look at a thing for what it is and just say that.”

Bryan Tucker: “I will say that from when I started out — which was, I mean I started doing comedy in like 1991 so a long time ago — I noticed especially with the internet there’s just so many more opportunities to get your own stuff out there and to get paid. I think the hard part is because there’s so much, it’s hard to stand out, and I think as a new writer it’s a little bit easier to make content and get involved with things, but it’s a lot harder to have that content turn into something that everybody knows about. Saturday Night Live is really one of the few shows left that is still always in the cultural conversation, and it’s still this very big-tent show the whole country knows about. And it seems like there’s so much comedy now that’s for one specific audience — which I like, a lot of it is great — but in the same way that we’re doing a sports comedy site, if you can find a niche that no one has discovered before, I think that’s an advantage.”

Tommy Wiseau: “This is the thing… It’s not that it happened by accident, and when people think happened something by accident, well I have news for some of the people that they are… They don’t understand, nothing happens by accident, you studied and you have vision, and if you have vision, you probably eventually get success.”

Dan Harmon: “Those are the two important elements: taking stupid things very seriously and taking serious things for the stupidity that they are.”

Rob Delaney: “Be kind. That’s it. The end.”

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MISCELLANEOUS

Tommy Wiseau: “I think it’s past ten years, the raised chicken has been changed. It’s not just in California, across the world. Because of the certain dilemma, how we can be respectful towards animal. I tried to eat vegan, to be honest with you, and I tried to all different styles, it doesn’t work for me. At the same token. I think the world has been changed. The perfect example would be, how do you raise the chicken, which direction are you going, as a farmer. I think it’s something, what I personally didn’t know about. I mean just a few, I came by it by doing some research and I say ‘Wow, that’s something that never crossed my mind.'”

John Hodgman: “Sometimes I accidentally make a pun and spend the rest of the evening hating myself.”

Kay Cannon: “Well, I definitely flashed my vagina in front of the president of the United States.”

Eugene Mirman: “It’s also funny to have a sticker on my album that says, ‘Featuring over 45 minutes of crying!’ as if that’s a thing people have been demanding for years.”

Billy Eichner: “I had an argument with Amy Poehler about this, because Amy insisted that Elena is faking it and that she’s in on it. And I had to tell her, because when we work with Elena, we deal with her behind the scenes, obviously. We’re talking to her, our producers are talking to her — not to tell her what to say, but we have to tell her where to go; you know, she’s a person, there’s logistics to be worked out — and those conversations are, if you recorded them, as funny as anything that’s on the show. She just is a very uniquely funny person. She’s just herself and she’s not trying to be funny — that’s just how she communicates and how she looks at the world, and you really can’t compete with that.”

Henry Zebrowski: “I’m built like a duffel bag filled with wet leaves.”

Whit Thomas: “I think the key to a really long-lasting friendship is to just be really antisocial and bad at making other friends.”

Julie Klausner: “It’s funny…like if you look at Being John Malkovich and all these Charlie Kaufman movies that illustrate the artistic turmoil of the human mind, we really are, as human beings — whether it’s drugs or movies or any experience — just constantly trying to get out of our heads. But the only sweet relief will be death.”

Sarah Schneider: “I really hope that the headline of this article says we are obsessed with farts.”

Bridget Everett: “I’m literally walking around my friend’s front yard in LA. I’ve got a little muumuu on, no bra and my beaver tails are totally kicking it California style.”

Nathan Fielder: “No matter how hard you try to avoid an asshole, they’ll still seep into the mix.”

Adam Devine: “I’ll admit it, I was a dookie baby. It finally came out. I’ve been keeping it a secret for so long.”

Zach Woods: “Oh, I’ve got a lot of celebrity beefs, just not with anyone on the show. Me and Terry Gross have been in a cold war for four or five years now. Who else? Who else have I trained my laser sights on? Tiesto. The DJ Tiesto. It’s really just those two.”

John Hodgman: “There are few things that make me happier than smelling of the sea and eating beef jerky and talking on the phone to a website.”

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