The Year in Interviews
There was a lot to talk about in 2017, which is why we interviewed a record 200+ people from every corner of the comedy world. We heard from some of the most influential names in comedy, stars of TV and film, up-and-coming standups, timeless entertainers, podcast gods, and pop culture heatseekers about their careers, politics, relationships, opinions, and more. Here are some of the most hilarious, honest, insightful, and bizarre quotes from our year of interviews.
Mark Normand: A lot of people dismiss the insults, but I’m like, “Well, then why aren’t you dismissing the compliments too? Maybe the compliments are wrong.” I read everything.
Jason Sklar: When you hold in a shit for too long it starts to get painful. When you actually purge it and release there is a feeling of euphoria and relief.
Mike Birbiglia: There’s a famous quote of George Carlin’s where he says, “I don’t need 99% of America to like me. I just need 1% to love me.” Something like that. I think that’s an entirely true sentiment and I think it can make way for truly great work. It’s not enough to do something that’s good anymore. It’s only interesting if it’s great. If you’re just aiming for good, go home. Great is the only thing that has a chance of enduring.
Corrine Fisher: Dan Savage always says when he gets the question, “How do you know when you’re capable to giving advice?” — he says that when you start getting asked for advice, that’s when you know you’re capable of giving it. And that’s how I feel about the book.
Jon Daly: The main lesson is don’t get kidnapped. And don’t participate in pageant culture.
Jason Mantzoukas: This business is difficult in the sense that there is no model. There are people you can try and model yourself after, but you can’t have anybody else’s career. You can only have yours and you can try and figure it out as best you can.
Deon Cole: I look at comedy like magic. If I’ve got the ball in this hand and I shake my hand and it’s gone, that’s how punchlines should be. You shouldn’t be able to read that shit. It’s magic.
Tom Scharpling: Everybody’s gotta figure their own way to whatever their thing is. It depends on what your goals are. If your goals are to get on Saturday Night Live then you probably should go to UCB or go get some real improv training so you can be good at that, but then there’s people who have gotten through the door without any of that too. There’s no right way to get wherever you want to get. You just got to stay in it.
John C. McGinley: If you can clock that and put it in your memory bank and reference greatness from time to time, I think it’ll give you a map on how to avoid mediocrity. If you’re lucky enough to have been exposed to greatness or been a part of it, that’s a gift.
Find Me in the Club
Jackie Kashian: The one thing I would say that’s instrumental in making a good comedy scene is: don’t care about your competition. If you’re a club owner, don’t care if the comics that are going up at your place go up at the other places.
Maz Jobrani: Some of my best growing moments were when I was in front of three people at 1:30 in the morning and I had to abandon my set to just talk to them about who I was and where I was. The closer you become onstage to who you are offstage, I think that’s the evolution of a comedian. Those hard moments you find at open mic nights at 1:30 in the morning, those are the things that make you a good standup.
Baron Vaughn: The smaller an audience is, the more self-conscious they are. People are always looking at each other to see who is laughing. Because the thing about laughter is that it exposes who you are.
Sasheer Zamata: I don’t mind the squirming…I’d rather you squirm and think about something you’ve never thought about before than be perfectly comfortable and just be like, “Wow, what an easy show!”
Chris Gethard: For the first six months or so of performing the show I would get on stage and start shaking. There were times I would cry. There were times I’d get off stage and realize I made a joke about something that I never even talked to my wife about.
Anthony DeVito: I guess I wish they saw all the rooms and the shows where all these jokes just bombed. I wish they saw the parts leading up to it. Because anything you see in comedy, for the most part, the real exposure that we get is large media like television, Netflix, whatever it is. So you’re just seeing a finished product at one time.
Janelle James: I didn’t want to do New York because I do a lot of shows here and I wanted new laughs. I wanted those shock laughs, that party/going out atmosphere that’s hard to get in New York because everybody is so used to seeing comedy here.
Michelle Wolf: I work 10 to 12 hours a day at the show, but I get up probably between 13 and 20 times a week. I go out every night after work to do standup, 1, 2, 3, spots and night during the week and as many as I can on the weekends.
Guy Branum: Publicists have ruined talk shows. They have turned them into these choreographed, boring activities that no one wants to participate in and no one wants to watch.
Eliot Glazer: My main obsession is Ashlee Simpson…because she’s not a musician, she’s not a singer. She comes from money and her sister was a pop star. So to watch this completely untalented singer try to build a career with the help of MTV and with the help of her songwriters despite not being able to sing is the strangest experiment I’ve ever seen. She’s sort of like a dumb teenager driving around in a Lexus meeting with middle-aged songwriters who are really crafting good pop songs for like an empty vessel.
Brandon Wardell: I think at a certain point you just can’t avoid having dumb fans. There’s a lot of people that appreciate me that I think are smart, thoughtful, funny people, but there are definitely people that are fans of mine that are fucking dumb. Everybody just has a certain percentage of fans where if they met them they would fucking hate that person.
Tony Hinchcliffe: A lot of these guys go and do their specials in a theater and I know for a fact they’re not doing theaters. Some of them I know for a fact haven’t even opened for big people in theaters like I’ve been doing for years.
Casey James Salengo: There’s definitely been a few instances where it’s like, “Oh, you didn’t really fuck with me before and now you seem interested. That’s strange.”
Richard Lewis: I’m sure you’ve dealt with so many comics who find it a burden to discuss the craft. I despise those people. Well, some of them are a little eccentric, so they can’t help it.
Kyle Kinane: I don’t understand how it became this gimmick. Someone will be like, “I’m putting out an album every month for a year.” Why? You’re just wasting plastic.
JB Smoove: There are a lot of angry comedians. Why do we need one more?
Gilbert Gottfried: He said, “I’ve always dreamt of doing a Gilbert Gottfried documentary,” and I said to him, “You should set your dreams a lot higher.”
Hail to the Chief
John Cleese: I think anybody who comes to my show assuming that I’m going to be pro-Trump is stretching things a bit.
Jena Friedman: I remember one time during the Edinburgh run mentioning Donald Trump onstage and everybody just laughed because it was such an absurd idea that he would even be running.
Joe Mande: I’m not a psychiatrist and I don’t have a medical degree of any sort, but I do think that it’s maybe because we are all living in a hellscape and we have to find any way we can to get out of the everyday horror that is the Trump administration.
Anthony Atamanuik: Sometimes, people say that doing anti-Trump satire is pointless because it won’t get him out of office, and I don’t agree with that all. It’s about providing relief from the emotional stress of having Trump in office.
Patton Oswalt: What’s scary about Trump is that it’s shit that we dream up as bad jokes and then it becomes a reality.
Back in the Day
Jonah Ray: The first showbiz meeting I ever had was in 2003 and I had a general meeting with some agency, and they do that general meeting thing where they were like, “What would the YOU show be?” And I said, “Oh, I would be the host of Mystery Science Theater. We should bring it back and I should be the host.” And then they laughed at me.
Rory Scovel: When I first started doing that Southern character, and even this German character, there was something I liked about getting introduced as myself and kind of leaving a big question mark as to why I was doing these characters. When I first started doing them I didn’t really have a reason, other than it made me laugh and I thought it was funny.
Lauren Lapkus: I feel like we’re in a time where even children have an opinion of the president because their parents talk about politics so much. When I was a kid, I didn’t even care who the president was. So that feels like a better time than today.
Wyatt Cenac: As somebody who started out in LA, when I was coming up there weren’t really show producers in the way that there were when I got to New York. In Los Angeles, usually the comedian was the one producing and hosting their own show.
Yamaneika Saunders: When I first started doing comedy I would go up and be like, “Oh, blah, blah, blah, blah,” and it wasn’t connecting. My grandmother said, “You have to be careful because you’re a black woman and you’re big and people are going to think you’re just a fool. Don’t let people think you’re a fool.”
Lynne Koplitz: When we were kids it was a prison yard. It was the same rules that they have in jail: watch your ass, try to get as much gum and candy that you can trade for shit, get a good friend in the yard, and try to stay alive. These kids don’t have it now. Everything is a safe space with no bullying. We didn’t have a safe space.
Demetri Martin: I think before I did standup, I don’t know if I’d say I was “funnier” off stage, or maybe I was “on” more, but I was using that part of my brain.
Amy Sedaris: I liked doing Strangers back in 1999 because Comedy Central never really got behind the show, but I think that worked to our advantage because we were just out in the woods making each other laugh.
Brian Regan: I definitely had the middle child syndrome where I just wanted to fit in, serve my little role as fourth out of eight, enjoy my older brothers, enjoy my younger brothers and sisters, just kind of fit into the family. It seemed to work out all right.
Martin Starr: Freaks and Geeks is obviously entirely the reason that I’m currently working. The fact that I got to be a part of that show, I’d probably be a veterinarian right now if it wasn’t for that show.
Matters of the Heart
Jamie Lee: It is weird getting used to saying “my husband” because that word feels very serious and very mature. I don’t feel like a mature person. When I say “my husband” I feel like I’m doing the impression of a married person.
Chris D’Elia: Not to get all heady, but I’m just as lost as everyone else. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m just trying to take it day by day. My career has been the thing that I’m mainly focused on, so I hope it’s not making too many of my relationships suffer.
Kurt Braunohler: I understand where that fear comes from, but if anything, I think it has had a positive impact because we constantly have to look at our relationship and talk about it. It puts us in a place where we have to go through our issues together. I think it’s actually been good for us.
Just Nesh: I have actually signed up, but I’ve never dated anybody, never met anybody. I just wanted to go and see who was actually on there. There are farmers on there, but I’ve never hooked up with a farmer.
Nik Dodani: I’ve been having a lot of teenagers online reaching out telling me how much they like the show, asking me for dating advice. I just tell them to do the exact opposite of what my character says and you’ll be okay.
Christina P: Tom (Segura) and I like to work together as friends, comedians, husband and wife. The show is a wonderful world that we step into every week — and we have adult responsibilities now. We were just two douchebags living in this hipster neighborhood with no responsibilities and now we’re this adult couple with the mortgage, a baby, careers.
Jim Norton: The advantage to being a public person is that you attract like-minded people. There are a lot of women who would never go out with me because of the things I say, but the ones who do tend to like the same stuff I do.
Neal Brennan: I watched Bo’s (Burnham) last special and it was great. It was more Birbiglia’s Girlfriend’s Boyfriend thing. I watched Birbiglia’s special, and it made me want to do something more narrative. It felt evolved, you know?
Laurie Kilmartin: When I see “thoughts and prayers” I think Anthony Jeselnik and roll my eyes.
Kamau Bell: There’s also a checkered history of comedian books, and the stakes have been raised by Tina Fey, so I really didn’t want to write a bad one.
John Mulaney: I remember Wolf Blitzer was in the third row one night and I walked out and was like “Oh my God, Wolf Blitzer’s here.” And then I was like, “I don’t care about Wolf Blitzer.”
Will Ferrell: Amy (Poehler) and I both share that love of the Andy Kaufman-esque experience where you go off and do something that a small percentage of your audience will appreciate and find funny but 70% will be like, “What were you thinking? What the hell was that?” But after a while, that 70% slowly starts to catch up to it. But those are always the most fun, fulfilling projects.
Kevin McDonald: My favorite artist/musician of all time is John Lennon. He could do two things: imagination and personal, soulful stuff. He could do “I Am the Walrus” and he could do his first solo album, which is all about him quitting The Beatles and meeting Yoko. I love both things. I can go back and forth very happily. John Lennon is my inspiration.
Dana Gould: One of my favorite aspects to that is that Laura Kightlinger would always insist on being introduced as “Funny Man Laura Kightlinger.” That’s amazing.
The Social Network(s)
Andy Kindler: I think I have a problem with social networking. I’ve had it for a while. I got a program to show me how long I’ve been on Twitter and all of those. Sometimes it’s four hours at a time that I’m on Twitter. That’s not good.
James Davis: I wanted to bring the energy of the Snapchat show over to the TV show. I wanted to take the youthful, vibrant feel of the Snapchat show and find a way to translate it into a 22-minute show for Comedy Central.
Alex Blagg: Of course, there was also somewhat of a backlash to it. People got annoyed at their Twitter feed overflowing with people playing the hashtag game.
Justin Long: I live in New York and you see it every day; it’s become exponential the number of people you see on their phones living through this device, through social media. It’s scary but it’s also interesting, and I think, hopefully, we were able to find the humor in it.
Jonny Sun: Even before writing the book I had been writing longer-form personal essays on Instagram, and I realized that a lot of those thoughts were centered around solitude and the idea of what it means to be comfortable being yourself and being by yourself and taking up space as one person in the world.
Big Screen, Small Screen
Jason Jones: My one takeaway from The Daily Show, from Jon in fact, was always that the best pieces are making a point, telling a great story, and also leaving you on the floor laughing.
Jim O’Heir: One of the things that happened was that people saw me for seven years as the punching bag, the lovable, laughable Jerry Gergich. Which was awesome. But I’m an actor. So it just seemed like I needed to do something to get out of that Hollywood box and prove myself.
Jim Jefferies: I never thought I would be a TV host. I always had my eye on acting. Turns out I probably wasn’t that great an actor. My decision to stop acting wasn’t made by me. It was made by the general public. Let’s see if they decide to stop me from being a TV host as well.
Emily V. Gordon: You’re an expert in your life. I’m an expert in the skills that I’ve learned. Together we’ll figure it out. I thought about that with Judd and Showalter too. Kumail and I are the experts at what happened to us, and they’re the experts at making movies. So together we can create a story.
Edgar Wright: I hope this doesn’t get our interview kicked off of Splitsider but I wouldn’t actually call Baby Driver an action-comedy. I think it’s more of an action-thriller that is funny throughout.
Rob Huebel: Strangely, I get recognized for The League. That show is on Netflix and I’ve only been on it like six times, but people who watch that show are obsessed with it.
Pamela Adlon: I don’t know whether to shit or go blind when I’m in the editing room. If you saw me in there I’m a mess. I’m screaming, jumping up, shouting, cheering, crying hysterically, I’m in a ball, I’m shaking. It’s unbelievable. It’s the greatest feeling in the world.
Jonathan Katz: Most comedians I’ve known could probably benefit from therapy.
Ron Funches: I read a lot of Teen Titans, I read some Batman, I read some Green Lantern, and I read this one called Kill or Be Killed, but it’s more for adults.
Joe DeRosa: Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. The show makes me incredibly happy. It’s the best thing to put on if you don’t want to be stressed and just want to be in a good mood.
Kristen Bartlett: I am not religious, but I am spiritual in that I subscribe to Oprah magazine.
Jen Kirkman: I always feel confident and badass when I come home from traveling alone.
Eden Sher: Am I a crier? What kind of a question is that? Am I a weeper? Am I crier at things that should not ever illicit tears? The answer is: Yes.
Judd Apatow: I’ve always been in somewhat of an existential nightmare of my own creation, except now it’s becoming more vivid. I’m definitely someone who is obsessed with time. I’ve always been tracking it in probably very unhealthy ways. I’m not very religious, so I don’t have a ton to lean on spiritually, but I’ve tried to be open to new spiritual ideas. I’ll crack open some Buddhism books or some Eckhart Tolle, but I don’t think it gives me as much comfort as I wish it would.
Maria Bamford: I remember I had this wonderful psychiatrist who just sat down on my bed and said “Well, tell me everything from the beginning.” I was like “Oh my God, you’ve opened up a can of worms.”
Doug Stanhope: I don’t go to doctors. That would ruin everything, I’m sure.
Nick Swardson: My diet is actually pretty good. I just eat a shitload of crystal meth.
Left, Right, Middle
Moshe Kasher: The left has taken the moniker of comedian and run with it. All you have to do is be a slightly clever activist and you can call yourself a comedian on the left.
Kumail Nanjiani: I think every comedian has to decide on their own what their responsibility is. We are living in such a specific time. It’s rare. Usually when something sort of crazy happens, most people used to want to look away and want escapism. But I think right now people don’t want that. I think people actually want to be engaged.
Lewis Black: One of the things that makes America work is the fact that the people that you side with, if you start to really spend a lot of time with them, will irritate you as much as the people that you are fighting against.
Jordan Klepper: Guns are a microcosm for American politics. It’s not about guns, it’s about how we talk about guns. That’s what we’re focusing on. When we talk about guns, we’re not really talking about guns – we’re talking about family, or tradition, or patriotism, or safety, or terrorism.
Lizz Winstead: Digging deeper and seeing that it turns out when a bunch of dudes run media conglomerates, they’re not looking at women’s issues as human rights and they’re not looking at reproductive rights issues as issues that everyone should care about. Women don’t get pregnant from vibrators.
Ari Shaffir: The attitude here that I’ve found in people who are going to comedy clubs is that they’re for a woman’s right to choose, but then they also think something is wrong with you if you’re doing it.
Nick Kroll: We’re all just humans, we all have bodies, we can cover them up and there’s a time and place for everything. But we all have penises and vaginas, and it only becomes something weird and gross and sexual if we make it that way.
Judah Friedlander: Not only do I satirize the US government…and not just the current administration, but previous administrations too. The multiple problems this country has aren’t specific to just the current administration. I think things are worse with the current administration, but they didn’t create a lot of these problems.
Jeff Foxworthy: I always avoided the political stuff because when you get into it half the audience hates you. My job is to make everybody laugh.
Anna Suzuki: I feel like diversity is becoming really hot in comedy and entertainment right now, but I still can’t relate to most things on TV. There’s Fresh Off the Boat, but my family is not 100% Asian. A lot of times I don’t feel Asian enough for Asian people or white enough for white people so I feel like I don’t really belong anywhere.
Vir Das: My act is an unapologetically Indian act, but I think it’s pretty universal. When I walk into an American club I say, “Look, I talk like this. This is my Indian accent. It’s not a bit. I’m not doing an Apu from The Simpsons routine.”
Al Madrigal: When you talk about diversity in Hollywood, the people creating and running the shows are a lot of the same people. Now that has changed, but still it’s an overwhelmingly white male territory.
Hasan Minhaj: It’s not about being ambassador for the community, because I’m sure I’ve done things that many people within different communities might disapprove of, I just wanted to be authentic to what it was like being a Desi kid growing up in America, what it was like behind closed doors in my house, what it was like trying to pursue my dreams, all that stuff.
Will Choi: I think that whoever is calling the shots is afraid of change, and they’re afraid of trying something new. Because they have this model that was working for a while, where you just have the top A-lister guy or girl that usually is white, not always, but usually. Now we’re seeing that that’s not really the case anymore.
Open Mike Eagle: I feel like part of the barrier to people being able to empathize with black people’s trauma now is that a lot of times people’s expectations of black lives in America are set up in such a way that when these traumas happen it’s not seen as any sort of surprise.
Colton Dunn: Santina Muha is a comedian and a consultant on the show. I brought her in while I was doing the pilot just trying to get her input on how to integrate that into the show and get some ideas on the ideal way to handle it as somebody who uses a wheelchair but still allowing them as funny and not feeling like we can’t talk about it at all. But also not feeling like we’re exploiting it or anything like that. She’s great.
Jay Pharaoh: I think people saying racially insensitive things that they don’t think are racially insensitive because they “have a black friend” and all that, those scenarios I’ve experienced a lot.
Joel Kim Booster: The horror of being a double minority in this industry and having everything you do either pathologized or politicized is tough to deal with. It’s tough to hear other comedians talk about the horrors of the diversity hire.
Hari Kondabolu: A lot of those early roles [for South Asian actors] were of cab drivers, gas station attendants, and convenience store owners. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong inherently with being in those jobs, because there were a lot of South Asians who had those jobs. I just wish I got to hear their voices. I just wish I got to hear their stories.
Donwill: The Seeso version of Night Train came pretty close to checking almost all of the dream job boxes, especially the second season, which you guys will hopefully get to see… hopefully.
Kulap Vilaysack: The people at Seeso are the kind of people who go to UCB shows, listen to WFMU, know all the podcasts. They know that there are comedy superstars in the making right now.
Matt Besser: I think Seeso is the hottest place for comedy right now.