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Talking to Kumail Nanjiani and Jonah Ray About 'The Meltdown'

The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail premieres on Comedy Central tonight as an eight-episode, half-hour standup showcase based on the very popular weekly alt show hosted by Kumail Nanjiani and Jonah Ray in Meltdown Comics’ NerdMelt Theater and produced by Emily Gordon. The show will feature a range of comedians many of whom have appeared on the live show in the four years it’s been a part of the Los Angeles comedy scene including Marc Maron, Jim Gaffigan, Adam Scott, Maria Bamford, and Moshe Kasher.

I caught up with Nanjiani and Ray and talked with them about translating their show to TV, working with director Lance Bangs, and making the kind of show they’d never seen before. READ MORE

Humor Sickness: What Makes Comedians Tick?

Announcing your innermost insecurities and self-aggrandizing fantasies in public would generally be considered a strong indicator of mental illness — but when you add a mic and a drink minimum, we call it comedy. 

Conventional wisdom (admittedly the least cool kind of wisdom) holds that many comedians exhibit a similar and curious mix of maladjusted personality traits: the narcissism and egocentrism that allow a person to stand in front of an audience and share their thoughts, coupled with the seemingly-opposed neuroses and self-loathing that makes those thoughts hilarious. Google “(Your Favorite Comedian’s Name)” + “narcissist” or “(Your Favorite Comedian’s Name)” + “self-loathing” and you will most likely see these accusations in action. If nothing else, this armchair diagnosis has been lobbed at enough standups (by critics, by hecklers, by door-slamming exes, and often by the comedians themselves) to warrant further investigation. Without this stereotype of emotionally troubled comics, would we have the WTF with Marc Maron, or Louie, or any of Maria Bamford’s amazing work? If comics don’t have a special streak of crazy, then what was Dr. Katz about? It seems that this strange combination of self-obsession and self-hatred has launched thousands of hilarious people off of their therapists’ couches and up on stage. But is it pathological? Are comedians their very own sickness? READ MORE

The Inside Story of The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail

“I’ve always been fascinated with the moment people go from being a just a group in a room to one unit – for me, that’s the most interesting thing on the planet,” says Emily Gordon, co-producer of The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail. “Movies do that, and church does that, and comedy shows do that, and I always wanted to make an environment where that happens.”

Every Wednesday night, it happens in an unlikely place: the dim, unfinished back room of a comic book shop on Sunset Boulevard. 

Just a few blocks east of Los Angeles’ biggest comedy clubs, the NerdMelt Showroom is home to one of the most welcoming and well-respected stages in the city. Over the past four years the theater’s flagship show, The Meltdown, has hosted hundreds of incredible lineups while cultivating a uniquely inclusive atmosphere, making it as much a clubhouse for comedy nerds as it is a coveted credit for comics. Hosts Jonah Rayand Kumail Nanjiani bring infectious energy each week, peppering recurring bits, unplanned tangents, and conversations with the crowd in between The Meltdown’s billed acts and frequent unannounced guests.  Fans know they’re just as likely to see a drop-in from Louis CK (or Robin Williams, or Sarah Silverman…) as they’re likely to be surprised by pies from the producers around Thanksgiving, or to be encouraged to dress up like their favorite comedians around Halloween. READ MORE

Sheng Wang on New York and San Francisco's Standup Scenes

Over a decade into his standup career, Sheng Wang has amassed a list of credits that includes Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, John Oliver's New York Stand-Up Show, and his own Comedy Central Presents special. Wang, who came up via San Francisco's comedy scene, currently resides in New York, where he plays both alt rooms and clubs. Wang is one of several comedians, alongside Janeane Garofalo, Eugene Mirman, and Michael Che, featured in A Night at Whiplash, a Splitsider-produced standup concert movie based on Leo Allen's long-running live standup showcase Whiplash. I recently had the chance to talk to Sheng Wang about his beginnings in comedy, when he knew he would actually have a career as a standup, and performing in both San Francisco and New York. READ MORE

Holden Caulfield Applies for an HR Position, by Dan Morey

Greg Roman
Integrated Software
48 Detmire Road
White Plains, NY 10601

Dear Mr. Roman,

I’m writing to apply for the goddam HR Manager position you advertised in the New York Times. I’ve enclosed my résumé and three references from real hot-shots.The opportunity in your ad is very interesting and all. You wouldn’t believe how enthusiastic I am about it. You really wouldn’t. My brother D.B. says I’m a born HR man, and he’s a terrific judge of character. At least he used to be before he moved out to Hollywood and started writing all those rotten movies. D.B. is really just a prostitute now.

Anyway, I guess my experience and education make me a pretty big deal. The keys to my success in human resources are:

  • Being a people person. People are certainly wonderful and all.
  • Being able to spot a phony. Do you want a bunch of goddam phonies working at your company? I’ll weed the bastards out.
  • Being good at writing and communicating stuff. I passed English every term and wrote a very descriptive essay about my brother Allie’s baseball mitt. (Enclosed)
  • Being able to manage conflicts without socking anyone. I try not to fight too much. I mean it. It’s not that I’m yellow—though I am a little yellow—but more that I’m a pacifist and all.
  • Being sexy as hell, when I’m in the mood.

READ MORE

Joe Zimmerman on His Comedy Central 'Half Hour' and Staying in NYC

Self-proclaimed "ambassador of joy" Joe Zimmerman is in a New York state of mind. The comedian is putting down serious roots in what he callsthe place to go if you want to be a standup comic.” And who can blame him? The city is treating him and his career quite well. After making his Comedy Central debut last year on John Oliver’s New York Stand Up Show, Zimmerman is now preparing for the release of his Comedy Central Half Hour special this Friday. I talked to him about his comedy roots, the NYC scene and how West Virgina is kind of like Ireland. READ MORE

Follow Friday: Kate Hendricks (@KateTheWasp)

A lot of Twitter users take to the platform to test out their latest jokes and quips, but certain people truly excel at making us laugh with the available characters and constraints. With the Internet being such a big place, it can be difficult to find the comedians most worthy of your RTs and favs. Each Friday we feature one person whose consistent short-form online humor deserves your attention and to be on your Twitter feed.

This week, we're highlighting the Twitter feed of Kate Hendricks. The New York comedian and writer regularly performs standup around the city and has appeared on The View. She's also the creator and star of her web series Kate the Wasp. Check out some of her best tweets below:

READ MORE

Joe Wengert on His 'Half Hour' Special and Writing for Three Very Different TV Shows

With a half hour special under his belt, Joe Wengert's standup career is taking off, so it’s not hard to believe that he's also an accomplished improviser. Wengert ran the UCB Theatre's school in New York and then in LA and still regularly performs improv at the LA theater with the team The Smokes in addition to the long-running show ASSSSCAT. His TV writing credits are impressive as well: Wengert has written for Kroll Show, Comedy Bang! Bang! and Playing House. You can catch his episode of The Half Hour this Friday, July 18th, at 12:30 am.

I got to talk to Joe about preparing for The Half Hour, writing for three different TV shows, and emojis. READ MORE

David Rees on How to Make a "How-To" Show

Fans of the 2001-2009 comic strip Get Your War On will be happy to know that David Rees, the man behind the cult classic political send-up, is back with a new project. Only this time, Rees has his sights set on ice cubes, shoelaces, and holes.

Going Deep with David Rees, which premiered Monday on National Geographic channel, is a how-to show that puts tasks we take for granted – say, swatting a fly – under the microscope. It’s a testament to Rees’s abilities as a humorist that he’s so easily able to pivot from blunt critiques of post-9/11 U.S. politics to the dry, though entirely earnest wit he brings to his show explaining the best way to open doors.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Rees about his new show, how he came to be involved with artisanal pencil sharpening, and why he was relieved to discover the scientific community loves heavy metal. READ MORE

'SNL' Firing New Cast Members Displays a Show Still Deeply In Transition

Word has come down this week that SNL cast members Noël Wells, John Milhiser, and Brooks Wheelan have been let go from the show after one season, with Nasim Pedrad also leaving to work as a regular on Mulaney (a move that has long been anticipated) and Mike O'Brien's status currently in talks. Their departures don't come as too huge a shock — as we recapped at the end of last season, the three saw little screen time and had few memorable moments during the season. And while it must come as a disappointment to those actors and their fans, let's not forget that at least a third of everyone who has ever appeared in the SNL cast has done so for only one season, putting the three of them in the company of one-and-done cast members turned comedy stars like Ben Stiller, Sarah Silverman, Damon Wayans, Rob Riggle, Jenny Slate, and Iron Man. Considering Season 39 saw the largest cast SNL ever had, and first-year cast members are always on the chopping block, it's not surprising that a few cast members would get axed. We look forward to seeing what they do with a year of SNL exposure under their belts.

This casting change takes place well into SNL's transitional era, which began when Kristen Wiig and Andy Samberg left in 2012, followed by Bill Hader, Jason Sudeikis, and Fred Armisen in 2013, followed by Seth Meyers in 2014. At the start of last season, the three (possibly four) recent cuts joined the cast along with Kyle Mooney, Beck Bennett, and, later in the season, Sasheer Zamata and Colin Jost, making it one of the largest cast increases ever. Mooney, Bennett, and Zamata each had average first seasons, occasionally providing the show with the spark it hopes for from its newcomers, even if they didn't immediately capture viewers' adoration like Cecily Strong and Kate McKinnon did in their early episodes. However, the fact that SNL is firing half of the new talent it intended to replace its departed stars indicates that Lorne Michaels is still figuring out what the show's future will be. In other words, the "rebuilding year" enters Year Three. READ MORE

This Week in Web Videos: 'The Comedy Nut '

Created by Gregg Zehentner (The Nut, himself), Pat Stango, and Clayton Gumbert, The Comedy Nut doesn’t seem to be much of a novel undertaking at first glance. A weird interviewer makes straight men feel sort of uncomfortable — that’s our premise, and it’s one that everyone from Martin Short's Jiminy Glick to Zach Galifianikis’s morose cynic in Between Two Ferns are very familiar with. What makes The Comedy Nut unique is a subtle lampooning of the trope we’ve all come to know and love. READ MORE

Paul Scheer on 'The Hotwives of Orlando' and All the Other Stuff He's Working On

Paul Scheer is crazy busy. Now that the full first season of his most recent show, The Hotwives of Orlando, is available on Hulu, Scheer is moving full steam ahead with tons of other projects, from developing a cartoon with Adult Swim to an anthology series with HBO. He’ll also be starring in season six of The League on FXX, which is set to debut this fall, and releasing a comedy special with Rob Huebel based on their live UCB show Crash Test. Scheer talks about always wanting to keep things fresh, whether through the podcast, How Did This Get Made?, which he hosts with Jason Mantzoukas and his wife June Diane Raphael, or through writing a Marvel comic book, something he did for fun earlier this year.

The creator and star of Adult Swim’s NTSF:SD:SUV and an alum of Childrens Hospital, Human Giant and Burning Love, Scheer is no stranger to parodies, but he hopes that The Hotwives of Orlando goes beyond parody with its own fully fleshed-out characters. Scheer executive produced the show and actually plays the executive producer, Matty Green, who plugs his fake Hotwives Cooldown after-show at the end of each episode.

I got to talk to Scheer about Hotwives, the future of NTSF, and his desire to always stay busy. READ MORE

Brian Huskey on UCB, Improv, and Being a Character Actor

Brian Huskey might have once been "that guy," recognized for his work in commercials and film and TV, but the actor and UCB-trained improviser has built a career as a quick-thinking talent able to sink into a role — often a soft-spoken or buttoned-up character — that Huskey makes his own and twists into something more complex. Huskey played an empty-headed panelist in Onion News Network videos before he began appearing regularly as the unbalanced EMT Chet on Childrens Hospital, and he's been popping up in shows and movies all over, including a memorable scene in This Is The End and on shows like Workaholics, Parks and Rec, Bob's Burgers, and Veep.

Now, Huskey plays as a high school principal in Premature, a high-concept teen sex comedy from writer-director Dan Beers about a day in the life of overachieving and anxiety-ridden senior Rob (John Karna). It could have gone better: Rob ends a day of humiliation after having started it waking up to his mom walking in on him after he'd just had a wet dream, later being hit with a squirt gun full of piss, failing to nail a crucial interview with a Georgetown recruiter (Alan Tudyk) to his father's disappointment, feeling pressure from his friend (Craig Roberts) to have sex with the hot girl he tutors (Carlson Young), and blowing off his good friend (Katie Findlay) for the chance of losing his virginity, which he botches. Then he repeats it. Groundhog Day would have been the closest comparison to the premise of Premature were it not for Edge of Tomorrow, since, like the way Tom Cruise's character resets the day himself by dying, Rob resets it whenever he orgasms.

I talked with Huskey about the movie, improv, and how he's made a career of acting. READ MORE

Saturday Night's Children: Tom Schiller (1979-1980)

Saturday Night Live has been home to over a hundred cast members throughout the past 38 years. In our column Saturday Night’s Children, we present the history, talent, and best sketches of one SNL cast member every other week for your viewing, learning, and laughing pleasure.

While it's true that The Lonely Island helped kick-start a new era for pretaped SNL segments, the Digital Short is far from a new concept for the show. Following the short films of Albert Brooks and Gary Weis, SNL writer Tom Schiller sometimes injected the show with artsy, often black-and-white "miniature movies." Schiller was also one of the writers to be promoted to featured player for the show's fifth season, but he's much less known for his brief cast member stint than he is for his reverse-prophecy short starring John Belushi, or — thanks to a recent uptick in online appreciation — his never-released oddball sci-fi feature Nothing Lasts Forever costarring SNL alums Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd. READ MORE