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Turning the Show Around with Big Jay Oakerson

bigjayEvery time I’ve seen Big Jay Oakerson, I’ve seen a different (but always hilarious) act. He’s certainly not alone in the growing genre of comedy based almost entirely on crowd work, but he does particularly define why it has become so popular.

We listen to comedians like Mike Birbiglia to hear a funny, intricate story, comedians like Louis CK to hear brilliant takes on simple opinions, and comedians like Steven Wright to hear how absurd our world can be when jumbled up and rearranged. We listen to comedians like Big Jay Oakerson to remember that humor isn’t always something rehearsed: at its core, humor is just part of your surroundings.

Oakerson’s podcast Legion of Skanks is a testament to Oakerson’s organic ability to be funny on any topic. His upcoming album, The Crowd Work Sessions: What's Your F@!?#ng Deal?! (out November 17th), promises to be another hour of off-the-cuff, homegrown wit that can catch even the most refined sensibilities off-guard. I had the chance to talk with Oakerson about Legion of Skanks, the new album, and how he developed his confidence onstage. READ MORE

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How the Birthday Boys Found Their Footing in Their Second Season

birthdayboysWatching The Birthday Boys feels strangely candid. Their antics and self-described "stupidity" are immersed in a sort of all-inclusive comradery that dates back 10 years, to their time together at Ithaca College. Since moving to LA, the troupe has performed out of UCB LA alongside sketch troupe A Kiss From Daddy, produced numerous shorts for Funny or Die, and performed at the Montreal's Just for Laughs.

In 2013, none other than Bob Odenkirk agreed to collaborate with the troupe (consisting of Mike Hanford, Matt Kowalick, Jefferson Dutton, Tim Kalpakis, Chris VanArtsdalen, Mike Mitchell, and Dave Ferguson), to produce their show for IFC, The Birthday Boys.

After a successful first season, the boys have been hard at work developing sketches for the next season, which promises to include the likes of Tony Hale, Dana Carvey, Fabio, Jack Black, Tim & Eric (Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim), Scott Aukerman, Carmen Electra, Chris Elliott, Horatio Sanz, and Paul Scheer.

Coming down off the whirlwind of preparation and promotion of the next season (premiering Friday), I had the chance to chat with Tim Kalpakis, Jeff Dutton, and Mike Hanford about their thoughts on the upcoming season and the delicacies of Upstate New York. READ MORE

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Cameron Esposito and the Business of Being Herself

cameron-espositoCameron Esposito is honestly hilarious and hilariously honest. She is vest-obsessed and unbeatably upbeat. These characteristics make for a live comic performance you'd be hard-pressed to find elsewhere, and lucky for us, it translates beautifully to her latest album Same Sex Symbol (out tomorrow). Esposito also runs a biweekly standup show and podcast Put Your Hands Together at UCB LA, writes a regular column for The A.V. Club entitled "Who In The World Is Cameron Esposito?", and is pretty much constantly performing anywhere from Los Angeles to Montreal. Amidst all of this, I recently got the chance to talk with the woman whom Jay Leno personally dubbed “the future of comedy.”

So you recorded your most recent album, Same Sex Symbol, in Portland. That crowd seemed really receptive! It seemed like an amazing set.

It was awesome! Portland was a great city for me. It’s a great city in general to do comedy because it’s big enough and they have enough arts exposure — they’re really excited about comedy and they know comics specifically by name. They have a nice scene but it's not so enormous that it’s not still a treat for you to be playing there. There’re a couple cities that have a balance like that, like Denver is like that, where it’s just like “Oh it’s so cool you’re here! Thanks for being here!”

At one point while recording the album, you had an interaction with an audience member named Julep, and you devoted an entire track of the album to her. She was literally in tears of joy just from seeing you perform live. That's sweet, but is there any story behind that? Did you meet her after the show at all?

That was a thing that happened. It was real. I looked out in the audience and I could only see the first two or three rows because of the lights, but I could see that there was a woman who was just covering her face in a weird way, and I just want to make sure she was okay. My whole thing is that I’m like trying to check in with them and move together through things so I was trying to figure out what was going on and she was crying tears of joy because she got to see me. I found out later when I met her after the show that she had driven down to LA to see me tape Put Your Hands Together and she'd loved the show. Then on her way back to Portland she got in a big car accident and she, like, flipped her car and survived, but it was a really tough time and she was super scared. Then she got to see me in Portland and I think for her it was just this moment of like not only does she like my comedy enough to drive from Portland to LA but also that she made it and she got to see that next show. READ MORE

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Inside Rachel Bloom's Showtime Pilot 'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend'

rachel_bloomRachel Bloom made her first big splash in 2010 with the hilarious short "Fuck Me Ray Bradbury," which was so successful that Rachel had the honor of being present for Bradbury's first time watching it. Since then, she's produced numerous other successful and equally hysterical shorts, released two albums (Please Love Me and Suck It, Christmas!!! A Chanukah Album), produced a short Disney musical parody, and written for and voiced characters on Robot Chicken.

Bloom, together with Aline Brosh McKenna, is now developing a musical television series for Showtime, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. The show will follow Rebecca (played by Bloom), who leaves her job in a prestigious New York law firm in pursuit of love in West Covina, California.

Bloom and I recently had a chance to chat about how her experience in sketch, writing, and musical productions has helped prepare her for this opportunity. READ MORE

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The Art of Holding Nothing Back with Chris Laker

chrislakerChris Laker has nothing to hide. For fans of comics like Marc Maron or Patrice O'Neil, that can only mean better comedy. Laker has cycled through multiple career aspirations, gone through rehab, been married, divorced, accepted, and rejected. On their podcast This Week in Jackin', Laker and Myka Fox delve into the masturbation habits and history of comedians such as Mark Normand, Giulia Rozzi, Dan St. Germain, and Ted Alexandro. Nothing is off limits.

Together with New Wave, Laker has released his first album, Moments of Greatness. On the album, Laker reveals some of the most intimate details of his life, as well as his take on topics that most people keep to themselves. Laker has honed a talent for elegantly discussing any subject matter with a level of ease usually reserved for those who know us best. Moments of Greatness stands right at the intersection of intimate and universal, and the result is an album that simply should not be cast aside.

I recently had the chance to talk with Laker about his journey into comedy, his views on the "alt comedy" label, and what topics he finds just don't fly with audiences. READ MORE

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Mike Birbiglia and the Importance and Power of Jokes

MikeBirbigliaMike Birbiglia has a very unique ability: the ability to tell any story, like the story of jumping out of a hotel window in Walla Walla, Washington, and make it relatable. To a certain extent, this is one of the primary goals of standup comedy. Although Birbiglia saw great success in the traditional standup circuit early in his career, he didn’t feel that he had produced an act that was true to his own form. So, after appearing on Comedy Central’s Premium Blend at age 23, Letterman at 24, producing a Comedy Central Presents special at 26, and his album Two Drink Mike at 28, he opened a one-man show that was completely different. Birbiglia began building a bridge between standup and storytelling.

Since 2008 he has appeared regularly on NPR’s This American Life, produced a book, a film, and two one-man shows: Sleepwalk With Me is a reminder that the failure to be honest with others and ourselves can only come back to haunt us; My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend underscores the dangers of always needing to be right.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Birbiglia about his new show Thank God For Jokes, which examines the double-edged nature of jokes, as they have the power both to forge bonds and build walls between people. READ MORE

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Mark Normand on His Eventful Comedy Central 'Half Hour' Taping and Bad Advice from Other Comedians

mark normand half hour 2Mark Normand has slogged his way through the New York comedy scene since 2006. For years now, he's labored through open mics all across the city, played shows to half-filled rooms and drunk, distracted patrons, spent hours enticing passers-by to free comedy shows in the West Village, and balanced multiple careers, a relationship, and a social life.

But all of these have not been for nothing. Normand is now a Comedy Cellar regular, has appeared on Conan, Last Comic Standing, and Inside Amy Schumer. Most recently, Normand finally assembled his first album, Still Got It, and filmed his first Comedy Central special for their series The Half Hour, which debuts this Friday.

Normand and I chatted about some of the difficulties of capturing the sets, a deeply inopportune bout of food poisoning, and some of the worst advice he has ever received. READ MORE

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Rachel Feinstein on Her Comedy Central 'Half Hour' and the Other Rachel Feinstein

rachel-feinsteinRachel Feinstein came to New York when she was 17. She did not go to college. She lived in Brooklyn. She shared her apartment with a band that called itself "Dicksister." When Feinstein entered comedy, however, she found an outlet and crowd that she grew to love. Since then, she's appeared on Last Comic Standing, had a Comedy Central Presents special, performed in Women Who Kill, produced an album (Thug Tears), appeared in numerous online sketches, done voices for Grand Theft Auto, and has begun to make more appearances on the acting scene.

Her second Comedy Central special, as part of their series, Half Hour, airs this Friday. I recently had the chance to talk with Feinstein about what it's like to do so many specials, her sources for inspiration, and what she hopes to develop down the road. READ MORE

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Mike Sacks on 'Poking a Dead Frog', Discontented Comedy Writers, and "Comic Decay"

mikesacksComedians think often about how their identity relates to the world around them. They spent much of their time reflecting on who they are, where they come from, what they've done, and what they've seen. Usually these reflections are form-fitted and presented to us as comedy for entertainment, and it's through this process that we may come to know more about the comedian and the world we live in.

Imagine if you gave comedians free-range to tell us about themselves and what they think about their world without having to mold it to fit a comic form. Mike Sacks has been doing that for us since 2009 when he published And Here's the Kicker. Sacks, who is also a member of the editorial staff of Vanity Fair, gave us a peek into the minds of great comedy writers like David Sedaris, Paul Feig, Harold Ramis, and Bob Odenkirk. He's returned again with Poking a Dead Frog to give us yet more insights from the likes of Amy Poehler, Mel Brooks, George Saunders, Marc Maron, Bill Hader, Patton Oswalt, and more.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Sacks about his new book and some of the messages he picked up while putting it together.

For starters, your title is a reference to the E.B. White quote "Humor can be dissected, as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind." I've read the interviews you had with Marc Maron, George Saunders, and Bruce Vilanch, and I have to say: I think your examinations do exactly the opposite. If anything they invigorated the "frog." What was your goal going into each of these interviews?

My main goal is to not bore the reader. I hated school and the last thing I want to do is get too academic. There are a lot of academic books about The Simpsons, Monty Python, and comedy in general. There’s just no reason for me to want to read a book like that, let alone write one. So with these interviews it was my goal to make them entertaining and helpful to anyone who wants to get into comedy or improve their standing in the comedy world. And for anyone who might not be into comedy but who might just be interested in pop culture. There’s really no grander purpose. READ MORE

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Ian Edwards on Releasing His Debut Standup Album Via Conan O'Brien's Team Coco Records

Ian-Edwards_ECTeam Coco Records launched last week with the release of Ian Edwards's debut standup album, 100% Half-Assed. On the album, Edwards skillfully mixes his candid, day-to-day observations with a sudden and surprising surrealism. He is a master of misdirection. Trying to keep ahead of Edwards's creative mind is an exercise in futility: as soon as you think you know where one joke is heading, he yanks the sails. It's not long before Edwards has capsized your expectations and left you floating in a sea of wit.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Edwards about the pleasure of working with Team Coco and where we can expect to hear from him next. READ MORE

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Yannis Pappas on Why He Did Standup for 14 Years Before Doing a Half-Hour Special

yannis-pappasYannis Pappas is (fictionally) Mr. Panos, a deeply patriotic Greek man who owns “The Baby Socrates Diner.” He is also (fictionally) Maurica, a pre-operative transsexual Puerto Rican in search of a wealthy man to pay for surgery. More importantly, Yannis has (factually) survived being shot, (factually) been a 9/11 relief worker, and will soon (factually) have his own Comedy Central The Half Hour special.

After 14 years of pushing and pulling his comedy career through the mud, a 30-minute special is more than due to this particular installment of the New York comedy scene. He’s long been selling out shows from coast to coast, performed as widely as South Africa and every country in Scandinavia, and has established himself as one of the prime New York comics on the scene today.

Recently, I had a chance to chat with Pappas about the excitement leading up to his Half Hour special, what we can expect to see in the years to come, and the importance of being understood on one’s own terms. READ MORE

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Talking to Jacqueline Novak About Her Debut Standup Album 'Quality Notions'

Jacqueline Novak’s recently-released first album, Quality Notions, is a testament to one New York-based comedian’s ability to run the comedic gamut. She ranges from accusations that the men in the audience are distracted by her feminine figure to an in-depth analysis of proper pizza consumption, from her experiences with poetry to reflections on her imaginary life of as a prostitute, and from sex “the hound’s way” to contemplation on the words of the great Bohemian-Austrian poet/novelist Rainer Maria Rilke.  However, this wide range of topics is made perfectly hysterical by her comically confident character, which is guaranteed to have you laughing at every turn.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with Novak about her on-stage ego, the hurdles faced by women in comedy, and her approach to producing such fresh material.

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Talking to Thomas Middleditch About HBO's 'Silicon Valley'


You're about to see a lot more of Thomas Middleditch in movies and TV. Middleditch got his start as an improviser and sketch actor in Chicago, where he performed at iO, Second City, and was a founding member of The Improvised Shakespeare Company, before moving to New York and then Los Angeles, where he's performed frequently at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. This year, he has both his first lead TV role  (Mike Judge's new HBO series Silicon Valley, which premiered last night) and his first lead role in a major movie (the upcoming Search Party, which he stars in alongside T.J. Miller and Adam Pally).

I recently had the chance to talk with Middleditch about his experience on Silicon Valley, the joy of working with his friends, and what we can expect from him in the future. READ MORE

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Talking to Mike Nelson About RiffTrax's National Geographic TV Special

Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett might all be better recognized by their voices than their faces. Throughout the '90s, they were a part of a group that gathered some of the most renowned movie theater hecklers around: Mystery Science Theater 3000. In 2006, the trio took to the internet to bring us RiffTrax, the next wave in movie heckling. Together, they've riffed a pretty wide range of movies, ranging from Casablanca to 300, from Inception to Fast & Furious. Now they have set their sights on the animal kingdom. Earlier this week, Nelson, Murphy, and Corbett returned to TV for the first time since their MST3K days, with Total Riff Off, a three-hour April Fool's special on the National Geographic Channel that saw them overdubbing class nature specials.

I recently caught up with Mike Nelson to discuss the National Geographic special and the future of RiffTrax: READ MORE