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Stephen Merchant\'s Undying Love for the Romantic Comedy

stephenmerchant-helloladiesDespite all of its cringe-worthy moments, the original version of The Office was at its core a love story between the characters Tim and Dawn. So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that series co-creator Stephen Merchant has a bit of a soft spot for romantic comedies.

That affinity is on display in Merchant’s latest project, Hello Ladies: The Movie, which premieres Sunday on HBO. Merchant stars in, co-wrote, and directed the TV movie, which concludes the series of the same name that aired for one season on HBO.

I recently had the chance to chat with Merchant about Hello Ladies, his first major project without long-time collaborator Ricky Gervais. We talked about that partnership, why he doesn’t get a buzz doing standup, and the desperation of living in Los Angeles. READ MORE

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The Free-Wheeling Todd Glass

toddglass2Of all the memorable episodes of Marc Maron’s influential WTF Podcast, maybe none was more so than the Todd Glass interview from two years ago, when the long-time and well-respected comic announced he was gay.

Glass, who’s been performing for 30 years and is often mentioned as one of the funniest guys around by nearly everyone in the comedy community, said he decided to make the announcement because he couldn't take the hiding anymore and because he wanted to take a stand against the growing number of suicides committed by gay youths.

It’s a riveting interview that explains a lot about personal freedoms as key to performance.

It’s not accurate to say Glass’s career hasn’t taken off since the announcement — he’s always been a great comic — but it gave him a new kind of exposure. He wrote a best-selling book, The Todd Glass Situation, and got to be a guest on The Daily Show.

I recently had the chance to talk to Glass about his book, his hilarious podcast, life on the road, and why nothing should be outlawed in comedy. READ MORE

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Chelsea Peretti on 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine,' Writing for 'SNL,' and Her New Netflix Special

chelsea_peretti_bk99_s2As an early adopter and prolific user of Twitter, Emojis, Instagram, you name it, actress and standup comedian Chelsea Peretti is somewhat of an authority on all things social media.

So when she says it’s time to move away from our internet-obsessed culture and get back to the basics, we should probably listen.

This is just one of the topics Peretti will be exploring in her upcoming one-hour standup special, One of the Greats, which premieres in November on Netflix.

In the meantime, Peretti is back for another season playing self-absorbed office manager Gina on Fox’s breakout hit Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which debuts in a new timeslot this Sunday.

I recently caught up with Peretti to talk about the new season, her special, and her brief stint writing for SNL.

I saw the show is moving to Sundays.

Yes.  The show is moving to Sundays.  As usual I have no idea what that means.  I’m told it’s good.

That’s good.

I hope it’s good.  I hope more people watch the show this season because we’re starting off with a real bang here.

Oh yeah? 

Yeah, I think the cast has bonded.  We went to the Montreal Comedy Festival, hung out, and did a panel and had a bunch of good dinners and stuff.  I just feel like everyone got a lot closer and had fun chemistry. A lot of group improv kind of things.  I don’t know, I think the stories are juicy.  I’m just excited for people to see it.  It’s crazy because I think we shot seven or eight episodes and none have aired yet, so it’s a weird thing where we haven’t seen it yet.

Are there any new characters this season?  Any changes in your character?

Of course, you know Charles and Gina have their whole debacle and it definitely makes for interesting choices and how they handle their little tryst. That was fun to get to play some scenes with Joe where we had deeper things going on.  Yeah, there’s lots of new characters—Eva Longoria is on the show, Kyra Sedgwick , Patton Oswalt is back, Ed Helms—there’s a bunch of great guests.  READ MORE

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On the Road with Gary Gulman

garygulmanGary Gulman is on tour right now in support of his upcoming third standup special, It’s About Time. Like his jokes, the title has several layers and meanings. But you could add one more: it’s about time Gulman is recognized as one of the best standup comedians working today.

Now 20 years in, Gulman is one of the most consistent performers around in the vaunted New York comedy scene. He’s done specials for all the major comedy networks and is one of the few comedians who can boast of appearances on all seven late night talk shows. His joke writing is legendary, and he’s got an uncanny ability to come up with hysterical bits no matter how minute the subject matter.

I recently had the opportunity to talk to Gulman about his new tour, working with Louis C.K., therapy, and some of his unproduced sitcoms. READ MORE

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Throwing a House Party with Adam Devine

adamdevinePart sitcom, part standup showcase, Adam Devine’s House Party might be difficult to describe, but it’s a fun hybrid.

Mensch that he is, Devine created the show in part to give the up-and-coming comedians who perform on it a chance to display their acting chops. The show features short written scenes interspersed between standup sets, and for many of performers Adam Devine's House Party is their television debut.

Season one was set in a gaudy Los Angeles mansion, but in Season two the party has moved down to New Orleans for even more debauchery.

I recently had the chance to talk to Devine about the upcoming season, his love of New Orleans, and the action movie he’s working on with the Workaholics guys.

You’re the host of the show but you don’t do a lot of standup on it. What's your reasoning behind that?

Well since it’s such a hybrid show with all the narrative heads and story lines — I spearhead all of those — I didn’t want anything I would do to take away from the comics. They are all new faces new to TV so it was really about giving them as much standup as possible. When I do do standup I’ll write a special for myself and just do it that way. I don’t need to just do two minutes, five minutes on this show when really it’s a new faces standup show.

Do you still get a chance to do much stand up given all the other projects you do with acting and everything?  

Yeah I still do but it’s a lot less than I used to. But in the next few months I’m going on a big tour. So I’m going to be getting up a lot more and come January be right back at it baby just cranking down, which means standup, that doesn’t mean masturbating. READ MORE

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Jake Weisman and the Love of the Struggle

jake weismanThough it was only on for two years, Jake Weisman’s The Morning After Podcast, which he co-hosted with Eli Olsberg, was a must-listen and example of what a great podcast could be. Each week, Weisman and Olsberg would bring in a guest from the adult film industry to interview in a manner that humanized them and showed how porn stars are just as multi-dimensional as anyone else.

Weisman ended the podcast a couple years ago to focus on his budding comedy career, and though it was tough for listeners to say goodbye to such a fascinating show, that decision is starting to pay dividends for him.

Weisman has made a name for himself in the Los Angeles comedy scene with both his sketch group, WOMEN, and his standup, which brought him to Montreal last month to perform in the Just For Laughs Festival’s New Faces Showcase.

I caught up with Weisman recently to talk about Just For Laughs, his start in comedy, and how he came to be friends with so many porn stars. READ MORE

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From Behind the Scenes to In Front of the Camera with Neal Brennan

nealbrennanWith his new gig hosting The Approval Matrix on Sundance TV, Neal Brennan has completed his reverse transformation from behind-the-scenes writer-director to on-camera talent.

Brennan co-created Chappelle’s Show, and for years was a go-to film and television writer and director. Then, about 7 years ago he started to focus on standup, and has since reverse engineered (by traditional Hollywood standards) a performing career, including Comedy Central standup specials and voiceover work for Samsung, and culminating in the new panel TV show he’s hosting. 

Inspired by the famous back page of New York magazine, the new talk show presents Brennan and his panel guests the opportunity to dissect the latest in pop culture using the Approval Matrix metrics: Brilliant vs. Despicable and Highbrow vs. Lowbrow.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Brennan about his new show, getting typecast as a writer/director and why Charles Barkley is the best guy on TV.

I saw the first episode. Enjoyed it. How are you guys going about deciding topics?

We just needed six episodes and it was like a matter of what our thing was going to be. They needed to be macro topical. It can’t be about today’s news but it can be about this year’s news. And it’s just things that I personally have a take on or an opinion on.

When did you shoot all these?

The end of June.  

Watching it, the show feels like it has a very Neal Brennan feel to it. It almost feels like the Approval Matrix is there to serve your ideas and your sensibilities as opposed to the other way around.  

Yeah, well I think we realized early on that whatever the show is they’re all host driven — all the shows whether it’s Maher, Chelsea, or Jon Stewart, or Jimmy. Otherwise it’s going to be me pretending. READ MORE

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Balancing Standup and Writing for 'Late Night' with Michelle Wolf

michelle-wolfNot many comics would close their New Faces Showcase at the Montreal Just For Laughs Festival with a three-minute joke tying together men’s masturbation habits and JFK’s assassination. That one’s got a high degree of difficulty.

Michelle Wolf made it look easy.

Wolf, 29, was among the standouts last month at Just For Laughs, the comedy industry’s premiere festival. The NYC-based comic, who’s also a writer/performer on Late Night with Seth Meyers, even earned herself a slot performing in front of 3,000 people for Seth Rogen’s televised gala. Not bad for someone who’s less than 4 years into stand-up.

I had the opportunity to chat with Wolf after her New Faces showcase to talk about her former career on Wall Street, working on Late Night, and using Twitter to come up with jokes.

So you used to work on Wall Street? For how long?

Almost four years between Bear Stearns and then JP Morgan.

You must have liked it somewhat. 

No, I didn’t. It was good money and my schedule wasn’t so crazy that I couldn’t do comedy. Because I didn’t start comedy until after I started working. I had no intention of doing comedy.

You weren’t into comedy in college or anything?

No, no. I was either going to go to medical school or get my PhD in exercise science. I wanted to take some time off and a lot of my roommates got jobs on Wall Street and said I should get one so I did. I started improv about six months after I moved there and took classes at the PIT and UCB at the same time.  READ MORE

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Inside Just For Laughs, Morning Talk Shows, and the Future of Comedy with T.J. Miller

tjmiller_morningshowOf all the funny things T.J. Miller said during his many performances at the 2014 Montreal Just For Laughs Festival, one of his best lines came in his introduction of Andy Kindler for the State of the Industry address, which was part roast/part tribute.

“I’m trying to mix sentimentality with humor,” Miller said. “Just like in Yogi Bear 3D.”

Miller’s ability to make fun of his roles in Yogi Bear 3D, Transformers: Age of Extinction, and other critically panned franchises, which he does frequently, is what makes him so beloved in the comedy world. He’s in a weird position in that he’s a successful actor with roles in Hollywood blockbusters (plus the Emmy-nominated Silicon Valley on HBO), while at the same time never letting any of that go his head and maintaining his place in the standup world as a lovable goofball.

Miller can also be very serious about the craft of comedy, which I learned during a 2:00am interview in a hotel bar after one of his Montreal shows. We talked about his show, fame, and his bizarre morning news appearances. READ MORE

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Pete Davidson and What It's Like Being a Rising Standup at Age 20

petedavidsonPete Davidson is only 20 and already has amassed several TV appearances and a development deal. It would be easy to resent the success he’s had at such a young age if he wasn’t such a great comic. 

The NYC comedian is a regular at all of the city’s top clubs, has done late-night sets on Comedy Central and Jimmy Kimmel Live, and has a role in the Fox pilot, Sober Companion.

This year, Davidson was named one of Variety’s Top Comics to Watch at Montreal Just For Laughs, where he was among the festival’s highlights.

I had a chance to chat with Davidson in Montreal to talk about his start and why Staten Island sucks for comedy.

You started when you were 16 years old?

Yes.

And you just turned 20? 

Yep.

How did you get into it? Most kids at 16 aren’t like “I want to be onstage right now.” It’s frightening. 

When I was like 12, Dane Cook was more than a comic. He was the shit. He was on top of the world. I went to go see him at Madison Square Garden for my 16th birthday. Bill Burr opened, and after I saw Bill Burr, I was like, “I want to do standup.” He’s amazing. So I started writing a bunch of stuff.

You liked Bill Burr over Dane Cook?

Oh yeah. READ MORE

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The Bitter and Acerbic Highlights of Andy Kindler's Just For Laughs Keynote Speech

andykindlerAnother standing-room only crowd, including some of the biggest names in comedy, came out Friday afternoon at the 2014 Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal for Andy Kindler’s 19th State of the Industry address, in which the long-time alternative comic burns bridges from his safe position on Hollywood’s periphery, as Kindler himself would likely acknowledge.

Kindler went after his usual targets, including himself, Jay Leno, Bill Maher, Jimmy Fallon and Adam Sandler, but he saved the brunt of his ire for former Opie and Anthony host Anthony Cumia, who was fired from SiriusXM recently after hurling off a series of racially insensitive tweets. The Cumia rant made for some awkward moments, but that’s never stopped Kindler before. It wouldn’t be a State of the Industry address without them.

Actor and comedian T.J. Miller had the honor of introducing Kindler, and described the impact Kindler’s had on young comedians.

“I owe my entire career to Andy Kindler. Every comic does,” Miller said. “Because he’s a comic’s comic but beyond that he’s a failure on a massive level.”

SiriusXM recorded the one-hour speech. Listen to it below. READ MORE

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

david reesFans 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

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Damien Lemon on His Comedy Central 'Half Hour' and How He Became a Comedy Cellar Regular

damien-lemonFor years Damien Lemon was known as much for his comedic skills as his legendary beater Toyota Corolla. With the way his career is going now, he’s probably due for an upgrade if he hasn’t done so already.

Lemon is one of the rising stars in the NYC comedy scene and has become a regular at most standup clubs, including the famed Comedy Cellar. He’s a cast member on MTV2’s Guy Code, and made his film debut two years ago in The Amazing Spider-Man.

On Friday, you can see his new special on Comedy Central as part of their Half Hour series.

I recently caught up with Lemon while he was on the road to talk about his special, what it’s like working on a summer blockbuster, and why he needs to take acting lessons. READ MORE

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Tommy Johnagin on Breaking Out as a Comic from Somewhere Other Than NY, LA, or Chicago

tommy-johnaginThere’s no definitive path to a successful career in standup comedy. Just ask Tommy Johnagin.

Though he now lives in LA, Johnagin built a career in his mid-20s headlining clubs across the country, appearing on Letterman multiple times, and starring in his own Half Hour special on Comedy Central while based in St. Louis.

That kind of exposure doesn’t happen often to comics based in non-coastal cities, but Johnagin was able to pull it off through a relentless work ethic, clever jokes, and a clear idea of career goals.

Now, Johnagin’s back with a new The Half Hour on Comedy Central. Ahead of the Friday premiere, we talked about starting out in a smaller market, Last Comic Standing, and his ideas for fixing the pilot system. READ MORE