An impressive vocalist and musician, Watts has a knack for pushing past staid jokes to playing with the rhythm and sound of words; it makes his act both thrilling and impossible to categorize. And his special A Live at Central Park will help viewers imagine a freaky future in which stand-up, improv and music can all coexist under one anything-goes Absurdist sensibility and one angelic halo of an Afro. A few years after dropping out of high school to work New York clubs, a cherubic year-old Puerto Rican named Freddie Prinze exhibited his preternatural command of stand-up on The Tonight Show, and the rest was history.
Though the charming, mustachioed kid had nothing but potential, he got caught up in the Seventies drug culture and had problems dealing with a dizzying rise to fame after Chico and the Man took off; he would commit suicide at age Take his ingratiating presence, casual tone, autobiographical subject matter and the gentle ribbing he gives himself—down to the introductory portmanteau he used to explain his biracial heritage, "Hungarican" — and you've got the template for half of the acts coming up in the backrooms of New York bars today. Arguably the first truly global stand-up superstar, the Canadian-born Russell Peters jabs not only those of Indian descent — he ribs nearly every ethnicity you might rattle off on an intimate, country-by-country basis.
His incredible eye for detail and gift for mimicry allow him to shout out to his dynamic, racially-mixed audiences "Any Filipinos in the house? He's virtually unrecognized in American showbiz, but YouTube clips of his act have connected him to an enormous audience around the world, he's been on the Forbes list of top-grossing comedians for years. More than a few of young comics from outside the U. She has trumped the sex talk of swaggering and sad dudes, making it the domain of anyone passionate or foolish enough to face it in all its awkward, sloppy and painful dimensions.
But what distinguishes Amy Schumer — what makes her one of the most exciting comics working today — is that her wit is as fearless as it is fierce. She doesn't mind shocking a crowd to make her points, and couches tough notions in cute packages. On taking Plan B and going to yoga: "Can these people tell I'm mid-aborsh? With her garish, glittery outfits "I used to work as a lampshade in Las Vegas" and hair standing on end, Phyllis Diller's freaky fabulousness made her audiences sit up in their chairs.
From there, she cracked clever jokes about her looks, her children, her husband "Fang," her mother-in-law, her domestic duties and eventually, her age. The first female household name on the list, she convinced legions of early stand-up audiences that women comics were not a novelty but a forced to be reckoned with.
His legendary set solidified the Chicago native as a big, braggadocious comic with a peculiarly magnetic delivery and a habit of squeezing every last bit of air from his lungs to make a point … especially if that point was embedded in one of his exasperated stories of child rearing. I'll kick a kid ass," Mac would explain in Spike Lee's The Original Kings of Comedy concert movie, before imagining the boxing match he'd have with his sister's two-year-old. Politically correct he was not. But the late, great Mac's wide-eyed, foul-mouthed charms spoke directly to black audiences — and anybody savvy enough to catch on — in a way that put him head and broad shoulders above his peers.
Watch any of Garry Shandling's specials we recommend Alone in Vegas , and you'll see a charming neurotic burrowing into his looks and his failure with women in an attempt to let his audience breathe easy. On his Late Show debut, his typical self-deprecation came through while considering the end of a date: "This is where I start to wonder if there's going to be any sex, and if I'm going to be involved.
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That we never got to see that last Zen-like set is a tragedy. Clad in bright, flowery mumus and floppy hat, Jackie "Moms" Mabley painted a picture from the moment she stepped onstage — an elderly every-grandmother. Then she opened her mouth, revealing a set of toothless gums and belting out a one-liner "Ain't nothing an old man can do for me but bring me a message from a young one" … and all bets were off. She recorded 20 plus records; she played both the Apollo and Carnegie Hall. She straddled the divide between the old world of vaudeville and the new, emerging realm of innuendo-laden stand-up, inspiring everyone from LaWanda Page to Whoopi Goldberg.
Before she became the sitcom antidote to perky, middle-class moms like Carol Brady, Roseanne Barr broke that image of the chipper, wholesome matriarch over her knee via her blistering stand-up routines. Watching her debut set on The Tonight Show, you can already see her mining the ground she'd end up colonizing and outright owning: speaking for a populace of average Americans unused to seeing themselves on TV.
Every blue-collar comedian owes her a debt. The former Texas evangelist found what would be less a simple comedic tool than a soul-baring, supernatural gesture that would define his entire onstage persona: A furious, earsplitting banshee wail. Before opening his mouth like a snake about to swallow an antelope, Kinision could look almost stately in his trenchcoat and his flowing locks spilling out from under a beret.
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But as religion, love and marriage had all failed him, the primal scream was inevitable. Though his material pushed into misogynistic territory, he would occasionally acknowledge why he never groused about the evils of men: "Because a man never broke my heart," he'd say. Fusing stand-up and theater into carefully structured solo ventures, this British comic scrutinizes bits of his biography while contemplating bigger issues the nature of time, memory and individual perception.
Kitson's incredible command of language and craft is apparent whether mulling the death of an aunt or a scathing review of his act, as he swirls in and out of odd tangents. And his rumpled presence remains riveting — from that charming little titter to his ability to play with a crowd's "Pavlovian" responses to a bit. Watch the man's live sets on his website, and you can see how he both laid the groundwork for talented storytellers including Mike Birbiglia and Christopher Titus and lays out any potential competition.
Long before her justifiably celebrated "I have cancer" set at Largo in , Tig Notaro was simply a laconic, soft-spoken Southerner with a genuine love for deadpan absurdity. She might spend five minutes doing nothing more than pushing a stool around a stage; if you were lucky, she'd deliver a lengthy exegesis of a Spanish phrase printed on a hotel's "Do Not Disturb" sign or imagine the thought process behind someone telling her "you have small titties" on the street.
But even after Notaro had her gamechanging moment, she's continued to blend the confessional and her subjectively cracked outlook on things. More recently, after a double mastectomy in , she got onstage and did her act shirtless — once again transforming her misfortune into mirth with a sharp tongue, a strong point-of-view and a genuine sense of fearlessness. A man who once confessed that his "geekiness is getting in the way of [his] nerdiness," Patton Oswalt has more than a little to do with the triumph of dork culture in the new millennium.
His obsessions with comic books, genre films and literature gave nerds a champion in the world of stand-up, helping to elevate obscure, semantic arguments to an art form. Take his touchstone bit about the KFC famous bowl; people still holler for it at shows just to hear him talk about the "light brown hillock of glop" he would prefer to eat "like a death row prisoner on suicide watch. Genial, self-deprecating and smart as a whip, Garofalo took on the casually incisive vibe of Mort Sahl while excoriating conservative politicians and making snide asides about bits of pop culture — from the "brilliant thespians" of Beverly Hills, to baffling Mentos commercials.
Even now, Garofalo puts her sensibility and genuine feeling front and center, rather than create some regimented set that times punchlines as if on a metronome. Her intellectual chops and timing are peerless; her influence on turning the alt-comedy scene into a bona fide renaissance can't be underestimated. There are comedians who are fascinated with by how far limits can be pushed — and then there's Patrice O'Neal.
Political correctness, vows of monogamy and everyday social niceties were roasted on a spit when he took the stage; faced with a fearful but sensitive white dude afraid to seem racist when in Harlem, he responded "Get home, feel guilty, but be alive! O'Neal may the true heir to Pryor's legacy. Had he lived another 20 years, he might have been the greatest comic ever. Her best bits ask audiences to confront their own prudishness, selfishness and ignorance — she can take a bit about diamonds that sit on the tailbones of Ethiopian babies and imagine her own sort of Swiftian "Modest Proposal" for American consumers.
Her filthy-cute persona is just the tip of the social-commentary iceberg. Years before he'd grab a camera and refine the personal comedy-drama into an art form, Woody Allen channeled his obsessions and neuroses into irresistible, intellectually wonky one-liners, delivered offhandedly in an endearing, Brooklyn accent "I cheated on my metaphysics final in college, I looked within the soul of the boy sitting next to me". He couched little jokes in the larger ones, as when he nonchalantly mentions attending a "surprise autopsy" or being a "history of hygiene" major on his way to bigger punchlines.
After making his name in the downtown NYC nightclub scene of the Sixties and making a few albums, Allen started focusing on other pursuits. And though aspects of his personal life have forced moviegoers to reconsider their loyalties, his contributions to bridging the Borscht Belt and Greenwich Village are undeniable.
Since breaking out while working at the Playboy Club back in the day, Gregory has been at the forefront of the fight for civil rights in his comedy and in life: He was jailed in Selma, shot during the Watts riots of , ran for president in and always, always brought the struggle to the stage.
Bring me a whole fried chicken. And touring with outspoken compatriots including the stingingly political Paul Mooney has helped introduce this club veteran to younger, Chappelle-loving crowds. Do you like observational and autobiographical stand-up? You have Robert Klein to thank. His first album, Child of the '50s , wasn't just about the details of air raids and school dances — it painted a picture of the Eisenhower era in all its prosperity and paranoia.
And when Watergate happened, he fused political commentary into the mix without losing his distinctive voice. When he recorded his first special for HBO in — the very first stand-up concert the premium cable channel ever aired — he enjoyed his linguistic freedoms "It's subscription … Shit! The Chitlin Circuit allowed black audiences to connect to black performers in their raw and unhinged states — and without it, the world might not know Redd Foxx. With a gravelly rasp, this comic delivered his sex jokes like someone's flask-sipping, dirty-mouthed uncle.
But for all the profanity, Foxx was also a crusader for racial equality; his breaking down walls between black and white culture made way for Richard Pryor, who benefited from the older comedian's fight against prejudice. That, and his peerless way with the word "motherfucker. Meet the frazzled, rumpled and eternally downtrodden everyguy — a disrespected-to-the-max role that Rodney Dangerfield played to a tee. His wife, his boss, his uncle, his shrink, his parents, the homeless guy he passes on the street, even the necktie he was constantly struggling with: no one was going to throw him a bone.
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Dangefield essentially took a page out of the Henny Youngman one-liner playbook and threw out self-deprecating bombs one after the other. His cartoonish features made even more over-the-top when Dangerfield bulged his eyes from their sockets and broad New York accent only reinforced the idea that he had never and would never, ever get any you-know-what. Abrigo C.
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