10 Comedy Acts to Watch in 2015
Comedy careers no longer depend upon a series of strategic TV or festival credits — they now encompass a wide variety of platforms, be it onstage or online, through earbuds or in writers rooms. In a world where literally anyone can release an album, these Los Angeles multihyphenates prove that originality, adaptability and personal connection with fans remain integral components of genuine staying power.
The MTV writer's anything-goes show, Persona!, has played his native Chicago, Denver, the San Francisco Comedy and Burrito Festival, Portland's Bridgetown Comedy Festival and our own Riot L.A. Riot founder Abbey Londer praises Sam as "a brilliant comedy-character chameleon. Even with his most absurd characters, his commitment and execution make you totally invested." But with his Stand Up! Records album Scaredy Cat, twice-monthly Backyard Comedy show co-hosted by Wes Hudson and upcoming run at January's SF Sketchfest, Sam promises an impending shift, focusing on a more straightforward, introspective version of himself.
Kinda Open Mic co-host Koester is the comedian about whom booker-producer Sam Varela fields the most questions after shows. "People can't help but note her distinct point of view," Varela says. "She takes aim at misogyny, Internet culture and her own demons with amazing wit and honesty. Her Vice columns are biting and personal in a way that stands out from clickbait as a new, true emerging voice." Koester's solo sets are as dark, self-effacing and in-the-moment as they come; she also performs with Clare O'Kane and Alison Stevenson in the oft-agitated sketch group Blessed.
"Silly yet sharp, thinking yet feeling, megalomaniacal yet humble," is Chelsea Peretti's description of her frequent opening act. "He isn't aiming for the lowest common denominator. He's a genuinely rare good spirit and funny, intelligent person... His vibe is like he is your cool cousin, where you're like, 'How is someone so cool in my family?'?" Following stints as a judge on MTV's Snack-Off and writer for Adult Swim's Black Dynamite, Lester recently was hired as a staff writer on HBO's Brothers in Atlanta, executive produced by Lorne Michaels and slated to begin shooting in March.
Joseph Angelo Warner
The Kimmel, Kilborn and Comedy Central vet cut his teeth alongside Janeane Garofalo, Patton Oswalt and Margaret Cho at San Francisco's storied club Holy City Zoo. "I've known Dave Anthony for about 20 years," Marc Maron says. "When I met him in San Francisco, he was one of the most promising young comics that I'd ever seen before." Now a staff writer and series regular on IFC's Maron, Anthony co-hosts podcast The Dollop and co-founded the Los Angeles Podcast Festival, which celebrated its third go-round in September. Fans and the comedy community recently honored Anthony's commitment to the local scene by funding his trip to the Melbourne Comedy Festival less than 24 hours after his Kickstarter campaign began.
Dress Up Gang
Robb Boardman, Donny Divanian and Cory Loykasek's sketch shorts emphasize the slow build, a mentality also reflected in the trio's work ethic. Signature series My Roommate, My Friend won The Web Show Show's 2013-14 championships, and continuing the series is a priority for the new year, along with completing the long-gestating feature Big Spoon and Short Straw. "In the online world of 140-character tweets and minuscule attention spans, Dress Up Gang makes long-form videos that keep the viewer locked in and laughing for 10 minutes or more at a time," enthuses Allen Strickland Williams of sketch group WOMEN. "I attribute a lot of that to the weird yet warm chemistry between Cory and Donny. Once you see their relationship, it's impossible to look away."
Brendon Walsh calls Liedtke, co-host of his podcast The Bone Zone, "a genuinely funny, rascally character" whose "army of 'RanFans' is steadily growing thanks to his fun, prankster style of comedy." Duping Kyle Kinane with an imposter Twitter account and getting pulled over for "talking" on an edible iPhone would be enough of an accomplishment. But in the past eight months Liedtke also popped up on Last Comic Standing, was a New Faces standout at Just for Laughs Montreal and teased a Late Night With Seth Meyers audience with a will-he-or-won't-he loop of fake marriage proposals.
The Comedy Store's "Fight Club for comedians" succeeds on the strength of its individual cast members. Judge Terrell "Rell" Battle boasts multiple Comedy Central appearances, while host Brian Moses has filmed pilots with Sarah Silverman and Neal Brennan. Whitney Rice recently partnered with the Above Average digital comedy network, and her former House Racist partner Earl Skakel has welcomed interviewees David Arquette, Tawny Kitaen and Rob Schneider to his Inappropriate Earl podcast. As for the frenetic "Negro Wave" cheering squad, Undateable star Ron Funches insisted Jamar Neighbors and company serve as his personal cheerleaders at the Oddball Comedy Festival's Orange County stop. Shrugs roast adviser Jeffrey Ross, "I've always said roasts bring people together."
Awarding points for name-dropping, project-plugging and flirting with the host, the former Chelsea Lately writer's monthly Talk Show: The Game Show competition elevates self-promotion to performance art (think Graham Norton meets @midnight). Live, "Branum absolutely does not give a fuck," marvels ASpecialThing Records co-founder Ryan McManemin, whose label releases Branum's debut, Effable, this coming year. "His comedy is subversive, intelligent and filthy. One of the most unique voices in comedy today, both literally and figuratively." Up next: writing full-time for Comedy Central's Victorian faux-reality show Another Period.
It was no accident that the talking head on MTV2's Guy Code was one of the final comics booked on The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson. The New York transplant had a phenomenal 2014, appearing on Comedy Underground With Dave Attell, Orange Is the New Black and the Oddball Comedy Festival. "We love his ideas," say the Lucas Brothers, Fowler's co-stars and co-writers on TruTV sketch series Friends of the People. "They are incredibly insane and weird, but we think he has a grasp on absurdist comedy that's often quite brilliant." Well on his way to an equally phenomenal 2015, Fowler is developing a show for ABC and recently filmed debut special Give 'Em Hell, Kid.
Robyn Von Swank
A Twitter phenom preoccupied with feminism, Hello Kitty and all things Cheesecake Factory might not seem to be an heir apparent to Steven Wright. Yet in four short years her deadpan, pitch-black one-liners have launched her from performing in Harvard improv troupe On Thin Ice to writing on Parks and Recreation, with Kroll Show and Academy Awards gigs peppered along the way. This year she contributed to The New Yorker, and Amram's Science ... for Her!, a spoof of both medical texts and women's glossies, is the pitch-perfect humor book of the year.
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