Audiences may be more fractured than ever before, but they're also more loyal to performers who cut though the din to foster personal connections under the guise of humor. Here we highlight a few of the L.A. comedians who are taking originality, DIY mentality and creative vision to a whole new level, with picks from local industry and fellow performers.
12. Matt Kirshen
Troy Conrad, creator of the comedy show Set List and competitor on Last Comic Standing: “If quick wit and intellectual comedy had a child, it would be Matt Kirshen. He finds irony in the most common and most strange places, but he always finds it in a way that complements his unique point of view. My favorite thing is watching him discover a new direction to take on a bit. He gets huge laughs, but instead of moving on, he takes the risk of going further and further — and finds an even bigger payoff then before. It's nice seeing such a quick mind step back and take the time to dig a little deeper.”
Has a sketch group made it when their monthly show attracts such guest hosts as Fred Williard, Jerry O'Connell and Andy Richter? How about when its alumni include James Adomian, Josh Fadem and recent SNL castmember Abby Elliott? Or is it when improv purveyor Drew Carey presents a summer tour…the Denver date of which gets protested by the Westboro Baptist Church? Ultimately the more important names to know are going to be the ones you're probably not yet familiar with. Meet and memorize the dozen twisted talents behind The Midnight Show the first Saturday of every month at UCB.
10. Byron Bowers
There's something deadly serious about Bowers's highly-animated, seemingly lackadaisical stage persona. While he doesn't fall directly under the political banner, his comedy focuses on socioeconomics, religion, gender roles and reversing all manner of stereotypes, delivered with an eager-to-please malleability that allows him to adapt to any venue, crowd or circumstance. And yet underneath the bombast, Bowers maintains painstaking control over every utterance down to the last syllable. Appearances on Comedy Central and The Eric Andrè Show are only the beginning; this is a comic who's got big ideas and big plans to go big places.
9. Dave Stone
Conan's Rory Scovel on the Beards of Comedy and Squidbillies vet: “The drive to constantly get better as a performer, a writer, a stand-up comedian, an artist. Knowing that such a pursuit comes with great sacrifice and an amazing amount of passion and respect for the craft with which he is trying to succeed. To me this is who Dave Stone is…a successful comic, but it is his unwillingness to settle in this success that inspires others to work that much harder. Dave lives in a van so he can do comedy full-time. To me, that is the bar that all artists should live by: whatever it takes.” (Full disclosure: the author of this article works with the Beards of Comedy in a production capacity.)
TheComedyBureau.com's Jake Kroeger: “Chicago transplants like Pete Holmes, Kyle Kinane, Hannibal Buress and T.J. Miller are at the top of the comedy world right now. In that tradition, Cameron Esposito just relocated to L.A. and in addition to Just For Laughs Chicago, SXSW, the Bridgetown Comedy Festival and NPR's The Sound of Young America, she's been featured on several big podcasts including many episodes of Jesse Thorn's Bullseye. She's also taking the reins of Put Your Hands Together at UCB, filling the slot vacated by the legendary Comedy Bang Bang. Esposito's stand up is both truthful and delightful, leaving a smile on people's faces as big as the one she always wears.”
Says comedian Doug Stanhope: “I am baffled that Henry isn't a household name. In a day where most comics have to bash you over the head with it, Henry gently sneaks it straight up your ass, without ever letting you know that you're the bottom.” That oversight will come closer to being corrected come 2013, which holds not only a comedy special and a second album, but the development of a Showtime series executive produced by Sarah Silverman and based on the guitar comic's Slamdance Film Festival-winning, pseudo-autobiographical film Punching the Clown.”
Brian McElhaney and Nick Kocher's BriTANick doesn't even have five years under its collective belt, but the sketch duo has already managed to hit Just For Laughs Chicago, SketchFest NYC, Slamdance and SXSW, serve as the voice of the Cartoon Network, amass upwards of 21 million YouTube views, release feature film Searching For Sonny and count Ashton Kutcher and Joss Whedon among its fans, all while finding time to pop up in the likes of Young Adult (McElhaney) and Louie (Kocher). Their secret? Being consistently, riotously funny is only the beginning; boasting production values through the roof remains a top priority.
Though the Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell writer/player boasts a formidable improv and sketch background, her discursive narratives are best appreciated when she's squirming beneath the stand-up spotlight. Her onstage demeanor may suggest anxious naïveté, but her propensity for bone-dry cynicism — not to mention breaking the fourth wall to lob asides about the axioms of comedic performance itself — is what's recently been landing her at festival after festival. Follow her on Twitter at @Aparnapkin, where she dispatches such droll gems as “In LA auditioning for a parking spot,” “just peed, or as they call it in the biz, networked with the toilet” and “emotion pitch: deprassed (sassy depressed).”
4. Dead Kevin
Eric Abrams from Comedy Central: “Mondays in 2012 weren't nearly as shitty as they were in 2011. Why? Dead Kevin. NO OTHER REASON. The sketch group-comprised of young stand-ups Ahmed Bharoocha, Ryan O'Flanagan and Jack Robichaud-created their YouTube channel at the beginning of the year and posted a video every Monday since. Their vids have been featured twice on Tosh.0, Ahmed was invited to the JFL Comedy Festival in Montreal and they landed a deal with Comedy Central's new digital platform-pretty good for year one. Check them out at YouTube.com/DeadKevinSketch (start with “Dirty Dishes” & “Personal Call”) and get your Mondays ready for the thrashing of a lifetime.”
Jazz Ponce, booker with the stand-up showWhat's Up, Tiger Lily?: “Virginia native Hampton Yount thrives on his ability to perform without a safety net. Predictably is not part of his repertoire. At first glance Hampton resembles a sweet Boy Scout-type. On stage he pulls a sneak attack, taking the audience on a roller coaster ride of unimaginable twist and turns. The outcome is dark and twisted but always funny; his affable yet exuberant demeanor allows the audience to trust whatever he throws at them. Combine that with a unique blend of comedy and you have the audience laughing through every taboo and absurd loop de loop.”
Danielle N. Kramer, program director and producer at the Nerdist Showroom: “In addition to being an incredibly funny writer of cleverly crafted jokes, Beth Stelling has this playfully intoxicating delivery that immediately grabs you. She slathers everything in a thick layer of Midwestern charm, so no one flinches when she talks about tucking her dick into her sock so it doesn't get caught in her bike chain. Beth had only been in L.A. a short time before she was whisked away overnight to perform on Conan, and she's popping up everywhere on the best shows in the city. Check out her album Sweet Beth and her weekly show The Business.”
1. Ron Funches
He may have come up in the now-booming Portland comedy scene, but since moving to Los Angeles this past summer Funches's aw-sucks introspection has been a welcome addition to an environment that traditionally tends to gravitate toward vacuous over-exuberance. Named one of Esquire's Best New Stand-Up Comedians, the Conan and Portlandia vet combines highly personal, not-so-life-altering experiences with a singsongy, measured cadence; the result is a deceptively magnetic performer that audiences find not only hilarious but intriguing on the most basic of human levels.