Talking to Comedian Barry Rothbart About His Career

The Tonight Show typically isn’t the place where hip, young New York comics make their late-night TV debuts. They tend to go the Conan or Fallon route.

Credit Barry Rothbart for breaking the glass ceiling.

Things have been going pretty well for Rothbart ever since his first Tonight Show set two years ago. He co-directed a documentary, was recently named one of Variety’s 10 Comics to Watch, and has a role in Martin Scorsese’s upcoming The Wolf of Wall Street.

I recently had the chance to catch up with Rothbart at Just For Laughs in Montreal, where he was one of the festival’s stand-out performers. We talked about performing the day after 9/11, working with Martin Scorsese, and pissing off Major League Eating.

A Look Back At John Oliver’s Pre-’Daily Show’ Work

John Oliver has been killing it as the guest host of The Daily Show this summer. He’s tackled major intelligence scandals, game-changing legal decisions, and untimely power outages so perfectly that it’s hard to believe this isn’t his full time job (…yet). Undoubtedly, part of the reason he’s such a natural is his length of time with the show – he joined the cast of The Daily Show in July 2006, and the writing staff the following year. He’s now beloved in the US, hosting his own Comedy Central standup show, recurring on Community, and co-hosting the excellent satirical podcast The Bugle. But when he crossed the pond seven years ago, the British standup was almost unknown in the States.

In many ways, all of Oliver’s career seemed to be setting him up perfectly for a turn at The Daily Show. At a 2001 show at the Edinburgh Fringe, he played the part of an “oleaginous journalist,” a character he has since inhabited frequently as a Daily Show correspondent. Along with his Bugle co-host Andy Zaltzman and The Thick Of It’s Chris Addison, Oliver was often cited as part of the resurrection of political comedy in the UK in the early to mid 2000s. He and Zaltzman performed live as a double act, with elaborately-titled shows like 2004’s “Erm… It’s About The World… I Think You’d Better Sit Down”, and 2005’s “John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman Issue a List of Demands and Await Your Response with Interest,” titles not too far off from the classic run-on names for Daily Show segments.

Big and Glossy and Wonderful: The Birth of the ‘National Lampoon’ Magazine

The first issue of the National Lampoon appeared in April 1970 and sold fewer than half of the five hundred thousand copies printed. Some readers may have thought they were buying yet another Harvard Lampoon magazine parody, understandably confused by a cover that was a variation on their recent Time parody; a dimly lit model in revealing costume posed against a muddy brown background with the caption “Sexy Cover Issue.” Less predictably, next to the model was a grinning cartoon duck — a Doug Kenney idea. “Henry would say, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to do an interview with [legendary New Yorker humorist] S. J. Perelman,’ and Doug would say, ‘We gotta get a duck for a mascot.’ Doug would go on and on about jokes with this duck and more naked girls,” said Michael Frith, who was a little disturbed by the less mature aspects of Kenney’s omnivorous cultural appetite. Kenney got his duck and with it the art directors he wanted to be in charge of the magazine’s visual aspects — a victory he would later regret.

The look of the new magazine had been a source of strife. Keeping newsstand appeal in mind, Simmons wanted the national version to be slick like Cheetah, but his editors had other ideas. “Doug and Henry, mostly Doug, had this idea the magazine would be rough, in an underground vein,” Rick Meyerowitz recalled. Glossy was just not cool.

Talking to The Lonely Island About Why They Work So Well Together

Within months of The Lonely Island joining Saturday Night Live back in 2005, the trio – made up of Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone – marked a new era in the show’s history with the viral hit Lazy Sunday, kicking off a run of Digital Shorts that would include Emmy-winning Dick in a Box and Grammy-nominated I’m on a Boat.

All three have since left the show, working independently on their own big-name projects. Samberg has starred in films like That’s My Boy and Celeste and Jesse Forever, and will be seen in the up-coming Fox sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Schaffer directed the group’s first film, cult favorite Hot Rod, and 2012′s The Watch. Taccone directed the SNL-spinoff MacGruber and played the loathsome Booth Jonathan on the HBO show Girls.

The group’s third record, The Wack Album, comes out tomorrow; the trio, who have known each other since middle school, have been promoting the album by releasing videos and tracks each week on Wack Wednesdays. I met up with them recently in the glittery conference room of Cash Money Records to talk about emulating Kanye and why they still work so well together.

Moshe Kasher on His New Album and Dealing with Jerks on the Internet

There’s a lot of ground to cover with Moshe Kasher. He fancies himself a renaissance man (of sorts): “Comedian. Child Genius. Jew. Jew Comedian. OBGYN. Pleasure Center. Good tipper. Guiding light,” and “Beefcake.”

It takes a big cardigan to cloak all that invisible brawn; and Mr. Kasher isn’t hurting for erudite-looking garb. The religious studies major is perhaps comedy’s preeminent intellectual; and, if it pleases, religious crusader.

His two full-length standup albums, 2009’s Everyone You Know Is Going to Die, and Then You Are! and this year’s Live From Oakland boil with irate, zippy intellectualism and scathing spoken word invectives torching the wide-world of bigotry and persecution.

Kasher’s acclaimed 2012 memoir, Kasher In the Rye: The True Tale of a White Boy from Oakland Who Became a Drug Addict, Criminal, Mental Patient, and Then Turned 16 was lauded by WTF’s Marc Maron as “thoughtful, touching, a bit harrowing and hilarious.”

Moshe was gracious enough to field my questions about his new album, his writing process, and more.

Schomp Family History, by Blythe Roberson

The Schomp family is the most affluent of the Boston Brahmins. The Cushings? Peasants. The Parkmans? Hippie street dwellers. The Lawrences? Don’t get distracted, we’re talking about the Schomps.

It all started in 1640 when John Schomp woke up with a light bulb over his head: get a bunch of free land in America and make cash. First he put the whole light bulb invention in a time capsule — you’re welcome, future. Next he created an Italian alter ego, so no one would figure out he moved to the colonies and steal his idea. Decades later people figured out “Giovanni Schompero” was just a pumpkin and some pillows under a blanket the entire time. An emergency election had to be held to fill his seat in Parliament.

Talking to Jenny Slate About What She’s Working on Next

While most professional comedians keep busy by involving themselves in many different projects, it seems like Jenny Slate has a lot going on even compared to her most diligent peers. In addition to recurring roles on Parks and Recreation, House of Lies, and Kroll Show, Slate is writing the new Looney Tunes movie for Warner Brothers and, as she reveals in the following interview, co-writing an independent movie based on her hit viral video, “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On.” On top of all of that, she has a new web series, Catherine, which debuted on the YouTube comedy channel JASH last month. Slate stars in Catherine as the title character and also co-writes the series with her husband, Dean Fleischer-Camp, who directs. Three new episodes of Catherine are set to debut today, and I had the chance to talk to Slate about the series, why she’s turning Marcel the Shell into a movie, and the sitcom pilot she starred in with Kristen Schaal and June Diane Raphael that ABC bafflingly didn’t pick up.

An English Comedian in Paris

I do standup because I love comedy. Yes, I enjoy making people laugh and nothing beats the rush of being on stage in front of a great audience, however the real reason that I do comedy is just that it interests me so much, I’m willing to do anything to be a part of it. Ultimately, I’m just a fan that got way too involved. Now, I don’t know to what extent this is true for other comics; I’m sure some do it just because they crave attention or even use stand-up as a free (or even profitable) alternative to therapy. I’m not saying that this is wrong or in any way worse than doing it purely out of appreciation for the medium, I simply believe that someone’s motivation to write and perform comedy will be the main factor in affecting the end result.

Anyway, given my current situation, being a part of what we all appreciate as comedy is somewhat difficult. I’m living in Paris, France, a city that doesn’t instantly scream out light, low-brow and sometimes crude entertainment. But, as always, in order to do what you love, you make it work. Believe it or not, there is an English-speaking standup comedy scene in Paris.

Talking to Ron Funches About His Career

It’s hard to find a more likeable person than comedian Ron Funches. Jolly with a soft-spoken sincerity about him, it is Funches’ optimism that makes him eccentric in the comedy world. He is the guy that other comics are actually happy for each time he gets something. He also has one of the top five best laughs in the universe — if you haven’t heard it, it’s a treat.

After leaving Portland for L.A. in search of more opportunity last year, Funches is achieving more and more success. He’ll appear in the upcoming Bill Lawrence sitcom, Undateable, and is fresh off of “the best week ever” at the Just For Laughs festival in Montreal where he opened for Dave Chappelle. I caught up with Ron to find out about his writing process, his sleeping habits, and his transition into acting.

Talking to Fred Armisen About ‘SNL’, ‘Portlandia’, And Being Part of A Comedy Collective

After 11 years of creating some of the oddest and most memorable characters on Saturday Night Live, Fred Armisen left the legendary sketch show at the end of this past season to focus on his other soon-to-be legendary sketch show. Portlandia, which he and co-star Carrie Brownstein created with director Jonathan Krisel, has be picked up for two more seasons on IFC. He will also been seen in the upcoming film Justice for Al, from Bad Santa director Terry Zwigoff. I caught up with Armisen over the phone from Portland to talk about great sketch shows and how Game of Thrones influenced Portlandia.

So it is official now that you’ve left SNL?

I think it’s clear. I didn’t do any kind of official announcement, but I really felt like it was obvious. An ending that was a love letter to all the music I grew up with, and also to my friends and to SNL and to Lorne [Michaels] and to the cast. There was a lot of emotion attached to it, but it was a very positive emotion.

And how do you feel, having left? Does it feel weird?

It feels very natural, because I love SNL. I love Saturday Night Live, and I really feel like people who have left before me have always stayed with the show. They never really quite left, which is nice. Everyone kind of stays close. For example, like when Kristen [Wiig] left, we saw her again. And Andy [Samberg] and Tina [Fey] and Amy Poehler and Maya [Rudolph]. On one level, we stay in each other’s lives, but also the show. I feel like people don’t really just leave in a cold way. I think people stay around in their own way.

Why did you decide to leave the show now?

It was really just strange, in that it felt very natural. It felt like a very healthy good time to do it. I was really enjoying and it just felt—it’s almost hard to define. Bill [Hader] was leaving, and Kristen and Andy had left. It just felt like I was very happy, maybe this is like a good time to do it. And then the other thing that really was eclipsing it was Portlandia. Portlandia started to pull me away more and more, schedule-wise, and I just felt like it’d be nice to focus on it a little more and go into the fall a bit more with shooting. So it was because of that. And also it was just a feeling.

Talking to Kurt Metzger About Paying Comics and More

If you’re a person who believes that comedy has any sort of social mission, Kurt Metzger probably isn’t the comic for you. But if you’re a fan of funny for funny’s sake without any punches pulled, he’s your guy.

Metzger is a veteran NYC comic who in recent months has found himself at the center of some of the stand-up world’s prevailing controversies. He publicly called bullshit on the Upright Citizens Bridgade Theater’s practice of not paying comics for shows that charge admission, which sparked some heated philosophical debate about the business of comedy that went viral and eventually drew a response from the UCB’s founders. He also waded in the more recently publicized dispute about rape jokes vs. artistic freedom by sparring with a feminist writer on Facebook and inviting her to debate him on stage. (Metzger is a bit of a shit-starter on Facebook and frequently authors posts that draw hundreds of comments. Definitely worth following).

When he isn’t coming up with new material via his Facebook rants, Metzger, who grew up a Jehovah’s Witness and was an ordained minister, is an accomplished comic and writer. He’s a regular at the New York’s famed Comedy Cellar and has written for several TV shows, including Inside Amy Schumer and Chappelle’s Show.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Metzger about his start in comedy as well as the rape joke and UCB controversies.

John Mulaney’s Career Will Be Fine Without NBC

Late Friday afternoon, NBC announced that it has declined to pick up John Mulaney’s sitcom, Mulaney. It was a surprising move, given that the highly anticipated and already buzzy show had Lorne Michaels as a producer and an incredible cast. Having seen a version of the script, and based on Brad’s on-the-scene reporting, I can say that it was a good pilot and that the series had enormous potential. It’s a shame that it won’t be on NBC’s schedule this fall. But in the long run, what NBC will really regret is not just picking up the show Mulaney, but adding John Mulaney to its primetime ranks.

There are no surefire bets in comedy or television, but I stand by this as a truism: Lorne Michaels picks winners. Regardless of the near-constant din about the quality of Saturday Night Live‘s writing that has lingered for decades, it’s impossible to dispute his eye for talent. The list of major stars who got their first exposure from Michaels is thoroughly impressive, with everyone from Bill Murray to Kristen Wiig owing huge debts of success to their SNL breaks. The most amazing rags-to-riches (or awkward-to-megastar) story will always be Conan O’Brien — not many people saw what Michaels did in the early of years of Late Night with Conan O’Brien (as the ratings proved). Now it’s impossible to imagine the modern day comedy scene without Conan’s influence. And remember the reaction when Jimmy Fallon was announced as his late night successor? That guy? Who wants to watch him giggle for an hour every night? And yet, it was the now-68-year-old Michaels who saw Fallon’s potential to build a light-hearted late night show that appeals to the young audience rapidly deserting the format.