The very best comedians are also artists and every year some comedians push the boundaries or lead the way in changing how comedy can be performed. Innovation has been an important element in comedy for as long as performers have made people laugh. This year, we recognize eleven game changers who took comedy to a new level, performed it in a new way, or made comedy smarter, sillier, or just different, leading the way for others to follow. In the coming years, expect to see others follow in their footsteps.
#1 Pamela Adlon, FX and Better Things. Picking up the ball where FX’s “Louie” series left off, Adlon took her show, Better Things to new heights and new places this year. It’s a sitcom without the sitcom; and it comes from a refreshing and desperately needed women’s perspective. But what lands Pamela on our innovators’ list goes beyond the brilliant casting, the beautiful visuals and the outstanding blend of her own story and fiction. No actor in the history of television has directed an entire season of the show they co-wrote and produced. Adlon did and took her already brilliant series to another level of amazing. The show airs on FX, you can catch up on the first season on Hulu, now.
#2 Wil Sylvince, Liz Furiati and New Joke Night. Nobody belongs on the innovator’s list this year more than Wil Sylvince for his creation of New Joke Night at the Fat Black Pussycat. It’s an open mic for pros, where the big guns can work out their newest material. Imagine if there was a showcase where you could have seen the Beatles working on Hey Jude from its earliest notes. There’s no other place to see artists create this openly, in front of an audience. Yes, comedians work out material in all club shows but at New Joke Night, comics come up to the mic with jokes they’ve never performed, in many cases, only half written, and sometimes they just trail off saying, that’s all I have so far. They bring papers, phones, drawings, napkins whatever they’ve got as their jokes make their stage debut. Sets are short and the show result is a hilarious fast-paced show. Wil and Liz created a show that instantly became so big, so hip, so popular, that it already seems like something that has been around forever, and every comedian in NYC fights to be on the lineup. New Joke Night goes down at the Fat Black Pussycat Mondays and Thursday each week. Go to comedycellar.com for ticket info.
#3 I Love You More. Bridget Everett’s Amazon Prime Pilot. We decided to include Everett’s Amazon pilot on our innovator’s list before Amazon decided not to pick up the show (or any of this year’s 3 comedy pilots) but Amazon’s failure to recognize the show’s potential does not diminish it’s greatness, originality, and innovation. The show is a sitcom that integrates Everett’s phenomenal dirty cabaret performance and original songs. The action takes place at Jane Berger House- a group home for young people with Down’s Syndrome, and Everett stars at their primary caregiver. She’s also got an active nightlife, and a penchant for fantasizing that leads to song and dance. Sounds like it shouldn’t work? You’re right. But it does, and that’s why it’s on this list because Everett’s team pulls off some crazy shit. The kids who live in the group home neither window dressing or the butt of tired jokes, they’re wonderfully funny. Everett is both an ebullient musician and a nuanced actress. We have high hopes that this show will find a home elsewhere. Amazon’s loss will be someone else’s gain. Follow Bridget on twitter @bridgeteverett.
#4 Ari Shaffir. Shaffir made the list for at least three reasons this year. First, Ari stepped off the grid spending the first part of 2017 off-stage, and cut off from the industry. Chucking his phone into a drawer, he left behind every aspect of his career to travel South East Asia and have some new experiences. Those experiences paid off with some brilliant new additions to his stage act. But civilization wasn’t the only thing Ari left behind. He also exited the show he created and built into a cult favorite, This is Not Happening, when Comedy Central decided to replace him as host. But the primary reason Ari lands on our innovators’ list is for saying fuck it to the convention of just recording one hour for his new special- he went full double album, an idea we know we haven’t seen the last of. Watch Shaffir’s Double Negative on Netflix.
#5 Judah Friedlander. It’s definitely not an hour special because it clocks in at 84 minutes, but is it a stand up special? a documentary? a film? Judah’s new movie, America is the Greatest Country in the United States shows that sometimes the solution to being better comes from taking away rather than adding. Judah breaks all the rules of a comedy special by stripping comedy down to its barest component: a great comedian on stage telling jokes. He’s ripped away the giant production team, the swooping crane, the audience shot, the grand opening sequence, and the set. It’s just stand up, and by focusing on nothing but stand up Judah’s debut special has proven to be one of the best of 2017. But wait, there’s more. Judah films his hour special during nightly showcases- 15 minutes sets in front of a regular house audience, not a room stocked with his own fans. This is unprecedented unbelievably impressive. Watch Friedlander’s movie on Netflix, now.
#6 Chip Chipperson/Jim Norton. An established touring comedian from Tough Crowd used 2017 to do the most alt thing out there today– took a radio character and brought him to life. The result is the Chip Chippereson show. A real through-the-looking-glass Pee Wee Herman, Chip is unpolished, anti-social and uncool and he’s the only one who doesn’t know it. Much to the annoyance of all of Jim Norton’s friends, Chip is quickly becoming one of the most popular characters and podcasts running today. The big question is, could Chip consume or overtake Jim Norton’s career the way Larry the Cable Guy devoured poor Dan Whitney? Stay tuned. You can hear Chip every week on riotcast.com and on iTunes.
#7 The President Show. The talk show got reinvented this year when Anthony Atamanuik and his team at Comedy Central became the first late night talk show to be helmed by an impersonation of a sitting President. Atamanuik has rewritten the market for Presidental impersonations, first going on a full campaigning and debating tour with James Adomian as Bernie Sanders, and then taking the character to Comedy Central and competing with John Oliver and Samantha Bee as a weekly pontificator of political happenings. For those who haven’t seen the show, imagine if Alec Baldwin was funny and could do a great Trump impression. The President Show airs on Comedy Central and will return in 2018.
#8 The National Comedy Center. When media started reporting a few years ago that a National Comedy Center was coming, we didn’t take it seriously, at first. This summer, the center opened its still-under-construction doors to select media outlets and gave a tour of the planned facility, and although it may be a tiny bit premature to be handing out awards, we’re comfortable saying the plans for the center are about as innovative as you can get. The center has an ambitious design geared toward attracting mainstream America while still staying true to the history and sensibility of great comedy. The plans combine high tech exhibitions tailored to the individual and using technology not just to display comedy but also to find new ways to connect visitors to current and historical comedy. Interactive walls, an adults-only level (with a bar!), a fart bench, a Carlin archive and even a place for visitors to perform, we’re excited to feature the center’s grand opening in 2018, but the crew behind the center are already innovators. Keep up with the National Comedy’s Progress at comedycenter.org.
#9 The Chris Gethard Show. Running a live show might not be new for Chris Gethard and his team, but this year The Chris Gethard Show moved to truTV and took their show LIVE again. Yes, Gethard started doing a live show back in 2011, but that was on public access. This year he took his act live on a mainstream cable network. And it’s the perfect show to be live, but has all the elements to make a network antsy about going live. This isn’t a scripted show, where the only thing that can go wrong is a flubbed line or a missed cue. The Chris Gethard Show is what you would have seen if you were living in the 1960’s and Andy Warhol did a live show from the Factory. He’s making his own superstars. And a carnival sideshow comparison wouldn’t be out of line. It’s unpredictable to say the least.Some of it fails and those tend to become classic bits. The move to Late Night for TCGS is urgently needed to shake up late night. Conventional late night tv feels so very tired, and tuning in to TCGS gives you back the experience of not knowing what could happen next that we haven’t felt in a long time. Not since David Letterman has late night been this awake. The Chris Gethard Show airs on truTV.
#10 There’s….Johnny, Paul Reiser, and his team. Paul Reiser’s passion project tells the backstage story of the Tonight Show, within a fictional tale about a boy from Nebraska who gets his dream job in Hollywood in the 60’s. What’s innovative about this series, is Reiser’s solution to the problem of how to best represent the mythical figure of a television legend- Johnny Carson. Rather than cast Carson and his equally legendary guests, Reiser convinced the Carson Estate to allow him to use archival footage of the show, weaving it into the fabric of the fictional story. They’re the first to use this technique throughout a television series, giving millions of Americans who never got to see the show live an opportunity to feel Carson’s magic in context. You can watch all of season one on Hulu now.
#11 JFL42 in Toronto. Figuring out how to handle the ticketing issue at a festival is complicated. Passes are always preferred by festivalgoers to individual tickets because it allows fans to see as many shows as they possibly can. The downsides of the pass system are the long lines you have to wait on to get into popular shows, the chance you’ll get closed out, and the time you waste needing to show up at some shows super early. The team at Toronto’s JFL42 have figured out a complicated-to-explain but brilliant solution to the pass problem. When you purchase your passes, you also purchase credits that allow you to reserve any 42 show you want. (Headliners are handled separately). If you don’t show up for the show you reserved (maybe you changed your mind?), that’s fine, but your credit is spent. If you do show up for the show you reserved, you check in on your app, and boom, you get your credit back, ready to spend at another show. It’s genius and there’s more brilliance behind the scenes. When shows sell out, JFL42 adds more! Their unique deal with the comedians allows for them to add more comedy that’s in depend. You get to see as many shows as you want, no wasting hours getting in line early, and there’s always more shows to see. If you’ve never been to Toronto for JFL42, gift yourself a pass for next fall. You’ll thank us.