Over the next two weeks, you’ll see all of our picks for the greatest comedy releases and greatest moments in comedy of 2014. But if you want to know what really happened in comedy in 2014, you have to go to the source- the comedy clubs. We went straight to the bookers, club owners, managers and producers who put together some of the best shows in the country, and asked them their favorite moments in comedy this year. The answers they gave us, represent some of the brightest and best talents in the country.
There are so many great moments that happen at Carolines throughout the year, it’s hard to pick just one. But, if I had to choose one, I think it would be the George Carlin tribute show — “The Seven Dirty Words: George Carlin Finally Gets His Way” — that we did when the 400 block of West 121st Street in Morningside Heights was officially unveiled as George Carlin Way. There were so many great performers that night — Colin Quinn, Artie Lange, Gilbert Gottfried (who stole the show!), Dave Attell, Jim Norton, Rick Overton, Richard Pryor’s daughter Rain Pryor. There were also appearances by George Carlin’s daughter Kelly Carlin and George’s brother Patrick, who thanked everyone there for helping to honor George and to keep his legacy alive. It was very touching to see such an iconic performer as George Carlin honored in such a heartfelt way by so many of his family, friends, fans and comedians who were all clearly influenced by his genius.
Dave Chappelle whisked into Portland on two days’ notice and ended up doing 10 straight shows to prepare for his Radio City Music Hall engagement in June. Tickets sold out within minutes of the announcement. Local comedians offered to work “security” at the club just to sneak a peek at one of Chappelle’s marathon sets. Chappelle opened almost every set by warning everyone that he hadn’t prepared any material. Through a haze of cigarette smoke, he opened up the floor, allowing the audience to direct the tenor of his set. By Saturday night, Chappelle no longer turned over his set to the audience. He finished 60 all-new minutes of material, almost all of it crafted from his conversations with the audiences throughout his run. He was amazing!
While we have been fortunate to have many great comics grace the stage at Gotham this year the name that stands out for 2014 is Sebastian Maniscalco. On November 14th his new Showtime special “Aren’t you Embarrassed” premiered and on the same day he closed a book deal with Simon and Shuster and performed on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon”. The year culminated with 9 Sold Out Shows at Gotham and on Thursday December 11 Jerry Seinfeld dropped by and did a set on one of his shows. Happy Holidays Everybody.
Some “impact” moments on our stage at Melrose this year that come to mind are watching Jake Weisman come into his own at the club level, somehow using a perfect mixture of scorn and self-deprecation to obliterate a heckler; Steve Simeone’s storytelling becoming more and more legendary and inspirational; David Huntsberger doing a full headlining night with animation synchronized to his set; and the club’s own Chase Durousseau and Avery Pearson ushering in a new culture of late night cabaret with music and comedy a la the original Improv in NY in the 60’s.
Dan St. Germain celebrated the release of his debut album, Bad At The Good Times, with an especially brutal roast back in June. The evening was full of harsh inside jokes, but peaked when Mike Recine called out the Comedy Central executives (sitting a mere 10′ away from him) for using the “same bearded faggots” and “nerds” in every project of theirs. It was also a thrill seeing Frantic!, our weekly free show every Monday night at 10pm, take off and become a regularly sold out success. The show was to prove that a comedy club can offer an alternative to non comedy venues who put on free shows by sharing the same up & coming talent along with club veterans and scores of celebrity drop-ins. Having Louis CK, Jim Gaffigan, Hannibal Buress, Judah Friedlander, Kevin Nealon, and more perform on Frantic! gave it legitimacy and helped it become a force to be reckoned with. As far as performers, it was a thrill for me to see Monroe Martin evolve into a headliner throughout the year. Monroe is one of those rare, talented comedians who can open, close, or host a show. He had a monstrous year making his debut on Comedy Central, becoming a finalist on Last Comic Standing, and now a cast member on MTV’s Guy Code. He finally honed his raw potential, and his hard work is definitely paying off. Nurturing and giving young talent a chance to thrive is something I sought out when opening the club, and within our short two year stint, I have had the honor of seeing it happen with many great comedians. Can’t wait to see what 2015 brings!
Chicago has been a hotbed of comedy right now. It’s always been a great place to learn the craft but the last year or two, scouts from festivals and shows have taken Chicago more seriously. Emily Galati appearing on Last Comic Standing and advancing was a highlight for us and I think she represented Chicago quite well. She’s been working hard in Chicago for a number of years, and we’re probably going to lose her to New York next year which is unfortunate but also par for the course.
2014 was the year Denver was legitimized on a national level. Adam Cayton-Holland was on Conan, and Pete Holmes before that got cancelled. But one of the most poignant gatherings was all of us at Illegal Pete’s. It was a huge boost for comedy. We all got together and everyone watched Andrew Orvedahl on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. He was on the same night as Zach Galifianakis, and Casey Wilson, and had a nearly flawless set and he crushed and we were all super proud of him. He is easily one of the best comics in Denver. He’s a total sweetheart but also brilliant and kind of soft spoken but seeing him get that kind of call, five applause breaks made me well up with tears.
We had somebody come in this year who just blew us away. He actually came in with somebody that we met, and we were like ‘oh my god, this guy is amazing’. We told him let us know when you’re in the area, so his manager called and said he’s doing some colleges. So he headlined one night. and this guy, I believe he’s going to pop. This is somebody that came out of nowhere as the opening act, and then headlined for us and he’s going to be big. His name is Nick Guerra.
For me, the most memorable comedy night of the year had to be the Kids in the Hall reunion show at the Paramount Theatre during Moontower. As I recall it was the first show of the American tour and anticipation was running very high. When the curtains parted and the audience saw the cast outfitted in wedding dresses, the crowd went absolutely WILD! I already knew what was about to happen but that didn’t stop me from just about falling out of my seat with laughter. The hall was theirs and it was a perfect night of comedy.
Jermaine Fowler is one of our comedians who is coming on strong this year. He just moved to Los Angeles from New York. It was also really cool when Allen Strickland Williams got on Conan and when Hasan Minhaj got added to the Daily Show team.
Out of 2014, the comedic performances that have stood out to me have been the amount of talented and hilarious comics I have had the pleasure of working with in the comedy festivals that I have been a part of this year. The shows that stuck out to me were the special goodbye themed shows that we put on for my fellow Chicago comedians and friends at our show “Entertaining Julia” before they moved to one of the coasts. Two of my favorite special themed goodbye shows, The Roast of Megan Gailey and Liza Treyger before heading to NY and “Bill Cruz’s Quinceanera Show” before heading to LA. In Chicago, we’re used to seeing everyone move out to the one of the coasts, but we like to make a big old fashioned drunken splash of a show about it before they leave.
The thing that stands out to me was when Kevin Nealon performed at the club after Robin Williams passed away. He told some old Robin stories. Most notably about how Robin would show up at the Comedy Store, after filming Mork and Mindy all day, still in full Mork costume and perform for 90 minutes. He spoke fondly of Robin’s extreme thirst to perform and how warm he was to young comics. He was always willing to talk to them.
My standout performance from Riot Festival 2014 is Kurt Braunohler’s Roustabout. I’m just a huge fan of Kurt, he’s one of my favorite comedians out there. He’s doing the show at the festival against this year and I’m really excited. I think he’s really fun to watch, always different and just a fun performer.
Upstate is unique because Buffalo and Rochester, we’re all community. There’s this little gang of kids from Rochester, the now defunct Goo House. We all fell in love with them immediately. They do variety shows, video work, absurd character work, that reminded me of the early days in Chicago and they’re all still doing solo work, around the country. Mikey Heller, Jonathan Schuta, Lucas Gardner, Vasia Ivanov, Charlie Wildey, Colin Michael Burgess, Dewey Lovett. They’ll all be back together for Christmas, with a special holiday show in Rochester. Lucas Garner in particular, he’s so incredible on stage as well as a fantastic writer.
Mike Vecchione has always been a killer, but this year it’s like he leveled up to murder+. He did Stand-Up On The Spot and had to follow Jessica Kirson, who is a force of nature on stage. He was definitely nervous to have to follow her on top of the fact that he’s much more of a planner and a writer and his jokes are always nearly fully formed when he first does them live. But again, once he was onstage, he looked relaxed and in control, had everyone laughing the entire time and somehow managed to finish with a triple callback to the jokes he had just made up minutes before.
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My favorite moment from this year in comedy would have to be the Halloween show we did called Night of the Laughing Dead. I knew the local comics were great but they took it to a whole other level for this show. Each comic did a tribute set as their favorite deceased comedian. Not only did every single comic show up prepared but they all really got into character and had a lot of fun with it. After a few years in this business, it is fun to be excited and surprised by a show. My favorite comic that we worked with this year would be Carly Aquilino. While she may not be the typical road comic that works the club circuit she is working hard to establish a base and learn her craft. She is a great storyteller and very charming person. She really impressed everyone here.
We’ve had a great year with multiple nights that would qualify as highlights in any year. We had a Louis CK drop in at “Church” at UCB Sunset, and a Judd Apatow drop in at a show I run at the Improv. But the highlight of the year had to be this week, on Tuesday at BAKED when we had a rare billed Zach Galifianakis show. For comedy fans, it was the best case scenario, knowing where and when Zach was going to be ahead of time. If you love Zach, it was Zach being everything you wanted him to be. He went off book, and interacted with the audience doing a ‘rate the potato game’. As a booker, I have a list of people that I have to book so that people will be psyched about the shows, but then I also have my personal list and Zach is at the top of both lists. It was also a very rainy night, uncharacteristically rainy for California, and because it was storming, our green room was the refrigerator where they keep the potatoes. So it was me and Steve Agee and Greg Behrendt and Zach in a potato closet, which is an American dream of any comedy nerd. The night was definitely a dream come true for everyone there.
Sinbad was by far the best comedian to come through in 2014. Not only is he a charismatic person with a hilarious act but he brought musical legends from across the country to perform with him every night he was here. I am sure most people who were at the show would say that Sinbad was one of the best experiences they’ve had at Goodnights.
My partner Scott Lindner and I just bought the New York Comedy Club four months ago. The place was on the brink of falling apart, and had become a forgotten club, so our goal was to bring back some life to the club, and make it welcoming to all comedians. And we had a really big defining moment this year, when we had Michael Che perform, the night before his first appearance on Weekend Update. It was a Friday night and everyone in the audience knew at that point who he was. It was amazing to see how Michael was when he walked into the club, and the reception he got from all the different comedians. It was a sold out show, and then there were 20 comedians just standing around watching. The air conditioning wasn’t working that well, so it was hot, and felt very old school. When he got on stage he was supposed to do ten minutes, but ended up doing thirty. Literally you’re seeing a star overnight and to me that was the number one highlight this year.