Jerrod Carmichael’s new NBC sitcom might be a potential hit, but not everyone can make the leap from stage to small screen. Sometimes what works well in a stand-up set doesn’t land the same punch when translated to a TV project. Just look at John Mulaney. The problem is trying to fit comics into a format or setting that doesn’t fit their specific voice or sense of humor. Mulaney might be a fairly traditional stand-up comedian, but he has a playful, irreverent streak that sets him apart, and that wasn’t reflected in his clunky, old-fashioned sitcom. That’s not to say another Seinfeld or Roseanne are impossible, though. And with the plethora of cable channels desperate for content, and broadened horizons for quirky and provocative styles of comedy, there’s ample opportunity for today’s top comics to move to TV. Here are 10 comics poised to make the leap to TV stardom, be it in sketch, a sitcom or something truly unique a la Louie.
10. Mark Normand
The Louisiana-born, New York-based comic has made quite the name for himself over the past few years, amassing his fair share of accolades like appearing on Comedy Central Presents and being named the Best Comedian of 2013 by the Village Voice. His 2014 album Still Got It appeared on many a “Best Of” list, and he consistently ranks among the “comics to watch” set. With all of that acclaim, Normand seems ready to take the natural next step and transition to TV. In an increasingly PC culture, his humor may not be for everyone, but his subtly sarcastic and honest jokes are an ideal fit for a sitcom. Someone has to stick up for the sluts.
9. Dan St. Germain
“He’s got a big personality” has been used to describe many a funny man, but St. Germain has the energy to back up that claim. He blends a wry delivery and an outrageous enthusiasm for all the wrong things, which makes him a fan favorite for a reason. His first full-length comedy album, Bad at the Good Times, showed up on numerous “Best Of” lists in 2014, showcasing his ability to play it subtle alongside over the top. Thanks to his brief web series Kicking Dan Out, Fox approached the comic to develop a project with them, but that was in 2013 and audiences are still awaiting news. Soon, please.
8. Ron Funches
Here’s a fun game. Sit and think of all the ways giggly stand-up comic Funches should translate to television. He’s already a regular on NBC’s Undateable, and has appeared in numerous projects on the silver and small screen, including Kroll Show and Drunk History, but the big-hearted, smiley comic should be the star in a show built around him. Pairing a sweetheart demeanor with a straightforward delivery, Funches has something different to offer TV. With the sketch show landscape pushing the boundaries lately, Funches’ unique approach could offer an unconventional style to that genre.
7. Cameron Esposito
There’s a reason Esposito continues to top many a “Best Of” list. The comic’s routine revolves around her sexuality, and the many curious and homophobic reactions it engenders. Her ability to laugh at people’s questions and comments is what sets her apart from the fray. Esposito also enjoys turning the tables, teasing heterosexuals for the many stereotypes she encounters as a lesbian, and providing a refreshing perspective while doing it. It’s curious to think about how she would transition to TV, because she’d do well in many a format: sketch, sitcom or other.
6. Nicole Byer
Let’s throw away the many terms that get batted about when discussing black female comics. “Fierce,” “sassy” and the like don’t signify individual talent, especially when it comes to Byer’s adept work. Her star began rising with The Pursuit of Sexiness, a project she wrote and starred in with fellow comedian Sasheer Zamata before SNL hired the latter. Performing both stand-up and sketch comedy, as well as regularly contributing to MTV’s Girl Code, Byer would be a strong addition to Comedy Central’s growing roster of forward-thinking sketch shows.
5. Rory Scovel
Given his talent, it’s surprising Hollywood hasn’t done more with Scovel. Perhaps that’s because he’s so hard to categorize. He’s like some kind of comedy shape shifter. He once appeared as an eastern European character that advocates kidnapping grandparents, while another time he made Pete Holmes howl with laughter when he screamed at the moon erroneously appearing during the day. Between his character work and offbeat approach to stand-up, Scovel would do well on television, either in a sketch show or sitcom. He’s got the charm and distinct sense of humor needed to shake up either format.
4. Rachel Feinstein
Like pal Amy Schumer, Feinstein has a decidedly feminist approach to her stand-up. It’s no wonder Schumer tapped her to appear in both Inside Amy Schumer and Trainwreck. Feinstein proves she can hold her own, though, performing in her own Comedy Central Presents special and 2013’s Women Who Kill. Her more recent stand-up integrates a darker side to her humor, revealing the many ways she’s grown since first beginning onstage. Feinstein offers up a refreshing female voice focusing on relationships, sex and being a woman in the 21st century. If that sounds like many a female comic out there, her ability to play with conventions and make fun of women as much as defend them makes the difference.
3. Wyatt Cenac
Cenac made it big thanks to his work on The Daily Show, where he served as both writer and correspondent. He infused the fake news show with important and necessary racial commentary, all delivered with a dry, tongue-in-cheek humor. Besides his own stand-up special, Wyatt Cenac: Brooklyn, he’s lent his talents to Netflix series Bojack Horseman and the dark comedy Hit by David Cross. Thanks to his time onscreen, Cenac is ripe to take on a project of his own. He’s ideally suited for an independent network like IFC, which will help grow his quiet cynicism and slow-paced delivery.
2. Emily Heller
In a sea of self-deprecating personalities, it’s a wonder Heller stands out. That’s like admiring a basketball player simply because he or she is tall. Still, Heller’s committed and astute approach to making fun of her nerdy demeanor and appearance makes audiences sit up and take notice. Where Schumer presents a more colorful feminist comedy that has become the go-to source for cultural commentary, Heller’s stand-up is quieter and all the more thoughtful for it. It’s hard to see her doing the kind of sketch comedy that often requires big, bold personalities, but with a well-tailored sitcom, her voice would be a welcome change of pace for TV comedy.
1. Kevin Barnett
Barnett is the outlier on this list, since technically he currently has a show that doesn’t involve appearing on other comedians’ projects. Thanks to his work regularly appearing on MTV’s Guy Code and writing for The Eric Andre Show, truTV approached him about doing a project, now called Friends of the People. As head writer and a cast member, Barnett appears alongside other young comics, but he has yet to acquire his own major project. Between his stand-up, which earned him the label “one of the fastest rising comics” and his sketch show, Barnett is poised to take on a major project if he continues making the right waves.
Amanda Wicks is a writer specializing in comedy and music. She has also written for Consequence of Sound and The New York Observer. Follow her on Twitter @aawicks.