The good news that is 2017 is almost over. The bad news is that a whole other year is about to begin. And while 2017 wasn’t all that good, and in fact was pretty bad, just truly awful actually, there’s pretty compelling evidence that 2018’s gonna be a whole other ball game. So maybe now would be a good time to look back at some of the nicer bits of 2017. For instance: There was a lot of good comedy made by a bunch of good comedians! Sure, the boom seems to be approaching bust; sure, almost every shiny new digital comedy platform either shuttered or suffered; sure, Crashing got a second season. But on the bright side, there are more comics from more walks of life making more work in more forms than ever before. The old systems are slowly being exposed for what they are. It seems possible, nay, probable that the Borowitz Report gets most of its shares from people dunking on it. And so, with these flickers of hope in mind, we would like to present our picks for the 20 best comedians of 2017. They’re a mix of old favorites and new favorites, stand-ups and TV writers, humorists and a movie star. May they all carry us sweetly, softly, slowly into 2018.
In his latest Netflix special, Annihilation, Patton Oswalt turns unusually personal. Most of the material is devoted to his first wife Michelle McNamara, who passed away suddenly in 2016. It’s a powerful, hilarious hour that finds power in the grimmest tragedy, and proof that even after almost 30 years in stand-up Oswalt is still growing and maturing as a performer.
Photo via Getty Images
A Daily Show correspondent and regular at clubs like the Comedy Cellar, Michelle Wolf has the ability to cover familiar comedic ground—the election, menstruation, cultural and societal struggles between men and women—without ever feeling trite or hackneyed, which is the sign of a great comedian. Her debut HBO special, Nice Lady, is an exhilarating mix of whimsy and sociopolitical commentary that never indulges in clapter. We’re excited to see what she brings us in 2018.
Netflix has released a new stand-up special every single week this year, and sometimes more, and On Drugs from the Lucas Bros. is one of the three or four best out of all of them. Twins Kenny and Keith Lucas almost operate like a single being, casually trading off lines with one another and finishing each others’ jokes. Their unique delivery could be gimmicky but their laid-back, stoner dude vibes are so charming and relaxed that it just feels like a natural extension of their personalities. That delivery also helps them land some very bleak jokes about their upbringing and their hometown of Newark. They prove you can do political comedy with a message without ever getting strident about it.
Photo by Mindy Tucker
This wasn’t just the year Shane Torres made headlines defending Guy Fieri. It also marked the debut of his Comedy Central half-hour and coinciding album, Established 1981. His material is fresh and assured, blending cultural commentary—such as his trademark riff on Fieri and his gripes about Game of Thrones—with honest, well-spun stories about love and life in these insane times.
Saturday Night Live’s most original writer, who penned the as-yet uncontested funniest sketch of the season, also debuted his Comedy Central half-hour in October. If you love Torres’ sketch work, you won’t be disappointed by his stand-up. His tone is much the same—charming, surreal, unpredictable—though the material tends to be a bit on the sillier side, not that that’s a bad thing. His subject matter generally revolves around the absurdities of pop culture or the quirky niceties of human interaction; he operates with a light touch, dealing mostly in quick-hit two- or three-liners that proceed more often by feeling than logic. SNL should just put him in charge already.
One of the few good things Jimmy Fallon did this side of 2016 is have Patti Harrison on the Tonight Show to discuss President Trump’s attempted ban on transgender people serving in the military. It was refreshing to see someone with Fallon’s platform extend it to the target of right-wing hatred rather than the perpetrators, and more importantly it was a good and funny segment! Harrison might not be quite as famous as others on this list, but she’s as talented as any. This year she appeared on The Chris Gethard Show, Broad City, Search Party, Seriously.tv and numerous comedy shows in New York City and beyond. In summary: she’s real great!
Whereas 2016 was merely the year Jo Firestone hosted or appeared on every other comedy show in New York City, worked as a producer on The Chris Gethard Show and popped up in both The Characters and Don’t Think Twice, 2017 was the year she hosted or appeared on every other comedy show in NYC, released her Comedy Central half-hour and joined the writing staff of The Tonight Show. As we’ve noted many times here at Paste Magazine Dot Com Slash Comedy, Firestone is one of the strangest, most delightful voices working today; her work is worth seeking out wherever you can find it.
It was the Oh, Hello of times, it was the Big Mouth of times. In both of their collaborations this year, Nick Kroll and John Mulaney spun weird, heartfelt narratives in worlds that veered effortlessly between the familiar to the uncanny. A second season of Big Mouth is on the way next year, and it’s hardly a stretch to imagine Mulaney’s “Kid Gorgeous” tour will soon become a Netflix hour as well, knock on wood.
Rory Scovel’s classification-defying comedy isn’t for everybody. Our own critic couldn’t harmonize with his Netflix special. That boundary-pushing special is a favorite among Paste Comedy’s editors, though, and a must-watch for anybody who thinks the tired conventions of stand-up need to be upended more often. Scovel had a big year of small parts outside that special, too, with a standout role in the under-appreciated movie The House, scene-stealing appearances on HarmonQuest and Do You Want to See a Dead Body, and a great interview segment on Conan in the summer.
Late night is pretty dumb and generally irrelevant most times, but sometimes, just sometimes, the people you don’t expect to step up to the plate awaken one morning and say, “Today I will step up to that plate.” And in 2017 that plate-stepper was Jimmy Kimmel. Did you think the star of The Man Show would someday become a rallying voice in the fight for health care? We did not think that, but there it is. Thanks, Jimmy! Please do more of that, and less of booking Sean Spicer and his ilk.
It feels like just last week Comedy Central released Joel Kim Booster’s debut half-hour and album, but in fact it was more like five weeks ago. Booster, who’s written for Billy on the Street and Problematic with Moshe Kasher, is an impeccable joke writer and an endlessly captivating performer. His most recent set on Conan was one of the year’s tightest fives, though who’s surprised—so was his 2016 appearance. He’s currently developing a loosely autobiographical series, Birthright, for a mysterious unnamed cable network.
Earlier this year Comedy Central debuted The Opposition, a show that purportedly lampoons fringe right-wing media but does a truly half-assed job of it. Meanwhile ClickHole, The Onion’s parody of BuzzFeed, launched PatriotHole, which has roughly the same concept but, uh, actually does the thing. Like ClickHole proper, PatriotHole’s mix of videos, image content and traditional news parody goes the distance, never indulging the temptation to wink at its audience. ClickHole’s regular (and often political) programming remains top-of-class, of course, but PatriotHole took it to the next level in 2017.
Many people do not know about the Comedy Central series Detroiters. Well, here’s what we have to say to them: Detroiters is great! It is one of the best new shows in a year of best new shows, funny and strange and tender and gorgeously shot and directed. Its creators and stars, Tim Robinson and Sam Richardson, have promised us a second season sometime in 2018 and we think about it every day. Check it out!
The Carmichael Show never got enough love during its short life on NBC. Over its three abbreviated seasons it was the smartest, most daring sitcom on network TV, regularly plowing through sociopolitical issues that most sitcoms would never touch. And it did it all without any of the cloying “very special episode” sentimentality that some of today’s other socially conscious sitcoms often devolve into. Jerrod Carmichael wasn’t just its star but a writer and producer, and a driving force behind the show’s relevance. He also released a very good stand-up special earlier this year on HBO that was, in its way, as political as his show. (And, uh, had a role in Transformers: The Last Knight.)
Insecure is the clear standout on HBO’s current slate of original series, with a second season that pulled off the impressive feat of topping its first. Issa Rae garnered a Golden Globe nomination for her performance, and Deadline reported in October that she’s now developing a new series for HBO. The project, which she’s producing with the author Angela Flournoy as writer and executive producer, will be set in Los Angeles in the early ‘90s.
Reductress is one of the funniest, smartest things on the internet, an incisive sendup of digital women’s media that kept 2017 just a few inches shy of unbearable. Like its competitors The Onion and ClickHole, Reductress puts pretty much every traditional satirist—from late night hosts to authors of The Borowitz Report—to shame. Unlike those other sites, however, Reductress does it with a skeletal staff, led by Beth Newell and Sarah Pappalardo, from a small Manhattan office. Here are just a few of our favorites from 2017: IMDb to Add ‘Yiiiiikes, FYI’ Section to All Existing Profiles; True Ally? This Man Just Died; I’m Sorry I Was Being So Crazy While You Were Treating Me Like Shit; and who could forget, I’m Sorry I Was Being So Crazy While You Were Treating Me Like Shit. Reductress….… thank’s.
One Mississippi, Tig Notaro’s semi-autobiographical Amazon series, dropped its excellent second season earlier this year. It’s a carefully observed family drama with a quiet, enigmatic sense of humor, much like Notaro’s own. She plays a version of herself; her wife, Stephanie Allyne, plays her friend-slash-love interest, Kate. In one episode of season two, Kate walks into a pitch meeting with her boss, a radio producer, who she slowly realizes is masturbating as she pitches him. In press surrounding the season’s premiere, Notaro said she wanted that scene in One Mississippi to show “to show that you can be assaulted without even being touched… Nothing can be said and you are still horrifically violated and scared.” She also told various publications that she no longer speaks to Louis C.K., who was a producer on the show; that she hopes he deals with the then-unconfirmed allegations against him; and that she hopes victims of sexual assault at the hands of powerful people speak out. Few showbiz sitcoms tackle their industry’s evils with this intelligence or bluntness. And few comedians confront their peers—even their former friends and benefactors—so publicly. Here’s hoping others follow her lead in 2018.
Photo by Craig Blankenhorn/HBO
In 2017 The Chris Gethard Show, which came from humble beginnings as a UCB stage show, leapt from Fusion to truTV for its third season of live, hourlong episodes. It’s weird and audacious talk show, one that sometimes misses the mark totally and other times redefines the mark altogether—something you rarely see in late night. This was also the year Gethard’s one-man show, Career Suicide, aired on HBO. It’s… not exactly a comedy special, though it is funny, but also achingly sad and bracingly vulnerable, much like Gethard’s call-in podcast Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People. It’s been a great year for GethHeads.
This was a banner year for Bamford fans. It saw the release of her new Netflix hour, Old Baby, and the stellar second season of Lady Dynamite. Both are moving, formally inventive pieces of art; where Lady Dynamite ballets between time periods, Old Baby moves steadily through larger and larger venues. Each mines humor from small, intimate moments and huge, life-changing set pieces. What’s marvelous about all her work is how lived-in it feels, how specific and true, and how funny because of it.
Who else could it be? Haddish was the biggest breakout comedian of 2017, with a star-making turn in the blockbuster Girls Trip, the only comedy of 2017 to pull in over $100 million at the box office. Stand-up fans were already familiar with her infectious personality, which she got to introduce to a wider audience in August with her Showtime special She Ready! From the Hood to Hollywood. She was once again a member of the best sitcom ensemble on TV during the fantastic last season of The Carmichael Show, and capped off the year by hosting Saturday Night Live, becoming the first black woman stand-up to ever host that show. And with lead roles in Kevin Hart’s movie Night School and the Jordan Peele/Tracy Morgan sitcom The Last O.G., her 2018 could be even bigger.