Late Night with Seth Meyers made waves when it ditched the standard late-night monologue last week. The late-night template as codified by Johnny Carson has been stretched beyond its breaking point now that there are a half-dozen talk shows on the air at the same time. Anything that shakes up the formula will be welcomed at this point, even James Corden’s odd decision to interview both nightly guests at the same time. One thing that needs to stay, though, is the stand-up slot. Talk shows don’t have stand-up comedians on every night, but pretty much all of them will showcase a few comics a month. It’s a crucial way for comedians to grow their career, and for comedy fans to find new comics to follow.
Of all the late-night talk shows on the air right now, Conan O’Brien’s Conan might do the best at highlighting stand-up. Conan features a great mix of established professionals and up-and-comers, and they put a lot of the performances up on their YouTube page. All these stand-up clips can be found on the stand-up playlist, and although the selection might be just a little too heavy on white guys, it’s a good overview of the state of stand-up today. Here are our favorite stand-up clips from Conan’s YouTube page.
10. Chris Fairbanks
This is why it’s important for late night talk shows to keep up the tradition of having stand-up comedians occasionally close out the show. I wouldn’t have heard of Chris Fairbanks if it wasn’t for this clip. He still has room to improve but this is a solid five minutes of deadpan absurdity wrapped up inside a distinct voice and awesome sweater.
9. Jenny Zigrino
Jenny Zigrino is charming, like in the traditional sense, like she probably makes an amazing impression on your parents. She’d kill at retail or telemarketing. She also kills at comedy, as this clip proves. She disarms with her sunny, smiling delivery of edgy material, from bits about hipster Hitler hair to jokes about her weight that aren’t the same stereotypical lines we’ve heard from zaftig comedians for generations.
8. Joe Zimmerman
In his five minutes on Conan Joe Zimmerman takes a bit about Google that describes something almost everybody has experienced and turns it into a long aside about crows before hilariously coming full circle. His mild-mannered, almost nervous delivery is ingratiating, and reminds me a bit of underrated veteran Jake Johannsen.
7. TJ Miller
Compared to his live show, TJ Miller’s appearance in October 2011 is surprisingly subdued at first. After his story about a nightmarish flight, though, he reels off a few characters he’s created, and it turns into the sort of unhinged weirdness you expect from Miller.
6. Simon Amstell
In this clip the anxious Brit explains why he’d be awful at an orgy and how he wishes he’d explored his sexual opportunities more enthusiastically when he was younger and single. His set is charged by the contrast between speaking openly about sex while simultaneously seeming totally befuddled by it, and it all makes Amstell come off as immensely likable.
5. Tig Notaro
One of the earliest clips on Conan’s YouTube page features some fantastic stool-based comedy from a pre-breakout Tig Notaro. With Notaro’s dry delivery and the absurdity of the stool bit this is one of the show’s most idiosyncratic stand-up clips.
4. Todd Barry
If you like Todd Barry’s legendary deadpan you might laugh at literally anything he says. That’s basically where I’m at, so this clip from March 2014 is one of my personal favorites from Conan. This is the better of the two Barry clips on Conan’s YouTube, but the September 2012 set is almost as good.
3. Nate Bargatze
Some of Nate Bargatze’s best material is about his dad’s career as a magician and clown, and he leads with it in this clip from April 2013. Bargatze doesn’t work in set-ups and punchlines—he’s a storyteller, and his low key Southern demeanor and self-deprecating tales are hilarious and charming.
2. Ron Funches
The most adorable man in comedy destroyed his five minutes on Conan back in February 2014, even with a crucial F word getting bleeped out. There’s a class of comedians who can make almost any joke hilarious through their delivery. Think Mitch Hedberg, Hannibal Buress, and the aforementioned Todd Barry. Ron Funches is absolutely at that level, with his sweet, sing-songy delivery making him irresistibly likable.
1. Jon Dore and Rory Scovel
Jon Dore deconstructs the talk show stand-up segment with a little help from Rory Scovel, O’Brien and Andy Richter. It starts off like a normal stand-up bit, but quickly derails into a format-breaking conceptual piece that could’ve run on Late Night with David Letterman in the early 1980s.