15 of the Best Humorists Writing TodayPhotos: Caitlin Kunkel (by Jen Brown Photography); Karen Chee (by Bridget Badore); James Folta (by Matt Nelsen) Comedy Lists Humorists
Paste recently wrote about a handful of humor websites any fan of comedy should be reading. Now it’s time to focus on the writers. The internet is currently enjoying a nice little satire boom, as the long-standing tradition of printed humor has largely moved online and stirred up a host of new sites following suit. This, in turn, has provided countless writers with new opportunities and real career mobility. Here are just a few of the best of those writers who we like to read, and think you will, too.
Based in Chicago, Lillian Stone has been featured regularly by The Belladonna and McSweeney’s, where she recently published the bizarrely relatable “I’m A Clog Bitch Now.” A sample because I can’t help myself: “A cool thing that happens now that I’m a clog bitch is I can pull Joan Didion quotes out of my mouth. They’re printed on small slips of paper in my digestive tract. All I have to do is unhinge my jaw a little and one or two will pop out from under my tongue.” That should speak for itself.
In the last few months alone, LA-based writer and comedian Ginny Hogan had one of her pieces (“Examples of Toxic Femininity in the Workplace”) included in the “Not-To-Be-Missed Shouts of 2018” round-up, and another (“Idioms Adopted for Climate Change”) included in the print edition of The New Yorker. Plus, as the founder and co-editor of Little Old Lady Comedy, she helps provide a platform for other writers, as well.
Mary Cella, the co-creator of Little Old Lady Comedy with Hogan, has also cast a wide net over satirical writing on the internet, penning pieces for the usual slate of heavy-hitting websites (I’d recommend “What I Would Say If I Were Going to Catcall A Man (Which I’m Not)”, while also branching out into both humorous and personal pieces for The New York Times, including “Wanted: A Personal Assistant for Some Unconventional Tasks”. Regardless of the platform, all of her work is balanced, witty and well worth your time.
Karen Chee has very recently parlayed the whole online humor thing into some pretty big successes, writing for the Golden Globes and joining the writing staff of Late Night with Seth Meyers. But even before that, she was already known for her Twitter presence and prolific outpouring of material for The New Yorker and other outlets. When she’s not doing all that, she’s co-hosting stand up shows at New York hotspots like Union Hall and Caveat. She’s written a litany of great pieces like “Spooky Things Have Have Happened Since They Opened That Sarcophagus in Egypt” and has a work ethic to put any self-respecting writer to shame.
As a staff writer at The Late Show with Stephen Colbert following her time heading the editorial video department at The Onion, Jen Spyra has been extremely busy. But her output of humor writing is a must-read. Ranging from mini-kitchen-sink-dramas like “Family Watching Movie White-Knuckles It Through Unexpected Sex Scene” to speculative satire like “To the Class of 2050” (read for The New Yorker Radio Hour by Rachel Dratch), you’ll find yourself listening closely to your TVs to hear Spyra’s distinctive voice.
A regular contributor to Reductress, where she’s responsible for pieces like “Meet Jennifer Maltby, America’s First Openly Basic Mayor” and “Instead of Calling My Ex, I Made Him My Emergency Contact And Got Hit By A Car”, Lizzie Logan also happens to be proof that a great humor writer makes for a great multi-hyphenate: she recently completed writing and directing the micro-budget feature People People—starring Natalie Walker—in addition to spitting out humor writing like nobody’s business.
Not only is James Folta (previously covered by Paste as one of the editors of Points in Case) a regular contributor to The New Yorker—most recently with “The Stories Behind the Portraits on Our Money”—but he was also one of the co-creators of The Neu Jorker, a blisteringly specific cover-to-cover parody of “New York’s most stimulating, mid-to-high-brow magazine.” It’s not the first parody magazine of its kind that Folta’s spearheaded, and hopefully it won’t be the last.
Bay Area writer Irving Ruan is fantastic at mapping the old onto the new—or vice versa—with pieces like “Julius Caesar’s Assassination: The All-Hands Meeting” (co-written with Ellis Rosen). It’s not easy to pull off humor pieces in dialogue form, but it’s something you can rely on from Ruan without fail. You can rely on him just as much for biting satire, as with his list “Everything You Know About Me, the Asian Character You’re Not Falling In Love With In A Hollywood-Produced Romantic Film/TV Show.”
Jason Adam Katzenstein
Paste covered Jason Adam Katzenstein in last year’s list of New Yorker cartoonists. But his work there extends beyond just one panel. Katzenstein’s equally talented at writing pieces, like “Subtle Behavior Changes When My Roommates Are Out of Town” (with the illustration mantle being taken up by Nick Thorburn), and short, melancholic comics like “Before the Date”. The way we see it, the ability to explore work like this is one of the greatest benefits of The New Yorker’s “Daily Shouts” expansion.
It’s hard to pick out individual samples when it comes to the very prolific River Clegg, who has contributed to The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, The Onion and Clickhole with intimidating frequency. However, he makes sure to pack a lot of entertainment value into his writing, so you can even pick a piece randomly, skip to the middle, and get something out of it. Don’t do that, but if you did, you might get “I don’t enjoy Miles Davis, but I want to be seen as someone who might enjoy Miles Davis. I hope this information is helpful,” from his New Yorker piece “How to Market to Me,” which should encourage you to go back to the beginning.
Riane Konc’s most recent accomplishment may have coined a new phrase in the world of online humor writing, with McSweeney’s Internet Tendency editor Christopher Monks calling the feat of publishing a piece on McSweeney’s and The New Yorker in the same day a “McShouty.” Those two pieces—“Tips for Writing A Novel” and the coincidentally-titled “Congrats on Your Accomplishment!”—are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to her work, however. We’d read a whole book featuring more of the definitions she dives into in “Jazz: A Few Definitions.”
Her status as a current writer for Wyatt Cenac’s Problem Areas on HBO makes Taryn Englehart an ‘editor-at-large’ at Reductress at the moment, but her catalog there is required reading—though, if you’re a fan of the site, you’ve likely encountered her work already. Reductress and Englehart both excel at pieces that mock most successfully by aching with personality, which “How to Talk at Parties When You’d Rather Be Silent and Full of Pierogis” is an excellent example of. Her writing has also made certain readers turn red and take a hard look in the mirror, as with “Opinions About Robocop Guys LOVE.”
Felipe Torres Medina
Felipe Torres Medina made a well-deserved bit of a viral splash during the peak of the Marie Kondo craze with his Points in Case piece “I’m Marie Fucking Kondo and You Can Keep All Your Fucking Books, You Ingrates”. The rest of his work—from “As Your Senator, I Vow to Never Do Anything That Will Upset Bob, 54, From Indiana” to “This Woman Accidentally Said Something Racist and They Gave Her a Column in the New York Times”—is similarly, refreshingly un-coy.
If a satirical website thrives on having the unified voice an actual newspaper would have, the best satirical writers are the ones who contribute to that voice by writing something that’s still inexorably their own. Enter Lauren Lavín, whose insane headlines like “Report: 80 Percent of Vegan Leather Jackets End Up in Landfills, On Cool Seagulls” have done just that for The Hard Times. Including op-eds like “What Almost Talking to a Poor Taught Me About Rent Control”, writing like Lavín’s is what makes The Hard Times so fun to read whether you’re a poseur or not.
We’ve written about former Paste contributor Caitlin Kunkel recently as one of the co-founders of The Belladonna and one of the co-authors of the excellent New Erotica for Feminists. However, if you’re thinking about writing some of this stuff yourself, and are concerned at the fact that there isn’t really the same infrastructure for learning how to write humor and satire the way there is for improv and sketch comedy, Kunkel is currently rectifying the situation as the creator of the satire writing program at The Second City. You can check out some of her sage advice right now, or simply learn a lesson from the fruits of her labor, my personal favorite being this piece she co-wrote with Kate Villa: “Your Quest: Bring A Bag of Ice to This Party”.
Graham Techler is a New York-based writer and comedian. You’d be doing him a real solid by following him on Twitter @gr8h8m_t3chl3r or on Instagram @obvious_new_yorker. A real solid.