Hello. My name is Seth Simons (M/24/5’5”) and I have seen every comedy show in New York City and I am pleased to say: comedy sucks. It blows chunks, muchachos! It’s all just someone saying something they thought about, which maybe you also thought about, and then maybe they twist it slightly or maybe the joke is they don’t twist it at all, and then everyone hoots and hollers and goes home to their loved ones, which is probably the worst part of everything. Ugh!
Luckily for you, if you happen to be someone with my exact tastes, New York is home to a thriving alternative comedy scene. “Alternative” is a mostly meaningless word that either means “smarter and better and funnier than everything else” or “incoherent undisciplined meta self-serving garbagio” depending on who says it. For our purposes, alt-comedy is best defined negatively: it generally does not happen in a club, usually does not consist of observational storytelling, and sometimes doesn’t resemble stand-up at all. But sometimes it does all those things, because language is a construct and someday we’ll all die of having not died already. Woohoo!!
Anyway, for those of you who either live in New York or dream of someday living here, a.k.a. everyone, lol!, here are the ten best alt shows in the big town where it all goes down and everyone loves to clown around:
I used to work at a tech startup, forgive me, for a boss whose entire personality was quoting TED Talks. It was a dark time in my life, and probably other people’s lives, but then I found a spreadsheet of how much everyone else got paid and I instantly transformed into the handsome successful freelance writer I am today. Anyway, Eric Thurm’s Drunk TED Talks is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: smart people getting smashed and talking about stuff they like. The lineups tend to favor writers and journalists (like Casey Johnston, Alana Massey and Rachel Syme) over comedians (like Ariel Dumas and Sasheer Zamata), but I still think it’s kosher to call this a comedy show, because, fuck TED Talks.
Monthly; next show August 10th – 8 pm – Littlefield – $5
Holy Fuck is a grab bag of improv and (mostly improvised) sketch, unwritten and unrehearsed by an ensemble of standout Annoyance Theatre performers. For the unfamiliar, the Annoyance approach to improv is generally less focused on game than on character; founder Mick Napier has written, in a not-so-implicit critique of the UCB, that the conventional rules of improv are “destructive” constraints on the player’s, well, ability to play. (“Game”? More like “Lame”!!) Annoyance-style comedy encourages the bizarre and unpredictable—as opposed to identifying a joke in the first beat and playing it to death in the rest—which makes for some truly sublime scenes (and plenty of costume changes) in the theatre’s tentpole variety hour. (While you’re at it, check out Annoyance veterans Matt Barats and John Reynolds’ show Sadie Hawkins Day at the UCB—you might recognize Reynolds from Netflix’s Stranger Things.) Also it’s free! Neat.
Thursdays – 10:30 pm – Annoyance Theatre – Free
Cinema, like comedy, is a bad and stupid form, and has been ever since that nerd filmed that other nerd sneezing. Get a life! Perhaps New York’s oldest and most respected panel-based film-centric comedy hatefest, Fuck That Movie is hosted by Joel Kim Booster (Conan) and Anna Drezen (Reductress), two comics who you really ought to catch while you can still catch ‘em for five bucks in a Williamsburg bar-slash-audiovisual-boutique. Every month their panel of comedians, both emerging and emerged, lampoon some of our culture’s most beloved films, which are all terrible.
Second Fridays – 8 pm – Videology – $5
If you don’t know John Early from his stand-up, you surely know him from Netflix’s The Characters, 30 Rock, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, that confusingly subtextually regressive Neighbors sequel, or this private video diary he kept seven years ago. I don’t know what we did to deserve it but he’s still in New York, knock on wood, and still curating Ars Nova’s monthly variety show, where $20 gets you two (2) drinks and one slice (1) of pizza and one (1) evening of comedy and/or theatre and/or music and/or dance and/or performance art. That’s four different things! Four times the normal amount of things in a thing! Guests have included Kate Berlant, Guy Branum, Bridget Everett, Jermaine Fowler and Reggie Watts, though Showgasm would still be worth the cover if it were only Early and his DJ, DJ Hamm Sandwich.
Monthly; next show TBA – 8pm – Ars Nova – $5-20
Ana Fabrega, whom you may recognize from her recent set at the Paste Studio, hosts a themed show every(ish) first Sunday at Williamsburg’s Over the Eight. It’s a dark, intimate space and Fabrega is a darkly intimate performer—calculated, unpredictable, earnest even in her most outlandish characters. Sundays With Ana is usually structured as a character showcase and/or some manner of genre parody, as in a recent installment that satirized Moth-style storytelling, which, let’s not even.
First Sundays – 8 pm – Over the Eight – Free
Mary Houlihan, Joe Rumrill, Sam Taggart and Julio Torres host this (FREE) stand-up show in a Brooklyn watch showroom. Here are some riffs on that: the secret to good comedy is TIMING, ha ha ha! It’s fun to WATCH some jokes with your friends, lol! It’s just a matter of TIME until you give up on your dreams, jk jk! So yeah, it’s a consistently well-booked show with plenty of that sweet sweet top-of-show banter we all love, especially me, the guy who loves top-of-show banter. These hosts are also notable for their video work—I’m particularly fond of “Big Email,” “Down by the Duckpond,” and “XMAS SONG,” which are pretty representative of the sort of kindhearted goofery you can expect from Future Forms.
Monthly; next show August 23 – 8 pm – Throne Watches – Free
On first glance, New American Comedy is a pretty standard stand-up show featuring a rotating crew of the city’s bolder young artists—Sandy Honig, Anthony Oberbeck, Peter Smith—hosted by Steven Markow and Zach Mandeville. What I like about the show is that it encourages cross-disciplinary work. The stand-up often takes cues from poetry and spoken-word, which I find exciting for a number of reasons, including this one I’ll explain now: if a poet in a poetry reading says the word “you”—I love you, you are one cool cat, you remind me of the moon or whatever—that second person is implicitly singular; we tend to read poems as private communiqués to an individual reader. If a comedian says “you” in a stand-up routine—I love you, you suck, you know what I mean, etc—it is implicitly plural, addressing the audience as a whole. When a joke starts sounding like a poem, that “you” blurs the private into the collective and suddenly I can’t tell who I am in relation to the comedian or the people around me, a rare sort of disorientation that amplifies the funny bits as well as the serious. Was this a fun paragraph? Do you still like me? Who cares!
Monthly; next show TBA – 8 pm – Union Hall – $6 adv/$8 door
Tbh I was into Life Is Pain before I ever saw Life Is Pain because the title spoke to my deep-seated belief that life is pain. Then, the first time I saw the show, Blythe Roberson, who hosts with Lily Karlin, spun a National Treasure 2 plot synopsis into one of the funniest cleverest surprisingestest bits I’ve ever seen. Another thing about that night was, I took a girl I liked, and she brought a different dude and then left with that dude, and I got a meatball sub. But not everything’s about ME. Guests have included Joe Pera, Lane Moore, Abbi Crutchfield, the terrific Friends Who Folk and pretty much everyone in this listicle. Also, do you ever take the meatballs out of the sub and rearrange them first by size, then density, then hue, then just eat them solo and throw away the bread?
First Tuesdays – 8 pm – Union Hall – $6 adv/$8 door
Hosted by Catherine Cohen and Patti Harrison, a.k.a the Slurp Girls, and Mitra Jouhari, one of the Three Busy Debras, It’s A Guy Thing is a lecture series with the Very Important Purpose of explaining things to women. These usually take the form of PowerPoint presentations—topics have included business, dads, horses and How To Make Chicks Cum Hard—and occasionally more theatrical experiences. Cohen, Harrison and Jouhari also compose delightful original musical numbers for each show, frequently resulting in catastrophic technical difficulties. Fun!
Monthly; next show August 20 – 8 p.m. – Union Hall – $6 adv/$8 door
I think Jo Firestone is the greatest. I think this web series she makes with Aparna Nancherla is the greatest. I think her prodigious multitude of recurring live shows—Punderdome 3000, A Hastily Written Masterpiece Starring The Audience, Loose, Friends of Single People, Firestone Success Academy, The Incredible Game Show Showcase, Ridgefield Middle School Talent Night, and on and on—are the greatest. Her work is silly and smart and wholly unpretentious; she plays to and cares about her audience more than anyone else in the game. It’s the greatest! This is me expressing a sincere emotion. Okay bye!
All the damn time – all over the damn place – cheap, baby!!
Seth Simons is a Brooklyn-based writer, performer, and birdwatcher. Follow him @sasimons.