4 Comedy Specials to Watch: Seasoned Stand-Ups Making D…

JASON ZINOMAN Judah Friedlander “America Is the Greatest Country in the United States” (Netflix) A trailer for “Judah Friedlander: America Is The Greatest Country in the United States.” Video by Netflix Judah Friedlander, who has been performing regularly since 1989 without putting out an album or special, uses more than a dozen punch lines in the first two minutes of his new special, a pace he sustains for more than two hours. If comedy were measured by volume, an argument could be made that no one offers a better dealRead More

In the World of Comedy, Improv May Now Be More Importan…

JASON ZINOMAN Wasson cinematically dashes from era to era, from the Broadway success of Nichols and May to the emergence of the original “Saturday Night Live” cast to the golden age of Chicago improvisation when Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey were all cutting their teeth. What mars this book, however, is not its overreaching claims or narrative ambition, but its fuzzy conceptual framework. It’s like a lively scene with great jokes but no direction. Improv comedy is not merely comics making things up on the spot,Read More

Comedy Is Booming. I Can’t Wait for the Bust.

JASON ZINOMAN As with every other culture industry, the internet democratized the scene, diminishing the power of gatekeepers, opening up avenues for success, and serving audiences that had been mostly overlooked. A former improviser like Grace Helbig found a large young female fan base on YouTube, and comics like Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams turned their live show into a podcast, 2 Dope Queens, that led to a deal with HBO. There are so many options now — not just internet channels but also cable players like IFC and AdultRead More

Kathy Griffin’s Wild Show: Defiant, Shaken, Then Fainti…

JASON ZINOMAN As a result of this tasteless photo, Ms. Griffin didn’t just receive death threats, lose gigs and sponsorship money, and get fired as a host of CNN’s annual New Year’s Eve special. She was also put on the no-fly list and became the subject of a Secret Service investigation for, she says, “conspiracy to assassinate the president.” When she asked the federal agent why the government was going to such extremes, the woman pointed upward, indicating, Ms. Griffin interpreted, that this came from the president himself. Onstage, inRead More

The Most Riveting Host in Late Night (and the Most Over…

JASON ZINOMAN In his first years on TBS, Mr. O’Brien still seemed haunted by losing “The Tonight Show,” but his series now has the pleasing eccentricity of someone who doesn’t care about ratings or expectations. In the past two weeks, he has brought on weirdo characters like Butterscotch, part of a long tradition of creepy clowns, and a guy doing a Dracula impression who can’t stop making bad puns (“I don’t want to sound like your mummy but …”), a bit that spun out unexpectedly into a story of addictionRead More

Review: In ‘Wait for Your Laugh’ and ‘Gilbert,’ Comedia…

JASON ZINOMAN Photo Rose Marie in “Wait for Your Laugh,” a documentary about the star, now 94. Credit Rose Marie Films, Vitagraph Films Rose Marie has been famous for so long that “Wait for Your Laugh,” a charming documentary about her nine decades as a performer, doubles as a history of 20th-century show business, focusing on vaudeville, early radio comedy, the birth of Las Vegas and the evolution of the female sitcom star. Now 94, Rose Marie, who proudly asserts that she went by her first name before any otherRead More

Moms at the Mic, on the Verge of a Breakthrough in Come…

JASON ZINOMAN “Soggy, hanging, mushy purple nipples,” she says, roaring out the last word with disgust. Then she raises her chin, a parody of poise. Ms. Pazsitzky projects the vibe of a slightly belligerent friend who likes messing with you. She snorts at her own jokes and pokes fun at the crowd for being too uptight about certain bits. Occasionally, a nasal note in her voice evokes Roseanne Barr, whose “domestic goddess” material touched on motherhood but was more of a response to an earlier era of male comics, theRead More

Sarah Silverman Wants to Pop Your Bubble

JASON ZINOMAN Since Ms. Silverman became a star at the start of the new century, the stature of the comedian has shifted away from its roots as spitball-tossing outsider. For better and worse, some stand-ups are now treated like political oracles on social media. And during times of tragedy, late night talk show hosts regularly deliver solemn monologues. On the day I interviewed Ms. Silverman, Jimmy Kimmel unleashed a scathing broadside against the Graham-Cassidy health care bill that dominated the conversation about the legislation the next morning. While Ms. SilvermanRead More

Watch the Evolution of Cringe Comedy in 9 Clips

JASON ZINOMAN ‘The Office’ (2001-2003) Most Awkward Interview Ever – David Brent – The Office – BBC Video by BBCWorldwide “The Office,” like all of modern comedy, has a prehistory. Ricky Gervais has cited “The Larry Sanders Show” as an influence. And Steve Coogan’s portrait of the talk-show host Alan Partridge in “Knowing Me, Knowing You” seems to have helped inspire Mr. Gervais’s character. Yet the groundbreaking BBC series about a soul-deadening paper company, which went on to spawn an equally brilliant American version, found its own comic language. TheRead More

Meet a Looser, More Personal Seinfeld

JASON ZINOMAN Photo Jerry Seinfeld in his first special in years, “Jerry Before Seinfeld.” Credit Netflix When Jerry Seinfeld started criticizing political correctness in comedy a few years ago, some nodded their heads and others rolled their eyes, but nearly everyone was baffled. Why would the squeaky clean, rigorously inoffensive comic even care? The reason, I suspect, is that Mr. Seinfeld pays close attention to his audiences, both what they laugh at and how their tastes change. While few think of him as a radical innovator, he has been aheadRead More