TV Alert: On HBO, last Sunday brought back the best series on TV, Game of Thrones; but other reasons to rejoice were the return of Silicon Valley, Veep, and most especially John Oliver’s thoroughly brilliant Last Week Tonight. If you aren’t watching these shows, repent your ways and start tonight, either live or via HBO GO.
NYC Comedy Week Alert: Get two-for-one tickets
for comedy shows one last night here
Tonight’s recommendations for the best in New York City comedy (in chronological order, with top picks noted and shows over $10 marked with $) include:
[TOP PICK] [$] 6:00 pm ($22 & 2-drink min.) Two of the most iconic comics in the biz, Gilbert Gottfriend and Lewis Black, chat for a live podcast taping at the Carolines Comedy Club: Gilbert Gottfriend’s Amazing Colossal Podcast with Lewis Black
6:30 pm ($5): Improv troupes not affiliated with any comedy school compete at UCB East for audience laughs and votes—and the privilege to go on to perform at the primary Cage Match show at UCB Chelsea—in this show hosted by the delightful Amey Goerlich & Ryan Karels (Krompf): Indie Cage Match
[MEGA-TOP PICK] [$] [DISCOUNTED] 7:00 pm ($11.54 online using code JUICE, otherwise $20 at the door): The movie parody Unauthorized musicals by Christopher W. Barnes (book, lyrics, and direction) and Ryan Mercy (music composer and the shows’ one-man band) are crafted with breathtaking speed—going from idea to staged production in as little as two months—and have energized NYC’s comedy community by blending sketch and theatre to create something fresh, vibrant, inventive, and filled with laughs.
Virtually all Unauthorized shows are based on SF/fantasy franchises: Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, The Hunger Games. The one exception is Steel Petunias, whose comedic target is Steel Magnolias, a 1989 film classic about a small town community of Southern women who are both as delicate as flowers and as tough as industrial metal.
I don’t know what led Barnes & Mercy to make such an extreme deviation from their successful formula…but I’m very glad they did. Steel Petunias is actually the best-crafted musical of the Unauthorized series to date; plus it has a lightness and heart unmatched by its SF/fantasy counterparts.
Part of the production’s charm is its willingness to be highly playful with the source material. For example, one of the movie’s most famous scenes involves Julia Roberts’ character being at risk of going into hypoglycemic shock until her mother, played by Sally Field, gives her orange juice. Steel Petunias wrings every drop of entertainment possible out of this with a show-stopping song & dance number—which includes the lyrics apparently being slightly misheard by passersby, resulting in three black-garbed and bearded Hasidic men bursting onto the stage to do a dance out of Fiddler in the Roof. They don’t stop until one of the Southern gals has to sweetly explain, “Juice! Not Jews!! It’s juice!!!“
But even more important than the witty script & songs is the delicious all-gal primary cast—which includes Dana Shulman (a stand-out star even among these all-stars), Adrian Sexton, Julie Feltman, Emily Mathwich, Taylor Ortega, and Emily Essig—who form one of the finest comedy ensembles in NYC. The warmth between the women and their pleasure in performing with each other is clear, and gives the show a wonderful dimension that goes beyond anything that can be scripted.
In fact, many of these actresses are also dynamite improvisers, and they’re quick to take any small accident, audience interaction, or other unexpected incident and make it part of the show. While these in-the-moment bits of joy are by definition unplanned, at the performance I saw they were among the highlights of the production.
Frankly, I’m a huge SF/fantasy fan, and not remotely the target audience of Steel Magnolias. In fact, I watched the movie only as preparation for attending this parody (and even then, I managed to get through only the first half…). But of all the Unauthorized musicals to date, Steel Petunias has the tightest script and musical numbers, and the most uniformly great cast…and is my favorite of the series.
That said, Barnes & Mercy realize that what they’re made with lightning speed are brilliant first drafts. So keep an eye out for improved versions of Unauthorized productions as time goes on…especially The Hungry Hungry Games. With honing, both the latter and Steel Petunias have strong potential for healthy commercial runs.
7:00 pm ($5): A shortform improv troupe visiting from Hartford Connecticut perform for one night only at Brooklyn’sThe Annoyance Theatre (367 Bedford Avenue; take J/M/Z to Marcy Avenue or L to Lorimer Street): The Wacky Hats
[TOP PICK] 7:30 pm ($10) and 9:30 pm [FREE]: UCB Chelsea’s signature improv comedy extravaganza, which typically includes superstars in the improv world such as Shannon O’Neill and Anthony Atamanuik, and sometimes network TV & movie stars such as Amy Poehler and Horatio Sanz: ASSSSCAT 3000
[TOP PICK] [$] 7:30 pm ($35 & 2-drink min.) A star of Saturday Night Live and writer for Chris Rock (and one of the actors in Chris’ movie Top Five) headlines one last night at the Carolines Comedy Club: Leslie Jones
[TOP PICK] 8:00 pm ($5): Superb improvisors Ali Faranakain, Micah Sherman, Jenn Welch, and more make up theatrical scenes at The PIT downstairs lounge for this weekly show produced by Micah Sherman & Sarah Nowak:People Improvising
[TOP PICK] [$] 8:00 pm, 9:45 pm and 11:30 pm ($14 per show, plus 2-item food/drink min.): Tonight’s stand-ups include Greer Barnes, Nick Griffin, Jeff Leach, and Ryan Reiss (hosting) at the 8:00 show; Mark Normand, Joe Machi, Carmen Lynch, and Sean Donnelly (hosting) at the 9:45 show; and Ari Shaffir, Big Jay Oakerson, and Sam Morril at the 11:30 show, with all three shows at Comedy Cellar (117 MacDougal Street, between 3rd Street & Minetta Lane):Comedy Cellar Sunday
[TOP PICK] 8:00 pm ($5): Superb improvisors Christina Gausas & Michael Bertrando perform two-prov at Brooklyn’sThe Annoyance Theatre (367 Bedford Avenue; take J/M/Z to Marcy Avenue or L to Lorimer Street): Come Together
[TOP PICK] 8:00 pm ($10 at the door or $11.59 online): Iconic former child actress Mara Wilson (Matilda, Mrs. Doubtfire; currently a writer; cast member of podcast Welcome to Night Vale) hosts this show about “death, commitment, sock puppets—everyone’s afraid of something. Laugh at your fears as Mara takes you through comedians’ anxieties (and a few of her own),” tonight featuring comedic storytellers Erin Barker (producer of The Story Collider), Brian Kennedy (Moth StorySlam winner), and Tynan DeLong (Mortified Nation, The Chris Gethard Show) performing at Brooklyn’s Union Hall: What Are You Afraid Of?
8:00 pm ($5): Amber Nelson (dynamic stand-up & character comic; Comedy Central; sketch group Murderfist), Kenny Zimlinghaus (Sirius XM Radio host), Katina Corrao (HBO, Comedy Central’s Broad City, VH1, co-host ofLasers in the Jungle), Kendra Cunningham (SNL, Jimmy Fallon, The Tyra Banks Show, Law & Order), Greg Stone, Jeremy Essig, and Andrew Tavin performing stand-up at UCB East hosted by Kara Klenk (Comedy Central, Spike, Nickelodeon): If You Build It
[TOP PICK] [DISCOUNTED] 8:00 pm ($7.50 online using code ComedyWeek; no min.): Amanda Seales (VH1) performs a one-woman show about love mixing characters, music, and audience participation at The Stand Comedy Club (239 Third Avenue & 20th Street): Amanda Seales: It’s Complicated
[TOP PICK] 9:00 pm ($7): Mark Normand (hilarious red-hot rising star; Conan O’Brien, Comedy Central Half Hour, Inside Amy Schumer, Last Comic Standing, VH1’s Best Week Ever; comedy album Still Got It), Keith Robinson (HBO, Comedy Central, Wanda Sykes Show), Zainab Johnson (Arsenio Hall, Last Comic Standing, BET’s Comic View), Erin Jackson , and Daniel Simonsen performing stand-up at Brooklyn’s Knitting Factory (361 Metropolitan Avenue) hosted by Will Miles, Clark Jones, and/or Kenny DeForest: Comedy Night at the Knit
[TOP PICK] 9:30 pm ($5): Superb improvisors and guest improv groups join host Skycopter (which typically includes the incredible David Carl) to make up one-act plays on the spot at The PIT upstairs theatre: Act One
Sunday Open Mics & Open Stages
[TOP PICK] [ALMOST FREE] 5:00 pm ($1): The spectacular Tracy Mull loves short-form improv games with a passion, and so is the perfect host for this jam that lets audience members—including you—put their names in a bucket. Tracy will then repeatedly pull out a name and a game and facilitate improv magic at The PIT upstairs theatre: Sunday School Short-Form Jam
5:30 pm (no cover, 1 drink min.): Weekly open mic stand-up, with comics selected from names tossed into a bucket starting at 4:55 pm, at Brooklyn’s Legion Bar (790 Metropolitan Avenue) hosted by Aaron Glaser, Irene Hartmann, and/or Carlos Delgado: Sunday Open Mic
Best Inexpensive Stand-Up, Improv, Sketch, and Storytelling
Upright Citizens Brigade Chelsea
(307 West 26th Street; 150-seater; shows free-$10; one of the most respected comedy theatres in the world)
Upright Citizens Brigade East
(153 East 3rd Street; 99-seat main theatre, bar area for open mics; shows free-$10)
(123 East 24th Street; 99-seat upstairs theatre, 40-seat downstairs theatre; shows free-$15)
(254 West 29th Street; 60-seat theatre; shows $5-$10)
Best NYC Stand-Up Comedy Clubs
(117 MacDougal Street; among the finest daily stand-up lineups in the world; 2-item min.)
(239 Third Avenue; recent competitor to Comedy Cellar; no drink min.—support this policy!)
Carolines Comedy Club
(1626 Broadway; focuses on the world’s top headliners, who perform hour-long sets; 2-drink min.)
Gotham Comedy Club
(208 West 23rd Street; headliners on weekends, specialty & lineup shows weekdays; 2-drink min.)
Comic Strip Live
(1568 Second Avenue, off 81st; Upper East Side club with typically solid lineups; 2-drink min.)
Stand Up NY
(236 West 78th Street, off Broadway; Upper West Side club with typically solid lineups; 2-drink min.)
Laughing Devil/The Standing Room
(4738 Vernon Blvd., by #7 train; Queens LIC club; free cover Fri-Sat with code LICVIP; 2-drink min.)
From legendary NYC comedy site Brooklyn Vegan: Thank God for Hy Bender’s religiously updated show bible BestNewYorkComedy.com. He is literally the only person in NYC providing daily summaries of what’s happening comedy-wise. It must be exhausting keeping that monster of a website alive…It is your daily comedy itinerary and it scares me how on top of his shit this guy is.
Please feel encouraged to reach out to tell me about comedy shows, hire me for book or screenplay work, or for any other reason by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.