Comedians to watch in 2014: Eleven up-and-coming local performers

Check out our profiles of eleven LA-based comedians who are hitting it big or about to blow up, so you can say you were a fan of the funny way back when.

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We're experiencing a golden age of comedy—and living on its ground zero. Since Los Angeles has Hollywood, the best and brightest comics eventually head West to work or find work, and meanwhile ply their trades onstage, providing local audiences with a vibrant, diverse and cutting-edge comedy scene. While it's thrilling to catch bona fide celebrities when they return to the live stage, it's more exciting to witness the moment your favorite up-and-coming performers blow up. So click through the slideshow and peek into the minds of 11 local comedians who are hitting it big, right now.

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

Chris Smith

Chris Smith is a guy you always knew would make it because he's LA's version of a triple threat: He's funny, he can act and he's a looker. CBS's highly promoted fall sitcom, We Are Men has already been canceled, but Smith left a lasting impression as the likable straight character Carter, the innocent in a sea of agendas, who is suddenly single for the first time since freshman year of college. Even though his image—jumping into a pool between Tony Shalhoub and Jerry O'Connell—was plastered all over LA, he says he's most frequently recognized as a member of the eight-years running sketch group Harvard Sailing Team. The award-winning, nine-member ensemble is known for executing high-concept ideas with nimble precision and, frequently, choreography. One of their best sketches is nothing more than a series of greetings at a cocktail party, but the repetition of the greeting—an awkward pelvic motion followed by an exaggerated vertical clap, which is never explained—builds in a hilarious momentum. Also a member of HST is Smith's wife Rebecca Delgado Smith, a successful actor herself, who's been with him since college.

 

Time Out Los Angeles: As a long-term-relationship guy, could you relate to your character on We Are Men?

Chris Smith: I totally got that. If I were newly single, I'd not know what to do, or how to date. I've been with Rebecca for ten and a half years now.

Time Out Los Angeles: That was before texting!

Chris Smith: I wonder how we communicated. I think I just called her on my Nokia? I don't know how I wooed her, but it was probably a lot of talking face-to-face, which was nice because she has a good face.

Time Out Los Angeles: Has it been difficult to both be actors?

Chris Smith: I don't know any other way, but I feel lucky to have a partner. We help each other with emails and auditions. And we're able to vent about the stresses, the things you can't control. We lean on each other. It's made me feel more in control of this really unpredictable path.

Time Out Los Angeles: You have the least Google-able name. Do you have a Google alert?

Chris Smith: No. Never. There are just so many Chris Smiths. But I want to be the best Chris Smith—not only that I can be, but that others can be.

 

Catch Smith in Enough Said, in theaters now, and in CBS' We Are Men. Stay tuned to HarvardSailingTeam.com for performance dates of a new live revue currently in the works, and for a release date of the group's forthcoming Above Average channel.

Follow Smith @smithchris and @HSTsketchcomedy

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

Cristela Alonzo

In a meeting with a new agent, Cristela Alonzo talked a bit about her life: Until she was seven, she, her three siblings and their Mexican-immigrant single mother lived as squatters in an abandoned diner in San Juan, Texas, a border town troubled with cartel and gang activity. The agents set up meetings for her with television production companies and told her just to be herself and tell her life story. Although the script she's now developing for ABC is inspired by parts of her life, Alonzo maintains that it's ultimately about class. Before the deal, she toured colleges as a stand-up, a trade she began plying after her mother's death. "I've done 300 colleges, in some towns where people had never met a Mexican before," she explained. "But when I talk about my family struggling, they all get it. It's not about ethnicity; it's about class." Her mother had wanted her to find work cutting hair because, as Alonzo explains, "Hair still grows in a recession."

 

Time Out Los Angeles: How did you become a stand-up?

Cristela Alonzo: I fell in love with television because I wasn't allowed to go outside and play. It was too dangerous. We had this bright orange extension cord and borrowed electricity from a neighbor. I started watching stand-up specials, and my mom didn't speak English, so she didn't know it was inappropriate. People say I'm the only one in my family who doesn't have an accent.

Time Out Los Angeles: What do your siblings think about your career choice?

Cristela Alonzo: My brother, who's a teacher, tells me he wants to be the Turtle of my entourage, you know, like the show—except he uses the Spanish word, so he says he wants to be my Tortuga. And my sister loves the idea that she's in the show. Whenever she comes to see my stand-up, I have to do the resume joke because she's in it, and when I get to it, the entire audience can hear her saying, loudly to her neighbor, "This is me! I love this part."

 

Alonzo headlines the La Brea Improv, Thu-Sun Nov 14-17, and performs at Jimmy Pardo and Friends at Hollywood Improv, Dec 13.

Follow Alonzo @Cristela9 and on her website

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

Brent Morin

With his boyish good looks, Brent Morin seems an unlikely star in a show titled Undateable (NBC). But if you've seen his stand-up, in which he self-deprecatingly chronicles his manic social flubs with women—among other irrepressible gaffes—the casting makes (a little) more sense. Morin rose through the ranks of LA's two-drink minimum clubs, first at the Comedy Store and then at the Improv and the Laugh Factory, but by day he worked as a production assistant at Conan. Once his career started taking off, he had to take breaks from work to appear as a panelist on Chelsea Lately. "I'd get back," he explained in a phone conversation, "and people would be like, 'Why do you have makeup on? Just get me some coffee.'"

 

Time Out Los Angeles: Your Twitter feed is all thank-you replies to people who've tweeted nice things at you. Are you really that nice?

Brent Morin: It's a problem. It's my impulse to be nice back. But then if I don't tweet a bunch of other stuff, replies are all I tweet. Even my agents have said, "Your whole feed is just thank yous. It's becoming an issue." I want to be nice to everyone, but it's out of control. I guess I have to stop. I'll just stop. Then people will be like, "Brent Morin does not appreciate you." Will you print that? Just "Brent Morin does not appreciate you" in big font. And then there'll be a picture of me. And people will be like, "Who's this asshole?" But they'll be reading. And that is a good thing.

Morin appears in NBC's Undateable, which airs midseason. He performs at the Laugh Factory and the Comedy Store weekly.

Follow Morin @BrentMorin

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

Rachel Bloom

If not for her explosively popular 2010 song/short, "Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury", about a sexy sci-fi nerd, Rachel Bloom might not have shaped a career around singing. Now, after eight more high-quality music videos (and several web awards for them), Bloom is developing with Aline Brosh McKenna a musical-comedy half hour for Showtime. It's tentatively titled Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and follows the misadventures of a woman who drops her life to stalk an ex. Arguably the funniest among her videos, frequently directed by Paul Briganti and sometimes cowritten with Jack Dolgen and/or Dan Gregor, are "I Steal Pets," about a high school outcast desperate for friends, and "Historically Accurate Disney Princess Song," which marries chipper animation and orchestrals with grim medieval realities (the plague, brutal antisemitism). These don't receive nearly the same amount of views as those with sexually overt titles like "Bradbury" and "You Can Touch My Boobies," the undereducated fantasy of a 12-year-old boy. Still, one never feels as if Bloom is capitalizing on sex, or pandering with it. It's simply a topic she enjoys and isn't afraid to tackle.

 

Time Out Los Angeles: How do you pull off being both sexual and funny?

Rachel Bloom: Thanks for thinking I do—there's so much debate about women and sexuality in comedy right now, especially on the Internet, so I feel like, if you take any stance on it, someone will hate you. But my partner and I were recently talking about the fact that, in every song I do, there's the "boner-killer moment," like, "Oh, you thought this was hot? Here's Golda Meir!" [The fourth prime minister of Israel appears as a character at a pivotal moment in "You Can Touch My Boobies."]

Time Out Los Angeles: What was the inspiration for that song?

Rachel Bloom: It came from the diary I kept when I was 12 and wrote erotic poetry, stuff like, "We touched each other's chests. On this moment. On this night. We have never kissed like this before." I found the diary and wanted to do something with it, because it's such a funny time—you suddenly have intense sexual feelings, but you have no idea what sex is or how it works.

 

Bloom releases her second album, Christmas Sucks: A Hanukkah Album, on Nov 19 along with music video "Hannukah Honey," and celebrates the release with a concert Dec 7 at Nerdmelt. She also performs at Comedy Living Room on Nov 19, The Novel Cafe on Nov 20, and the Virgil on Nov 25.

Follow Bloom @RachelDoesStuff

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

Taylor Williamson

Taylor Williamson had success early; at 20, he was the youngest stand-up to perform on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. During the following six years, though, he told his jokes—slightly twisted one-liners by turns dark and dad-like corny—in relative obscurity. Then he auditioned for NBC's America's Got Talent and was never sent home. Howie Mandel and Howard Stern loved him from the start, but it was arguably his interplay with skeptical Heidi Klum that won fans (and eventually Heidi herself). She once criticized a performance for not being family friendly, so in advance of his set in the following round, he announced he'd prepared jokes for children. This was a misdirect, the audience gathered, as the bits grew more and more ribald. When he finally won back her approval in a later round, he simply said, "I wish you liked me for more than my body." During the competition, Williamson's album, Laughter? I Hardly Know Her!, shot to #3 on Billboard and #1 on iTunes (in the comedy rankings). He finished second place on AGT, arguably the better outcome for a comic since he's not bound to the winner's Vegas contract. Oh, and he got a kiss from Heidi at the finale's afterparty.

 

Time Out Los Angeles: You talked a lot on the show about your dreams coming true.

Taylor Williamson: I feel so stupid saying that, but they did! Clubs that wouldn't even return my emails are now giving me whole weekends. I got everything I ever wanted as a comedian. And, of course, now I want more.

Time Out Los Angeles: I've been enjoying the pictures you post of fan art. Have you gotten anything really crazy?

Taylor Williamson: I love it all. And it's all crazy. I talk to more teenage girls on Twitter now than I did (in real life) during all of my teenage years combined.

 

Williamson plays the Hollywood Improv Dec 12 and 15.

Follow Williamson @TaylorComedy and on his website

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

Ron Funches

Between punchlines in a silly web video he made about Comic Con, Ron Funches somberly compliments the father on '90s sitcom Family Matters. It is a rare comic who's able to score a huge laugh just by saying, "Carl Winslow was an excellent father." Funches's sweet, soft, hypnotizing voice punctuates each line in his deliberate performances, which will make him a joy to watch in the role of shy single guy Shelly on NBC's Undateable. Onstage, his material ranges from more classic observational set-ups (a man with a confusing neck tattoo) to very personal topics (his autistic son's refusal to eat anything but pizza, and only pizza). Funches also jokes onstage about not fitting in where he grew up, on the tough south side of Chicago, "especially if you're the only brother on the block who's into bumping Alanis Morissette. So 'You Oughtta Know' I moved to Oregon."

Time Out Los Angeles: Is that really why you moved?

Ron Funches: It was the worst time of my life. Then my dad, who I hadn't really talked to in a long time, was moving to Oregon, so mom gave us the option to go with him, which must have been very difficult for her. But now my sister is a doctor and I'm a pretty good comedian. So I think she made the right decision.

Time Out Los Angeles: What does your son think of your jokes about him?

Ron Funches: He's watched a couple of my sets on TV. My favorite is that he'll do an impression. He'll grab a microphone and just be like "blah blah blah."

 

See Funches on NBC's Undateable, which airs midseason. He performs with Brian Posehn at Largo Dec 9.

Follow Funches @RonFunches and on his website

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

Cameron Esposito

Cameron Esposito pulled an impossible feat: She made her network debut simultaneously with two late-night talk show hosts. Technically, she appeared doing stand-up in September on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, but Jay Leno was another of the show's guests. The topic of denim shirts arose in her set—Esposito mines both the stereotypes and realities of life as a lesbian in a tone best described as badass-adorable—so she glanced to her right and mentioned that she and Leno share an affinity for them. Then the three comics riffed a bit and suddenly she abandoned the microphone stand and the rest of her material to join them, after which a conversation led Leno to pronounce "You're the future."

 

Time Out Los Angeles: Did you know Leno would be there?

Cameron Esposito: When I went to the dressing rooms, he saw me and said, "You're the comic on the show. I can tell." He asked what other late-night shows I'd done, and I said this was my first. Then he said, "Oh, you should put your notes away. Don't worry. It's your act; you know it." And I was like, Oh, wow, Jay Leno is giving me advice.

Time Out Los Angeles: And then you made fun of his denim shirt!

Cameron Esposito: You always want to play to the other comics in the room. You just don't imagine they'll be Leno and Ferguson.

 

See Esposito host "Put Your Hands Together" every Tuesday at UCB. You can also listen to the PYHT podcast here. Esposito will appear on Chelsea Lately on Nov 13.

Follow Esposito @CameronEsposito and on her website

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

Thomas Middleditch

After several bit parts and indie roles (The Office, The League, The Campaign), Thomas Middleditch is stealing a lot of spotlight. He's the lead in Mike Judge's new HBO half hour show Silicon Valley—and also costarring in Scot Armstrong's buddy-comedy for Universal, Search Party. Stealing the spotlight is something to which Middleditch is accustomed, as a member of Improvised Shakespeare Co., one of the only commercially successful long-form improv shows ever; and as Doobs, an aggressively odd and wildly popular guest character on the College Humor web series Jake & Amir. "Doobs will follow me to the grave," he told us over the phone. "It could be the trailer for Search Party and in the comments, people will be like 'It's Doobs!'" If Middleditch sounds a bit nerdy, that's because he is. He loves Dungeons & Dragons, parlor games and making rudimentary instruments. But there's one geeky love he's trying to shake.

 

Time Out Los Angeles: You play a lot of video games, huh?

Thomas Middleditch: Yeah. But actually this is the one year where I'm like, maybe I should cut back. Don't get me wrong, I'm playing GTA5 [the latest in the Grand Theft Auto franchise]. But I'm wondering how dangerous it can be of a time suck. You're under control and then suddenly, one Friday to Sunday, you play nonstop. And then you get depressed when you're back to real life. So I'm doing other stuff right now, like amateur [inaudible].

Time Out Los Angeles: Did you just say "amateur camping"?

Thomas Middleditch: No, carpentry—you know, like Jesus Christ. I'm trying to get in touch with my manly side. So I have a couple of tools and a manual on how to make an end table. And then I'll have something, as opposed to a video game where you just have a memory and then the memory is gone.

 

See Middleditch in Search Party, Sept 2014 and in Silicon Valley, airing spring 2014. He performs regularly at UCB in Diamond Lion, Gravid Water and SnowPants.

Follow Middleditch @Middleditch and on his website

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

Kurt Braunohler

There are wild and wondrous impulses in the brain of Kurt Braunohler. Among his high-concept stunts: Hiring a sky writer, via Kickstarter, to paint "How do I land?" over LA; and pasting over local stop signs so they instead read "No, YOU stop!" Until recently, fans of his career—first in improv, then in sketch (with partner Kristen Schaal), and now as a stand-up—knew a lot about his brain, but very little about his background. The personal life of the Conan alum and Chelsea Lately panelist, it turns out, is equally captivating. Perhaps he was saving it. A story he told onstage about deciding, with his girlfriend of 13 years, to each spend 30 days sleeping with as many people as possible—they called it their rumspringa—became a piece on This American Life, and then a development deal earlier this year for HBO. And one of his best jokes, with which he closed his recent Conan appearance, synthesizes into one punchline stories about unknowingly pretending to have Tourette's, and breast-feeding until he was five (Braunohler remembers pausing to ask his mother to change the TV channel).

 

Time Out Los Angeles: When did you finally decide to get personal?

Kurt Braunohler: After I became single, my life put me in a more vulnerable place, so I tried to be more vulnerable onstage. It felt weird at first, letting strangers into your life. Because mostly I do dumb stuff—and I love that—but it can seem surfacey.

Time Out Los Angeles: Was the transition difficult?

Kurt Braunohler: When I started stand-up, I had to start over and I was mad at myself for "wasting" eight years on improv. But now I think improv gave me the ability to be vulnerable. The best improvisers have no filter. If audiences like you, it's because they like the core of you. Improv taught me to be myself onstage.

Time Out Los Angeles: And being yourself is rewarding?

Kurt Braunohler: I always talked about inserting absurdity into the world, but now I realize the world is absurd enough on its own.

 

Catch Braunohler on Chelsea Lately on Nov 21. See him every Monday co-hosting Hot Tub with Kristen Schaal at the Virgil. You can listen to his podcast here, and learn more about his upcoming web series here.

Follow braunohler @KurtBraunohler and on his website

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

Emily Heller

Whether joking onstage, chatting in her podcast or reading tarot on her web series, Emily Heller's point of view is constant. She's smart, acerbic and holds both herself and others accountable (in her recent Conan set, she openly replies to someone who said, "I think a lot of people voted for Barack Obama because he's black," by disdainfully quipping, "A lot of stuff happens to black people just because they're black—the presidency is, like, the least common"). She cuts to the heart of an experience and then, depending on what it requires, either mocks you or makes you feel better. Since she's a thinking-person's comic, we weren't surprised to hear she loves the old MTV cartoon Daria. But then, when a scan through her Twitter feed revealed that she also loves Ally McBeal, we wondered if an affinity for '90s pop culture gives her an edge in her new job writing on the upcoming Fox sitcom Surviving Jack, which takes place in that decade. She was quick to explain, though, that the writers and creators are using '90s references sparingly, wanting to focus more on comedic moments rooted in a deeper level of human experience. So, she's a perfect fit after all.

 

Time Out Los Angeles: Can you please explain the photo on your Twitter page in which you've put your face on each of the four Golden Girls?

Emily Heller: It's part of a celebrity photoshop series I did. Basically, I learned how to photoshop my face onto people's bodies and then I couldn't stop. It definitely freaks people out a lot. Friends and family have been concerned. I used to make a calendar and give it to everyone for Christmas. They're all [72 in total] on my Facebook.

Time Out Los Angeles: Any favorites in the series?

Emily Heller: There's Christina Aguilera. Hmm, I put my face on both Katie Holmes and Suri Cruise. And on the first picture of Blue Ivy. On all five Spice Girls, and all six cast members of Friends. Whenever I photoshop myself onto hot women it's always a bit of a Sophie's Choice whether I'll use their chin or my chin. I used mine on Farrah Fawcett; it's terrifying.

 

Catch Heller performing in Power Violence on Nov 24 and French Toast on Dec 8. You can also listen to her podcast, Baby Geniuses, and watch her web series, The Future.

Follow heller @MrEmilyHeller and on her website

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

Rory Scovel

Many comics are funny on multiple levels, but in Rory Scovel's case, if you've never seen him, you might not know it's happening. In his stand-up appearance on Conan in 2012 (there have been three altogether), he performed in character—and never broke, delivering jokes in a deep Southern accent to the end. You didn't have to know it was a character to enjoy the material, but if you did, your jaw was on the floor. Ultimately, Scovel, from South Carolina, was playing a heightened version of himself, a skill we'll also see at work in his costarring role in TBS's Ground Floor. He plays the wiseass among a group of workplace misfits competing with the corporate overachievers upstairs. Scovel says he didn't set out to be an actor, though. Another unexpected turn this year: Jack White personally asked him to record an album with Third Man Records, White's label in Nashville. Scovel improvises a lot—find him on YouTube suddenly climbing the stage set at the Moontower festival in Austin, in 2012. And you'll hear a lot of improv on the Third Man performance: It was cut in real time on vinyl, so there was no editing or second take.

 

Time Out Los Angeles: I can't believe you climbed the stage set at Moontower.

Rory Scovel: That thing really started to shake. Suddenly, I was like, is this a real tower? Is it bolted into anything? What did I just climb?

Time Out Los Angeles: So when you said, "There's a lot of people here wanting this not to happen," you were among them. Why did you do it?

Rory Scovel: I'd had a couple of bad shows, and I was like, I don't want to do any of my jokes and climbing this will take up three minutes. I was just a guy at work trying to kill time.

Time Out Los Angeles: Kind of like your character on Ground Floor?

Rory Scovel: Right. [Laughs.] I'm very method. Now you know what I'm like at home when I don't perform well: My wife comes back and I'm up in the cupboard, shouting, "I'm climbing stuff! It's all I know!"

 

See Scovel on TBS' Ground Floor, premiering Nov 14.

Follow him @RoryScovel and on his website

Comments

1 comments
COME ON!
COME ON!

I'm guessing the reason all but two of your list is white is because you run in white circles. As the media -- you are perceived as the expert. You are telling us that these people are the ones to watch. Yet you obviously didn't go to a black club. The one black person you did feature, performs in mainstream white clubs. Do some research. This is lazy reporting.