50 funniest New Yorkers
The best comedians—and most hilarious writers and performers—living in Gotham, as picked by TONY.
Mon Apr 16 2012
Photograph: Pete Souza
David Letterman, right, on Late Show with David Letterman
Photograph: Noah Kalina
Photograph: Wilson Webb
The Coen brothers' A Serious Man
Kristen Wiig, left, in Bridesmaids
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Chris Rock, right, in The Motherf**ker with the Hat
Photograph: United Artists/Court
Woody Allen, right, in Annie Hall
Photograph: Mary Ellen Mathews/NBC
Photograph: Gavin Bond
Photograph: Eric Leibowitz/FX
Louis C.K. on Louie
Photograph: Pete Souza
David Letterman, right, on Late Show with David Letterman
10. David Letterman
To us, Letterman has always seemed like that wry, jaded uncle who we really want to like us. He started Late Show on CBS in the early '90s (after Jay Leno took over The Tonight Show, despite Johnny Carson picking Letterman, then host of NBC's Late Night, to fill that slot), and his bouts during contentious interviews with the likes of Bill O'Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix created some classic TV moments. But he's even better when he bubbles with enthusiasm while chatting with guests he clearly adores (Bill Murray, Ricky Gervais).—TL
See him live: Fill out a request form online from three months out until the day of the show; or, request same-week and—on weekdays—same-day tickets in person at the studio (Mon–Thu 9:30am–noon; Sat, Sun 10am–6pm). Call the standby phone line at 11am on the day of taping to be assigned a number and studio arrival time; you will only be admitted if any seats remain after regular ticket holders have entered. 1697 Broadway between 53rd and 54th Sts (212-247-6497, lateshowaudience.com). Mon–Wed 4:30pm, Thu 3:30, 6pm. Must be 18 or older.
9. Reggie Watts
Most people remember their first time seeing Reggie Watts the way they remember a first kiss or a celebrity death: with indelible shock and awe. This funky, freaky dervish, who came up in East Village rooms like Invite Them Up before moving on to bigger gigs like Conan O'Brien's tour and the Secret Policeman's Ball, defies categorization. His grand, twitching Afro, impish spirit, and his whirlwind of music, characters and bits—most all of them improvised—make him a unique comic we'll claim as our own until the day he moves to Mars.—ML
8. The Coen brothers
Claiming that this duo is responsible for more quotable comedies than any other filmmaker isn't much of a stretch. (Hell, The Big Lebowski and Raising Arizona alone would put them in the running.) And although the NYC-based creative team hasn't portrayed the Big Apple on film since the 1994 screwball comedy The Hudsucker Proxy, that's about to change: Currently, Joel and Ethan are reportedly filming the Carey Mulligan-starring, NYC-set drama Inside Llewyn Davis, which centers on the '60s folk scene in the Village.—TL
7. Kristen Wiig
We dare you to not break a smile whenever Wiig hits the screen. On SNL, which she's rumored to be leaving, her weird, eccentric characters (half of the ill-prepared singing duo Garth & Kat) and impressions (Lana Del Ray, Michele Bachmann) typically kill. She shows even more promise on the silver screen, though, stealing scenes in every film she's in—bit parts (Knocked Up), secondary roles (MacGruber) and leads (Bridesmaids, the surprise commercial hit that she cowrote)—without resorting to the look-at-me tactics that SNL skits often encourage.—TL
See her live: Advance tickets for SNL tapings between September and May can be obtained through a once-a-year lottery; enter by e-mailing email@example.com during the month of August. 30 Rockefeller Plaza between 49th and 50th Sts (212-664-3056, nbc.com/tickets). Dress rehearsal 8pm; live show 11:30pm. Must be 16 or older to attend.
6. Chris Rock
This Brooklyn-born comic didn't reinvent the wheel when he became a stand-up; he worked hard, followed in the footsteps of heroes like George Carlin and Richard Pryor, and honed his style until it was unmistakable. Rough but friendly, Rock continues to hit familiar premises (men and women, black and white) while crafting memorable, highly quotable and painfully true punch lines. (Since 1996, we've never been able to think about platonic friendship with a woman as anything more than being "a dick in a glass case.") Though his last HBO special, Kill the Messenger, came out a few years ago, he's perennially working on something and still drops by the Comedy Cellar to try out his set.—ML
5. Stephen Colbert
"If you're an act, then what am I?" Stephen Colbert posed this question to Bill O'Reilly in a 2007 episode of The Colbert Report, and it encapsulates the Comedy Central vet's appeal. With his portrayal of the bloviating, over-the-top "Stephen Colbert," the real Colbert deftly calls attention to the absurdity of the 24-hour news cycle—both the talking heads that dominate it and what is actually deemed "news" these days. (His recent, very public creation and manipulation of his own Super PAC, for example, memorably flouted asenine campaign finance regulations and any party officials playing along—all while legitimately participating in the political process.) His infamous speech at the 2006 White House Correspondents' Dinner, during which he essentially called then-president George W. Bush a boob to his face, remains a master class in political satire.—AP
See him live: Online ticket releases open up around two months prior to taping, but disappear almost immediately—so check The Colbert Report website regularly. Sign up for standby seats in-person at 4pm; after putting your name down, you’ll be asked to return at 6pm to find out whether or not you got lucky. 513 W 54th St between Tenth and Eleventh Aves (colbertnation.com/tickets). Mon–Thu 7:30pm. Must be 18 or older.
4. Woody Allen
He's lauded by many (us included) as the quintessential New Yorker—neurotic, hardworking, bookish, equally cynical and romantic. He's a living link back to the comedy scene in the Village of the early '60s (if you haven't heard his comedy album, Standup Comic, a great example of long-form comedic storytelling, get on that). And as a filmmaker, he's released must-view efforts in every decade since he started making movies in the late '60s. He's still really funny, too, as illustrated by his dry-witted quips in 2011's Woody Allen: A Documentary and anytime he cracks wise during a film junket. Plus, the Woodman's cinematic love letters to NYC probably spurred more people to move here (again, us included) than…well, anything that comes to mind, really.—TL
3. Tina Fey
SNL's former head writer (the show's first woman in that position) is almost universally adored, and for good reason: In addition to Fey's status as a iconic writer and producer, her Liz Lemon character on 30 Rock captures a sort of goofy, quirky, independent everywoman that was sorely missing from television, and her hardworking, down-to-earth demeanor (cutting her teeth at Chicago's Second City in the '90s, seeming refreshingly relatable in interviews) only amps up her charm.—TL
2. Jon Stewart
The host of The Daily Show since '99, Stewart deserves huge props for continuing to keep the show funny (not to mention relevant with the kids and, occasionally, almost profound) lo these many years. During his tenure, The Daily Show has become an ace career booster; and Stewart's ability to both draw out laughs from potentially dry interviews with scientists and political analysts, and distill the cable-news media circus into clear, entertaining bits remains unmatched.—TL
See him live: Check The Daily Show website two months in advance of shows for periodic ticket releases—but be aware that tapings are always overbooked, so admission is not guaranteed. Confirmed seats are allotted to ticket holders on a first-come, first-served basis from 2:30pm on the day of taping; given the popularity of the show, we’d advise turning up early. 733 Eleventh Ave between 51st and 52nd Sts (thedailyshow.com/tickets). Mon–Thu 6pm. Must be 18 or older.
1. Louis C.K.
Let's confirm what any city denizen with eyes, ears and even a vague semblance of consciousness knows: C.K. is the hottest and most prolific comic of the last several years. Add up the headlining gigs at Carnegie Hall, his remarkably sad and funny FX series Louie (on which he performs almost every task imaginable) and the cool million he made selling his last special online for $5: The man's act has developed into an undeniable force, matching a smart and naturally dark outlook with brutally honest confessions that appeal to the muzzled misanthrope bound up in each of us. Success hasn't dispelled the dark cloud so far, so here's hoping C.K. can retain those essential New York qualities of nihilism, resilience and begrudging affection.—ML
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