Best comedy 2013: A stand-up and improv glossary provided by New York comics

Comedians including Nikki Glaser and Sean Donnelly define the terms used by all the best comedy insiders.

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Any fan of the city’s best comedy will know what it means “to kill” and “to bomb,” but what about getting “the light” or performing “kamicomedy”? And what exactly is the elusive “game” in improv? Here, a handful of working New York comics—stand-ups Nikki Glaser, Sean Donnelly and Andy Sandford—and improvisers—Nick Kanellis and Peter McNerney of improv duo Trike—give their cheeky definitions to terms they use in their shoptalk. Plus, they slip in a few new vocabulary words.

RECOMMENDED: Best comedy in NYC

  • Photograph: Mindy Tucker

    Sean Donnelly

  • Photograph: Kayana Szymczak

    Nikki Glaser

  • Photograph: Gemma Fleming

    Andy Sanford

  • Nick Kanellis

  • Peter McNerney

Photograph: Mindy Tucker

Sean Donnelly


Stand-up

To kill

Sean Donnelly: To do so well that even that guy in the front who decided he wasn’t gonna laugh at anything is laughing pretty damn hard.
Nikki Glaser: To feel a sort of euphoria that makes me forget that my mother didn’t hug me enough.

To bomb

SD: To do so bad that you can audibly hear [audience members] whispering heckles.
NG: To feel affirmation for everything you already think about yourself.
Andy Sandford: When the room is so silent you can hear the sound of your dreams being strangled.

Being rusty

SD: What you blame your bombing on when you haven’t gone up in a week.

Tag

AS: The line you say after you have said the punch line and gotten the laugh—because it’s never enough, and every joke wants to go out like a boxer.

Callback

NG: A reference to a joke you made earlier in your set. It is also a thing you won’t receive from that comic you slept with.
AS: It allows the audience to relive the moment that literally happened minutes ago but, to the comedian, has been a lifetime.

Hack

AS: Short for hackneyed. A tired, unoriginal, worn-out premise that everyone is already aware of—or a tired, unoriginal, worn-out comedian that no one is aware of.

The light

AS: The discreet flash of a cell phone from the back of the room to let you know your allotted time onstage is nearing its end…or to let you know it’s time to say, “Looks like I’m gettin’ the light” and bomb for ten more minutes.

Juicy

NG: My friend and I once coined this term to describe a tired premise; it’s named after the multitude of jokes about girls who wear sweatpants with words like "Juicy" on the butt.

Ambush

SD: Me and my friends use this term when there’s a group of random people who just happen to be at a coffee shop on a Wednesday at 8pm and who are magically transformed into a comedy-show audience.

Kamicomedy

AS: My own term for when it is painfully evident that you and the crowd are on different pages, and you decide to set all the pages on fire because at least you’ll still be in control.

Nikki Glaser stars in Nikki & Sara & Friends at Gramercy Theatre (212-614-6932; thegramercytheatre.com) Fri 8 at 8pm; $29. Sean Donnelly performs in My Dumb Friends with Dan St. Germain at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre (212-366-9176, ucbtheatre.com) Fri 8 at 9pm; $15. Andy Sandford plays hosts Freaknik with Noah Gardenswartz and Steve Forrest at the Creek and the Cave (781-706-8783, creeklic.com) Sat 9 at 10pm; $10.

Improv

Audience suggestion

Nick Kanellis: This is the first [piece of information] that inspires the improv; the rest of the show is inspired by the suggestion or what’s happened so far.
Peter McNerney: It’s also the most commonly misunderstood thing. I’ve seen people watch [a show] for 20 minutes thinking, How is this about muffins?

Initiation

PM: This is the very first offer from the improviser to step out at the top of a scene—the first thing someone says or does.
NK: Strong initiations indicate where you are, who you are and what your relationship is.
PM: You want to come across like you are someone or something specific, other than a scared person on a blank stage. Which you are.

Game of the scene

NK: It’s the most interesting and playable part of a scene.
PM: If you want to hear people argue incessantly, improvisers in New York love to have the argument [about what it is]. They don’t realize they’re talking about different things, and it doesn’t matter.

Sweep edit

NK: This is when somebody runs across the stage so everyone knows it’s the end of the scene. It’s really hard when doing a scene on a track; people just keep running by. Never do a scene on a track.

Pimping

NK: This is when you put the onus on the other improviser to come up with something, or put them in a position where they have to act something out. Like, “Hey Peter, you have to do that dance where you yodel and have to do a backflip.”
PM: You’re never supposed to do that to anyone, unless you’re playing with Nick Kanellis.
NK: I love being pimped out. I guess I’m a prostitute.

Nick Kanellis and Peter McNerney play in Trike every Saturday at the Magnet Theater (212-244-8824, magnettheater.com). 10:30pm; $10.


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