When Natasha Rothwell improvises, she makes no small moves. The D.C.-bred dynamo kicks scenes off with purpose and confidence, or is game to support partners—like stalwart Dan Hodapp—at the drop of a hat. It’s rare that a performer can effortlessly take charge of one scene and contribute only a line or two in the next, but so it goes with Rothwell, who’s hyperattuned to where’s she’s needed in a show. She’s equally magnetic in writing and performing sketch comedy, where she tackles race relations (using the word knickers more inappropriately than you can imagine) and breakups (a weather lady loses her cool on-air) so gracefully, she might as well be talking about rainbows and rainbow-haired ponies. She’s not going home to D.C., so she’s going big. Natasha Rothwell plays Real Characters at McNally Jackson (212-274-1160, mcnallyjackson.com). Wed 13 at 7pm; free.
Martin’s pop culture knowledge borders on Jeopardy contestant-level. Her renditions of Björk—who has a hard time ordering a pizza with “silver waterborne creatures”—and Shania Twain—who is finally “impressed,” despite song lyrics that say otherwise—point out the ridiculousness of their public personas, mock their song lyrics and celebrate the unpredictability they bring to the world. She’s a lover of high and low culture, and a performer versatile enough to convey it all with aplomb. Fresh off a slot in the New Faces Characters showcase at the Just for Laughs festival, Martin continues to workshop solo stuff at the Peoples Improv Theater alongside Matthew Robert Gehring in Matt & Sam. Samantha Martin plays Gentrify at UCBEast (212-366-9231, gentrifybrooklyn.tumblr.com). Fri 8 at 10:30pm; $15.
At first glance, Dan Soder seems pretty content. He stands upright, speaks deliberately and uses only a modest amount of inflection. But the unassuming comic, whose careful observations make him something of an amateur anthropologist, is fed up. For example, he thinks his generation, with its koi fish and talk of “journeys,” ruined the tattoo. Furthermore, regardless of the neighborhood, Soder knows that Russians are the scariest people to run into on the street. And he’s thought long and hard about the consequences of being raised by a single mom, rather than as a wingman for a single dad. With each successful joke, Soder stature grows and his delivery becomes more pointed; as he hints more and more at the anger fuming below the surface, his aggrivation—and his talent—can’t be ignored. Dan Soder performs on the Sam & Joe Show at Carolines on Broadway (212-757-4100, carolines.com). Sun 10 at 9:30pm; $20 plus two-drink minimum.
Mixing the misanthropy of Kyle Kinane with the bubbly, affable demeanor of Pete Holmes, Nick Turner demonstrates that the cycle of aggression and self-deprecation can be a hell of a lot of fun. After telling jokes about misreading overtly racist signage or the politics of eating pizza, he comments on how poorly he’s doing onstage, taking long pauses to collect his thoughts and following up with more negativity about not being able to catch a break in this two-bit town. Turner grits his teeth into a forced smile and commits to his over-the-top, improvised performances so much that the audience has no choice but to root for the poor guy (even if he can’t root for himself). He returned to Gotham’s steely bosom after a stint in L.A., earning him local-hero status in our eyes. Nick Turner performs at Comedy at Beauty Bar (212-539-1389, thebeautybar.com). Sun 10 at 8:30pm; free.
RECOMMENDED: Best comedy in NYC