Best Comedy of 2011

Podcasts grew and new theaters opened as the scene attracted distinguished approval.

  • Photograph: Ari Scott

    Diddy and Chris Gethard

  • Photograph: Eric Drysdale

    The Man with F.E.E.E.T

  • Photograph: Blake McElrath

    Sarah Silverman at BAM

  • The Peoples Improv Theater

  • Photograph: David Velasco

    Reggie Watts

  • Mike DeStefano

  • Photograph: Eric Michael Pearson

    Kurt Braunohler

Photograph: Ari Scott

Diddy and Chris Gethard

Best underdog triumph
After more than a year of earnestly pleading tweets from fans, the heralded meeting between comic Chris Gethard and Diddy (a movement that came to be known as Diddy Gethard) became a reality in early January. The night was joyful and inspiring, and now thanks to the hip-hop mogul, friends can call Gethard by his new nickname: Ray-Ray.

Best new performance circuit
This year the popularity of podcasts grew exponentially, enough to make guest spots coveted gigs—which means fans also get to hear their favorite comics' characters (Comedy Bang! Bang!), film criticism (Doug Loves Movies), obsessions (Nerdist) and therapy sessions (WTF).

Best indie stand-up showcase
Ounce for ounce, week by week, the Comedy as a Second Language showcase at Kabin delivers. Solid talent plus enthusiastic crowds plus intimate space equals staying power.

Best small-venue trend
Though 2011 saw the collapse of big alt-comedy booster Comix, dedicated comedy theaters expanded their roles in the local and national comedy dialogue. The Peoples Improv Theater moved into a striking multilevel complex, the Upright Citizens Brigade opened a cozy new branch called UCBEast, and the scrappy Luca Lounge is now programming shows four nights a week (even as it renovates).

Most welcome corroboration
With stand-up shows at BAM and MoMA PS1, and dedicated coverage from The New York Times, comedy was endorsed by some highbrow organizations. A fart joke by any other name smells just as sweet (to us, anyway), but the embrace from these noted institutions signals either we're becoming less stuffy as a culture, or comedy's importance is being recognized more clearly.

Best oddball comedy-nerd treat
Colbert Report
writer and 3-D photography enthusiast Eric Drysdale created a pitch-perfect parody of classic View-Master reels, titled The Man with F.E.E.E.T., with throwback plastic viewers and a cast of local comics. It was charming enough to spark happy nostalgia in people who weren't even born in the '70s.

Most memorable show/descent into madness
By turns giddy, manic, irresponsible, disturbing and downright Bacchanalian, The Talent Show's Drunk Show perfectly mirrored the arc of getting hopelessly trashed. The evening started with Ira Glass on his belly arm-wrestling Leo Allen dressed as a giant beer, and ended not far from John Hodgman's prophetic comment: "Act three: A trip to the hospital."

Best solo show
It's strange to describe a stand-up show as beautiful, but the late Mike DeStefano's confessional, dark and incredibly generous Drugs, Disease and Death qualified as such—and we'd say so even if he were still around and performing its finished version somewhere. Also worth mentioning in this category are Kate McKinnon's buoyant character showcase Kate McKinnon on Ice and Andrea Rosen's sharp, silly Ding Dong Meow: The Andrea Rosen Show.

Most ubiquitous joke
As the battle for same-sex marriage wages through the states—and was won in New York—we heard 50 riffs on this already-stale conceit: "I support gay marriage; they should be as miserable as we are." If only there'd been a legislative bill for every time.

Hardest goodbyes
It's been a rough couple of years in the stand-up community, as several big names have passed on; early in 2011 we lost Mike DeStefano, and the recent passing of Patrice O'Neal compounded the ache.

Breakout of the year
For years, Kurt Braunohler has shined as a part of various groups (Chengwin, Neutrino Video Projects, Kurt and Kristen). This year's speedy rise up the stand-up ladder and slew of TV gigs prove he'll have a starry solo career, too.

Award for all-around excellence
At this year's New York Comedy Festival, Louis C.K. unsurprisingly slew his audience; the show was more than two hours long, and not a joke was repeated from his equally long and impressive Carnegie Hall show last year. Oh, did we also mention his CD, Hilarious, was nominated for a Grammy? Or that he's been writing, editing and reportedly doing everything but the catering on his excellent show Louie?

In some ways, comedy is fortifying its place in New York City culture: Theaters are busy, offering niche shows ranging from Andy Kaufman--esque character showcases to all-Asian long-form improv. In other ways, the scene is stagnating. Stand-up is still the city's saving grace, going strong in three of the five boroughs, as energized comics display a level of thought and creativity that the improv and sketch scenes currently lack. While it's great there are many more venues to provide stage time, it would be better to feel performers justifying the attention of audiences by pushing boundaries, or, at the very least, playing from their hearts rather than playing to a hypothetical agent.