The best (and worst) of 2010

A less-than-banner year still gives us whatever laughs it's got.

  • bestworst2010johnlutz

    John Lutz

  • bestworst2010hannibalburess

    Hannibal Buress

  • bestworst2010GregGiraldo

    Greg Giraldo


John Lutz

Funniest premise
After a Christian group solicited donations for Stephen Baldwin—Alec's born-again brother—Patrick Borelli and Jon Benjamin sprang into action. They staged a comedic fund-raiser, and gave the proceeds to a different Stephen Baldwin, a guy who lives in Brooklyn.

Best blast from the past
In the tongue-in-cheek-titled Eugene Mirman Festival showcase, An Evening of Comedy from 1986, Ron Lynch screened a Louis C.K. club audition tape from 1986. Then he, C.K. and Emo Philips all performed, proving that some old dogs have new tricks.

Best book
In Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead, Rick Meyerowitz, the National Lampoon artist behind the enduring image of the Mona Gorilla, compiled some of his favorite artwork, text and stories from Lampoon's manic heyday. He reminded us not only of the magazine's reach in contemporary satire, but also how damn good it still is.
Buy Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead on | Buy it on

Best improv shows
Anything with 30 Rock's John Lutz (with 2 Square or John and Scott) or Ed Herbstman (with the Armando Diaz Experience or the Mantzoukas Brothers).

Best solo show
Pamela Murphy survived breast cancer and wrote comedy about it. The C Word is neither sentimental nor detached, only unflinching and very, very funny.

Best big-budget tour
A lot of famous TV and film comedy acts, past and present, blew through major venues this year, and most of them phoned it in. But in Cinematic Titanic, the original cast of Mystery Science Theater 3000 proved to fans how much they still care.

Fastest-rising new star
Stand-up comic Mike Vecchione has that magic formula of being an excellent joke writer who also appeals to a wide-ranging audience.

Breakout award
This year, Hannibal Buress left Saturday Night Live to write for 30 Rock. More importantly, he left his stand-up peers in the dust, crossing into a new level of comfort and skill. It's possible he'll one day be a legend.

Weirdest trend
Suddenly, everyone thinks they can do stand-up, including Jackass's Steve-O and the Naked Cowboy. It's flattering that they want to, but honestly, confounding.

Worst omen
First the staff at Comix started leaving. Then came the announcement that the club's programming will include more music and parties. It's good news for the other headliner clubs, but terrible news for the scene on the whole.

Saddest goodbye
These pages will be emptier now that we won't have as many opportunities to praise Greg Giraldo, who died in September, as one of the funniest and most emotionally brave comics of his time.

Best stand-up, runner-up
This year, Bill Burr stopped using standard, relatable ideas in the set-ups for his jokes; now, a mischievous glee comes over him when he announces his grossly perverse premises, knowing that joke by joke, he's going to justify his notions—e.g., that there are reasons to hit a woman—and gain the audience's trust in a way no one else we've seen can.

Best stand-up/Show of the year
Louis C.K. was in complete control throughout his New York Comedy Festival set at Carnegie Hall: Punch lines landed with assurance, improvisations grew wings, and his audience remained at rapt attention until he released them. Unblinking, unafraid and undeniably funny, C.K. has long been considered one of the best working stand-ups, but now he's joined the ranks of the best comics of all time.

Report card

This was not a bright year for comedy in New York. And it's a direct result of the boom of the mid-'00s. L.A. poached our top performers, who wisely moved west to pursue acting and writing, leaving an A-list talent vacuum behind. The gifted improvisers still here are spread too thinly over multiple theaters, and the sketch scene, to be blunt, is dismal. Fortunately, no city (in the U.S., at least) can compete with New York when it comes to stand-up. The very nature of the art form is tied into Gotham's way of life. And so even though many of the brightest left for California, the base of rising stars is still strong and deep, better perhaps than it's been in a long while. In the basements of downtown bars, you'll find a vibrant, exciting and hilarious blueprint for the decade of laughter to come.

Final grade: B-

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