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Five must-see shows at this year's New York Comedy Festival

Plus, how the festival is broaching taboo topics this year.

Shaye Weaver
Written by
Shaye Weaver

A week of non-stop laughs is on the way to NYC with the New York Comedy Festival and with so many acts in the lineup, it's hard to know which ones are the must-see shows.

Between November 8-14, more than 200 comedians including Vir Das, Tim Dillon, Colin Quinn, Michelle Wolf, Michael Rapaport, Megan Stalter, Ronny Chieng, Jon Lovett’s Lovett or Leave It, Smart Funny & Black Live, Nick Kroll, Alok, Marc Maron, Brian Regan, Gary Gulman, Bill Maher, Michelle Buteau, Andrew Santino and more will set audiences up with punchlines at the Apollo Theatre, Beacon Theatre, Carnegie Hall and Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden.

RECOMMENDED: The New York Comedy Festival 2021 guide

For the first time this year, the festival is hosting two days of panel discussions, appearances and conversations about diversity, equality, gender gaps and inclusion on the comedy scene called "Citi Presents: Comedy Included." The NYCF and the Female Quotient are curating the program that'll include transformative leaders, comedians, writers, influencers, and producers who will speak about taboo topics like cancel culture, traumatic reactions in comedy, loss, motherhood, stereotypes, and the perceptions about humor in the workplace.

But as for which comedians to see, here are five must-see sets at NYCF below:

1. Amanda Seales: Smart Funny & Black Live! 

Amanda Seales
Photograph: United Talent Agency

Comedian, actress, writer, producer and more, Amanda Seales, known for her role on HBO's Insecure, is also the creator of "Smart Funny & Black"—a gameshow and battle of the wits that tests contestants' knowledge of black history, black culture and the black experience. Each show includes games set to a live band and ends with one guest literally taking the "L" and the other taking the crown, being inducted into the "Illustrious League of Master Blacksperts." Seales is good about taking serious topics (racism, rape culture, sexism, police brutality, etc.) and making them relatable and interesting through her intellectual wit, silliness, and a pop culture obsession.

Friday, November 12 at Apollo Theater, tickets are $39

2. Gary Gulman: Born on Third Base

Gary Gulman

With 25 years of skin in the comedy game, Gary Gulman has mastered his own brand of hilarity and inspiration. His latest stand-up special for HBO, The Great Depresh, is a tour de force look at mental illness. He has made four-hour-long Specials and has appeared as a stand-up on late-night shows. He has appeared as an actor in Joker and Inside Amy Schumer.

Saturday, November 13 at Carnegie Hall, tickets are $29.50 to $69.50

3. Bill Maher: An Evening with Bill Maher

Bill Maher
Photograph: Bill Maher

The political talking head and comedian Bill Maher still sells out theaters across the county, performing at least 50 dates a year in Las Vegas and is coming to NYC for the festival. In comedy since 1979, Maher is known for the Politically Incorrect show on Comedy Central (1993-2002), HBO’s Real Time and his combination of honesty and humor—earning him 41 Emmy nominations. 

Saturday, November 13 at Hulu Theater at MSG, tickets start at $46 


Photograph: ALOK

An internationally acclaimed gender non-conforming writer, performer and public speaker, ALOK Menon explores themes of trauma, belonging and the human condition. They are the author of Femme in Public (2017), Beyond the Gender Binary (2020) and #DeGenderFashion: a movement to degender fashion and beauty industries and have been honored as one of Huffington Post’s "Culture Shifters," NBC’s Pride 50, and Business Insider’s Doers. They currently serve as a contributing editor to the White Review.

Saturday, November 13 at BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center, tickets are $37.50 

5. Eric D’Alessandro

Eric D’Alessandro
Photograph: @ericdalessandro

New York native Eric D’Alessandro draws from the deep well that is his big Italian-American family for his raw comedic sketches and uncensored, relatable rhetoric. He started YouTube channel where he developed his comedic skills from a young age and built a loyal fanbase. His recent video "Mask Off Remix (Walmart Diss)" has gone viral gaining over 16 million views. He has toured up and down the east coast, in addition to shows in Canada and Las Vegas. And in 2016, he was featured in the drama/mystery movie Nerve, alongside Emma Roberts and Dave Franco, in part because the film’s directors added him to the script after seeing his viral videos.

Monday, November 8 at New York Comedy Club, tickets are $25

The full lineup for the 2021 New York Comedy Festival can be found here.

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