How to handle rejection (in comedy): the top 5 ways

As you ponder the path that will help you become a successful comedian, you’re going to have to get used to a few things. One of these is being an unsuccessful comedian, at least for a little while — a subject I covered with a delightful article about how I inadvertently terrified a roomful of Youngs with a simple herpes mention at the mic. Another challenging reality will be rejections. Lots of rejections. So here’s my take on how to handle all those times when you don’t book the gig.

Get a life

I’m not trying to be shady! I mean this quite sincerely and with great love. Is comedy the only thing you think about, or do you have a community surrounding you that is rich enough and nurturing enough to help you sustain these rough ups and downs? If you find yourself obsessing about a recent rejection, reach out to a friend who will understand.

If you don’t have such a friend, get one. Get three. Everyone (your teacher, your aunt, your bank teller) understands rejection in one way or another, but you will find that your circle of artist buddies really gets, better than anyone, what it feels like to put your heart on the line and then not book something. Rejection in comedy can be particularly shaming because you make yourself really vulnerable when you’re trying to make people laugh. So when someone tells you they’re not feeling it, it feels somehow personal.

Make sure that your actor/artist/comedian/poet/musician friends know you have their back. Support your friend when she doesn’t get the role she wanted or when she is rejected for the second time from Jazz Choir. Be there for your squad and they will be there for you.

Comedy may look like a solo endeavor when you’re watching somebody’s Netflix standup special, but a quick Google search will reveal the enormous team and community behind every comedian.

Look for a pattern  

Are the yesses and nos you’re getting early in your early career starting to show a pattern?

I studied theater in college. After being roundly rejected from nearly all my auditions in my first two years of school, I unexpectedly booked a wonderful paid show that called for actors who could write, sing, dance, and act. I marveled at this opportunity, because so many of the things I’d auditioned for that year called for me to do only one of those things.

In the years to come, I’d consistently get rejected from shows and opportunities, but whenever writing was in the mix, I’d book the show, the sketch group, the workshop. Once I had the presence of mind to reflect, the pattern became pretty obvious: Writing comedy was the thing that separated me from other aspiring artists; performing the comedy I had written was a close second. Those were the skills that booked me the jobs.

Take a look at your recent yesses and nos. Does a pattern emerge? Can you look at that pattern with a little bit of detachment (I promise, you can be bitter as you want when you’re done reading this article, but just indulge me for a sec)? Let the rejections fall away and take a look at where you are getting those yesses.

Now, to contradict myself. If you are very new to the comedy game, don’t read into your rejections at all. Notice that I was reflecting on my first two years of college when I began to trace this pattern. It may be too soon for you to do that. If that’s the case, just keep on trucking. Your rejections, though they may sting, are basically irrelevant information for you, young squire;  right now your job is to build up your endurance and keep getting back in the saddle of the comedy horse that keeps throwing you off. Yes, you can!

Have a ritual

When you work out, you do a warm-up and a cooldown. (Or you should, anyway.) The warm-up is to get your muscles ready, and the cooldown is to return your muscles to normal. Your emotional muscles work in much the same way.

When you prepare for a big audition, for instance, you get your brain and heart working at full capacity. You warm up, prepare for that moment, and give it all you’ve got. One thing I learned recently from a quick interview (aka phone call) with Peak Performance Coach Rae Tattenbaum (aka my mom!) is that after a big show or audition, you need to have a come-down ritual to bring your brain and heart back to a neutral state.

I told my mom that I was having trouble focusing after I had done a big show. I told her that my mind and body still felt like I was performing. I was on edge and couldn’t relax and move on to my next projects, despite their looming deadlines. She told me that I needed to cultivate a cool-down process after shows/events/auditions so that I could bring myself back to a neutral state and start my next projects without what Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, calls “attention residue” — the feeling that you’re still kind of doing the last thing you did when you try to start the next thing.

Rejection works the same way. When you get the email or the phone call or you see the cast list posted, have a little ritual or quiet moment planned ahead of time. Honor the effort you put in with a cool-down ritual to thank yourself and just be sad for a little bit if you need to be. The day you’re expecting news, plan ahead for it, and you won’t be blindsided if it’s bad news that comes your way.

Reward the effort, if not the result

My friend had submitted a killer writing packet for a TV show and gone through multiple rounds of interviews. She was very close to booking a job that she had put many hours of work and daydreaming into. After a month of labor and back and forth emails, she called me, heartbroken, with bad news: She was not hired. She confided in me that she felt she might not get over this for a long time. What could she do to put all those lost hours in perspective? What should she do about this terrible feeling that she’d never book anything ever again?

This cuts to the heart of rejection pathos. It’s like cooking a whole meal, smelling it as it comes out of the oven, serving it to diners who get to eat it and then having nothing left for yourself. Rejection can leave you feeling cheated and dissatisfied.

Best way to solve this? Jewelry. Well, costume jewelry.

I told this sad friend what I tell you now: Go buy yourself a little present that will forever remind you of what a great job you did in pursuit of this opportunity. Celebrate what you know to be your success, even if you didn’t get the results you wanted.

My friend bought herself a little silver ring that depicts a hand making the OK signal. She wears it all the time. To her it means, “You done good, kid.” It helped her to close the chapter and, indeed, she did go on to write for a different TV show not long after — with me, no less! Lucky girl!

Follow up

Just because a gatekeeper rejects you in this moment doesn’t mean they always will. It took me three auditions to get into my college’s prestigious sketch-comedy group. Persistence pays off and, along with that, follow-ups pay off. Stay in the network of the people who reject you, if you like them and think you’ve got a future collaborating together. Sometimes you’re not quite ready, or they’re not quite ready for you. Wait it out and when the fates align, your persistence and your follow-ups will pay off.

Rejection is a temporary thing. A temporary thing you hafta go through for a long time. That’s the truth, but it’s no way to end an article! Here’s a picture of a llama with a very cool haircut. In my eyes, you are as brave and as fabulous as this llama. Go forth and make your comedy!


Read Emma’s bio.

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How to start your own (funny) podcast: the 8 things you need

Elsa Waithe is a comedian, activist, and all-around wildchild. Her comedy is a mix of light-hearted but critical jabs at homosexuality and race but mainly herself and weed. She can been seen as a regular performer (and producer) at the Cinder Block Festival and in her feature on an episode of the This American Life podcast. She is also an instructor and incredible supporter of GOLD Comedy!


My partner and I launched our podcast, 2 Spicy, as a response to Heather’s being laid off, and my constantly getting 30-day bans from Facebook. We wanted do a joint project that highlighted news and activism and amplified voices on the left in an effort to push those in the middle further leftward. That’s all we had when we started: an idea, and time. We had no equipment,  experience, or money. But we did have lots of FRIENDS—and tons of questions. Our first step was to reach out to our network and ask them EVERYTHING.

So now, I’m here to tell you what we learned—by asking and by doing—so that you, too, can start your own podcast. Here are the top things you need.

A topic and a take.

The idea of the podcast was to discuss some of the things that would get me banned from Facebook. We both had really strong ideas and opinions on the world and wanted a way to communicate them other than social media. We’d always been told by the folks around us that they really valued our opinions. In deciding your brand/topic, look toward your interests and hobbies. Surely there’s nothing new under the sun, so don’t be discouraged if there’s already a podcast that deals with your chosen topics. No one can talk about it in the way you do. Humor keeps your listener engaged, it doesn’t need to be goofy or campy to be funny. It just has to be interesting, and the more complex and niche, the better. You want to talk about sports? Then talk about something specific, like worst football fumbles. Politics? Maybe funny speech flubs. Try recurring segments. Have listeners write in. Humor can spring from your personality, your rapport with your co-host or anywhere.

A good partner.

As a creative couple we’ve always wanted to do a project that combined our talents. Mine, speaking and humor. Heather’s, thoughtful analysis. We were told before we started the podcast that we wouldn’t make a good podcast because we “agree too much”. We posit that good podcast partners need not agree on every topic nor do they need to argue all the time. It’s more about good on-air chemistry and banter.

Equipment: free and crowdfunded/donated.

It is entirely possible to start a podcast with zero dollars. We reached out to our community about helping us record and someone with podcasting experience volunteered to bring his equipment to our apartment. After releasing a couple of episodes and receiving positive feedback, we knew we wanted to be able to record more often without having to wait for someone to come from the other side of Brooklyn. We found out what basic equipment we needed and made an Amazon wishlist, totaling a little over $400. The basic equipment needed was a Zoom recording device, 2 microphones with mic stands and an SD card.  Within a few weeks all items were either purchased for us or donated to us..

Research and prep.

Our podcast focuses on current news and trends so our research involves following the news, watching trending topics on social media, and whatever fun/interesting/scary articles we come across during the week. We compile 6 to 8 topics, the points we’d like to discuss about said topics and try to order them in a way that will flow on-air. There’s no scripts, just a pre-planned outline. We like to be able to flow as the convo grows organically.

A platform.

Of course the main platform is iTunes. But not everyone is jazzed about Apple products so we are also on BuzzSprout and Stitcher. We don’t use it, but there’s also SoundCloud. These are places where it is free to host your podcast but there are also services where you’d pay. We’ve heard good things about BlogTalkRadio and PodBean. And, of course, there’s always the chance that you’ll be picked up by a larger podcast “stable” like Maximum Fun or American Public Media.

Promotion.

We promo the podcast across the three major social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The drawback to Facebook is that you’ll need to spend a little money to promote your posts due to their algorithms. We’ve also started making clips of the more interesting sections of each weeks episode and releasing them as video teaser clips which are then released on Instagram and YouTube. We have a Patreon that we direct our listeners to so that they can support the show and get exclusive goodies. And we are always developing tie-in merch—like our 2 Spicy Habanero Sauce. Tune in to our podcast while you put it on…everything!


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How to bounce back after bombing: learn from comedians

Have you heard this quote from Ira Glass?

“What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.

But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story.

It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.”

Well, now you have. The first time I read it, I bawled, but these days I just get the kind of tears that sort of stick to your eyeballs. Age and experience have toughened me.

At some point, early in your comedy journey, you will experience your first big honkin’ failure. This will stand apart from just “not being good yet,” and will instead be a true failure. Just like with heartbreak, your first will sting hardest because you don’t yet have the tools to deal with it.

I’d like to tell you how an experienced failure-ista such as myself processes, recovers from, and grows better through failure so that, when you hit your first big comedy fail, you are prepared to rebound like a champ!

My Failure Story:

I did standup one night at a bar and I failed. I’m kind of a pro at failing (true humble brag), so I want you to pay attention not just to the failure itself, but to how I reflected upon it and used it to grow.

I was doing lots of small standup shows to prepare for one big show, a Comedy Central showcase that my manager had managed to book for me. It was kind of shocking because I don’t consider myself a standup comic… like, at all. I had done years of sketch comedy, comedic acting, and essay writing, but standup is it’s own animal and I had very little experience with it. However, I said YES!… and figured, I better become a standup comedian! Fast! My wonderful friend and collaborator, director Preston Martin, would schlep out to these little shows with me to watch my work and give me notes on the writing and performance after each one.

This one night, Preston couldn’t make it. I got a little giddy and wanted to take some risks, so I opted to wing it a little.

Onstage, I waded into some subject matter that was a little taboo. I guess I have to tell you. (Facepalm emoji.) For some reason, I thought that cold sores, as in mouth herpes, would make for interesting subject matter. I feel like, statistically, since so many humans get them, and since many people would be kissing that very Saturday night, that it wasn’t the most outrageous topic to bring up. However, I immediately saw my audience stiffen. Wrong crowd. It occurred to me that these folks were very young, terrified of herpes, and also that I wasn’t funny. So I was just an unfunny person on a stage talking about a virus that frightens people. (Multiple facepalm emojis.)

Then, since the trash fire had already begun, I made a joke about book clubs, which wound up with the line “I’m never gonna join your book club, so stop asking.” Of course, the one friend I had in the audience had just invited me to join her book club, something I only realized as the super-aggro non-joke slipped out of my mouth. In a neat thirty seconds, I had alienated my one remaining ally in the audience.

My whole set was bad, not just those two unsavory moments. My hands were sweating. The small of my back was sweating. My throat was tightening. I returned to some familiar material that had worked in the past, but it was too late. I stayed onstage until I saw the emcee mercifully wave her lit phone at me, the signal that I could stop shooting this dead horse and would be allowed to exit and lick my wounds away from the public eye.

To be clear, I’ve had other nights where I went off script and improvised some gems that I’m still using. This could have gone either way. But it went down, way down. Number a billion with a bullet.

I managed to get through the aftermath and return to the stage again — and did the Comedy Central showcase to boot. Having fallen so squarely on my face in preparation for the showcase was, indeed, one of the factors that made my performance that big night so solid. For the showcase itself, I stuck to my jokes that worked. I was emboldened by having experienced the worst and gotten it out of the way a week prior. I did a great job at the showcase and was happy with all the preparation I’d put in: The successful open mics and the failed ones, too.

Nowadays I do standup in the form of hosting HQ Trivia and hosting fundraiser events and whatever else I’m asked to do. I’m no longer afraid of standup and I can confidently put it on my resume, which opens up my job opportunities.

Since I had no guide in this particular out-of-my-comfort-zone journey, I want to provide one for yours. Here’s how I handle this kind of failure, and my advice to other temporary-failures like me.

Be gracious.

Sometimes, failure is obvious to the beholder. But other times, what feels fail-y to you looks great from the outside. Continue to be kind to those around you in the moments that follow your failure. Don’t let your self-loathing stink up the room. To my credit that night, I stuck around to socialize with the other comics and I thanked the women who had taken a risk to book me as a newbie. I thanked the friend who had come only to be made fun of for her (probably very impactful and empowering) book club. This takes wisdom and an eye toward the long game of networking and building relationships. This is just one night. It’s not a domino.

Find something you did well.

After a dumpster-fire experience, after your initial shock wears off, reflect on what did go well. One thing? Before the memory calcifies as a categorically “not good” one, see if you can salvage some tiny positive takeaway. In my case, I can say, looking back, that it was brave of me to get up and depart from my crafted jokes and try some looser, improvised stuff. It didn’t work that night, but some of it did the next time I tried it.

See how finding something good can place your failure in a larger context as part of a learning curve? No? You’re still mortified and angry about dropping your lines in the school play? Well. I’ve been there, too.

Consider how you might have misgauged your audience.

As I went home that night on the subway, replaying my failure, I saw that the audience had been younger than I’d anticipated and that some of my material on dating had freaked them out. I remembered squinting through the bar stage lights at the young couples and thinking, “Oh, this is only funny to me ’cause I’m like nine years older than they are.” This is what is meant by, “Know your audience.”

Choose one exciting point of improvement that you can’t wait to crush text time.

I felt terrible inertia after bombing that night. I didn’t want to get up and perform again, but I had the looming deadline of the Comedy Central showcase and I wanted very much to nail it.

I recommitted to my next small show being precise and tightly scripted, but bringing the feeling of improv to it. I took what felt safe in previous shows and married it with what had felt so dangerous when I failed. That next practice show was electrified by the specter of failure and my renewed commitment to clearer jokes and better writing.

This pendulum of safety and risk will be the most consistent aspect of our process. Risk will sometimes mean glory and will sometimes mean failure.

Final thoughts!

Ice cream. Can help with failure. Preferably ice cream with a friend, but ice cream alone is acceptable, under the circumstances. I like to have ice cream to celebrate both success and failure, because it reinforces this central tenet of comedy: Ice cream will still be there when you fail. Life goes on!

End of article. Now here’s some other stuff:

HERE IS THE ICE CREAM PHOTO.

I was gonna go home to sleep, but instead I decided to eat this sundae in a diner and tell you about someone special. Preston has been coming to my open mics these past two weeks in various basements to listen to some wonderful comics, but also massive quantities of homophobic and misogynistic sludge while he waited for me to go up. He has guided me with his wonderful directorial and dramaturgical insights and has helped me bridge the gap btwn skills I have and new ones I’m building. I’m so thrilled about the pathways stand up will open for me and these two weeks have left me with an enormously positive stockpile of good energy to take with me into more cruddy places where funny women are needed. Tonight’s show was awesome and I’m so happy that Preston extended this offer and his time to sit with me as I prepared. So this long post is to acknowledge him even tho all of Facebook already knows he’s the best. Duh.

(Main photo via Nikki Hampson)


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How to do comedy when you’re a teen: 7 pieces of pure GOLD advice from real teens

Being young comes with its own set of challenges. Waiters ask you if you want kids’ menus, you get carded at R-rated movies, and parents just don’t understand. While these situations are frustrating, they also have their upsides (chicken nuggets for dinner, anyone?). And in comedy, where so many things are upside down, that frustratingly unusual perspective is a huge asset for teen comics.

Because it’s true. Adults don’t understand — which means kids like us have the comedic chance to explain it all. A lot of our favorite comedians started their careers in their teens, like Tiffany Haddish and Josie Long. And lots of teens are starting out in comedy right now!

But howww? I hear you. Well, what do I know? I’m just a teen standup comedian. Here’s how I see it.

Get inspired by a role model…

Teen comic and Inspiring Person™ Avery Lender says that her favorite comics are the ones who manage to be funny in ways that she’s not- comics like Dave Chappelle and Donald Glover, who are opposite from her style, but funny nonetheless. However, she loves female comedians best. Mindy Kaling, in particular, is a role model–she is a writer with her own tv show, her own book AND she was on The Office…talk about #goals! Female writers in particular help Avery see how to construct a joke and bring her own personal spin on it. And finding your own mentors will help you, too.

…or, better yet, a mentor

First thing you need is a doorway into that crazy world of comedy. Now more than ever, teens are helping teens get into comedy and slowly taking over, one millennial-run industry at a time! Just kidding. Sort of. Teens are helping each other out: they are even writing books on it, like Young, Funny, and Unbalanced, the book from the Kids ‘N Comedy team. If you don’t want to commit to a whole book about it, check out their blog!

Don’t “find” the time … MAKE the time

Finding time to do just about any extracurricular activity is hard. Comics, especially teens, have to be extra dedicated to squeeze it in between sports, college applications, and homework. We don’t recommend it, but Alyssa Stonoha says she even used to do her homework “like, in between classes.” Not great for grades, but potentially great for comedy!

Figure out what builds your confidence. Then do that. A lot.

Even if it’s just making your mom laugh, like Avery Lender, finding something that makes you feel funny is a great confidence boost. And that boost will keep you going when things get challenging. We comedians, in particular, are our own biggest critics. Even Mindy Project legend Chris Messina says he doesn’t find himself “particularly funny.” So spend time filling that emotional bucket with self-confidence so you’ll have it when the well runs dry.

Negotiate late night gigs with your parents (or find daytime ones). As a certified teen, you probably aren’t allowed in bars yet. Don’t despair! There are other options. Weekends are great, and so are comedy clubs who allow teens to perform (like the Broadway Comedy Club). Also, remember that mentor we mentioned earlier? Introduce this person to your parents. Even if she’s not old enough to be a chaperone, you can invoke the safety of the good old buddy system.

Remember who runs the world. But we don’t run comedy … yet. YET.

Being the ‘token girl’ in comedy can be hard. Even Avery says that she doesn’t “think girls are encouraged at all to be funny.” The important thing in comedy, like in life, is to remember to ignore anyone telling you you can’t do it. Sexism can look like a lot of different things, from the classic “women aren’t funny” to eye-rollingly stupid catcalls to even backhanded compliments from other women (see: “you’re so brave to do that” and “I love how you don’t care what anyone else thinks”). When in doubt, gird your emotional loins and prove ‘em wrong. Nevertheless, PERSIST!

Write what you know…carefully.
If your comedy is based in your personal life, be aware of how it might affect anyone you talk about. Being funny and being mean aren’t (necessarily) the same. If your jokes are about things like “peanuts and lizards and sexual harassment,” like teen-comic-turned-adult Alyssa Stonoha, keep private things private, or at least change the names to protect the innocent.

Love it!
No one ever said comedy was easy. Remember that you have plenty of funny years ahead of you. Not getting a laugh won’t kill you — but losing your passion might. Stay funny, ladies!


Gillian Rooney is a teenage American comedian and writer based in Connecticut.

How To Do Comedy: A Workshop For Girls + Others

An online course that's actually funny!

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Mini Q+A with…Chanel Ali

Chanel Ali is a standup comedian who blossomed on the Philadelphia circuit before moving to New York City in 2015. Her stage presence and story teller style make her a crowd favorite as she covers her upbringing, her world view, and life as a comedian who doubles as a polite person in real life. She was recently featured on an episode of Night Train with Wyatt Cenac and performs regularly at Caroline’s on Broadway and New York Comedy Club. Follow her!


Favorite response to a heckler or troll?

Right now, I’m a babysitter, just juggling babies and killing it at my job. You’re the guy, who’s bringing in mooore babies. Let me work.

Describe your worst gig.

I once had a gig at a bar that didn’t have a stage. They told us to stand near the pool table and gave us a wireless mic while the crowd was screaming watching the Super Bowl. Every comedian got one minute in before the boos took over. Afterwards, we could only laugh for having the guts to even try it.

On your deathbed, what transcendent advice would you croak at a young (female/LGBTQI) comedian?

Comedy is minutes, tiny bursts of opportunity on a show or a mic. Whenever you’re lost, get back on stage again, and again, and again.

When you were coming up in comedy, what helped you stick with it?

Steve Martin has a book called Born Standing Up and I read it after the first time I bombed in front of a lot of people. He said that his goal was to be good. Consistently good. Which is a hard goal. Moments of greatness happen all the time in comedy but consistency? It sounded daunting. I committed myself to the idea and invested heavily in learning from my mistakes. I became meticulous about my sets, keeping notes, taking audio recordings, studying the good, bad or weird.

Best comedy advice you ever got?

Don’t get comfortable in how that joke goes. It could change overtime, it could get better or become different. The joke isn’t done until you say so.

How has being funny helped you in your offstage life, either recently or when you were younger?

Sometimes I try to get people to laugh in business settings. I’ll make a bill collector laugh on the phone and then make a better deal. It helps drop the tension in a lot of situations and creates an energy where people feel compassion.

What advice do you have for how to level up from open mics + bringers to actual SPOT-spots?

It’s that old saying, dress for the job you want. Every time you get on stage you have an opportunity to showcase yourself and your work. Sometimes you have to use an open mic to showcase a complete set, to show that you have the material organized and that you are ready to be booked. Put yourself in the mindset of a booker watching a bunch of open mic sets. If you were booking a show you would want someone who goes up on stage with a plan and executes it. You’d want someone who seems polished and fun.

Feelings about the word “comedienne”?

Not my favorite honestly. I don’t want to be called that but I really don’t care if the next person does. I just like to be called a comedian. I think it’s gender neutral and I think it’s who I am, through and through.


Chanel Ali is a standup comedian who blossomed on the Philadelphia circuit before moving to New York City in 2015. Her stage presence and story teller style make her a crowd favorite as she covers her upbringing, her world view, and life as a comedian who doubles as a polite person in real life. She was recently featured on an episode of Night Train with Wyatt Cenac and performs regularly at Caroline’s on Broadway and New York Comedy Club. Follow her!

How to turn an anecdote into a story

A funny thing happened to you on the way to the dentist.

You told your friend. She laughed and agreed, “That’s funny!”

Now, there’s an open mic coming up, and you will get 5 minutes to entertain the masses.

What do you need to do to get your dentist-commute-story from its current state, as a brief anecdote, to a meaty 5-minute affair that will make an audience chuckle and learn a little something about the human condition?

Strap in, readers. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

WINTER OLYMPIC NEWS HOOK: Here’s my own anecdote-turned-story of mine about gold medal figure skater Tara Lipinski!

Find the arc

The main goal here is going to be: Find the emotional journey. Every good story has an arc. You begin one place, and you end up somewhere else.

How do you feel at the beginning of your story? What expectations do you have?

Where do you find yourself at the end in terms of emotional state? What expectations have been met or shattered? What choices did you make in the process?

That’s the beginning and end of your story. Here, I made a picture, because I just figured out Word Art.

Define your turning point

 

Your story, after its beginning, will have a moment when everything changes.

 

Perhaps it was the moment when your usual route to the dentist was blocked because of road construction. And that was the moment you knew that this would not be your average dentist commute!

 

Side note: Why have I chosen such seemingly boring subject matter for our jumping-off point? Because I want to illustrate that stories can pop up anywhere. The real question is: What makes this day different? Good stories focus on crossroads in people’s lives. Any good scene, story, or joke exists in the moment when the usual becomes the unusual. Otherwise, why would you pick that moment?

 

Maybe you just got a bad grade and are feeling especially down, and your friend has strep throat and canceled her birthday party that you were so excited about, and it’s hailing outside, and now you have to go to the dentist to deal with a cavity. You are at your wit’s end! One more bad thing and you’ll explode! So that’s how we know today is different. We find you at a breaking point.

 

A good story often begins with a character either on the brink of changing or learning, but not yet sure how she will, or a character completely oblivious to change, who is, therefore, gobsmacked by it.

 

Figure out what’s in your way

 

Stories thrive on conflict. What is conflict? I’ll explain it with math:

 

Desire + obstacle = conflict.

 

In shaping your anecdote into a story, consider what you, as a character, desire in this story. Is your desire to NOT be going to the dentist? Are you ruminating about a love interest as you walk the last few blocks there? What do you want, and what are the obstacles in your way?

 

These obstacles come in different shapes and sizes. They are both internal and external.

 

An external obstacle might be: You have to get to a 4 pm dentist appointment so that you can get to orchestra practice at 6 pm, but a blocked highway filled with clown cars foils your plans! (NB: Do not use clown cars in your story. Truth in comedy, folks.)

 

Or maybe your obstacle is internal. You’re on the way to the dentist obsessing about your love interest and feeling horrible self-loathing because your braces are orange and black for Halloween when you realize your love interest’s favorite color is blue. Your internal obstacle is your plummeting self-confidence in the face of your desire. (Wouldn’t it then be surprising if your love turns out to like orange and black because you like it? How might your character then feel by the story’s end? See how conflict creates story?)

 

Putting it all together

 

Okay, now is the moment of transformation for your little anecdote.

Set yourself up for success by conveying your state of mind and what you want at the beginning of the story. Identify your turning point, that moment when everything changes. By the middle of the story, we will expect to find you, our protagonist, facing one or numerous obstacles in pursuit of what you want. By the end, you’ve either gotten what you wanted or haven’t, but in the wanting of it, you are now changed in some way.

 

Articulate that change at the end of your story.

 

“The end is in the beginning.” You will hear this in improv classes when it comes time to end a scene on a laugh line, you might have heard it in algebra class, and you’ll hear it right now in this article about morphing anecdotes into stories. Compare your ending to the beginning of your story. How do you, as a character, now feel? Without the beginning, your ending packs no punch.

 

Plant the seeds of what might be your next story at the end of this one. Not because you are definitely going to write Commute to the Dentist 2: Electric Boogaloo, but because it ends us on a note of curiosity and intrigue. BUM-bum-bum.

BONUS STORY: Here’s another about how I had ghosts in my room as a kid and my mom helped to get rid of them.

Speaking of curiosity and intrigue: What’s YOUR story about? I wanna hear it! Tweet us at @GoldComedy


Read Emma’s bio.

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Open mics in New York City that won’t destroy you, probably (and how to find them)

Open mics have been described to me as scrimmages (for the non-athletic: play rehearsals) used to practice and improve before a real game (paid gigs). They are where you go to find your sea legs as a comedian, dump out your ideas, and fine-tune them before a show with an actual audience expecting to laugh. They are essential for any comedian starting out.

The problem? Open mics in most U.S. cities are full of angry swamp monsters. The crowd can be homogenous and unhappy to see you (or anyone new, especially a non-white dude) try stand-up comedy.

I have curated this list of supportive open mics in NYC (sorry other cities, it’s the only place I know). Although you have to know there’s no such thing as a 100% “safe space” in comedy (or the planet), there are pockets in the community where people’s instincts are to not tear you down.

Monday

Location: The Standing Room (LIC, Queens)

Time: 6:00 p.m.

Sign Up: Bucket (The first 5 to arrive get to perform in the first group)

Minutes: 4

Fee: Free

Description: Dudes primarily attend this mic, but the host creates a supportive vibe. Plus, the room is intimate, making it difficult for the other open mic-ers to ignore you. It’s a great mic to try out new material, and I feel safe bombing there because the scale makes it feel inconsequential.

Location: The Platform (Bushwick, Brooklyn)

Time: 8:30 PM

Sign Up: List (Get there early!)

Minutes: 4

Fee: Free

Description: Again, this is a mic that is attended by mostly dudes (and offensive ones at that). However, it’s hosted by someone who creates a supportive room. Plus, there are often real audience members watching. If a joke is funny, it will work here.

Location: Legion Bar (Bushwick, Brooklyn)

Fee: Free

Sign Up: Bucket

Minutes: 3

Description: This mic is hot and cold in terms of support (because it’s a last-stop mic in a comic’s day, and they’re all out of patience for a premise that is perhaps overdone or bizarre). However, it is run by two female comics and attracts an almost equal male-to-female ratio. What’s more, the mic is in an intimate, enclosed room so everyone is forced to listen, allowing you a decent read on your jokes.

Tuesday

Location: Precious Metal Bar (Bushwick, Brooklyn)

Time: 6:00 PM

Fee: Free

Sign Up: Bucket

Minutes: 3

Description: This mic could be intimidating for newcomers, because so many talented up-and-coming comics try their new jokes out here. However, the hosts create a supportive room, and there’s always a solid turnout of female comics. This mic is not diverse in age (everyone is in their 20s and 30s/tragically hip).

Location: Peaches Shrimp and Crab (Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn)

Time: 6:00 PM

Fee: Free

Sign Up: List

Minutes: 5

Description: This mic is hosted by two supportive, welcoming women. The audience doesn’t always listen, but it’s a great place to try new jokes or run a chunk of a longer set. The turnout is sparse, but is typically diverse, and because it’s at a restaurant (not a bar), anyone of any age can sign up.

Location: Creek and The Cave (Long Island City, Queens)

Time: 8:00 PM

Fee: Free

Sign Up: supopenmic@gmail.com

Minutes: 4-7

Description: This mic is specifically for women, queer, and gender-non-conforming folks. It is advertised as a “fun, cool mic with no bad vibes.” That’s as supportive as it gets!

Location: 61 Local (Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn)

Time: 9:00 PM

Fee: Free

Minutes: 3

Description: Probably my favorite in NYC, the “Moon Babies” open mic has a consistently fun, mixed turnout. There’s a positive energy to the room. The only downside is that it’s really popular; you might be waiting 2 hours to go up, performing for the five people that stick around until the end.

Wednesday

Location: The Duplex (West Village, Manhattan)

Time: 7:00 PM

Fee: 2 Drink Minimums

Sign Up: List

Minutes: 5

Description: You have to get to the mic incredibly early to sign up, and it’s quite expensive. However, it’s the only open mic I see older comics attend, the turnout is always diverse, and the host treats it like a show and has great energy.

Location: Halyards (Gowanus, Brooklyn)

Time: 7:00 PM

Fee: Free

Sign Up: List

Minutes: 4

Description: All open mics at Halyards are diverse and supportive. It’s a good place to go to get an honest read on jokes.

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Thursday

Location: The PIT (Midtown Manhattan)

Time: 7:00 PM

Fee: $5

Sign Up: List

Minutes: 5

Description: An all-ladies mic, the room is supportive and is a good place to try new material. No more than 10 people are usually in attendance.

Friday

Location: Halyards (Gowanus, Brooklyn)

Time: 7:00 PM

Fee: Free

Sign Up: List

Minutes: 4

Description: Same vibe as the Wednesday mic. Great host!

Saturday

Location: The Village Lantern (West Village, Manhattan)

Time: 6:30 PM

Fee: 1 item minimum

Sign Up: List

Minutes: 5

Description: Again, an all-ladies mic. This one is sparsely attended, but is a great place to meet people when you’re starting out.It’s unintimidating and a solid place to learn how to get comfortable on stage.

Location: Cantina Royal (Williamsburg, Brooklyn)

Time: 6:00 PM

Fee: Free

Sign Up: Bucket

Minutes: 4

Description: It’s not the most diverse mic, but the vibe is welcoming and supportive. It’s your best mic option on a Saturday.

Sunday

Location: Precious Metal Bar (Bushwick, Brooklyn)

Time: 7:30 PM

Fee: Free

Sign Up: Bucket

Minutes: 3

Description: Same vibe as the Tuesday Precious Metal mic, but a little more laid-back.

Location: South 4th Bar (Williamsburg, Brooklyn)

Time: 8:00 PM

Fee: 1 Drink Minimum

Sign Up: Bucket

Minutes: 3:30

Description: This mic is run by two female comics and is generally supportive. The comics might be in the back of the room talking, but everyone is friendly. It’s a good place to meet people.

Location: Carmine Comics (West Village, Manhattan)

Time: 10:00 PM

Fee: $1

Sign Up: Bucket

Minutes: 3:30

Description: This mic is run by sweet-boy comic book nerds. It’s incredibly tiny, but a fun, non-intimidating space to try jokes.

PLUS

ANY mic at … (look at their calendars):

QED (Astoria, Queens).

Klimat Lounge (East Village, Manhattan)(Caveat: these mics are expensive, most of the other open mic-ers are new too, and the hosts will try to get you to sign up for comedy classes and bringers. Ignore these factors and Laughing Buddha mics are productive and incredibly supportive). .

UCB East (East Village, Manhattan).

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BLAIR DAWSON (intern, workshops) is a standup comic and improvisor who produces and co-hosts a monthly storytelling and stand-up show sponsored by Babeland called  “U Up?” @UrGirlBlair


A day on the set: Behind the scenes of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

This past November, I had the pleasure of reconnecting with some long-lost friends. Old acquaintances, lovers, and everyone in between (read: girls from sleepaway camp) came out of the woodwork to text me, “Is this you?!!” along with a screenshot of the finale of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

Yes, that was me. There, in my 1950s turtleneck, with my one line, I made my TV debut on the now Emmy-nominated Amazon series.

As this was my first ever TV audition (and my first booked role), the week leading up to it felt like a dream. I got the notice and auditioned the next day, ’cause TV moves fast and wreaks havoc on the normal 9-5 employee.

I usually try to keep quiet about my auditions, so as to not jinx them, and I usually fail. My Maisel audition was no exception. I blabbed about it everyone I could (my roommates, my boyfriend, my Jewish mother to whom the show spoke very heavily) and then spent every remaining waking hour preparing my scene. I said the lines over and over again, in a way that made me laugh. (Why yes, I do crack myself up sometimes! Don’t you?)

I also asked myself: What made me special as a comedian? What was going to get me booked over, say, the approachable blonde woman sitting next to me who looked infinitely more TV-ready and had more credits under her belt? I felt like a little rat-girl with something to prove. Answering these questions was how I settled on the exact delivery of my lines. It had to be in my voice, in my specific brand of comedy (which is still developing, and that’s okay. I’d been honing my voice for a year through live performances, and now was no time to abandon it.) I also plundered my closet for the most mid-century dress I could find, and sewed on an extra button to make sure it stayed closed during my audition, as this had been an issue with the dress in the past.

In the audition room, I took a deep breath, tried to remain steady even as the reader raced through her side of the lines, and did my scene. Afterwards, I fretted that I had showed them too much of “me” and not enough of what they wanted. Guess what, inner-negative-Nellie? I was wrong. My manager called me the next to day to tell me that while they didn’t think I was right for the part I’d read for, they thought I was “so funny” that they cast me in another role.

I trekked out to the Brooklyn Navy Yard in for my costume fitting at Steiner Studios that same night. Whose fast-and-furious life was this? Certainly not mine, a lowly customer-service rep at a men’s shaving startup who, unbeknownst to her, was about to get fired from said job.

I was ecstatic. Then, I was nervous. I’d worked in production before (another article for a much later time when everyone I’ve worked with is either dead  or too senile to read my scathing tell-all), and I knew just how many people, places, and things it took to create an episode of television. What if I didn’t know where to go on set? What if they told me to do something and I didn’t know what it meant? What if my phone buzzed while we were rolling? What if I got edited out?!

None of these things happened. Here’s what did:

August 21st – 7pm: The Night Before

I receive my call time. My call time is not the crew call time, a mistake I’ve made before. I have my own call time, specially scheduled for me. I check it once. I check it twice. I triple-check it. I cannot afford to be late and, presumably, blacklisted from the industry. This is my first TV job and I must make a good impression. I am a principal actor for the day, so I am important. I am basically the #1. The production rests on my shoulders.

My call time is 1pm, which is is a nice call time. It means I can shower, which I assume is the polite thing to do before letting people touch your hair and face. The extra sleep will ensure that I am well-rested and emotionally prepared for my one line.

August 22nd – 12:15 pm: The Day Of

I arrive on set. I’m way too early, and I know that’s not convenient because no one is there to meet me at the campers. The campers, if you’re wondering, are the big long white trailers that you see taking up all the good parking spaces during the weekday. They are full of dressing rooms and they usually have the Desi and Lucy signs, not because there’s been a 12-years-in-the-making biopic about Lucille Ball, but because it’s funny and an homage to the old TV sets of yore. I walk to a nearby cafe. I am too nervous to eat, so I only order tea, which I’m too nervous to drink, and sit there for 30 minutes. Also, I pay with credit card, which is so obnoxious. The waitress gives me death glares.

12:45: I return to the campers. I approach a PA and tell him that I have arrived. He walkies the the First Team production assistant, a woman with a cool hairstyle and a cooler name (that I immediately forget. Spike? Frankie? Gone.). She puts me in my dressing room and gives me paperwork to sign. I have not even dug my pen out of my bag when I am whisked off to hair and makeup.

1 pm: I play a spoken-word poet from the 1950s, so for makeup, I get … eyeliner. My hair, on the other hand, takes about an hour, since they have to make my long locks seem short — an illusion, the magic of television. I end up what what I think looks like a housewife’s hairdo, but actually was a hip hairstyle at the time. Period pieces. Did I mention I got my facial piercing removed for this? Well, I did. We all make sacrifices for our craft.

At hair-and-makeup, I’m sitting next to a woman I saw at the auditions. Turns out neither of us got the part we auditioned for, but both got cast in other roles. We chat. She’s very nice. I like making friends on set because besides having the obvious in common, what greater “this is how we met” story is there?

2 pm: My hair and makeup are done. I am put into a van with a couple of crew members and two other actors who will be my Best Friends For The Day. We are driven to the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel stages in Brooklyn. Yes, I woke up in Brooklyn, came to Manhattan to get my makeup done, and went back to Brooklyn to film my scene. Showbiz, baby!

3 pm: We arrive back on set. I am taken to my onstage dressing room, and am delighted to find that there is a bathroom and a bunch of mirrors. I take pictures and send it to my family, so they can understand that I have hit the big time. I have a bathroom! In my (second) dressing room of the day! My costume is in there, so I try it on. My boobs are pointy and ready for action.

3:30 pm I go back to hair and makeup so they can make sure their work matches with the costume I’m now in. I don’t bring my purse down with me, and they want to see it with the purse. I go back upstairs and get my purse. Did I mention  that I have a First Team PA on me at all times? That means there’s always someone to bring me from point A to point B. I could say “I want to go to my McDonalds” and they would accompany me there, even though there’s a more convenient McDonalds right down the block. I don’t make this kind of request because I don’t like McDonalds, but one day I might.

4 pm We break for lunch. I don’t feel as though I’ve been working hard enough to deserve a break, but union rules are union rules, and the crew has been working hard and they need lunch. I eat chicken (it’s very good!) and drink water and hang out with my two new Best Friends Of the Day. We go over how we got these roles and who reps us. I like hearing how everyone got to this place in their lives, because every single story is a combination of hard work and sheer luck. I feel lucky to be here.

5 pm We meet to rehearse. We sit in a circle and go over our lines with the the creator and the director of this ep, Amy Sherman-Palladino. I am nervous and intimidated by the sheer popularity of Gilmore Girls (Sherman-Palladino’s other show), so I mess up my one line. She corrects me and I already know she thinks hiring me was a mistake. Then I remember that it was a little stumble, about which she doesn’t care, so neither do I. Okay!

5:30-11 pm Cameras roll! And roll and roll and roll. Basically, each shot goes like this: The cameras set up. The principal actors and extras come in and we rehearse to make sure the shot works with everyone moving. The makeup/costume people check to make sure everything looks good on the people-side. Then we film it a few times. Then onto the next shot. Rinse, repeat.

When we film my closeup, the director asks me to pace up my line. I say “what?” because even though I know what “pace” and “up” mean, the two together confuse me. She says to make it faster. I say okay. And then I do. And all the while, I know she is thinking, “Why did we hire this stupid, short girl who speaks at the pace of a snail and doesn’t even know her line?” And yet she still didn’t edit me out. So thank you, Amy.

We do the scene over and over again. It’s only about a page, but it takes six hours, which is normal. The cameras focus on different people, and different angles on different people. Sometimes, the cameras have to set up in an entirely different part of the room, so everyone clears out and waits in “holding.” I take selfies with my new best friends. We’re gonna keep in touch when this is over, i just know it. But it is a long day of standing around and not moving until you’re told. Sometimes, if you’re not in the background of a shot, you can just hang out. Usually, though, you’re on your feet. It’s fun. It’s tiring. It’s nowhere near as tiring as being a crew member. I do get cheese, though. It’s on the craft-services table.

11 pm: I am wrapped. The crew still has one more short scene to film, but my scene is done. I go upstairs (with my trusty First Team PA), change out of my costume, check in with the PA they told me to check in with, and grab a Lyft. It is raining, and I am soaked waiting for the Lyft. I take out my 100,000 bobby pins in the car.


SOPHIE ZUCKER (T.A.) is a comedian-slash-child-star who loves musicals and slime. She has appeared in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and has written and produced videos for Jill Soloway’s wifey.tv. She wrote, produced, and starred in a million sold-out shows in New York and is now a TV writer in L.A.. @mightyzucks


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5 kinds of funny songs you should write (and how to get started)

I love performing comedy. I’m actress and a singer with a little theater, guitar-playing, and poetry, plus a crum-ton of television-watching in me. I love scripts, words, rhythms and rhymes. But I never saw myself as a standup. Problem was, when I started thinking about performing, the types of comedies being produced and cast by other people usually left something to be desired: Parts for women.  Or—and this is the most important—parts for me.

I decided I could wait around until somebody producing a funny project needed my exact type to fill out their cast, or I could take control and write some material I could bring with me anywhere I could bring my guitar. The first comedy song I ever wrote was a parody of ‘90s singer-songwriters called “Jewel’s Got My Gig,” and I started to be asked to perform it at friends’ variety evenings or as a pre-show to events.

I got asked a lot. People started commissioning me, I developed sets, and soon I realized that music is a glorious way to open the door to the world of comedy. Whether it’s a room full of toe-tapping club patrons, or thousands of video views, music can connect with people over and over again. Honestly, I don’t think I could do regular standup. My version of standup is funny music.  

So if you like to sing, laugh, and write your own material, here are five categories of funny songs to try.

1. Parody songs

A parody song generally takes the existing melody and style of a popular song, and changes the lyrics in an unexpected and hilarious direction. You’ve probably already written one without knowing it, when you substituted your younger brother’s name in a lyric, or put your favorite inside joke into your school’s fight song. Pick a song lyric and think of a funny way to change it; watch a bunch of Weird Al (the parody master) videos, and let your comedy pen fly.

My favorites:  

“Weird” Al  Yankovic, “Amish Paradise” 

Jimmy Fallon and Paul McCartney, “Yesterday” (Scrambled Eggs)

2. Story songs

Folk songs have been telling stories for literally ever. Societies evolve by oral traditions, and songs are remembered by both the performer and the audience. In the ’60s, the form evolved with pieces like Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant”; now, concept albums from artists like Eminem and Beyonce take the idea of telling stories to a new stratosphere. Why don’t you start by spinning a yarn (with a beginning, middle and end) and seeing where the rhymes and rhythms lie? Imagine your rapt audience at a campfire or a rap battle—as long as they want to know what happens next, you’re telling a story.

My Favorites:

Tenacious D, “Tribute”

Ethan Lipton & His Orchestra, “Girl From the Renaissance Faire”

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3. Character-based songs

Some funny songs are funny not because of the lyrics themselves, but because of who or what is singing them. If you have a character you like to play, think about a funny situation they might find themselves in, and a what they might say in that situation. The narrator of “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” is a kid who can’t say her S’s, and that’s all it takes to make the whole song charming. Pick your funniest character and let ’em sing!

My Favorites (okay, one of them is me!): 

Joanna Parson, “Subway Musician”

Rachel Bloom, “Historically Accurate Disney Princess Song” 

4. Inappropriate love song

The world can never have enough love songs, and a great way to put a twist on an old impulse is to write a love song that gives your audience a little shock. When Chance the Rapper, Kenan Thompson, and Chris Redd start singing “Come Back, Barack,” we’ve been prepped for a romantic R&B ballad — we don’t expect them to beg the President to come back to the White House. But we love it when it happens. Who or what do you adore so much, you could just burst into song?

My Favorites:

SNL, “Come Back, Barack”

Sir Mix-a-lot, “Baby Got Back”

5. “Rant” song

Okay, so you have a problem; something that drives you crazy, that you could go on and on about. That can make people uncomfortable in real life. But chances are , when you put it to melody — or even talk OVER a melody — people will be charmed. Or they may be open to a new opinion (like Lauren Mayer’s thoughts on sexual harassment prevention: ). If we learned anything from Lili Taylor’s character in “Say Anything,” it’s this: complain in musical form and you’ll at least triple the number of people willing to listen.

My Favorites:

Scrubs (TV show), “The Rant Song”

Rob Paravonian, “Pachelbel Rant”


JOANNA PARSON is an actress, musician and writer who has been performing in the New York comedy and storytelling world for a bunch of delightful years. Her songs have been heard on radio, at comedy clubs, and through her @ladybandnyc shout-outs. TV: Red Oaks, Law and Order: SVU. @jtparson

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10 funny over 45: Female comedians making good TV great

I’ve been performing comedy, doing storytelling, and writing since 2007. Back then, I couldn’t find anyone else in what felt like a 100-mile radius who did what I wanted to do.

This was, at first, a huge challenge. It was like I knew what funny was — I could point it out of a lineup — but somehow, with no Gold Comedy to guide me, I couldn’t quite get there. So what did I do?

I turned to my most reliable, oldest, available friend: Television. This was my visual learning library. I could study women comedians crushing it every week to help my own work get better. Ten years later, I still do, and I notice that I gravitate towards shows with female comedians over 45. I chose eight who make up a master class in a variety of comedic styles to serve as virtual mentors to comedians at any stage in their careers.

Here they are, in no particular order — because each is amazing and hilarious in her own way.

1. Jessica Walter

Where to find her currently: Arrested Development (Netflix), Archer (Netflix)
Walter knows how to make hideously self-obsessed characters oddly irresistible. How? Through humor, of course. As matriarch Lucille Bluth in Arrested Development, she created magic with nothing but an arched eyebrow. And as the voice of the animated Malory Archer — a role she got because her agent heard they were looking for a “Jessica Walter type” — she doesn’t even have the benefit of a visible eyebrow; she just uses layers of tone, attitude, and perfect timing to create characters that are unlovable, yet unforgettable.

2. Julia Louis-Dreyfus

Where to find her currently: VEEP (HBO)
While its truth universally acknowledged that Louis-Dreyfus became a comedy superstar on Seinfeld (NBC) and impressed everyone with her follow-up, The New Adventures of Old Christine (CBS), it wasn’t until she unleashed the foul-mouthed Selina Meyer that she embodied her true goddess status. Like Walter, Louis-Dreyfus knows how to add a dash of charm to a cauldron of awfulness and end up with funny. Her mastery of delivery and throwing her entire body into the moment means that even (or especially) the most hideous behavior — Selina abusing her staff, neglecting her daughter, even being annoyed at her own miscarriage — results only in greater and greater hilarity. She embodies “commitment to your bit.” It’s no wonder she won six consecutive Emmys for her work in this show (she has won ten in total).

3. Allison Janney

Where to find her currently: Mom (CBS)
Six feet tall and deadpan AF, Janney sidesteps punchlines and pratfalls; her greatest laughs emerge from her most straight-woman scenes. To learn from her humor, watch her utterly earnest execution: She never winks, never stands outside her character, never lets on that she’s playing a part. In fact, she’s often the window for the viewer. In broad comedies, she plays it pretty straight; As Tonya Harding’s abusive mom in a deftly over-the-top biopic, she brings an incandescent calm to — is this a theme? — the world’s most hideous stage mom, which is why the role brought her a Golden Globe nod.

4. Donna Lynne Champlin

Where to find her currently: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (The CW)
Rachel Bloom is the big story of this show — she took her “one-woman-sketch-comedy” schtick from YouTube to TV’s favorite dark-musical-sitcom (okay, TV’s only dark-musical-sitcom), but I’d like to make a case for Donna Lynn Champlin as Paula Proctor. Champlin brings the funniness to a show that is often dealing with non-traditional comedic themes, like mental health issues, alcoholism, and codependency. Champlin finds the beats inside some pretty gallows humor — pushing her friend Rebecca to continue obsessing over her ex while ignoring her own deteriorating home life out of fear that Rebecca will no longer need her if she stops pursuing the ex. Champlin provides the opportunity to look nonjudgmentally at complex issues that are allowed to come from someplace real, even if that is a sad place.

5. Catherine O’Hara

Where to find her currently: Schitt’s Creek (Pop, Netflix)
Younger audiences may be finding Catherine O’Hara for the first time in her film work, but you should be looking her up on Schitt’s Creek as Moira Rose. A former minor TV star who married into fantastic wealth, Moira finds herself falling on hard times. She is spoiled snob who is out of touch with what she calls “real people”. Audiences should hate Moira, yet O’Hara makes her endearing and funny. How? By building a full world for Moira through details and character logic. Even when logic is absurd (and it is), like saying her town should pay for after-school care because manicurists can put on the wrong colour and make you late, it doesn’t come out of nowhere. O’Hara has built context for Moira. From her wall of wigs to her inability to do simple tasks like cooking or “fixing a wobbly chair,” there is a life for this woman that extends beyond the 30-minute runtime. O’Hara shows that building context builds character.

6. Dale Soules

Where to find her currently: Orange is the New Black (Netflix)
Supporting actress can sometimes feel overshadowed by their leading counterparts. Some would argue that means the supporting cast get to play the better roles, like Dale Soules as Frieda Berlin in OITNB. Frieda is a quiet, deadly presence, one of the “golden girls” backing up Kate Mulgrew’s Red; on the rare occasions that she speaks, she reveals truly terrifying breadth of knowledge about … truly terrifying things. Soules, like O’Hara, roots her character in a distinct perspective that carries her throughout the series. When Frieda explains “murder math” — would you rather dig one six-foot hole or six one-foot holes? — she does so plainly. Soules centers her humor in blunt delivery, without needing exaggeration or physical addition (though the neck tattoo is a vivid touch). It is a simple question, right? Soule’s humor is subtle. Like Allison Janney, her delivery is deadpan and understated.

7. Tracee Ellis Ross

Where to find her currently: Black-ish (ABC)

On Black-ish, Ross plays a mother of five with a demanding career as an anaesthesiologist handling social and cultural challenges like the election, racism, and LGBTQ issues. That massive framework sits inside the 30-minute, single-camera structure. Being on a traditional primetime television comedy means Ross has to be quick, with tight delivery and intention. There is not room for asides or extemporaneous additions. Like when her character, Rainbow, finds out her son is a Republican, she has to convey a lot of comedy and emotion in the hot-second reaction shot. Ross generates confusion, surprise, sadness, and shock in that hot second by using all available tools — body language, gestures, expressions, and voice. It’s no wonder she’s running up the trophies!

8. The Ladies of Lady Dynamite (Netflix)

Where to find them currently: Lady Dynamite (Netflix) (duh)
Lady Dynamite is a show filled with amazing female comedians. Before playing Dagmar on the hit series, Bridgett Everett toured with comedy festivals around the globe and performed a regular cabaret show at Joe’s Pub in NYC. On Lady Dynamite, she brings her big personality to the role of Dagmar, one of Maria Bamford’s terrible best friends. Meanwhile, Mary Kay Place gets to be the world’s most earnest straight person as Maria’s mother Marilyn, bringing a nicer version of her Big Love character into a completely zany environment and making her entirely believable by just reacting honestly. And Mo Collins manages to out-testosterone Ari Gold as Maria’s agent. This show is a gold mine of funny ladies over 40.

BONUS ROUND: Here are a list of a few women in the next handful of years that will be eligible for the list! Sutton Foster (Younger), D’Arcy Carden (The Good Place), Kimberly Herbert Gregory (Vice Principals), Kathryn Hahn (Transparent, I Love Dick), and Adrienne C. Moore (Orange is the New Black). Watch them now so you can see it all happen.

Have any to add to the list? Let us know!



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