Eagle Witt, Brandi Denise & Brittany Carney.

Eagle Witt, Brandi Denise & Brittany Carney's Sets Were Fantastic at NYCF 2023 (Event Recap, Part 2)

This week's takeover of New York Comedy Festival continues with some fantastic shows to highlight from Eagle Witt, Brandi Denise & Brittany Carney (all brilliant & phenomenal comedians you need to know).

Read more about Part 1 of our NYCF recap from the first weekend here.

Eagle Witt Is Ready To Be A Truly Giant Comedian, And Is Who Club Comedy Should Aspire To Be More Like

Eagle Witt.
Eagle Witt.

Monday, November 6th


Sometimes it can feel like more genteel or quirky comedians can have a hard time locating themselves in the realm of having hard jokes. This is fine if it’s an artistic value or choice, but there seems to be a correlation with hard jokes and being risky or thoughtless at times, and sometimes the discourse can make it seem like there is no other way to perform hilarious material. Likely, the folks involved in this discourse have not seen Eagle Witt work out, who is able to be so succinct and focused on killing, and also present in dialogue about the degree to which he’s correct about things. Seeing Witt on stage is a powerful and almost emotional thing, as he’s so good at moving the levers of comedy, while also riding the electricity and conversation the crowd is asking him to have, making his peers harder than not to identify. I’ve thought about it, and the best I can come up with is that he’s like Marie Faustin if she was omnipresent at The Comedy Cellar and focused on large cultural tableaus, or Jerrod Carmichael if he wanted to kill faster from the rip. 


The truth is that these two perfect comedians are imperfect comparisons, but Witt doesn’t have a lot of comics to be compared to per se. A lot of comics are good, which is to say they’re fine, which is to say they’re not interesting. Eagle Witt is doing something great, and it’s getting to the point where it’s annoying he doesn’t have more industry attention. Every scene has a limiter, a thing one hits that marks the pinnacle of what they can achieve there, and Witt hit that limiter in New York maybe one or two years ago. A good way to understand this is to imagine if you were the best drummer in the world, and the industry kept telling you to play weddings. Witt is all the things you want a comedian to be, and in thoughtful jokes about Kanye and Taylor Swift, mental illness and white cultural influence, Blackness and the beauty of it, Witt is sitting in a space where it seems like he’s out on a ledge, but really he’s in full control, making it easier to invite intimacy and audience feedback and keep the comedy being created dynamic. 


Onika Mclean was Witt’s first opener, and managed to do an incredible job of having great jokes while also brimming with class and a poised undeniability that made her only proxy the great Dulce Sloan. There’s a great joke about non-stop erections that involves Mclean tapping the microphone over and over that is so memorable and funny that it made me positive I'd seen Mclean perform it in a Don’t Tell Comedy or Comedy Central set. I was wrong, which means it’s time for some heads of development or special projects to fix this. Mclean deserves to be discovered, and the access to opportunities and visibility that will help with that. 


Nick Alexander was next, and his jokes about Wyclef Jean and his life during the pandemic are future classics, meaning they’re classics now, but need the proper attention they deserve after NYCF. There’s a great microjoke about squinting and squatting like a 90s/00s r&b singer with a fun act out as a lead in to a chunk that starts with going for a mental health walk. Alexander is perfectly silly, but his comedy feels so formidable that it’s odd there aren’t more digital sets or a Netflix offer yet. I’ll say that slower. It’s odd…there aren’t more digital sets…or a Netflix offer. If only someone from Netflix was seeing comedy and thinking about, say, four comics that would crush with an opportunity like the new half-hour series that was just announced. 


Paris Sashay was the last comic before Eagle Witt. The problem about writing about Sashay now is that she’s already destined to become a legend, and capturing the early days of that journey can be tricky. It feels like Sashay didn’t start doing comedy, she just decided to show everyone else how it’s done one day. If there’s anything like, I don’t know, a contest where Paris Sashay could be voted the funniest comic in New York based on who entered, and, I don’t know, it was between her and some little white guys or something, I think the only clear winner would be someone who was already a legend in the making. Just saying. 


Eagle Witt ran a long set that proved just how great he is. Bad writing here would be to tell you he’s like Che, or Sam Jay, or 90s/00s Chappelle, or Rock, because really, Witt is his own frequency of comedian engaging with cultural topics. Sure, he has truly brilliant jokes that can seem “edgy,” and is also inviting intimacy and honesty into his work, but what he’s after feels personal to him. Witt isn’t bigger than the scene right now because he’s the most controversial comic out there, but because he cares so much that it makes his jokes feel as much like searching for an answer as providing one, and that anxiety resonates with the audience. Witt isn’t trying to position himself as the person who has all the answers, but someone who wants to, and that humanity makes him worth hearing. Let me say that again: that humanity makes him worth hearing. 

Brandi Denise Is Far More Interesting And Dynamic Than You Know

Brandi Denise. Photo credit: Jay Watty.
Brandi Denise. Photo credit: Jay Watty.

Tuesday, November 7th


The Stand is a complicated place to work out in, because often you get tourists coming through who do not know how to behave at a stand-up show. There’s a theory (mine) that the odd quality of the room design (think a ship theme-park ride that lost funding, a house in LA with a “rustic” sliding wooden door owned by a white lady in a scarf, or a coffee bar that exclusively lets acoustic Christian rock acts play there) somehow invites this energy. Yet, on certain nights like Tuesday, things come together to deliver a nearly perfect crowd unto the comics. This made it much easier for the host and organizer, Brandi Denise, to be appreciated for the full spectrum of her talents.


Denise is arguably misunderstood if you’re only seeing her Comedy Central digital set, or her JFL spot. They present Denise as a dynamic and electric comic, which she is, but don’t offer the benefit of seeing her run through material about sad men or aliens and Mitch McConnell. From her online sets, it’s easy to think of Denise as an undeniable but straight-forward comic, and the truth is that she’s much more interesting and weird than that. Denise is a comic who can maybe do anything, as she bounced between crowd work about sex, slower jokes about dating, and an almost eager runthrough of nerdier material that came from reading articles and watching educational video posts. Denise was amazing, and it’s kind of fucked up that someone who seems this much like a star isn’t playing to crowds that size yet. 


Alexis Bradby was the first comic brought up, and made it clear that there’s something in the water making Gen Z comics funnier than they have any right to be in their twenties. Sure, there were the nerves of being first in the lineup, but Bradby made that dose of anxiety something she could get lift from, and used it to amplify damn good jokes about growing up in the church, moving to New York, and having a sixth sense for men that cheat that becomes something else altogether (catch her live to see it and marvel). Bradby burned the stage down, and to do that as the first act of a show is impressive, if not almost impossible. 


Paris Sashay was next. There is a contest this week to see who New York’s funniest comedian is, and if that’s the only metric we’re going with for the contestants, Paris should win. Not only did she run material she’d never performed before, but she made it look so effortless, and crushed so hard (I lost my breath laughing). She told one long joke about getting a strap-on for her girlfriend’s birthday and all the things it made her realize about men, resulting in her trying to apologize to her ex over and over again while he got uncomfortable. The confidence and absolute perfection of Sashay’s language and structure made her time an unforgettable ten minutes. 


Mateen Stewart followed Sashay with no trouble. While Sashay just kills with one pitch to her set, Stewart had levels (the comedy version of bars) to his voicing in each joke. He would talk about something (movies, for example)  with a swift, even pace and tone, before fake yelling (if it’s called The Usual Suspects, why are there no Black actors?) and giving the audience a new level of laughter. Like Denise, Bradby, and Sashay, it feels like Stewart could crush in his sleep, and it made the show perfect. 


Closing the show was Reg Thomas, who moved through a set largely about orgies, covering everything from not being sure he was an orgy guy at the start, becoming a sort of orgy guard, and one fucksthon that involved a free Pandora station that had commercials advertising cars. The truth is there’s more to it, but I laughed so hard I lost a few memories. It was one of those situations where the comedy is so continuously good that the audience doesn’t have the capacity to absorb all the jokes. 


All of this is to say these people (circles the comics from the show), not these people (circles REDACTED white comic) are who should get ahead. I know people with the ability to make this happen are around all week, so do something smart.

Brittany Carney’s Comedy Might Be The Best Case You Could Make For Proof There Is A Higher Power. Her Not Being A Household Name Is The Best Argument There’s Not.

Brittany Carney.
Brittany Carney. Courtesy of Comedy Central.

Wednesday, November 8th


If you are very, very, very lucky, you’ll see Brittany Carney perform stand-up one day. There is no one who can match her ability to be funny, interesting, and illustrative on stage. Most of stand-up is a version (maybe) of the truth, but Carney has such a distinct voice and place she’s operating from that it feels truly like a one-to-one of actual experience to joke on stage. Her interest in history, language, and zoology position her as a stand-out voice, allowing her to weld academic panache, sweet nerdiness, and jokes so good it borders on sac-religious. For example, she has a bit about dating, records, and the tempo of steel drum music that has a punchline that refers to her date as a “pigeon” of a man. Read that last sentence again. Think about it. If you can see how the joke not only elegantly made room for all of these elements, but also brilliantly incorporated birds as a place to land on for the push of the bit, you probably are Brittany herself. For the rest of us mortals, we can only aspire to be so lucky as to have a comedy brain like hers. 


Fumi Abe performed a set as smooth and fun as a Jay Jurden (more on him in a minute) or Langston Kerman spot. Finesse is the word, and Abe did something really hard to pull off on stage: he made crowd work feel like material. In bits about being bilingual and Gen Z misquoting movies from his 90s/00s youth, Abe was alive and moved through his set so well, the audience might’ve missed his precision. To use “fun” language, Abe’s set was giving effortless, but the craft and dedication to getting the timing right on the pauses between crowd work and his time killing, and the micro-pauses between the pre-punchline and the crush was the engine that made it sing so beautifully. People sleep on Fumi Abe, but he’s electric now, and will only get bigger. 


Zach Zimmerman went up after, and delivered a beautiful gift of food comedy that had new jokes involving body parts kissing, and a line I’m misremembering about water in a container (balloon?) of some sort that was great writing. It was fitting to see 

Zimmerman on a lineup with Jay Jurden (give me two paragraphs) and Brittany Carney because the three of them have made Brooklyn comedy shows so much better over the last few years. If you disagree, feel free to write me a letter and burn it. There’s a future history book on how these three brilliant minds fostered a space in the scene that made everyone else better,  even if audiences didn’t deserve such kindness.


Chloe Radcliffe is an important part of this. Between 2018 and now, it’s been a genuine pleasure to see her get to a place that’s both frustrating and promising. It’s frustrating because Radcliffe is occupying the limbo of being “in the mix,” taping sets but not being able to be recognized perhaps as much as she deserves. Radcliffe was staffed on a late nite show, and her jokes, which focus on breakups, having an ample bosom, and her birthmark, are like the comedy version of those complex dominos videos: every joke perfectly knocks into and clicks with the next to create a wondrous tapestry.


Jay Jurden—- great comic, great podcast guest (RIP Into It) and sweet person—- was undeniable in his set. Jurden has this great, syncopated delivery as a joke continues, making a meal out of the end vowels without it impacting the rhythm. It’s so good that it becomes intuitive after his sets, the way earworms convince you this one song is the epitome of music. The jokes focus on marriage, sex-as-career jokes, and being un-cancellable, but to hear Jurden spin them into something deft, one (me) has the thought that there is no better translated take, as if Jurden was made in a comedy lab to have the perfect way of managing these massive topics in a way that every audience can immediately lock into and appreciate. He’s getting too big for one borough, and his getting ahead can only be a good thing for comedy. 


When Gary Gulman took the stage next, I almost cried. Gulman is someone who is tall enough that he could have been an actor, but instead he spent his time showing audiences and other comics that it’s okay to have intellectual verve in stand-up. He made comedy safe for new types of voices to emerge, and killed with club-level jokes without ever sacrificing his humanity or towering ability to make perfect wording the thing audiences are anticipating. Let me say this again: Gulman is so funny and original that he made words, not controversial topics or situations infused with fake tension, exciting for audiences. Sitting in the back, comics gathered behind me to watch, as I’ve always known comics to do with Gulman. He is free on stage. Not because he doesn’t care, but because he cares so much that he’s taken the time to learn how to harness it to something close to perfect. The crowd laughed at jokes about intellectual anxiety at an Oppenheimer screening, Harlem, and Jesus workshopping his speeches, but what they heard was pure poetry. 


You thought you already read the part where I encourage you to seek out Brittany Carney’s work? Well, guess what, there’s more. When I saw her perform for the first time, it was 2018, and it fundamentally changed my life in terms of feeling optimistic about stand-up. It was like hearing the kind of jokes you always wished someone would tell, but never got to hear. It felt surreal and hallucinatory, as Carney gifted us with funny and interesting jokes about Ben Franklin, a certain physics department, and animals. It expanded my brain, made me slightly jealous, and made me have faith in the art form again. I still feel this way now when I catch sets or see her run her show, Kingdom Phylum Ass. I could listen to Carney’s jokes forever, and I wish I could find a perfect way to state how profoundly important she is to stand-up, but I can’t. I just hope you’ll seek her work out, support her, and allow her to build the things she wants to share with us. The truth is, if you do this, and I was able to have even a small part in making this happen, it would make my writing career worth it.

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