Tina Friml, Robin Tran & Mitra Jouhari.

Tina Friml, Robin Tran & Mitra Jouhari Crushed Their Sets At NYCF 2023 (Event Recap, Part 3)

Our final part of 800 Pound Gorilla News' coverage of 2023 New York Comedy Festival comes to a close on an excellent high. Check out the recaps from the very hilarious Tina Friml, Robin Tran & Mitra Jouhari who all absolutely crushed their sets this year (and are comics you need to know).

Tina Friml and Robin Tran Are So Good At Comedy, It’s Scary

Tina Friml.
Tina Friml. Photo credit: Noah E. Berhart.

Tina Friml and Robin Tran headlined two very different shows, crushed in two different venues, and had comics who were well on their way open or co-headline with them. Chanel Ali, as always, turned the room into a bunch of astronauts, because after you see her set, a lot of other comedy doesn’t hit quite the same way. Stacy Cay was astute and erudite, which is to say professionally funny in a really unique way. Other comics were there too, and stood out for a variety of reasons. Notice I’m glossing over a lot, but I’m just excited to write about how good Tran and Friml were.

Thursday, November 9th

When it comes to Tina Friml, there might not be anyone killing as hard as her working in New York right now. There’s a unique rhythm to her sets that can crescendo and fall as she wants, and by utilizing it as a tool in her jokes, there are opportunities to juice a line, or let things sit a bit longer, that make it feel potent, alive, and exciting. A lot of comics have a coolness to their act, like something is simmering or steaming in a kitchen somewhere, but Friml is all explosion, like someone putting a thousand mentos into a thousand soda bottles at once. This is both an outgrowth of her comic voice and what she can accomplish with it, and just being a comic with great instincts.

One of the best things about the way she has used the unique accoutrements of her speaking voice is to make the audience lean in to hear her. There is such power in this, and by having the audience go to her, she can take time to ratchet up anticipation and destroy. The audience was truly hers to control, and to watch Friml work is to see the essence of club comedy at its finest.

Robin Tran on Peacock.
Robin Tran. Courtesy of Peacock.

Saturday, November 11th

Robin Tran bends the style of 1990s and early aughts club jokes around a core part of her identity as a trans woman. Getting to see her run a set that dealt with things like the particulars of her experience as a queer person, as well as a queer person who loves wrestling and Eminem, wit the verve and edge of someone like Greg Giraldo helped me to champion her as the future of comedy even more.

Tran is gentle but cranky, and it lends the comedy a fun prickliness. Watching her sidle up to lightly dark ideas about her dead friend with humble confidence, managing to be both the hero and a bit of a heel, is funny every single time. One can’t help but notice how much traditional club jokes and roast comedy are intrinsic to Tran’s voice, helping her make damn sure that she has more bravado than anyone who might wish her ill.

Comics shouldn’t have to jump through hoops at all to connect with an audience, or get them to uncross their arms, but if Tran and Friml are any indication, there is a way to create opportunity to be seen for who you are, more deeply, as every comic deserves.

After Seeing An Achingly Beautiful And Hilarious Show On Sunday, I’m Convinced We Might Not Deserve Mitra Jouhari

Mitra Jouhari on Comedy Central.
Mitra Jouhari. Courtesy of Comedy Central.

Sunday, November 12th

One of the untrue things we tell about artists is that they need audiences to improve. This is true-ish, but it’s complicated, because the truthest version is that artists need to be understood once they’re good and clear in their identity, and it takes people who can provide context and appreciate them in this way for audiences to learn how to do this. Even if an artist develops a fanbase, which is a good thing, there might be a lot of homework for them to do in terms of not missing out on the full depth or comedic excellence of their work. Mitra Jouhari was lucky to have such an attentive and appreciative fanbase in Brooklyn, but I’m still not convinced we deserve her brilliance. She is operating on a rarified level, one that demands attention and for the audience to make space in themselves for sincerity, beauty, joy, and aching desperation. I’d like to think we got some of it right, but I’m not sure we did the best we can.

Prior to seeing what Jouhari had been developing, Sydnee Washington opened. Five years ago, Washington’s sets were full of bombast and delicious experimentation, with her knowing a joke might work, but selling the audience on an idea of it being off the cuff so that whatever new ideas she threw out had the shield of the joke to work behind. She’s not only smart about her delivery, but there’s an ambition and risk in her work that are hard to match. There’s a great digital set where she tells this story involving cleaning an apartment that moves in such a particular way, and has so many specific asides to help build context for the world of this joke, that it’s something only Washington could manage. In Sunday’s set, she had a lot of great jokes, but one of them does something no one else could manage but her. In a story about seeing someone get slapped on the subway, she takes time to clarify the slap, describing it as a comic book smack with the word “slap” written above the victim’s head. It’s such a delightful and silly joke, but it takes a keen eye to recognize that this splash of color in the joke will help it. It’s so easy to miss, but Washington knows what she’s after, and it kills just a little bit harder because she’s so thoughtful about what each line needs.

When Mitra Jouhari started her portion of the show, it was with a video that was so exactly edited, it might as well have been handled by Thelma Schoonmaker. There is an MFA-with-a-show-at-the-Whitney quality to the video, meaning it’s both artistic and personal, but also put together by someone with talent and vision for the way it operates in context to a larger framework. Jouhari read elegiac prose that were also amazingly funny jokes over about sixty cuts of her doing different things, and sure, you could say this is “alt,” but this just means the comedy was multifaceted and refreshing. On any given night, there is comedy taking place that is…not interesting and non-essential, to put it kindly. For once, it was exciting to see something come together that felt bigger than the ambition these rooms often contained.

I had wanted to see this show for sometime, as Jouhari is indisputably a true and powerful comic voice. Had she been working in the 1990s, she would have written episodes of The Simpsons. Not having worked then, she co-created Three Busy Debras, which is as good or better than The Simpsons in its prime. She possesses a brain that can toss off what would have taken a Reductress or ClickHole writer months to come up with like it’s the easiest thing in the world. Because of her diligence and commitment to the writing of jokes, the audience is placed somewhere between being able to see how these jokes come to be, and laughing in part because they still can’t predict them. This is essential, because it’s putting the audience here that allows her to create the depth and emotion that follows.

Over about twenty minutes, Jouhari moves the audience to tears, not with jokes, but tributes. There is a fantastic shift from earlier stories/sections about the annoyance of reading, to the last two pieces of the show, which put strong prose that feel like adult poetry at times as the focus. In stories about her grandfather and the wild generosity of aging but still being relatively young, Jouhari offers up her versions of Jenny Slate, Miranda July, Sheila Heti, and Hilton Als. As the audience cries together,  we transcend stand-up with Jouhari to reach beyond comedy, beyond one art form, and begin to understand, almost in real time, what one funny person might be able to do in multiple art forms if given the chance to attempt sincerity. In the span of an hour, we witnessed something profound, and we may never see anything quite so amazing until Jouhari returns to set us aflame with possibility again. 

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.