2023 New York Comedy Fest.

They Deserved Better: A Moment Of Reflection and Celebration For Some Great New York Comedy Fest Shows I Missed This Year

2023 New York Comedy Fest.
2023 New York Comedy Fest.

Over the last nine days, I got to cover some amazing shows all over New York for this year’s New York Comedy Fest, each having some very memorable moments worth mentioning. While I couldn’t attend every single show possible (not one single person ever could), I wanted to shout out some of the shows I really wished I could have attended that deserve your attention.

Sabrina Wu at The Bell House

It seems like Sabrina Wu is starting to take off and have good things, but we can always do better for talented people. Normally, charismatic comedy, or comedy that can feel broad enough to threaten being actually fun, is a bad thing. I was, honestly, floored when I saw Wu and realized a great comic could also create jokes like this and hold this space while also being inclusive and honest. Wu’s Tonight Show set scorched the stage, and is one of the few important sets late night programming can have in the 2020s. I’m sorry, I miswrote. Wu’s Tonight Show set scorched the stage, and because they can’t be on every late night show, there can only be a few important late night sets in the 2020s. Their mixing of sound-work, physicality, and perfect (perfect!) jokes about different identities (racial, gender-specific, and artistic) has made me ravenous to see more. The show I could have seen clashed with something else (throwing up), and I missed out. I didn’t want to see the set because I want Wu to be some sort of giant comedy actor (they’re already well on their way), but because I wanted to feel impressed by comedy in a new way, and light a fire under my ass to try to figure out how to get Wu their own special. 

Sydney Duncan at Union Hall

Sydney Duncan has been running ACAB: Angry, Crazy, And Black! for a minute, and it’s always better than most anything else going on that night. If this were seven years ago, Duncan would have had her own episode of Netflix’s The Characters. Five years ago, and she would have been on Netflix’s The Characters before getting on SNL. Alas, Duncan has to settle for getting to run a spectacular one-woman show that sees her showcasing a depth of skill rather than a grab for quick laughs at every turn. I saw Duncan do this character who works at Build-A-Bear not too long ago, and the movement in everything from the language to the character’s face made it seem real, as if this creation exists at one of the many Build-A-Bear locations and toils in frustration every day. It was honestly moving, and it made me realize how incredible sketch could be.

Asha Ward at Union Hall

Everywhere you look right now, there’s mention of Asha Ward, and for good reason. Ward is a uniquely committed young comedian, having gone through schooling for comedy, working as a writer, and getting showcased at JFL. With comedians who accelerate this quickly, it can be hard to tell how ready they are to break out, and how much that would harm them. Seeing Ward for myself would have allowed me to observe their full power, and would have allowed me to write something more articulate and helpful than this paragraph. There is no right age to get famous in stand-up per se, but I’m not sure I’m seeing Ward clearly, and I count it as a demerit that I’m not able to help readers see them any better as a result. 

Good One Book Release at The Bell House

Jesse David Fox wrote a damn good book about stand-up, recent stand-up history, political and cultural events that shaped it as a value in American culture since the early 90s, and a bunch of other things there is simply not enough space to explain. To help celebrate, he brought in a killer lineup of comedians that include Marie Faustin, Zach Zimmerman, Josh Gondelman, and, like, five other comics. I didn’t want to go because I wanted to see anything really, but moreso that it seemed like the perfect culmination of what a comedy celebration should look like. Fox has been a pioneer in comedy coverage, and to have a stand-up show highlighting breaking comics as much as the culmination of his career thus far sounds like a beautiful echo chamber where the promise of comedy’s future can fill the space and sing.

Sophie Buddle at Union Hall

I think it’s good to be able to admit when you’re wrong. When I saw Sophie Buddle’s Comedy Central set, I didn’t quite get how good she was. It took seeing her run two sets live for me to understand that she’s a juggernaut in comedy right now, and that she will crush in whatever room she’s in. Buddle is so good that I feel bad I couldn’t make it to her headlining set, since she’s a comic you only want more from when watching, not someone who could wrap it up whenever they want and it would be okay if they didn’t do this again. If you can, see her live. If you’re Sophie herself reading this, please run another hour here soon. 

Chanel Ali at The Bowery Electric

Chanel Ali rules. I’m not sure if it’s that she spent enough time in stand-up to become impervious to being bad, or if she was always locked in to her own thing, but seeing Ali run any set is to witness someone showing everyone else how it’s done. Often in Brooklyn, you see a show where the opener is much better than the headliner (audiences like height and high voices, but often ignore the craft of jokes), but what’s more impressive is when you have two comics who are equally incredible, such as Tina Friml’s show, which had Ali as an opener. In a shortened set, Ali was fast and hilarious, scorching the stage so that only a comic as good as Friml could follow her.

Caitlin Peluffo At The Tiny Cupboard

Caitlin Peluffo is the Floyd Mayweather of crossover comedy. Particular enough for alt crowds, but not so fussy or schtick-y that she can’t crush in a club, Peluffo’s comedy feels like she’s standing in a tornado of jokes, plucking out the best ones as she spots them. Allergic to punching down, Peluffo brilliant jokes that are as fun to hear as heroin must be to do (allegedly). I hope I get another opportunity to see one of the current champions of comedy perform soon. 

Jay Jurden at the Bell House

It doesn’t get better than seeing Jay Jurden run a long set. He’s funny, ambitious, stentorian, and generous as a stand-up. There’s definitely an alternate reality where Jurden and Zach Zimmerman or, like, Joel Kim Booster, have an arena show the way Rock and Kevin Hart or Dave Chappelle do sometimes. Whatever dumb boundaries are in the way of this happening, please remove them, because either way, Jurden is going to get that chance. He’s defining what comedy can look like, without sacrificing any of the traditions that make it great and exciting. 

Francesca D’uva at Union Hall

A lot of the people on this list are comics I’ve seen a dozen or more times, but I have not seen Francesca D’uva live yet. I’ve heard songs, watched funny videos, but I’ve yet to get to experience Du’va’s immense talent in person. Regardless, Francesca is really important to the future of comedy and its interpretation of the art form as something that can hold space for more ambitious comedy that happens to be musical. If Francesca is reading this, please do more shows so I can figure out how to better help you, and help readers appreciate your art. 

Kate Willett at Brooklyn Comedy Collective

I don’t even know where to begin with Kate Willett, who should have been stupid famous about three or so years ago. There are some comics who need to find their voice or sharpen their jokes, but Willett did all that before 2018. Her comedy is such a great gift, and even though I had a conflict, it sucked having to miss out on seeing someone already great, and what she could possibly do that would be better than the comedy she’s worked on so far. 

Sydnee Washington at The Slipper Room

Sure, I said kind and true things in my Mitra Jouhari piece, but Sydnee Washington is so formidable right now as a comic that she deserves more attention. To see her go from the fun and excited comic she was when she co-hosted the Knitting Factory (rip) show on Sunday, to where she got to in her digital sets about two years ago, to where she is now is an incredible thing to see. I don’t know how to explain any better than this: I’ve seen her do a joke about printing more than a handful of times, and it’s somehow always funnier than the first time I heard it. Her show also featured the incomparable Marie Faustin and Aminah Imani, who, like Washington, should be household names. The show also featured Mary Beth Barone, who, several years after her Tonight Show spot, I still feel deserved much better. 

Natasha Vaynblat at Brooklyn Art Haus

I think Natasha Vaynblat’s good for comedy, not just because she’s really funny, but also because she has ambition that never feels annoying or prickish. There are a lot of comics I could list who would like to have you believe they are islands unto themselves, but Natasha is so generous and collaborative that it’s always exciting to see her be involved with a new project, because it feels like a win for all of us. I can’t begin to describe how welcoming and fun her live show, Good Delivery, is. This is partly because it’s very hard to describe how important the audience is to her work, and how when they’re good and open to seeing her experiment, she comes alive. It’s the same environment that fostered James Hamilton, who cohosts the show with her and CJ Hunt, and allowed him to feel empowered to lock in so fully to his voice that he became inevitable. I love her Comedy Central digital shows, where she plays slyly deranged and delusional characters, and her short film is not to be missed if you like cinema in a real way, and enjoy comedy that feels wholly unique and singularly unto the writer/director(s). I’m sure seeing her improvise would have also been a thing of generous and radical beauty. 

Ziwe at Murmrr Theater

What would you do if you just had a very successful tv series canceled, and released a very good book? This is the question Ziwe started to answer this week, and I wish I was there to understand more. There’s nothing she can’t do, and whoever was in the audience for her show that night was lucky to witness an icon plotting her next move. I worry we might risk misunderstanding Ziwe at times, so I’m hoping the show helped clarify her for the audience.

Tami Sagher And Chris Gethard at Brooklyn Comedy Collective

There was a time not that long ago where you might be able to sleep with someone because you drank Pabst Blue Ribbon, didn’t have hair, and were between the age of 25 and 40, depending on whether or not industry was asking. It was a magical time called 2006-2015, and it gave a lot of talented people from UCB careers, which created built in stakes for audiences, since they could say they knew these stars from their days making things up on stage. While this improv boom may be over, Chris Gethard and Tami Sagher perform shows every so often that reminds you what was beautiful, amazing, and romantic about the time in comedy when Kumail Nanjiani told jokes about the ocean being God’s basement to an audience sitting on the floor, and Connor Ratliff was just starting to think about becoming George Lucas for shows with Griffin “Downtown Griffy Nooms” Newman. It’s nice to remember the transformative power of comedy every so often, and I wish I could have made it to this show, since I really needed it. 

Kenice Mobley at Union Hall

Kenice Mobley is the only comic who makes crowd work an essential part of their act, treating it like data collection for the larger survey of sexual yearning and life frustration that defines being over 33. There’s also a magic trick she pulls off where the insane intelligence and composite understanding she possesses doesn’t get in the way of her jokes. There are a lot of comics who are shrewd observers that get in their own way with their sets, but Kenice feels like a comedian before anything else, allowing her to wield what feels like real power when she’s working out. I would have loved to see what she’s doing now, because it’s going to be special.

Julia Shiplett, Emmy Blotnick, Kevin Iso, and Langston Kerman

None of these comics had sets, and it’s a shame. Langston Kerman may be the most underrated comic to ever have a Comedy Central half-hour and be on Insecure. Kevin Iso is so strange and funny on stage that it feels like we’re missing something when he’s not around. Emmy Blotnick is the sharpest joke writer in America, maybe, and deserves more. Julia Shiplett just rules, and her jokes might have been interesting enough for audiences, and just edgy enough for them not to become shitty. I really felt the absence of Shiplett this year, and it made me consider funding something nice for her myself if it meant seeing her get to run an hour and crush.

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