Stand-Up Comedy Roundtable with The Hollywood Reporter

The Service Industry…By Which We Mean Stand-Up Comedy: Mike Birbiglia, Taylor Tomlinson, & More Talk Stand-Up With The Hollywood Reporter

Courtesy of Beau Grealy/The Hollywood Reporter

On the summer solstice, 6 comedians joined The Hollywood Reporter for a Stand-Up Roundtable. Positioned around the table was Mike BirbigliaTaylor TomlinsonRamy Youssef, Jacqueline NovakAlex Edelman, and Jenny Slate.

The roundtable’s host, Lacey Rose, first asked the group to, “describe the audience member that you dread the most.” Novak of the critically-acclaimed special, Get On Your Knees, quips, “A man!” to the delight of the rest of the table. For some it was the subject of the joke and for others it was having people they know in the audience. Birbiglia, known for his intensely personal and hilarious Netflix special catalog, explains, “Jacqueline and I toured together, and we always compared it to being an exotic dancer or a stripper. It’s like, you don’t really want your friends to be there when you’re stripping.” But Edelman of HBO’s Just for Us comedy special responds, “Maybe they tip more, though.”

Tomlinson, who just released her third Netflix special Have It All, advises friends of comedians, “sit halfway back, right when the darkness starts.”

While success is universal for the group, each comedian clearly has their own style. Novak accredits hers to advice Birbiglia gave her early on to follow “your agenda” not anyone else's. Edelman has a different approach. While he sometimes struggles to stick to his guns and considers it a failure when he gives up on his new material, Edelman tries to find a balance between what the audience wants and honing his craft. As he puts it, “it's still a service industry but you also have to progress as an artist and sometimes those two things,” and Rose finishes, “are at odds.” In order to walk this line, Edelman says he’ll take, “material that I know works and then graft onto it, very carefully, new material.” But sometimes it's “serve night” and other times it’s “kamikaze night.”

This sort of duty to the consumer experience also follows Youssef’s work, ie. More Feelings. A bad show for him is, “not connecting with the people who were there.” The More Feelings star says if he can’t bring his full self then, “I feel like I didn’t give people what they needed because I wasn’t able to get present enough.” Slate, who wrote and performed in Seasoned Professional, agrees saying her confidence has a part to play. “If you think part of yourself is essentially bad, you’ll probably hide it, which means that then you can’t be truly intimate.”

In the wake of October 7th, Edelman who is Jewish had considered canceling a couple of his shows but ultimately decided to keep them, saying, “I thought that the best thing to do is make the show conversant with the moment that we’re living in but still an escape from it.” The tension between using comedy to mend while also providing a healthy escape really comes into play when tragedy strikes but it makes the art form evermore important.

Youssef has also addressed the Israel-Palestine conflict as himself and his audience are Muslim. In fact, Youssef was one of the first people to call Edelman in the wake of October 7th. Youssef, like Edelman, loves a good balance. When talking about his predominantly Muslim audience Youssef says his goal is, “giving people what they want to hear but can’t anywhere else but also pushing them to hear what they might not want to hear.”

Bribiglia brought up the New Yorker article on the truth in Hasan Minhaj’s story, which is the basis of his latest Netflix special. Youssef says, “It speaks to a massive integrity void in our society that we look at entertainers and stand-ups the way that we do. [...] A politician talks, and the [common person] is like, ‘Yeah, he’s probably lying,’ and then they’re like, ‘But this comedian!’ ” Youssef explains, “there's nothing funnier than a fart joke and it remains to be and that should tell you something about this whole art form.”

Watch the full roundtable!

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