What do they say about New York City: There are eight million stories, and sometimes it seems as though eight million of the people telling them think they're comedians? No, that's not it. It is a fact, though, that America's biggest city is also its biggest comedy mecca. Hollywood may be Hollywood, but New York City is where comedians are born funny, become funny or arrive to thrust their funny upon us. I think we should meet some of these people. This is a new recurring feature, a mini-profile of newcomers, up-and-comers and overcomers of New York's vibrant comedy scene. It's called Meet Me In New York.
Fun Fact: Sheng Wang was the inspiration for the launch of the "Meet Me In New York" series! When I saw Wang in NYC in the fall of 2009 and learned he had made the move here, I realized that I needed to have a way to spotlight so many of the comedians who come to the big city but may not be making headlines everyday to otherwise cover. Of course, Sheng Wang has made plenty of news recently -- winning NBC Universal's seventh annual Stand-Up For Diversity competition and earning a one-year holding deal with the networks. And this Friday, his first half-hour Comedy Central Presents debuts on Comedy Central. Let's get to know a little bit more about him. Cue the Q&A!
Why did you pick NYC over LA or anywhere else? The traffic in LA is a heartbreaker. I realized that I was getting too comfortable with the culture and the pace of life in the West Coast and wanted a change of scenery to shake things up for myself. I love the conveniences of living in a city where you always have access to cool things happening and you don't have to do some drunk driving at the end of the night. Plus, sometimes when you happen to line up a string of road gigs, you find yourself spending only a few days out of the month actually at home. Given the higher density and late night nature of life in New York, I figured that a few days in NYC goes further than a few days in LA.
The New Faces of Comedy showcase is Montreal's version of the Best New Artist Grammy. Most of the 16 stand-ups selected for this week's showcases have several years of experience onstage, but they're new in the eyes of industry scouts, because this is the first step up the festival ladder. A few of the acts don't yet have agents or managers. Is that a good thing?
Maria Bamford (one of this year's Masters performers) and I talked briefly about this yesterday. I saw a comedian get an agent and manager -- which quickly resulted in a spot on Conan and headlining club dates -- out of the Aspen fest this winter. Worked out good for him. But Bamford, who once got two new representation offers out of a festival, said it can almost be like last call at a bar. "Who's the hottest one left here?" she said in one of her trademark voices. "And then the relationship has nowhere left to go." So there's that side of the coin, too.
The comics here aren't thinking like that, though. They're looking to be discovered.
How are they doing?
Last night, I caught half of the New Faces, and several members of the first group devoted most of their time trying to connect to the local Montreal audiences at Kola Note (which should be noted, is the most remote venue at the fest -- perhaps another reminder that the New Faces have a ways to go yet). Michael McIntyre (who sounded a bit like Stewie from Family Guy, but not, despite the fact that the FOX show and cast is also at the fest) joked about the local pedestrian signals with his own version of Monty Python's silly walks. Mike E. Winfield said "you guys have the most arrogant homeless people I have ever seen." Tom Segura said: "I was walking in your sex shop district...what do you call it? Oh, Montreal." A couple of the NYC comics in the showcase, Julian McCullough and James Patterson, brought the city with them -- McCullough talking about his Brooklyn neighborhood ("no, not that part") and contrasting the on-field performances of Barry Bonds and Darryl Strawberry ("He'd snort the first base line!"); Patterson on moving to the South Bronx "because my girlfriend wanted to study music -- she played the jazz rape whistle." Nikki Glaser managed to skewer the sponsoring MySpace and won the audience over with some off-color material. Pat Candaras exhibited a Lewis Black attitude if he were a frustrated grandmother. Mike E. Winfield had the look, if not the material. Sheng Wang was a hit with his wit and his closing bit tilting the phrase "you could do better" on its head. Matt Braunger brought this showcase to a close with a very strong personality and a funny bit about killer owls. But really, host Tom Papa had the best sets of the night in between acts, showing the New Faces how it's done.