As part of my function in the NYC Indie Comedy Community, I end up booking a lot of variety acts for shows I produce or help produce. I also get asked a lot for recommendations of who to book for shows. So I figured I’d put this together. It is entirely unscientific and based on whims and made up on the spot. You can agree or not.
And just in case you were wondering, there are MANY great groups and acts in the city to book. This is really just my opinion at one point in time, singling out certain people.
This doesn’t include The Stepfathers or teams or acts you’d rarely see at variety shows, only people who are or could be frequently seen on stage. People one could book easily.
So I hereby present: The first annual Indie Show Awards as created arbitrarily by me.
BEST IMPROV TEAM (Large):
Runners-up: The Serling, Villain, Gulf Oil
Their motto is: no plans, never the same thing twice. I saw one show where Ian Stroud recorded the set he was doing with a go-pro strapped to his head the whole time and another set where Mark Vigeant showed the rest of his team his real, live penis. They have the right balance of people who are on teams at UCB and fun players who everyone enjoys, they show up consistently and always put on an entertaining show, sone of which are presentational and thematic, some of which are one scene played slowly. Very compelling and the easiest choice on this list. The runners up, it should be said are all excellent and consistently provide hilarious, involving shows, but no one does what Multiball does or really anything close.
BEST IMPROV TEAM (Small):
Runners-up: Pompadour, Three Dogs, Fuck Destiny (Oh Shit)
Again, like the previous award, individuality and voice counts the most for me. No one does what Powder Keg does. Their slow but very silly, deadpan style of play always cracks me up, as much an unironic deconstruction of improv comedy as it is an enjoyable show. Joe, Nathan and Eddie have a chemistry that can’t be manufactured or faked.
Pompadour is consistently funny, positive and enjoyable. Three Dogs have the same chemistry and enthusiasm at a higher speed. FDOS doesn’t perform very regularly but is very fresh and enjoyable.
BEST SKETCH TEAM: KINGMAKER
Runners-up: Kokomo, The Rolling Scones, The Hubbies
It’s not a coincidence that Mark Vigeant has two teams on this list. The man is unafraid to take chances, goes big with his choices and has an infectious positive energy to his work.
His duo sketch work with Dan Kenkel (Kingmaker) is fast and funny without being prop or tech heavy, things that can be difficult for an indie show to accommodate. It’s just a bunch of funny characters and sketches and non-sequiturs presented by two blazer-dressed best friends.
Kokomo has a great indie presence and a Will Ferrell-like star in Michael Delisle, Scones has a gonzo nerdy energy and also features Delisle as well as wild-card Pat May, The Hubbies are filled with enthusiasm and a kooky originality (one of their sketches is a poem about sex with Martin Luther King) but haven’t been doing as many shows recently.
BEST STAND-UP: MATT KOFF
Runners-up: Joe Pera, Brandon Scott Wolf, Brian Frange
This was the most difficult category to judge and there were MANY more stand-ups I would have liked to included as I’ve seen many excellent ones.
But the fact that Matt, originally a Magnet-trained improviser and currently a writer for The Daily Show, is so fucking good at stand-up and will randomly do your free show if you email him is criminally good and speaks to how nice of a guy he is.
I’ve seen him many times with a mix of fresh and old material and every time he crushes like some crazy mutant and then thanks you for doing the show. What a guy.
Joe is part of Powder Keg but as a stand-up brings that same originality and voice to the stage in a way that is immediate and a bit scary. BSW has a fine tune on his act and delivery that makes his job look effortless while digging in to himself. Frange, who is doing Montreal this year, is one of the smartest stand-ups out there, placing his opinions about news and government in a way that challenges us to be smarter while just being that funny.
BEST CHARACTER PERFORMER: FRANK HEJL
Runners-up: Chelsea Davison, Sebastian Conelli, Justin Tyler
Frank has honed his craft to a place now where his characters and impressions aren’t just funny but surgically accurate and well crafted to show you what his sense of humor is and what his target is. His videos have been circulating online but rather than rest on his laurels he’s constantly doing mics and small shows to hone and time new and old bits. His doggedness edges this one out.
Chelsea is hilarious, a young up-and-comer off to Montreal. Sebastian, my buddy, has more pure funny than anyone else at UCB right now. Justin’s energy and craft is evident every time I’ve seen him perform in a way that is very impressive.
BEST INDIE IMPROV SHOW: DESSERT CART: FULL FAT
Runners-up: Free Kittens, Howl Hour, The Hurly-Burly Show
At this point Mimi Fischer and Morgan Phillips who host Dessert Cart are the patron saints of indie improv here in New York City. Their Sunday late-night show is often the first exposure for new teams or a chance to put on rare combinations in a timeslot where otherwise people might not be available.
Their improv too is rich and silly in a way that is fun to watch and keeps the audience up at such a late hour.
Free Kittens is almost the longest running of the indie shows now other than Jerkface and Thank You Robot (correct me if I’m wrong) and consistently features high quality acts. Howl does a great job hosting an up and coming show with a lot of young stars. Hurly Burly has proven with their variety and commitment a worthy successor to the slot formerly filled by Scrambled Legs.
BEST INDIE SKETCH SHOW: BAKED GOODES
Runners-up: Bridge and Tunnel, Sketch Show: The Sketch Show
There should be more of these but sketch is hard and the teams don’t often stay together.
That said, Ian O’Keefe and his cast of collaborators has created something really excellent here that is rarely seen: a live sitcom, not an ironic presentation or deconstruction, but a real original fun thing. His integration of live music and sketch “commercials” between the character games and scenarios of the bakery really makes his show feel whole and complete in a way that most UCB or Magnet teams do not. There is clearly thought and a concerted effort (as opposed to scattershot or slapdash effort) going into these shows and that it is done outside the theater system with such quality is a testament to the cast and crew’s resolve.
SPECIAL MENTION: RED HOT VIDEO FUN TIME
There isn’t a category to fit this show but Micah, Jared and Drew have created something awesome and already super popular: a rollicking hella-cool party where people create and premiere their comedy web videos to a supportive audience. The fact that this well-run and evolving show encourages the sort of creation that any serious comedy person should be participating in is only underscored by the free drinks and the warm atmosphere.
THE TERRY WITHERS AWARD: JO FIRESTONE
When I was coming up, Terry Withers would do the craziest indie shows anyone had ever seen including weirdly self-righteous short form improv and direct mockery and antagonism towards the audience. His shows defied all convention so I dedicate this award to him and to the people who do shows and acts that defy convention.
The obvious choice for this mantle is Jo Firestone, a woman whom the mere mention of her shows (PUNDERDOME, Friends of Single People, The Incredible Game Show Showcase) inspires amazement and considerable confusion. Jo also does solo acts when booked that fit neither under the category of stand up or characters but veer more towards an interactive piece of funny and endearing performance art. She is a great get for a show and a boon to the community.
And that’s it for this time. I only listed things and people I had seen directly so shows I had heard about but have not a attended were not considered. Best Host and Best Musical Act, categories I’d intended, were not listed for lack of consistent performers I knew though I’d look at NANCY for funny songs and Evan Altshuler for solo good music.
Love to hear some thoughts or recriminations and congrats on your arbitrary awards.