SEARCHING FOR NEW YORK’S FUNNIEST
On the penultimate day of the New York Comedy Festival, Carolines, the event’s home base, will host a late-afternoon event with a dozen comedians you’ve likely never heard of — yet you’ll probably hear more from some of them very soon. This is the finals of the New York’s Funniest Competition, which launched a decade ago as an annual staple of the festival and has crowned such winners as Michael Che, Myq Kaplan and Nate Bargatze, while other participants have included Liza Treyger and Michelle Wolf.
“It’s really important for young comedians, not just for those who win it but even for those who don’t,” says Caroline Hirsch, founder of the club and the festival.
Louis Faranda, who produces the festival and
Champ of Chuckles
the competition (and who books Carolines yearround) was not initially crazy about the idea of a competition — “you can’t always really say one person is funnier than another” — but he says the comedians took it seriously and that helped it take off. Now, Faranda says, the finals draws agents and managers looking for new talent.
“You can put the win on your resume,” he says. “It doesn’t mean that you’ll be a big star but it means you have a future in comedy.”
Tim Dillon, who won two years ago, says other clubs around the country do weak imitations, often without legitimate judging. “This is different because Carolines has credibility and the festival has another layer of credibility,” he says.
These comedians are more experienced, with more material, than those at group events like Comics to Watch (also at the Festival). Bargatze, who won in 2010, says you need enough material to have different jokes for each round of competition. “It’s a good challenge,” he says. The win is “a check mark that you are on the right path.”
While they are further along in their career, just being in the competition still provides a boost. Kaplan, the 2009 champion, had just moved to New York the previous year so merely performing at Carolines offered good exposure.
“I figured if I did a good job that would be helpful,” he says. Winning didn’t transform his life overnight (“though it certainly felt good”) but it did suddenly earn him bigger and better gigs, opening at Carolines for comics including Michael Ian Black and Patton Oswalt.
After his win, Bargatze also got to play at Carolines more but, he adds, he also began “getting passed” at other clubs (getting on the roster as a showcase regular). “I used to think people would say, ‘What is he doing here,’ but then I started moving up in the New York comedy scene because all the other clubs can see you won,” he says. “It’s a big deal.” — Stuart Miller