Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Stand-Ups I Love

Yesterday, Monday, February 13th, was my 6th anniversary doing stand-up comedy. I still love doing it, even if I occasionally get fed up with some of the BS involved.

But I’m not going to talk about me. Instead, I’m going to talk about the four stand-ups who’ve inspired me the most: Todd Barry, Bill Hicks, Patton Oswalt, and Louis CK.

Todd Barry Bill Hicks Patton Oswalt Louis CK Mount Rushmore
Why celebrate politicians when we can celebrate awesome comedians?

These are the guys on my personal Mount Rushmore of Comedy. It doesn’t mean that they’re the ONLY comics that I like — There’s tons. It just means that these are the guys that speak to me the most and influence my comedy the most. These are the guys that I look at and think, “FUCK, I’ve got to do better.” I’ve got to write more, get on stage more, network more, and just do better in general. I doubt I’ll ever reach the level of any of these guys, but they give me something to strive for.

Todd Barry – Of all the types of comedy out there, deadpan comedy makes me laugh the most. I love it when someone can make me laugh hysterically by doing next to nothing. And Todd Barry is a master of deadpan.

I’ve been a fan of Todd’s for ages, ever since my buddy Frank and I were two comedy geeks traveling into New York City every week to see comedy shows. I remember seeing Todd open for Janeane Garofalo at a show in Maxwell’s in Hoboken in the early 2000s. He was much funnier than Garofalo, and I bought Todd’s album Medium Energy right after the show. I was a full-fledged Todd Barry fan after that.

You can even hear me on one of Todd’s albums. Here’s track 21 off of Todd’s 2004 album Falling Off The Bone I’m the guy who feeds Todd his setup line. 13 years later, I’m still irrationally proud of this.

Since Todd is one of the people who inspired me to get into stand-up in the first place, it was a big deal for me to perform on the same bill as him a couple of years back. Todd didn’t get to see my set, since he had another club to get to, but it was still an important marker for me.

Todd’s most recent special, The Crowd Work Tour, is 100% improvised material based on discussions with his audiences. It’s available for just $5 on Louis CK’s site and is viewable on Netflix Streaming.

Bill Hicks – Bill Hicks is someone I’d heard about for years before I finally sampled his stuff. He’s revered by comedy aficionados, partly because he died young at age 32 of pancreatic cancer, but mostly because of the brilliance of his material.

While you might think that the routines of a comic who died in 1994 might sound pretty dated today, they’re not at all, because all of the issues that Hicks talked about are still with us. Really, all you’d have to do with some of his jokes is just replace the names and they’d work today (Donald Trump for George Bush, Taylor Swift for Debbie Gibson, etc.).

Bill Hicks appeared on Late Night With David Letterman 11 times. In October 1993, he did a set on The Late Show With David Letterman, but a skittish Letterman and his producers edited the set out of the broadcast. To his credit, Letterman had Hicks’ mother, Mary Hicks, appear on his show in 2009, apologized for axing it before, and played Bill’s set in its entirety. Here it is:

Hicks even got a shout-out from Garth Ennis in Preacher.

This is one of my favorite jokes by Hicks (Heck, one of my favorite jokes by anybody):

“The smaller he gets, the cuter he is” is one of the best-constructed punchlines I’ve ever heard from anyone. It’s a joke that wouldn’t work as well with any other words.

If you’re interested in Hicks, I recommend that you start the same place I did, with his posthumous albums Rant in E Minor and Arizona Bay. Both are spectacular.

Patton Oswalt – How do I love Patton? Let me count the ways. I love how he unashamedly wears his geekiness on his sleeve (When he makes a reference to willpower, he says “Hal Jordan” immediately after. He doesn’t bother explaining it, either. You either get it or you don’t.). I love him as the Koenigs on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I love his straight dramatic performances in movies like Big Fan and Young Adult. I love his Star Wars filibuster on Parks & Recreation. I love how he uses Twitter. I love how he calls out trolls and hecklers. I love how open he’s been about his struggles with depression and grief. I love how he’s come back from immense personal tragedy and just keeps going.

If you want to check out Patton’s stand-up, my personal favorite of his albums is 2007’s Werewolves and Lollipops, but really, ALL of them are great. Patton’s most recent special, Talking For Clapping, has won both an Emmy and a Grammy and is available on Netflix Streaming.

Louis CK – I love Louie, even if Todd Barry doesn’t agree.

Louie is one of the most clever guys doing stand-up today. He tackles taboo subjects with a fearlessness that you rarely see.

And he’s also insanely prolific. He typically turns out an hour of new stand-up material every year, along with other projects like Louie and starring in movies or hosting Saturday Night Live.

I got see Louie live at Carnegie Hall back in 2010, and it was spectacular. I’m also fairly certain it was the first time that the word “mothercunting” was said onstage at Carnegie Hall. (If you’re curious, his performance can be heard on his album Word: Live at Carnegie Hall, available for just $5 at CK’s website).

Blatant Self-Promotion Department: As always, if you click on any of the blue Amazon links included in this column, we get a little piece of anything you purchase, even if it not the item we linked to. But if you want to buy your Valentine the gift of awesome stand-up comedy, you could do a lot worse than buying one of the things I recommended here.

If you’re in New Jersey and you’d like to see me perform stand-up, I’ll be doing a show this Friday in Lyndhurst. You can find all the info here.

All right, folks, that’s my time. Be sure to tip your wait staff, and I’ll see you next week.


  1. tomfitz1

    No Jerry Seinfeld?

    Normally, I don’t watch stand-up comedies, but I did watch the first 4-5 seasons of Seinfeld. Maybe one day I’ll go back and watch the remaining seasons that I didn’t watch.

    I dig Patton Oswalt’s appearances on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

  2. fit2print

    I gotta say I love how this site (ostensibly about comics) can feature a post on the other kind of comics and somehow have it fit right in…

    Great picks by the way. I wasn’t too familiar with Todd Barry but he’s a worthy “discovery”. Thanks for that.

    For me, no one has ever topped George Carlin, Robin Williams, Chris Rock and (when I was a kid) Jonathan Winters and Don Rickles but that’s the beauty of comedy: there’s room (pun?) for stand-ups of just about every description … even the nightmarish Dice Man. Not that I’m looking forward to another comeback…

    1. Not to single you out, fit2print, but although our origin story comes from a comics website, our goal here is to give you guys awesome stuff from any pop culture corner. Heck, I’ve got a post that (eventually, I swear!) will go up that’s even further afield than this. I think what’s great about the Atomic Junk Shop is that you all know us from our comics writing at the old place (and elsewhere), but we’re free to branch out here, so you get to see other sides of us. Heck, I bet someday even Burgas will write about something other than comics!

  3. Terrible-D

    Bill Hicks has been a long time personal favorite. I can only imagine being at one of his shows where the audience didn’t quite “get” his humor. Or, in the words of Mr. Hicks, “Staring at him like a dog being shown a card trick.”

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