The 5 Shows We’re Most Excited About at the New York Comedy Festival

The 15th annual New York Comedy Festival, which starts Monday, features a dense lineup of improv, sketch and stand-ups of varying levels of fame.

At sites large and small throughout the city, you’ll find the event’s usual mix of A-listers (like Conan O’Brien on Thursday at the Beacon) as well as up-and-comers (Desus Nice and the Kid Mero at Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater on Sunday). But as a comedian myself, I am most excited for the lesser known performers who are about to receive the spotlight. The festival features several comedians of color, and also serves as a barometer of where the industry is as a whole. Podcasts, improv and sketch make up a good chunk of the programming, an indication of the diverse ways that comedy is consumed in 2018.

Here are the five acts I am most looking forward to. For show details, go to

Saturday and Sunday at Joe’s Pub

You’d be hard-pressed to find a time when the Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef’s material was more poignant, especially in the aftermath of the killing of the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi.

Friday at Sony Hall

Once in a blue moon, I hear a standup joke that makes me think, “That is absolutely a perfect joke.” For me, one of them is Tig Notaro’s “No moleste.”

Chris Gethard has always found strength onstage in vulnerability, and nowhere was this more clear than his solo show dealing with mental illness, “Career Suicide,” which was turned into an HBO special. Just last month, he published “Lose Well,” which examines the benefit of failing, one of several books he has written on looking inward. And I haven’t even mentioned his delightfully weird television series, “The Chris Gethard Show” (which was recently canceled).

It is his openness and willingness to reflect that makes his podcast, “Beautiful Stories From Anonymous People,” so compelling: in every episode, he takes one call and speaks to that person for an hour. There are no names and no ground rules. Well, there’s one: Gethard cannot hang up first.

A 2016 segment has always stuck with me, when an anonymous man from Denton, Texas, on his break from a soul-sucking customer service job, called Gethard to say he felt that he had “wasted the last year” and that he was giving up on life. In the course of the conversation, we learned that when he was born, the doctor who delivered him was Ron Paul, who would become better known as a libertarian congressman. Then the anonymous man revealed that his mother had been in prison on drug charges and had been let out to give birth.

Eventually, Gethard convinces the man to change his life, starting with screaming as loud as he can. By the end, he is ready to start doing comedy open mics and has seemingly found a new lease on life.

After hearing himself on the podcast, the man quit his job.

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