Theater archives

Sam Morril and Sean Donnelly Describe Every Type of Comedian in New York City


As we’ve often said, New York City is pretty much the standup comedy town. Its rich, storied history of people getting up in front of a crowd to mine for yuks is unparalleled. By virtue of that fact, if you live here, chances are you’ve been to a comedy show at some point — whether you walked accidentally into an open mic night at a pizza parlor, unknowingly stumbled into a bar during a comedy show, or planned a night full of chuckles beforehand.

We’ve seen a lot of standup in the city over the years. And one thing we’ve noticed is there are certain types of comedians in NYC you’ll see at virtually every comedy night you go to. Here, we break those comic tropes down with the help of a couple NYC comedians who are at the top of the heap here — Sam Morril and Sean Donnelly. These two have both been doing comedy in the city for over a decade, frequently clocking a few shows a night at different venues (watch our video of Morril pulling an all-nighter here). As such, both of them have seen their share of other comedians, too, and can recognize their various types quickly — often in as little as a joke or two. We sat with both at Olive Tree, the restaurant above the famed Comedy Cellar, and tried to see how many standup comedian types we could think of. We ended up with a bunch — including a few they admit to having been at one point or another during their careers.

The Hobby Dad Comic

This comic makes it to open mics on a fairly regular basis, and for only one reason: he wants to escape his wife and kids. He enjoys standup, and like more traditional distractions designed for “Me Time” — like golf or a poker night — Hobby Dad Comic uses standup to get out of the house a bit. Inevitably most of his jokes are about his wife and kids, who he will blame for killing his dreams. It’s mostly very sad.

The Anti-Comedy Comic

Sometimes called simply: The Fucking Worst. These guys are above doing comedy. Their time onstage is used to make fun of the art and the act of comedy, to mock it from a distance. There are no stakes for the Anti-Comedy Comic, whose cowardice won’t allow him to commit to writing actual jokes. Instead he is just a puddle of half-formed ideas, and cooler-than-thou observations, always looking down at the audience from his perch above it all, the safest space on stage. You aren’t laughing? That’s fine to the Anti-Comedy Comic, you’re not supposed to be.

The Guy Inspired By Patrice O’Neal for the Wrong Reasons
Patrice O’Neal was a genius comic who was sadly taken from us too soon. He was very influential, and some of the jokes on racial tension and the gender divide were as illuminating as they were controversial. It was only because O’Neal was such a pro, one who could own an audience at will, that he could get away with some of the jokes he did. Unfortunately, scores of comedians who don’t have his presence or joke-writing chops attempt to be like him, and instead just come off as clueless misogynists with an ax to grind.

The One-Liner Comic

A dying breed. Writing perfect one-line jokes for maximum effect is extremely hard to do. And that’s why not a lot of people do it well. (This is a close relative to The Deadpan Comic)

The Andy Kauffman Comic
This guy thinks he’s reinventing comedy because he’s brought a strange prop onstage or his jokes don’t have punchlines. He’s more interested in being odd than funny, and sometimes that can be its own reward. But frequently it’s a slog.

The Wannabe Bill Hicks Comic (also known as “Bill Hacks”)
Bill Hicks was arguably the greatest comedian of all time, one unafraid to thumb his nose at social mores and question authority. A real Truth to Power kinda guy, he often locked into a fight to the death with audiences that failed to understand where he was coming from. Bill Hacks are people who fancy themselves Bill Hicks, misunderstood geniuses who are unafraid to “go there,” but aren’t particularly good at it.

The Lesbian Comic Who Only Talks About Being a Lesbian
It’s great that the stage accepts all types. Truly everyone has a voice, and there’s room enough for everyone’s point of view. That’s why this comedian can be both great and tragic. It’s great that she can feel the freedom to express herself through humor to a room full of strangers that may leave the venue understanding the world from a different point of view. But is that all there is to you? Several types of comedian hit only one note during a set, bashing away at one topic until it becomes tedious. (See also: The Gay Comic Who Only Talks About Being Gay, The Fat Comic Who Only Talks About Being a Fat, The Female Comic Who Only Talks About Her Vagina, The British Comic Who Only Jokes About Being British)

The Observational Comic
“You ever notice how…?” Yes. Yes, I have noticed that. But noticing something isn’t a joke.

The Same Fifteen-Minute Set His Entire Career Comic
Working comics hate following this type, who has done the same set his entire career — unwilling or unable to risk writing new material. He’s done this set so long, he’s mastered it. New crowds mean the old jokes go undetected — this comic nails the beats, knows every pause of every joke, and delivers every punchline with maximum zip. So he kills, which is great for the crowd. But for the comedians in the room who’ve seen the act for two, three, or five years, it’s absolute torture. Next time you watch someone kill onstage, look to the back where the comics are. If they’re not laughing, they’ve seen this same act a thousand times, and you’re being sold old product as new. (See also: The Cocky Hack Who Kills — a/k/a: Randy from Funny People)

The Burning Every Bridge Comic
This is the one who shits all over the audience, sometimes berates the producer of the show, is openly hostile when he’s bombing, and takes it out on whoever is around him. Then he wonders why he can’t find anyone to let him up onstage. Is it because he tells too many truths? (See also: The Genius in His Own Mind Comic, The Bad-Insult Comic — who are often indistinguishable from the Bill Hacks)

The Needs to Get Laid Comic
This comic has only been onstage three minutes, but has already managed to mention being single an astounding 35 times. They awkwardly direct many of their jokes to the opposite sex in the room, and may even directly hit on one or two members of the crowd. (See also: The Aging-Cougar Comic)

The “Parent’s Voice” Comic
Dat Phan and Margaret Cho got rich on acts built around the voice’s of disapproving or out-of-touch parents. And if a formula works for one comedian (let alone a few), chances are very likely someone else will give it a shot eventually. You can’t account for influence.

The White Comic Who Does Ethnic Voices
It’s 2015 and lots of people have decried the “politically incorrect” hordes who are “ruining comedy.” That said, if you’re a white comic doing ethnic voices on stage, said ethnicities are going to tend to be the butt of your jokes — which is never a good idea. If you’re going to tell the wacky story of the black guy who hit on your girlfriend, or the one about your Indian dentist, try to do it without impersonating their voice. Without that crutch, the joke likely doesn’t stand up on its own. So maybe skip it. (See also: The “Does Characters” Comic)

The Social-Climbing Comic
Chances are you’ll never see The Social Climbing Comic onstage, because that is not where they live. Instead, they’re at every comedy show, party, after party or comic gathering, sweet talking various promoters and people who make their living producing, writing, or living comedy. They are social hangers-on who don’t want to do standup so much as be around people who do standup.

The MTV2 Hack
The MTV2 Hack is not funny, but knew a producer on one of the copious shows on MTV2 or some other network in the far reaches of cable that needed talking heads. These shows inexplicably have found an audience. And as a result, these comedians have a ton of followers on social media, and comedy show producers book them hoping that they’ll leverage their five figure following on Twitter to get a few people out to their dying free show. The MTV2 Hack can pick and choose what bills and what venues they’ll play, but mostly do the same five to 10 minutes they’ve discovered works on stage each time they go up, too lazy to write new material because they really don’t have to. Their money is made on TV, and they’ll get booked no matter if their jokes are fresh or stale.

The Blogger Comic
The Blogger Comic cares about standup comedy so much, they don’t just do it, they also write about it to an audience of no one online. They deconstruct comedy. They think about it. A lot. Is that joke problematic? They take an academic approach to standup and effectively undo everything fun and interesting about it.

The Storytelling Comic
Anecdotes. He’s got anecdotes.

The Crowd-Work Comic
There’s nearly one on every bill. The comic who, instead of writing jokes, riffs on the crowd. When done well, it’s high art. But mostly, it’s not done well. Instead you’ll likely see something like: “So [names distinctive article of clothing audience member up front is wearing], what do you do for a living? [Repeats occupation for those in the crowd who can’t hear the member of the audience, who doesn’t have a microphone] That’s incredible.” [Give look to audience like whuuuuu?]

The Industry Darling
Not especially funny, but producers and industry types can’t get enough. They’ve got “the look” and are being eyed to star in something down the line. Somewhere along the way an agent with some pull took an interest in this comic, and they wound up on Conan or booked on the panel of The Nightly Show. As such, this comedian gets fairly plush opening slots pretty regularly. They’re not exactly lighting the world on fire, but they’re not exactly terrible either, and some high-powered someone likes them a great deal. So they work consistently as the “Oh, I’ve seen this guy” guy on the bill.

The Weed Comic
This one finds it nearly impossible to write jokes about anything but his or her undying, unwavering, and unapologetic love of bud. Even jokes that begin about another topic seem to find their way back to the sweet leaf. He or she often has an adorable laugh, which you’ll hear often as they laugh at their own material. Lots of comics tell jokes about weed, or tell fabulous, insightful stories about their use of the drug. Difference is, it’s all The Weed Comic‘s got.

The Super Chill Black Comic
Basically the same as the Weed Comic, only black.

The Black Comic Who Uses White Guilt as Leverage
You’ll see this comic a lot in Brooklyn at nights that are especially hip. There, the crowds are mostly white, and hyper-aware of their privilege, which this comic will use to beat them into laughter submission. White people are the worst, after all. (See also: The Black Comic Who Only Talks About White People)

The Dishonest Comic
Not one thing The Dishonest Comic tells you about his or her life actually happened, and it’s obvious. No, they did not prank the bouncer at the club. No, that terribly awkward thing did not happen at the dry cleaner. Most jokes told by The Dishonest Comic begin with “Here’s something I like to do…” and end in pure fiction.

The Unfunny Hot Chick Who Gets Booked on Every Show
Self explanatory.

The Upstaging Loud Hack
Some comics don’t write jokes so much as they just yell. This is The Upstaging Loud Hack. His very loud delivery into the microphone surprises the audience into fits of laughter that are mostly the product of being startled.

The Lives in a Dark Place Comic
Some comics look so deeply inward it crosses a line from funny to uncomfortable. They live in a dark place, and the things they say in their acts are better left said in a therapist’s office, not a free Tuesday night show in the back of Caribbean restaurant in Crown Heights.

The Writer Comics
The Writer Comic gets on his or her pick of shows because their credits are impressive. They work on sitcoms or late-night shows that are sure to impress audiences when their names are announced. They’ve gotten so used to a writers room that many of their jokes feel like monologues, and there’s nothing necessarily conversational about their presence onstage.

The Non-Risk Taker Who Thinks He’s Changing the World
This comic is more interested in applause than he is laughs, and takes stands on issues he feels he should get a pat on the back for. But it’s not exactly groundbreaking to say in front of a Manhattan audience that you’re anti-racism. Those and other “of course” topics can certainly be mined for laughs and reach peak satire, but when a comic does them with a smug “Aren’t I Edgy For Taking This Stand Literally Everyone in the Room Agrees With” look on their face, it’s knocked down a few dozen pegs. (See also: The Male Comic Who Insincerely Panders to Women)

You can catch the Sam Morrill’s and Sean Donnelly’s respective half hour specials — Morril’s Class Act, and Donnelly’s Manual Labor Face — on Comedy Central now, or listen to their podcasts, We Know Nothing and My Dumb Friends.