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Welcome to the inaugural edition of the ComedyNerd Cup, our annual review of the Year in Funny. 

 

Disclaimer:  Not actual gold.

2021 was a wonky one to be sure -- the pandemic slowed filming on a lot of television shows and movies that we’d otherwise be discussing right now.  Movie theaters are momentarily weird and the changing economics of streaming meant that very few comedies made their way to the big screen. Do you have a favorite comedy movie from last year? We’ll wait.

BUT, like greasy & shirtless Jeff Goldblum said, “Comedy always finds a way.” Despite a global pandemic, a rush on our nation’s Capitol, and a rapidly warming planet, funny people still delivered the laughs. Here are our picks for the most hilarious people and pop culture of the year, including the ultimate winner of the 2021 ComedyNerd Cup.

2021’s Funniest Meme

 

knowyourmeme.com

Every grandfather at a November soccer game ever.

Bernie Sanders Wearing Mittens Sitting in A Chair had everything you could want in a meme. Mittens Bernie was Grumpy Cat meets Old Man Shaking Fist At Cloud meets Paddington 2. He was a vibe that screams “I can’t even” when everyone else insists on getting Insta-ready for a gender-reveal party that sets the west coast on fire.

Bernie’s sartorial choices for January’s inauguration were “instantly iconic,” opined The Cut. It was the look of “a man who was preparing to shovel the driveway, a man who was standing in line at the post office, a man who was about to get into his Subaru Forester and head to the grocery store.”

But the reason Mittens Bernie was 2021’s funniest meme was how easy it was to drop Bernie into any environment that tickled your fancy. His “Why am I here?” slouch belongs just about anywhere in these times. As Amy Kuperinsky said on nj.com, “the image was the perfect canvas on which to project our own thoughts, insecurities, identities and moods.” Simply cut and paste Mittens Bernie and he becomes ...

knowyourmeme.com

Neon Genesis Evangelion Bernie

 

knowyourmeme.com

SpongeBob Cameo Bernie

knowyourmeme.com

Go Go Power Ranger Bernie

The only reason we almost didn’t consider Mittens Bernie?  While Biden’s inauguration was only last January, both the meme and the event somehow seem like a decade away.  

2021’s Funniest TV Show: Girls5eva

Universal Television

Move over, A.P. Bio – there's a new “best Peacock comedy eva”

Girls5eva (because 4eva is too damn short) is brought to you by the folks behind Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt, which means the jokes come flying at you faster than a 1994 Porsche Dauer. (That’s 252 miles per hour, so yeah, pretty damn fast.)  

That’s because creator and Kimmie alum Meredith Scardino is a “joke machine,” according to executive producer Tina Fey. “I have to be like “Take two away.  That’s too many jokes.’”

The premise is phat, home skillet: The four surviving members of a one-hit wonder ‘90s girl group find themselves back in the limelight after their hit is sampled by hip-hop star Lil Stinker.  

Real-life pop star Sara (“Brave”) Bareilles plays Dawn or what we’ll call the Tina Fey part, the steady rhythm juxtaposing her offbeat costars.  Busy Philipps is Summer -- she can’t really sing but she proclaims to be the hot one. Renée Elise Goldsberry is Wickie, the glam social media icon who really works at the airport.  

And then there’s the show’s secret weapon -- ex-SNL writer Paula Pell as Gloria, now a dentist and proudly one-half of the first gay couple in New York to get divorced. She’s a comedic force of nature, the member of the group most likely to splash water under her arm so her pit stains match.

Then there’s the music.  For lovers of 90s groups, the songs smack R&B hard. Their big hit encompasses the show’s central irony -- no one gets to be famous 4eva, much less 5eva.

Still not sold? Does a Tina Fey cameo as Dolly Parton do anything for you?

Universal Television

Half woman/half wig.

And good news -- Peacock has picked up Girls5eva for a second season.  (But really -- Peacock?  How many services do we have to subscribe to anyway? You couldn’t have picked this one up, NBC?)

2021’s Breakout Funny TV Star: Bowen Yang

 

The first Chinese-American cast member of Saturday Night Live. (Apparently, the show counts Rob Schneider and Fred Armisen as “Asian.”) First SNL featured player to get an Emmy nomination. An appearance in People’s Sexiest Man Alive issue. 

He also grabbed Mikey Day’s crotch during a JLo sketch, prompting Lorne Michaels to utter, “Oh, we just did that on television.  And it was really funny.”

Yeah, Bowen Yang had a year.  In fact, Rolling Stone has decreed that America is collectively having a Bowen moment. 

The Greene Space at WNYC & WQXR

The Elton John of comedy.  (At least in the glasses department.)

With a promotion to the main cast, Yang is now both a comedy and fashion icon:  “My relationship to eyewear is defined by an Elton John concert I saw on TV when I was like five. They followed him backstage and he had two suitcases full of different colored glasses. I was like, ‘I want that when I grow up.’ That was probably my first hint of being homosexual. I didn’t even wear glasses at the time.”

Glasses intact, Yang has become an SNL viral hit machine, blowing up with his turns as the Iceberg that hit the Titanic (“First of all, you came to where I live and you hit me!”), a marketing executive who has to take Harry Styles to task for salacious Instagram comments on behalf of Sara Lee, and a USO performer who rips it up with Kristen Wiig and Dua Lipa. 

NBC

He also turns up in an arc on Girls5Eva as a lip-sync influencer, bringing this year’s ComedyNerd Cup full circle. Bowen Yang can do it all.

2021’s ComedyNerdiest Movie: Being the Ricardos

First things first:  Being the Ricardos was not 2021’s funniest movie. (In a year when few comedies hit the big screen, it’s tough to determine which one was.)  But for ComedyNerds, the I Love Lucy biopic was everything we could have asked for.

The story of how Desi Arnaz basically invented the three-camera filming technique that ruled situation comedies for decades? It’s here.

The politics of 1950s comedy that made the word (and even the concept of) “pregnant” a censor/sponsor hot potato? Yep. 

The behind-the-scenes dirt on how Lucille Ball overruled dweeby directors to take slapstick comedy scenes from good to hysterical? Being the Ricardos shows us how she did it.

Amazon Studios

Lucy, the House Committee on Unamerican Activities says you have some 'splaining to do.

You know what you’re getting with Aaron Sorkin -- we’ll stomach the heavy-handed political messages in exchange for the crackling dialogue and award-worthy performances. And sure enough, both Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem nabbed Golden Globe nominations (as did Sorkin for his screenplay).

Prepping for the roles meant hours watching old home videos and studying classic episodes of I Love Lucy. To warm up, Kidman practiced lines from the classic Vitameatavegin episode. 

Her children helped Kidman perfect the “beautiful clown’s" hysterical facial expressions and physical pratfalls. "I would be doing the movements and then looking and going, 'Have I got it?'” she told USA Today. “And it was interesting how it was always like, 'No, be bigger, bigger, bigger!' I would think my eyes were huge or my mouth was wide open, but they'd be like, 'Bigger!”  

For his part, Bardem had to learn to play the conga drums via Zoom.  This pandemic, we tell you.

Did we mention Fred and Ethel rock the house?

As a laugh-out-loud comedy, you can do better than Being the Ricardos. But as a comedy history pic goes, the movie squarely hits the mark and then some. 

And the winner of the 2021 ComedyNerd Cup goes to:

Bo Burnham’s Inside.

Netflix

It’s hard to imagine a more 2021-ish comedy than Burnham’s Inside - a collection of music videos about isolation and anxiety that somehow all manage to be hilarious.  

Netflix

Nothing says comedy like a sharp blade.  Sir, can you please step away from the jokes? 

Burnham spends his claustrophobic special (for the most part, it’s filmed in a single room) biting the hand that feeds him, taking a satirical hammer to social media, technology, and comedy itself.  

Welcome to the internet

What would you prefer:

Would you like to fight for civil rights

Or tweet a racial slur

Be happy

Be horny

Be bursting with rage

We got a million different ways to engage

It’s also a meditation on growing up and what exactly that means. Like Jonathan Larson in this year’s excellent Tick Tick … BOOM!, Burnham is trying to figure out the significance (or lack thereof) of turning 30.

I used to be the young one, got used to meeting people

Who weren't used to meeting someone who was born in 1990

No way! (Yeah, I was born in 1990)

Now I'm turning thirty

God, God damn it!

Burnham is torn between his ambition -- healing the world with comedy! -- and his disgust at his own hubris.  

I'm a special kind of white guy

I self-reflected and I want to be an agent of change

So I am going to use my privilege for the good

(Very cool, way to go!)

American white guys

We've had the floor for at least 400 years

So maybe I should just shut the f*ck up

There are even mentions of suicide, which he quickly discounts (but not quite all the way). At least he’s responsible about it, urging people not to harm themselves and providing information about getting help for mental health issues.  

Did we mention this is all very funny?

Netflix

More excited than he's letting on.

So Bo Burnham, congrats -- you are the winner of the inaugural ComedyNerd Cup. Something tells us you’ll have mixed feelings about the whole thing.

After all, how does one do comedy when the world is imploding? 

It's like everything happened all at once

Um, what the f*ck is going on?

The people rising in the streets, the war, the drought

The more I look the more I see nothing to joke about

Is comedy over?

Should I leave you alone?

'Cause, really who's gonna go for joking at a time like this?

Should I be joking at a time like this?

When we look back and try to remember what 2021 was like, our guess is it will feel a lot like Inside. Even so, and this is no aside - Happy New Year, y'all. We appreciate every one of you.

For more ComedyNerd, be sure to check out:

The Jerry Lewis Movie That's Past The Point Of Taste

Comedy Albums: Their Return And History

Why ‘Team America’ Did Matt Damon Dirty

Top Image: Netflix

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