15 Killer Alt-Comedy Comedians You Should Know About
Alt-comedy is a playground for the weirdos. Popularized in the 90s by greats like Janeane Garofalo and Bob Odenkirk, alt-comedy was a safe haven for the comedians who didn't enjoy the mainstream clubs, and wanted a punk rock/homemade scene for the comedy community. Here are 15 alt-comics that deserve your attention.
Julio Torres is unlike any other comic you’ve ever seen, sort-of the essence of what alt-comedy should be right? The former SNL writer and producer/actor on Fred Armisen’s Los Espookys, will transport you to a place you didn’t know comedy was viable, like in this instance with uber-specific shape jokes.
John Early & Kate Berlant
The current New York alt-scene is forever indebted to comedians John Early and Kate Berlant. The comedy duo (though they are no slouches individually) have brought a completely original delivery and abstract ideology back to the stage, and have had many comedians directly copy their schtick and mannerisms in the alt clubs. Ask any working alt-comic and they’ll tell you, Early and Berlant are alt-comedy royalty that aren’t stopping their climb any time soon.
Paul F. Tompkins
Paul F. Tompkins will destroy any room he’s in, whether it be stand-up, improv, or just hanging out on a podcast. Comedy Bang Bang fans know the chops of this comedic powerhouse, whose characters include Andrew Lloyd Webber, Verner Herzog, and Santa Clause. Paul came up in the height of the alt scene with heavy alt hitters like Bob Odenkirk and David Cross and even wrote and acted in Mr. Show, which is considered an alt-comedy sacred text.
You may know Eugene from his work as Gene in Bob’s Burgers, but if you’ve never watched his stand-up, you are sorely missing out. Mirman performs bits on stage such as writing slogans for shapes, reading angry letters he’s written to city parking officials, and releasing a comedy album that features a homemade sound effects library and 195 orgasm sounds.
Kristen Schaal is an absolute powerhouse when it comes to how to do alt-comedy perfectly. Before Schaal was Mel on Flight of The Conchords or Louise on Bob’s Burgers she was rocking the NYC alt-comedy scene. A favorite bit from Schaal’s Comedy Central Presents episode is when she proposes to her boyfriend live on stage, only for him to refuse and have her finish the show through tears.
It would just feel plain wrong to not throw Tim Heidecker on this list. Heidecker has been dominating the alt-scene for years with co-writer and performer Eric Wareheim. While Wareheim has slowed down on comedy to focus on things like directing, winemaking and cooking, Heidecker hasn’t slowed at all between On Cinema At The Cinema, Office Hours, and An Evening With Tim Heidecker, which was the world's first stand-up special released with the intention of being terrible. Also as a side note, Heidecker uses Office Hours to lift up many up-and-coming alt-comedians, which is just the right thing to do once you’ve reached his level.
You may have seen Stalter on Hacks or reposted on Twitter or TikTok, but this alt-comic is climbing the ladder fast in entertainment. Stalter presents her comedy almost solely in character, as if a ditzy Instagram influencer was also somehow unknowingly hilarious, even though it’s all expertly calculated.
James Veitch implements one of my favorite tropes in alt-comedy, the slideshow. A semi-recent addition to the scene, slideshows allow you to tell jokes through images, not just words, and can allow for surprising reveals that would be impossible otherwise. Veitch’s playfulness with the world around him is always entertaining, and we love going down the weird rabbit holes his mind guides us through.
Reggie Watts WAS my high school experience. While Watts may not be for everybody, that’s kind of the whole point. Not only does Watts perform songs that he builds from the ground up with a looper, he does jokes you didn’t know were possible through all his equipment.
Flight Of The Conchords
Flight Of The Conchord’s Jemaine Clement and Brett McKenzie may have had one of the best HBO series of all time, but if you haven’t watched their actually live sets, you are sorely missing out. The two walk the line between loveable idiots and geniuses with their naïve look at the world as two New Zealanders out of their homeland.
If you haven’t yet, run, don’t walk, to go watch Zach Galifinakis’s Live At The Purple Onion. Before the Hangover, Zach was one of the most popular alt-comics in New York City. Galifinakis tells one-liners while twiddling with the keys of his piano and taking breaks to stare directly into the barrel of the camera. Release a new special, Zach, it’s what the world needs.
Demetri Martin at this point is a well known alt-comedy legend, implementing everything from one-liners, guitars, synthesizers, bells, slideshows, and sketchpad drawings into his comedy. If you were around to watch Important Things With Demetri Martin on Comedy Central, you know that the day that show died, a little piece of you did as well.
Watching Maria Bamford perform is like watching four different seasoned comedians all perform at the exact same time. Bamford switches from anxious introvert to waspy suburbanite, to redneck in the blink of an eye, never giving you the chance to guess the punchline before she whops you with it.
Sarah “Squirm” Sherman
Sarah Squirm is one of the most outlandish (and beneficial) casting choices Saturday Night Live has made in years. We’ve had the proper clean-cut sketch comedians for years, make some room for the gross-out, weirdo humor and presentation of the amazing Sarah Squirm. Sarah chiseled out her place in the New York alt-comedy scene with her one-of-a-kind style mixing humor, disturbing imagery, and the look of your favorite elementary school art teacher all into one.
Martin Urbano is an unstoppable comedy force in the NYC scene at the moment. Recently cast as a writer and performer for The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, Urbano brings the presence of a typical one-liner comedian, with the added bonus of not meaning a word he says. If you live in the city, grab some tickets soon, because before too long this alt-comic is going to be in high demand.