5 Comedians to Watch If You Don’t Want Trauma in Your Comedy
Stand-up comedy in 2023 is a more intimate artform than it’s ever been. Artists are using the medium to tell deeply personal stories in a way that has never been as common as it is now — superstar John Mulaney recently underwent a dramatic departure from his usual tone with an entire special dedicated to his addiction and recovery in Baby J. For years now, Mike Birbiglia’s performances have been more like one-man shows than his traditional sets as he explores his relationship to loss, identity and fatherhood onstage. Hannah Gadsby, perhaps the most personal performer in stand-up, even made headlines for how her new hour Something Special isn’t an exploration of the introspective potential of the medium, because it just has, like, funny jokes.
This list is for comics who just do that — they tell funny jokes. No processing grief through comedy, no processing trauma through humor, no processing period. As beautiful and healing as comedy specials can be when comedians dive deep into their souls and get gut-wrenchingly vulnerable, sometimes you just want to watch a stand-up set where the only tears being let loose are those of laughter. These are those comics…
A family-friendly classic comic, Gaffigan is stand-up’s vaguely annoyed and usually hungry doughy dad. The patriarch of an extremely Irish-Catholic clan of seven, Gaffigan is clean, clever and never so deep in his feelings that his airy playfulness is out of reach.
Best known for her work on beloved sitcoms such as Bob’s Burgers, Flight of the Conchords, What We Do in the Shadows and BoJack Horseman, Schaal is also a veteran, vaudevillian stage performer whose distinct, upbeat stage presence is as palpable in her stand-up as it is in her acting.
Another Irish-Catholic comic with an act as clean as his haircut, Regan began his career on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1991 and has remained exactly as broadcast-friendly as his first TV spot in the three decades since. Regan’s infectious energy couples with his observational ability to smile at the simple stuff for a consistently upbeat comedy experience.
Easily the most crass comic here, Wong is unshy about exposing every part of her personal life, down to her deep desire to pursue many extramarital affairs in the same room as expressed in her 2022 special Don Wong. Despite this dirty earnestness, Wong is not a wallower — she mocks her own personal problems with the same dynamic viciousness as she skewers the rest of the world.
Bargatze’s Nashville twang betrays the deceptive charm and whimsicality in his so-called “deadpan” comedy as he wonders at the world with complete exasperation. Yet another clean-cut Christian with a wife and kids, Bargatze’s earnestness and playfully practical mind make his comedy both comforting and completely unpredictable.