The Most Memorable Sets Ever At the Comedy Cellar, According to Comics

Here are the comics that impressed the comics
The Most Memorable Sets Ever At the Comedy Cellar, According to Comics

For more than four decades, New York’s Comedy Cellar has been home to just about every stand-up comic you ever loved. Vanity Fair oral history of the club’s storied past included some of those comics reminiscing about the most memorable Cellar sets they ever witnessed firsthand, comedy triumphs and disasters they’ll remember forever. Here are some of the comedians’ favorites…

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Robin Williams

Two different comics remembered momentous nights courtesy of Williams. Let’s start with Jim Norton’s memory of a set in 1998. Norton had never met Williams before, and he recruited comic Colin Quinn to check out (and, okay, make fun of) the set. Basically, he and Quinn had planned on some cynical deconstruction of the performance, but it was too damn good. “As he finished, Colin said, ‘The son of a bitch really does have a genius streak,’ and we went back upstairs dejected,” Norton remembered.

Marina Franklin was just as impressed with Williams, but for different reasons. In 2003, Franklin brought Williams onto the stage, ready for her Quinn/Norton experience. “But you know what?” she explained. “I saw him struggle! I saw the audience go, ‘No you’re not going to get away with just that high energy, Robin, tell us some jokes!’” But according to Franklin, Williams loved that they put him to the test. “Everyone likes a challenge of an audience who’s not going to give it to you ‘cause it’s easy.”

Jon Stewart

Sure, he’s back at The Daily Show now, but back in 2015, Stewart had just announced that he was done with the show for good. That very week, he showed up at the Cellar as Louis C.K. was doing a set. “We were all talking at the table,” said comic Mark Normand (who’s had some interesting sets himself). “Jon Stewart said, ‘Maybe I should go on?’ And he went on, and it was amazing. He did 20 minutes for the crowd. It felt like such a New York moment.”

Dave Attell

“One of the best sets I ever saw from Dave Attell was at the Cellar,” claimed Patton Oswalt. Circumstances for that 1998 (or was it 1999?) set were less than ideal — 2:30 in the morning, maybe seven people left in the room. And that’s exactly what Attell joked about — how absolutely dead the room was. “It was some of the funniest shit I’ve ever seen in my life,” raved Oswalt. “This crazy-looking homeless dude walked across the room, in front of the stage and went into the restroom, and, Dave kept doing his stuff. When he walked back out, not acknowledging Dave at all, and left the room, Dave just goes, ‘Did you guys see him too?’”

Tracy Morgan

Jeff Ross’ best memory was a set Tracy Morgan did in 2015 after he’d been away from stand-up due to a tragic car accident. “It was amazing,” Ross said. “Magic. Transformative. I got to bring him up onstage and that was the first time he went up in a very long time. The crowd went crazy. It sounded like a home run in the World Series.”


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