Seven years ago, dozens of New York City comedians converged in costumed tribute to stand-up legends and infamous icons of their trade.
Since it was Halloween week, they dubbed the special showcase Schtick or Treat. I was there. It was fun. A ton of fun, actually. And hosts Mark Normand and Matt Ruby have kept at it each year since, even as Schtick or Treat moved from The Creek and The Cave to Bowery Poetry Club, Arlene’s Grocery, Littlefield, and now tonight, in its eighth installment, at Knitting Factory Brooklyn in Williamsburg.
Normand portrayed Groucho Marx, Ruby as Rodney Dangerfield that first year in 2008.
Who’ll they perform as tonight?
The roster of appearances teased for 2015’s Schtick or Treat includes the dearly departed (George Carlin, Joan Rivers, Bernie Mac, Patrice O’Neal, Mitch Hedberg, Sam Kinison, Gilda Radner) as well as top names Louis CK, Dave Chappelle, Eddie Murphy, Don Rickles, Jeff Dunham, Aziz Ansari, Dane Cook, Marc Maron, Janeane Garofalo, George Lopez, Anthony Jeselnik, Ellen DeGeneres, Lewis Black, Steve Harvey, Tig Notaro, Demetri Martin, Kyle Kinane and more?
Some of it so inside baseball that you have to be a true comedy nerd to appreciate it.
Last year, for example, Gonzalo Cordova delivered Rob Delaney’s Jimmy Kimmel Live set from 2013, with commentary. Normand came out once as John Mulaney to apologize for FOX’s Mulaney. Another comedian performed as a YouTuber from Michigan whose videos went viral for how bad they were.
Some comedians memorized actual old bits from the likes of Ellen DeGeneres or a scene from ABC’s Perfect Strangers to perform true homages. Others took more satirical tacks. Matteo Lane donned a fiery wig but kept the mustache as his take on Kathy Griffin killed, literally, which freed her gay slave boy who’d been on all fours onstage. Jim Tews rolled onstage in skates to add another layer to his Gallagher tribute. Jason Saenz had his iPhone programmed along with a second microphone to make his Reggie Watts impersonation complete.
“Mine was an homage,” Saenz told me afterward. “But yeah, it’s a fine line.”
A few of my favorites from 2014’s Schtick or Treat included Janelle James channeling Whoopi Goldberg, Kyle Ayers performing his Mike Birbiglia set while wrapped up in a sleeping bag (for you Sleepwalk With Me fans), and Jono Zalay impersonating Neil Hamburger, who himself is a character impersonation of bad comedy.
And then there was the comedian who chose to portray Bill Cosby in a mock chase of a potential rape victim, only to be interrupted by other comedians playing the roles of Hannibal Buress and Woody Allen.
As Ruby observed after that spectacle and more: “A lot of people think comics are crying on the inside. It’s not true. We’re actually filled with rage, and jealousy.”
Sometimes, though, their jealousy inspires loving tributes, too. Schtick or Treat!
Some more moments from Schtick or Treats past:
Jim Tews as Dave Attell in 2013
Alice Wetterlund as Maria Bamford in 2013 at the Los Angeles edition of Schtick or Treat
Josh Gondelman as Todd Barry in 2012