Reading between the lines: The New York Times November Fools issue

In case you missed it Sunday, the New York Times got Nov. 1 confused for April 1, because the Arts section and the Sunday magazine both devoted plenty of ink to the comedy business. Let's see how they did!

In Arts, reporter Eric Konigsberg used a profile of comedian Kumail Nanjiani to give us a look not only into Nanjiani's path toward stand-up stardom (Pakistan-Iowa-Chicago-NYC-and beyond?), but also into New York City's thriving comedy scene as a place where talents such as Nanjiani, Jenny Slate, Kristen Schaal, Donald Glover and Zach Galifianakis can shine. The profile is the mainbar, with two sidebars dedicated to the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre and to Lisa Leingang, Comedy Central's new executive in charge of scouting and programming NYC-based talent.

Things we learn in the Nanjiani profile — he has a deal with NBC to develop a pilot based on his personal life, and Comedy Central has ordered six additional episodes of Michael and Michael Have Issues, the meta-com starring Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter (and featuring Nanjiani, who also writes for their show). Nanjiani clarified to me that Comedy Central hasn't yet renewed MMHI; just the script order. Although seeing the network relaunch MMHI's debut season alongside new episodes of South Park appears to be a sign that they want the show to catch on.

Several weekly independent showcases also got shout-outs in various forms in the profile. You can see them on my own Google calendar, too; Sundays, Eugene Mirman's Tearing the Veil of Maya at Union Hall in Park Slope; Mondays, Leo Allen's Whiplash at the UCB in Chelsea; Tuesdays, Seth Herzog's Sweet at The Slipper Room in the Lower East Side; Wednesdays, Max Silvestri, Gabe Liedman and Jenny Slate's Big Terrific at Cameo in Williamsburg. Bobby Tisdale's "Wards of Merkin" at Word bookstore in Greenpoint also gets a mention.

There's a sidebar on enrolling for improv and sketch classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, which has spawned lots of talent over the past decade — and there's a slideshow online of eight current students at the UCB who happened to be around during the profiling. Nice, albeit random touch. But where's the love for The People's Improv Theater (aka The PIT)? Owner Ali Farahnakian (former writer, SNL) and Kevin Allison (The State) are teachers there, and that's where Kristen Schaal and Kurt Braunohler, as well as Ellie Kemper (now seen on The Office!) have performed on house teams.

And in the other sidebar, a brief Q&A with Comedy Central's Lisa Leingang reveals that she'd love to figure out how to get more people to watch and love Eugene Mirman, Greg Giraldo and Daniel Kitson.

Which is a good a segue if any to talk about the NYT's Sunday Magazine profile of Jeff Dunham, who has gotten more people to tune into Comedy Central than any other comedian. If you're not yet jaded about show business (and it appears that the writer of this profile, Jon Mooallem, has his own reservations about his subject matter!), then reading this will make you turn green — whether that's out of jealousy, or out of nausea is for your own nervous system to decide. Too many nuanced phrases and quotes that I could pull out and share with you, but really, it's best for you to read the whole thing. I will, however, make note of a few figures that jumped out at me:

  1. In the past year, Jeff Dunham grossed $38 million in ticket sales.
  2. His fans spend an average of $8 per person on merch such as plush-doll versions of his puppets (which go for $40 apiece on his site), with Dunham racking up $7 million in merch sales so far this year.
  3. In 2003, Dunham worried that his career was stalling. He was earning upward of $600,000 a year.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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One thought on “Reading between the lines: The New York Times November Fools issue

  1. > Comedy for Dummies
    > Jeff Dunham has turned his puppet act into a
    > multimillion-dollar empire. Can he really make
    > ventriloquism cool?
    If I had written the rest of the Dunham article, it would have consisted of the word ‘No.’
    Actually, that’s not quite fair: it’s entirely possible that he will make vent ‘cool’, it’s just that (in my arrogant [and correct] opinion) he can’t make his vent _funny_. Plenty of things have been cool: long sideboards, drag-racing, bear-baiting, the Beatles, Herman’s Hermits, mood rings—most of those have not been worth the time of a being with a finite life-span, and only bear-baiting was ever _really_ funny (and that only when the bear broke free of its chains and wreaked a bloody revenge on the repulsive crowd, much as Jonathan Winters used to do on occasion).
    Maybe what bugs me the most, even more than the revolting appearance of his partners and the easy know-nothingness of his material (Dan Whitney called, said, ‘You mean I didn’t even need to fake that accent?’), is the insane cowardice of needing a terrorist character to be _dead_. A straight copy of Osama bin-Laden would be much braver and funnier (while skirting the danger of presenting a stereotyped Ay-rab face to his probably-adoring_it fans).
    I do wish I’d seen him do the Tic-Tac act, though; that speaks of an actual mind in that skull somewhere, which actually makes the rest of his bit irritate me even more.

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