If you haven’t yet read The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels, and the History of American Comedy, then what kind of comedy nerd are you, anyhow?
Kliph Nesteroff’s book gives you an overview of our nation’s comedy scene with extra peeks into the naughtiest, weirdest nooks and crannies of it. But if you put down his book wondering what Nesteroff had to say about comedy today, then he’s here — or at least on cable TV — with a new series to do just that: FUNNY HOW? on Viceland debuted this week.
David Jermyn writes and directs the episodes.
The first episode, “For the Love of God,” finds Nesteroff exploring “the church circuit,” and asking the question he says he heard most often from other comedians when he told them he’d be showcasing Christian comedians: “Are they funny?” Spoiler alert: Of course some of them are. Nesteroff starts with Leland Klassen, a comedian he used to open for when Nesteroff first performed comedy himself some 15 years ago in Toronto, visits Chonda Pierce in Tennessee, who makes major bank playing only to church-going crowds. Go back to the comedy clubs? “When you’re selling 4,000 tickets a night, why would I do that?” Pierce replies. She clarifies and further dispels the notion that all “clean” comedians are also “Christian” comedians. “You can be clean all day long,” she said, but “to me, what makes it Christian is I never bash the cross of Christ.” Nesteroff also sits down with and showcases bits from Pete Holmes, Bone Hampton and David Cross.
“Queer Now” tackles the LGBTQ scene, with Nesteroff starting with a history lesson in front of the Stonewall Inn, and noting how Eddie Murphy’s Delirious special would be considered homophobic now. “It’s really not up to me to say if we’ve made progress or not,” Nesteroff says. He does, however, want to argue that: “I personally don’t believe that comedy is a vehicle for change.” And that really gets Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher going. Butcher insists that just by having comedians who aren’t all white and male onstage and onscreen, that visibility and the ability to have LGBTQ voices heard signifies progress and makes a statement. Nesteroff also visits in Brooklyn with Alex English and the Lady Parts Justice League, in Oakland with Irene Tu and Ash Fisher and their queer-friendly show, Man Haters, and in Los Angeles with James Adomian.
And episode three is online, too, but so far you need a cable subscription to watch it:
Here are some more outtakes and bonus footage from Nesteroff’s journeys across North America.