Despite the showcases for standup comedians provided by Comedy Central and the specials that pop up regularly on Netflix, late-night talk shows remain the best way for a comic to break through to a large, diverse audience. When Johnny Carson hosted The Tonight Show, a five-minute bit that got Johnny laughing could be your ticket to stardom. Now, in the more diffuse late-night atmosphere, talk shows can still birth a star, but more likely, they might be your ticket to a cable-channel pilot or a writing job on a sitcom. Usually consigned to the final spot in the show, standup comics are used as punctuation marks for the evening’s entertainment. The following are a selection of some of the most solid performers who have appeared recently on Colbert’s Late Show, Fallon’s Tonight Show, Seth Meyers’s Late Night, and Conan. (Jimmy Kimmel and James Corden rarely book standups.)
Jeff Caldwell is a mild-mannered fellow, soft-spoken and polite, which makes him a bit of an anomaly these days. Here, on Conan, he talks about his grandmother using the internet, self-driving cars, Bitcoin, and the tone of online debate, all with observational acuity.
Ramy Youssef enlivened the audience on Stephen Colbert’s show with his jokes about being Muslim and how he feels when he watches outlets like Fox News, which sometimes try to define a certain kind of Muslim.
Laurie Kilmartin plays up the contrast between her studied suburban-mom looks (and indeed, she says she’s the single mom of a 10-year-old) with some tart, surprising jokes about sex and motherhood, here on Conan. I’ll never look at a juice box the same way again.
Brian Regan is, by the standards of talk-show comics, an old pro (he’s 59) and one of the most reliably funny comedians around. Since Jimmy Fallon and The Tonight Show tend to book the more established comics (The Daily Show’s Roy Wood Jr., and Jerry Seinfeld fave Tom Papa have done recent Tonight sets), fits right in with Fallon’s middle America audience. Regan has a great ordinary-guy delivery that can’t disguise his sharpness.
Julio Torres is a writer for Saturday Night Live. (He’s responsible for several gems from last season, including “Through Donald’s Eyes” and “The Princess and the Curse.”) As a standup, he’s almost eerily quiet, speaking in a soft, dry voice about his veganism and his adoration for Daisy Duck. From The Late Night Show with Seth Meyers:
The clip I chose of Alingon Mitra on Colbert’s Late Show is from last October, because I wanted you to hear his political jokes, particularly the way he starts off his set: “I’m scared people keep dismissing Trump,” he frets. Mitra makes good jokes about both Trump and Hillary Clinton — they have to be good, to still be funny long after the election.
Let’s keep standup comedy on late night TV. Do your part by checking out these acts, and spreading the word that a standup on late night makes you laugh.