The Comedy Corner: Kroll Show

Today’s topic is a show that many people (myself included) consider to be the most underrated sketch show on TV today – Comedy Central’s Kroll Show. Odds are, you probably haven’t heard much about Kroll Show, unless you’ve happened to catch an episode or two in between South Park and Tosh.0 re-runs. And I can’t blame you, because it took me a while to properly discover it myself. While Kroll Show has been a fixture of Comedy Central’s original programming since January of last year, I myself only recently discovered it, thanks to some recommendations from friends and a bored afternoon on Hulu. And let me tell you, I’ve been hooked ever since. While Kroll Show might look like just an odd hodge-podge of absurdity, it is quickly becoming one of the smartest and most consistent sketch shows on TV. And, with the recent announcement of Comedy Central’s renewal of Kroll Show’s for a (well-deserved) third season, you’d be crazy not to want to check it out.

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So much of Kroll Show’s success is due to the genius of its creator, executive producer, namesake, and star: Nick Kroll. Kroll – who you probably recognize from his role as Rodney Ruxin on the superb ensemble comedy The League, as well as his occasional appearances in everything from Parks and Recreation and Community to movies like Get Him To The Greek and I Love You, Man – has been an integral part of the comedy community for years. This is, in part, because of his insane catalog of characters, which he has been showcasing in multiple forums, including years of stand-up routines, Funny or Die videos, and podcasts like Comedy Bang! Bang!. Kroll Show, however, proves to be the perfect forum for these bizarre, yet surprisingly entertaining characters. Almost every sketch on Kroll Show contains a character played by Kroll, and every new episode further establishes him as one of the most versatile character actors in comedy today. Whether he is dressed in drag and sipping smoothies as the obnoxious publicist Liz, or DJ-ing/amateur ghost hunting as the ridiculous Jersey Shore-reject Bobby Bottleservice, Kroll proves that he has absolutely no desire to take himself too seriously, and that he can be equally as entertaining in almost any setting.

While many of Kroll’s characters sound more like absurd caricatures as opposed to people you’d be willing to follow week after week, Kroll Show provides the perfect environment to help entertain even the wariest of casual viewers. Many of the sketches on Kroll Show are framed as reality show parodies, mocking everything from The Bachelor and Bad Girls Club to Shark Tank and Pawn Stars. By placing Kroll’s insane characters in these culturally familiar settings, the show provides a middle ground that is sure to get a first-time viewer hooked. In doing so, Kroll Show cleverly utilizes the very tactic that draws us to reality shows in the first place: the mentality of “it’s so ridiculous, but I can’t look away.”

And while the majority of Kroll’s characters are not particularly likeable, they sure are funny. This is because of, in part, the show’s brilliant writing team, many of whom have previously contributed to shows like Arrested Development and Portlandia. This particularly becomes clear when looking at the seasons as a whole, as the show is packed with subtle references and inside jokes, the vast majority of which satisfyingly develop throughout the seasons. And even when taking into account individual episodes, it becomes obvious that the show’s creative team knows how to craft genuinely hilarious jokes, which only grow in abundance as the show progresses. Whether parodying current pop culture (I dare you to find a more solid Justin Bieber parody than in the show’s Degrassi-inspired sketch ‘Wheels, Ontario’) or just building off of insane original characters (fan-favorite sketch ‘Oh, Hello’, which stars Kroll and his long-time writing partner John Mulaney as two elderly divorcees with a love of tuna fish, has quickly grown into its own delightfully entertaining saga), Kroll Show has become one of the most consistently entertaining sketch shows on TV today.

Although much of the show’s excellence can be contributed to Kroll, it would be absolutely despicable to not acknowledge many of the show’s recurring actors, all of whom are Kroll’s good friends. While the number of amazing castmates grows with each new episode, some of the standouts include Jon Daly, Jenny Slate, Jason Mantzoukas, Seth Morris, and Chelsea Peretti, all of whom have lent their talents to multiple sketches over the past two seasons. And the show’s wide variety of guest stars – including Zach Galifianakis, Laura Dern, Brie Larson, Maria Bamford, and Fred Armisen – have helped turn Kroll Show into a sort of delightful sketch-comedy playground. Even Kroll’s real-life girlfriend, comedy queen Amy Poehler, has appeared in the show’s second season, in a role that can best be described as the “anti-Leslie Knope.” This just shows that Kroll Show is quickly becoming one of the prime places to see comedians in their strangest – and often funniest – roles.

With its surplus of guest stars, incredible writing team, and absolutely wonderful star, Kroll Show has cemented itself as one of the strongest sketch shows on TV today. While it may not have the exposure of shows like Portlandia and Key and Peele, it has accomplished quite a lot in its first two seasons, and I personally can’t wait to see more of it in the future. So if you’re looking for an absurd, yet wholeheartedly enjoyable sketch show, then you should definitely check out Kroll Show. New episodes air Tuesdays at 10:30/9:30 CT on Comedy Central, and all previous episodes can be found at Hulu.com or CC.com.

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The Comedy Corner: Sleepwalk with Me

Today, I am going to be talking about a film that has resonated with me ever since my first viewing of it over a year ago – Sleepwalk with Me.

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Odds are, you probably haven’t heard a lot about this film (aside from probably seeing it suggested to you on Netflix Instant), as it didn’t receive much mainstream recognition upon its initial release in August of 2012. And yet, it was an award winner at countless film festivals, and is regarded by many as one of the best cinematic portrayals of stand-up comedy ever made. Which shouldn’t be a surprise, considering the fact that comedian Mike Birbiglia – the film’s writer, director, and star – has been telling its story for over six years. Initially premiering as an insanely successful off-Broadway one-man show in 2008, and later becoming a New York Times Bestselling memoir – Birbiglia has crafted Sleepwalk with Me into a beautiful, semi-autobiographical story that has captured the hearts of many throughout the years, and rightfully so. It may be one of the few stories about stand-up comedy that finds the perfect balance between wit and sincerity, and is able to effortlessly translate to film.

Sleepwalk with Me tells the story of Matt Pandamiglio (Birbiglia), who, at the start of the film, finds himself struggling in many aspects of his life. He has aspirations of being a successful stand-up comedian, but is stuck mopping floors and serving drinks in a comedy club. He is feeling pressure by his family to marry his long-term girlfriend Abby (Six Feet Under’s Lauren Ambrose), but is unsure if he even believes in the idea of marriage itself. On top of all of that, he begins to develop a sleepwalking problem, which he refuses to believe is anything serious. The film brilliantly chronicles these three aspects of his life, showing many of the ups and downs Birbiglia himself faced on own his journey into comedy. And with an incredible supporting cast (including James Rebhorn, Carol Kane, and Cristin Millioti) and countless cameos from comedians like Marc Maron, Kristen Schaal, and David Wain, Birbiglia creates an absolutely delightful world to tell his truly unique story. This fictional world, when coupled with the film’s gorgeous cinematography and insanely quotable anecdotes (pizza-flavored ice cream, anyone?), helps Sleepwalk with Me become so much more than just an average film about comedy.

By far, the most noteworthy thing about Sleepwalk with Me has to be its refreshing amount of honesty, with regards to both relationships and comedy. Birbiglia is no stranger to unflinchingly honest stories about love (the best example of which has to be his most recent stand-up special, My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend, a one-man show so unique and wonderful that I could probably write a novel’s worth of analysis on it), a fact that is made abundantly clear throughout Sleepwalk with Me. The film brilliantly shows the struggle between having a career as a comedian and maintaining a healthy relationship with your significant other, a burden countless comedians face today. In addition, while most movies about stand-up comedy try to make the career seem as carefree and glitzy as possible, Sleepwalk with Me showcases the less-than-perfect steps on the road to being a comedian – many of which are all too common for those in the business today. From traveling hours away to play a low-paying gig for an unimpressed room of college kids, to overcoming the fear of telling personal jokes at the expense of your loved ones, Birbiglia shows what it’s like to be a professional comedian in the twenty-first century, and the impact it has on those around you.

And while good comedians might not always be the best storytellers, Sleepwalk with Me proves that Birbiglia is truly skilled in both fields. He brings an unbelievably sincere quality to every aspect of the film, and as director, co-writer, and star of the film, it is clear that he genuinely wants to tell his story right. At times, it is easy to forget that this film isn’t a documentary, as Birbiglia also serves as the film’s narrator – effortlessly telling his story to the audience as if he is speaking to an old friend. This added sense of authenticity and honesty has become a staple of the stand-up community today, as countless comedians have podcasts that are often as simple as a conversation between two friends.

And Birbiglia is no stranger to this style of personable, yet witty storytelling, as he has told a variety of stories – including an abridged version of the story of Sleepwalk with Me – on the popular NPR program ‘This American Life.’ This personable, yet witty storytelling has become a staple of Birbiglia’s career, as he has told this and several other stories on the popular NPR program ‘This American Life’. The film’s creative team is equally versed in the art of storytelling, as Ira Glass, host of ‘This American Life’ and longtime friend of Birbiglia, serves as one of the film’s co-writers and co-producers. This aspect of Sleepwalk with Me is one of the many things that make it truly unique, as it proves that the film can be just as unbelievably smart as it can be funny.

Anyone looking for a genuine portrayal of love, loss, or stand-up comedy (or any combination of the three) should definitely check out Sleepwalk With Me. It not only proves that films about relationships and/or standup comedy can be both smart and delightful, but it serves as an authentic cinematic touchstone for the state of comedy today. Sleepwalk With Me is currently available on a variety of streaming platforms, including iTunes, Amazon, and Netflix Instant.

The Comedy Corner: Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Hello, Internet! This is Jenna, longtime nerd, first time contributor to this wonderful website. While I consider myself to be a geek about many subjects, my greatest love will always be comedy. I’m the type of person who gets unbelievably excited every time a new podcast episode is released, who watches stand-up specials with a religious fervor, and who receives more Twitter text alerts from comedians than actual messages from friends and family. And I’m probably not the first to say that we are currently in one of the best eras of comedy, as so many performers are becoming more innovative, personal, and nerdy, with their material, with absolutely amazing results. Until recently, however, much of this has seemed to get lost in the enigma of “mainstream comedy.” And although it is okay to consume these “mainstream” shows and performers, there is so much great comedy at our disposal that deserves the same amount of attention. And with the popularization of podcasts and stand-up specials over the past few years, so much of it can be appreciated without even leaving your house. Which does mean that trying to find a place to start can be a little daunting. That’s where I (hope to) come in. My goal with this column is to highlight many of the great things in the comedy world that you might not have heard of, or that you might have previously written off. From podcasts to stand-up specials to television shows, I’m sure I’ll be able to introduce you to something in the comedy world that will make your geek heart happy.

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The Cast of ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine.’ (L-R) Stephanie Beatriz, Joe Lo Truglio, Andre Braugher, Andy Samberg, Melissa Fumero, Terry Crews, and Chelsea Peretti.

Today, I’m going to talk about a show that has held a special place in my heart since this past September: Brooklyn Nine-Nine. The show – which, as the title suggests, focuses on a ragtag team of police officers at a Brooklyn police station – has been heralded by many as the best new sitcom of the year, and rightfully so. However, while I have been watching – and loving – Brooklyn Nine-Nine since episode one, I have found that many of my colleagues haven’t been doing the same. But at last Sunday’s Golden Globe Awards, the show seemed to surprise everyone (including myself), when it walked away with not only the Best Comedic Actor award for its star, Andy Samberg, but also the Best Comedic Television Series award, beating out shows like Parks and Recreation, Modern Family and The Big Bang Theory.

Did I mention that this show is still in its first season?

On paper, this shouldn’t be such a surprise. Considering the resumes of its co-creators; Daniel J. Goor (a longtime writer for Conan and The Daily Show) and Michael Schur (co-creator of Parks and Recreation, as well as a longtime writer for Saturday Night Live), a collaboration between the two is almost destined to succeed. In addition, Samberg – in his first major television role since his seven-year stint on Saturday Night Live – delivers exactly the kind of performance you would expect from him as the goofy, yet loveable Detective Jake Peralta. Peralta is a grown-up version of the typical class clown, whose antics include everything from showing up to work in a Speedo to keeping a pet turtle in his desk. Oh, and he also happens to be one of the most talented detectives on the force. If someone with that description existed in your workplace, you’d probably despise him or her with every fiber of your being. But Samberg brings such a sincere, silly quality to the role that you can’t help but root for him more and more with each new episode.

And while he gives a wonderful performance, it’s wrong to write off Brooklyn Nine-Nine as “The Andy Samberg Show.” By far, the show’s greatest asset is its unbelievably strong ensemble cast. The seven main members of the Nine-Nine already have a refreshingly strong chemistry that you would normally find several seasons into a sitcom. And while most comedy ensembles have a handful of standout performances, it seems wrong not to acknowledge each of the characters, as they all truly bring something unique to the show. There’s Amy (Melissa Fumero), a delightfully awkward perfectionist whose behavior evokes every “teacher’s pet” you’ve ever shared a class with. There’s Rosa (Stephanie Beatriz), a tough, often-hostile detective with a secret soft side that she refuses to reveal to her coworkers. There’s Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio, who you might recognize from The State and films like Superbad and Wanderlust), a dweebish, yet dependable detective with a crush on Rosa and a borderline-unhealthy idolization of Jake. There’s Terry (Terry Crews, best known as the dad from Everybody Hates Chris) a sincere, albeit slightly neurotic sergeant with a crippling fear of getting hurt on the job after the birth of his twin daughters. And there’s Gina (Chelsea Peretti, one of the best female comedians/podcasters today), an absolute oddball of a civilian administrator who would rather be dancing or interfering in the lives of her co-workers than doing any actual work. Overseeing the team is Captain Ray Holt (Emmy winner Andre Braugher), a stoic, by the book boss, who is a perfect foil to many of the characters’ crazy personalities.

All of these characters, combined with Samberg’s Peralta, work together fantastically. While the individual players of most sitcom ensembles can take years to properly develop, the characters on Brooklyn Nine-Nine are already refreshingly well-rounded. With the awkward stage of initial character growth out of the way, the show is able to utilize its greatest – and most hilarious – strength week after week, which is the interactions between the characters. Thirteen episodes in, the show already has a slew of hilarious inside jokes and recurring bits between its characters, making the ensemble seem as multi-dimensional as your own coworkers or group of friends. Because of this, the team never ceases to be thoroughly entertaining, regardless of the scenario they are in. Whether the team is trying to stop a graffiti artist with a knack for spray-painting genitalia onto cop cars, or holding a Junior Police Program for a group of annoyed at-risk teenagers, each episode brings a scenario that is more enjoyable the last. And with the addition of many awesome guest stars – such as Fred Armisen, Patton Oswalt, and Craig Robinson – the world of B99 is quickly becoming one worth visiting every week.

While most shows take time to properly find their footing, Brooklyn Nine-Nine has had every ounce of confidence in itself since its inception. And – thanks to their experienced creative team and ridiculously talented cast – they have every right to do so. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is proving to be a breath of comedic fresh air in a landscape of otherwise-forgettable freshman sitcoms. If you’re in the mood for a delightfully silly, yet unbelievably sincere sitcom, then look no further than Brooklyn Nine-Nine. New episodes air every Tuesday at 9:30/8:30 CT on FOX, and the first thirteen episodes can be found on Hulu.com.