When people find out that my husband Michael does stand-up comedy, they always ask him who his favorite comedians are. That seems like a pretty simple, straightforward and reasonable question. Right?
Wrong. He hates this question and always gives a stupid answer. I’m not even sure why exactly. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t want to associate himself with any well-known comedians while he’s trying to come up with his own original style. Or maybe it’s because he feels pressure to give a unique answer and not name the biggest names in comedy. Or maybe it’s because he likes a lot of different comedians for different reasons, and has a hard time choosing just a few overall “favorites.” Or maybe he’s just being difficult.
Whatever the reason, it’s always painful to hear his unsatisfying response when people ask this question. It’s always something like “Hmm, that’s such a hard question” or “That’s tough to say, there are so many good ones” or “Oh, gee…”
You’d think he’d learn to give a better answer, after seeing people’s faces fall and experiencing the awkward silence that follows a conversation coming to an abrupt stop. I mean, this has happened a number of times. But no, I finally had to spell it out for him.
Me: “Michael, you know those people who dead-end a conversation? The ones who make you work for an answer and do nothing on their part to contribute to a normal back-and-forth?”
Him: “Yeah, I hate those people!”
Me: “Well you sound like those people.”
Me: “Yuh-huh. It’s like if I asked someone where they’re from, and they said, ‘I’m from a bunch of different places.’ That was a simple question and they gave a shit answer. Just pick one of the places then. Or name a few. The place you were born or spent the most years or went to high school. I don’t even care that much. Just give me a real answer!”
Me: “So you get it? ‘Who are your favorite comedians’ is a perfectly good question, and you need to come up with a better response! Just pick a few. Your top three. Someone you just saw. Anyone you like. It doesn’t have to be your best, most insightful answer ever. This won’t be written in stone anywhere. People just want a name!”
Him: “You’re right, you’re totally right. I sound like an ass.”
Yes. So now he half-heartedly names a couple comedians he likes. It’s still usually not a great answer, but it’s better than nothing. If I had to answer the question for him, which I sometimes do if he gets stuck groping around for the best possible names from the long list of all present and past comedians, here’s what I’d say:
1. Louis CK. He’s always the first comedian that pops into MY head when I hear someone ask the question. Michael fucking loves Louis CK. Michael, you fucking love Louis CK, remember? This should be an easy answer! You’ve watched all of his comedy specials, you’ve bought tickets to see his shows whenever he’s in town, you own his TV series Louie, you quote him on a regular basis, you squealed like a schoolgirl when he made a surprise appearance at the Comedy Cellar one time. Louis CK is a terrific comedian – witty and clever, doesn’t care what anything thinks, with a self-deprecating style that makes him feel like a regular everyday guy (if you forget momentarily that he has a net worth of $25 million).
2. Maria Bamford. She is a bit of an acquired taste. The first time I heard her comedy was on a Spotify playlist on a road trip, and I was like, Who is this crazy person and who let her out?! Watching her perform makes more sense than listening to the audio only, and the more I’ve seen of her comedy, the more I get it and like it. Michael is a huge fan. Michael, you’re a huge fan, remember? You practically lost your mind when you saw her live in San Francisco last year – you laughed so loud and insanely that people actually turned around to see who this human hyena was in Seat F-3. Maria’s comedy is unique, brilliant, and on the extreme end of quirky, which probably explains why Michael likes her so much.
3. It’s hard for me to choose just one third, because there really are a lot of great comedians that he likes. So I usually just start spouting off names at this point: Dave Attell and Dave Chappelle (don’t mix those two up), Patton Oswalt, Chris Rock, Eddie Izzard, David Cross… Or I throw in some of my own favorites: Amy Schumer, John Mulaney, Jim Gaffigan, Mike Birbiglia, Tig Notaro.
The answer itself doesn’t even really matter that much – no one is going to remember what he says anyway, or hold him accountable to that list later (you didn’t say Sarah Silverman five years ago – you can’t add her now!). It’s just a conversation starter, and a natural question to ask someone in a particular field – like one might ask writers who their favorite authors are, actors which legends they admire, or painters which predecessors influenced their style. I also think that because stand-up comedy is more of a niche entertainment area, people partly just want to see if they’re familiar with the comedians he mentions. Everyone knows the Hollywood actors and pop musicians of our day, but it’s still somewhat unusual to find people outside the biz who know more than a couple comedians. People sometimes like to throw in a couple others they know and like (Aziz Ansari), and as long as it’s not Jeff Dunham or Dane Cook, we’re ok.
So Michael, what have we learned? (1) This is a perfectly good question, and you should act neither annoyed nor surprised when you get it. (2) You’re going to get asked it again, so you should start preparing your answer now. (3) The answer needs to be a real one; don’t be the “I’m from a bunch of places” person. When in doubt, just say Louis CK.