A list of who is ha-ha hot right now in Hollywood -- plus Judd Apatow reveals 15 facts about Lena Dunham, Jimmy Kimmel's writers share his best script notes and how to rewrite "Zero Dark Thirty" as a comedy.
This story first appeared in the May 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
When a passed-over sitcom pitch becomes a billion-dollar asset (Modern Family), when a guy morphs from web upstart to Comedy Central stalwart (Daniel Tosh), when buzzy awards-show hosts generate double-digit ratings boosts (Team Tina & Amy and, yes, Seth MacFarlane too), it’s clear that comedy in Hollywood is no joke.
As you’ll read, the members of THR’s Comedy Class of 2013 will do anything for a laugh, seizing every opportunity on the stage, page and screen -- big, small or mobile -- to build fresh fan bases (and revenue streams). Editors measured who in the past 12 months gained the most momentum (which is why some big names -- Ferrell, Sandler -- didn’t make the cut) as they merged mass with edge, exploited cultural memes and changed distribution models to make the most of the genre’s new multiplatform, social-media-saturated reality.
And yes, people, they’re laughing all the way to the bank.
Written by Matthew Belloni, Alison Brower, Leslie Bruce, Rebecca Ford, Lesley Goldberg, Marisa Guthrie, Michael O'Connell, Lacey Rose, Sophie Schillaci, Tatiana Siegel and Stacey Wilson
Edited by Lacey Rose and Alison Brower
With a sold-out tour that became an HBO special, a universally praised hosting gig on Saturday Night Live and Louie, his Emmy-winning FX series, C.K. (born Louis Szekely), 45, is revered by up-and-comers and execs alike. He also has shaken up the business by selling recordings and concert tickets direct to fans via his website, a lucrative platform he shared with comic Tig Notaro. C.K. posted Notaro's unforgettably raw August set and gave Notaro $4 from every $5 download -- Notaro, who donated some of her haul to cancer research, wrote for THR about her comedy godfather.
I met Louis about six years ago when I was sitting on a curb in front of my little cottage in Venice, Calif. He walked by with his two children and basically said, "Hey, I know you! You're friends with Sarah Silverman, right?" We made small talk about being neighbors while I sat there amazed that he recognized my face; I felt invisible to comedians on his level. Three years later, he cornered me after my show at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Los Angeles and dissected my set for a good 30 minutes, complimenting the structure and concept of each joke. I was shocked to be getting attention from him, to be seen as a comedian and not just the friend of a friend sitting on a curb. Pretty soon, Louis started requesting me to be his opener when he performed in Los Angeles. And this past August, after he was my surprise guest on a show at Largo, he presented me to the world in a way I had not yet been.
Among a myriad of other tragedies in a four-month period, I walked onstage that night having just been diagnosed with breast cancer and having lost my mother unexpectedly. Louis stood backstage and watched as I scrapped all of my typical material and told the audience about the horror that my life had become. He called the next day and said he wanted to make my set available on his website. A month and a half later, I finally agreed, and my life changed pretty much overnight.
Comedians can get a little fearful of acknowledging other comedians. They don't want others treading on their turf because they can be in such a panic to get noticed. Louis is someone who clearly has no concern about that. From my curb to spotlighting my recording on his website -- the same way he did for his own comedy specials -- Louis has had a way of making me feel visible when all eyes are actually on him.
If DeGeneres no longer is getting "paid in drink tickets," as she says of her stand-up days, and Harvey has long since given up sleeping in his car, the dues each paid on the club circuit have been invaluable in their current gigs.
"My start in stand-up allowed me to get comfortable performing in front of people and helped me develop a sense of timing," says the ICM-repped DeGeneres, 55. Her show is up 13 percent this season (tying Dr. Phil as the top talker) and is renewed through the 2016-17 season.
Meanwhile, Harvey, 56, stood out in a lackluster fall class (fellow daytime debutantes Ricki Lake and Jeff Probst were canceled) and is the No. 1 new talker among women 18-to-49; both shows run on NBC stations. "I come on right before Ellen, so up until then, I'm the funniest person on TV," says Harvey, who famously retired from stand-up in August with a sold-out Las Vegas performance that proved a pay-per-view hit.
Although he occasionally has to restrain himself from reverting to his more profane self on set, he says, "Stand-ups make great hosts because their objective usually is to have a good time." Counters DeGeneres: "Steve's objective is to get rich. The upkeep on his mustache alone -- do you know how many people work on that thing every day?"
What Dunham's HBO darling Girls lacks in ratings, it makes up for in critical praise and cultural buzz, as evidenced by the rash of Dunham cover stories and awards-show attention. In addition to Emmy noms, Dunham, 26 -- who writes, produces, directs and stars in the dramedy -- took home a comedy actress Golden Globe. Girls producer Apatow, 45, gave THR some intel about the wunderkind:
Judd Apatow's Things You Don't Know About Lena Dunham (Nearly Half Are True)
Lena has three kids by four men.
Lena's dog is on Prozac because he can't stop drinking his own urine.
Lena grew up in Nashville on a farm.
Lena likes writing. She actually thinks it's fun and not a self-esteem-crushing war with one's fragile ego (like me).
Lena's double for all of her nude scenes is Judd Apatow.
Lena was raised by two celebrated artists who are still married and happy. They are so nice that there is no explanation for why Lena is so creative.
Lena does not drink because she can't hold her liquor.
Lena texted during most of a concert by the greatest rock 'n' roll band ever on earth, The Who. I will never forgive her.
Lena can write a script for the show in one day, and it will be pretty damned good. Good enough for me to question whether I should retire because my youthful vitality is gone.
Lena took my daughter Maude to see Taylor Swift in concert.
Lena took my daughter Iris to see Megadeth in concert.
Lena speaks five languages including Arabic and Hebrew.
Lena may or may not have a driver's license. She is a world-class terrible driver.
Lena once accidentally wore her dress backward to an awards show.
Lena's favorite director is Michael Cimino.
After the dust of The Tonight Show transition talks settled, Fallon and Michaels came through as the big winners, scoring the coveted NBC late-night slot and steering the show's return to New York. (The move is expected to save NBC $20 million in tax credits and give the SNL honcho even more power at 30 Rock.)
Fallon navigated the rocky news cycle with apparent ease, never losing his nice-guy touch. He'll pick up Jay Leno's mantle in early 2014, going up against the eminence grise of David Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel's rising star -- not to mention Leno's years of ratings dominance, which has skeptics questioning whether the crown prince can cut it.
Ask any comedian where he’d like to take his fare, and the answer is almost always the same: FX. The network, led by president John Landgraf, has long championed distinct and often niche voices, be they Louis C.K.’s (Louie) or W. Kamau Bell’s (Totally Biased).
“Younger generations don’t like to feel the hand of the manufacturer in the products they consume,” says Landgraf of a strategy that doesn’t soften the edges.
The result: cult hits such as The League, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Archer, which has seen its demo audience grow 36 percent in season four. In the fall, Landgraf will launch a second network, FXX, devoted to more comedy.
How funny is Hamburg? So funny, he even found a way to punch up Mark Boal's Zero Dark Thirty (see below).
Hamburg, 42, and Fox, 36, sit at the top of the rewriter heap: Rom-com queen Fox (at work on the Drew Barrymore starrer How to Be Single) commands $250,000 a week for a production rewrite, the high-pressure, time-sensitive work of doctoring a greenlighted script; Hamburg, who specializes in neurotic male-led comedies (including Night at the Museum), also gets $250,000 and up.
Handler, 38, offers her E! viewers snarky analysis of tabloid personalities and way too much information about her sex life. She's also free with her support of her team, who have multiple books, reality TV gigs and comedy tours among them. Chelsea Lately writer-producer Heather McDonald -- best-selling author of You'll Never Blue Ball in This Town Again and My Inappropriate Life -- shares her gratitude:
I want to thank you for all the opportunities you have given me: from hiring me as staff writer on Chelsea Lately, to having me appear in sketches as well as on the roundtable, to opening for you at sold-out theaters and arenas, all the way to introducing me to your book agent and thus securing me two book deals.
In turn, I've never fought back when you gave me the nickname "Long Boobs" (even though my boobs aren't long) or when you referred to my camel toe (even though I in fact do suffer from camel toe-itis) or when you pointed out to the world that I have a flat ass (even though yours might be flatter). You've made fun of my politics, religion and my choice of a husband; but in your defense, we've done 1,100 shows, and some days it comes down to making fun of Lindsay Lohan for the 400th time or Heather McDonald for the 350th time -- and I'm flattered to be in such illustrious company.
The best part about you is that you only make fun of those you love, so please don't ever stop making fun of me. Because of you, I've developed a thicker skin, the skin that covers my not-long boobs, and I don't mean to brag, but my "vagina armpit" is in talks to get its own Twitter account.
Thanks to you, I no longer cry at work, unless it's tears of laughter or joy -- which, due to the awesome work environment you've created, happens quite often.
Chelsea, for a mean girl, you're pretty freaking nice.
"Mind-boggling." That's how Hart describes his recent career surge: In the past year, the Philadelphia native's latest tour, Let Me Explain, grossed $38 million, his Twitter following grew to more than 7 million, and his BET reality-spoof series, The Real Husbands of Hollywood, drew more than 6 million viewers. The 32-year-old also scored a spot hosting SNL in March. "I think my core audience grew with me -- you need that approval when you're a black comedian!" says the divorced father of two. "And then I said, 'OK, I need more folks to get where I'm coming from.' " Hart's Let Me Explain, the concert film of his comedy tour, opens July 3.
Hart first knew he was funny when … "I was 10 and at a family reunion, and I thought it'd be funny to put on a sweat suit and stick balloons inside to look fat like our aunts, who were all really big. Family members were dying."
High point of the last year "Selling out two shows at Madison Square Garden."
Funniest joke he told this year "I told a story in my stand-up routine about my fear of fighting a guy whose dick is out. It's my biggest fear. I'm small, so when I fight, I gotta get your legs and scoop you. And the fear is that I'm going to scoop somebody, and there will be a dick hitting me on the head. There's no way to win because for the rest of your life, you'll be known as the guy who got hit with a dick."
On May 26, exactly 2,662 days after Fox aired the finale of Hurwitz's Arrested Development, Netflix will simultaneously unload 15 new episodes of the revived series. For its 49-year-old creator, Hurwitz, the long-gestating labor of love demanded a flexible schedule, exhausting postproduction and a fresh approach to storytelling.
Explains star Will Arnett: "The idea of doing something more with Arrested Development has existed since the day they tore down our set, which was about five minutes after we wrapped -- the first AD yelled, 'Cut!,' and the wrecking ball was already on the downswing. It was virtually impossible at certain points to pull this off, and I'm not just saying this because he's my friend, but there's no better person for the task than Mitch Hurwitz. He has a problem-solver's brain. And make no mistake, it was an incredible pain in the ass for Mitch. I don't know what's coming next, but what's exciting is that these episodes -- in allowing us and Mitch to tell the story in a different way -- open up the realm of possibility even wider, whether that's a movie, more episodes, a theme park, an app or, you know, a touring stage show."
At 31, YouTube’s latest breakout has amassed a huge following for =3, his foul-mouthed series dissecting viral videos -- so huge that he’s landed guest spots from the likes of Sarah Silverman and comparisons to Comedy Central host Daniel Tosh.
Just how big is Johnson’s community?
YouTube subscribers, making him the most-subscribed-to comic on the site
Views a month
Estimated annual earnings, according to The Wall Street Journal
Gather the dealmakers behind some of the year's biggest comedy stars into a booth at West Hollywood hotspot Craig's, and the conversation (appropriately) devolves into laughs.
The group -- Hodes (whose clients include Seth MacFarlane and Anchorman director Adam McKay), Heyman (Melissa McCarthy, Will Ferrell), Rice (Mindy Kaling, Parks and Recreation creator Mike Schur), Becky (Louis C.K., Amy Poehler) and Smith (Daniel Tosh, Nick Kroll) -- joked about trolling for talent at Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade. But the tone shifted when they discussed their clients, many of whom have collaborated on or competed for projects.
Becky revealed that C.K.'s innovative decision to deliver his stand-up special, Live at the Beacon Theater, directly to his fans via his website came at the comedian's insistence, despite several lucrative offers from traditional outlets. Heyman explained his role in negotiating the deals for all three Hangover stars on the cover of this issue, while Hodes described the series of efforts (Comedy Central roasts, SNL) that paved the way for MacFarlane to host the Oscars.
In addition to hit TV shows, MacFarlane added to his résumé the top-grossing comedy film of 2012, Ted, on which he made his directorial debut. Months later, he was tapped to host the Academy Awards. Despite mixed reviews for his at-times off-color outing, the 39-year-old managed to boost the show's ratings by 20 percent among the 18-to-34 set. MacFarlane weighs in on the past year:
The Hollywood Reporter: What do Hollywood execs consistently get wrong about comedy?
Seth MacFarlane: They thought Ted wouldn't do well.
THR: What do they consistently get right about comedy?
MacFarlane: They pretend they thought Ted would do well.
THR: What was the oddest or most inexplicable review you got this year?
MacFarlane: The New Yorker panned the Oscars in an article longer than the Oscars itself.
THR: What was the best reaction to the boob song?
MacFarlane: Someone said they didn't see it.
THR: What's the funniest thing that happened this year?
MacFarlane: My cat ate a piece of pot brownie. That had its moments.
THR: What was the most unintentionally funny movie or TV show of the past year?
[CBS'] 2 Broke Girls.
The Mindy Project's Ike Barinholtz pays tongue-in-cheek tribute -- at THR's request -- to his boss, 33, a writer-producer, actress and author
When I read the e-mail that told me I was being included in The Hollywood Reporter's Comedy Class of 2013, I was blown away. Yes, the last year has been quite a ride, and the centerpiece of it has been working on The Mindy Project. But, humbled as I am by this award, I have to split the cash prize with my friend and one of the funniest people I've ever come across, Mindy Kaling, or, as I call her, "Miss Kaling."
If we're being honest, it's kind of insane that Mindy wasn't included on this list in the first place. She had a huge year. Coming off the success of her New York Times best-seller, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, she left The Office to start her own series, The Mindy Project (now airing in North Korea under the title The Supreme Leader Is a Father to Us All). Once the show aired, it was evident that Mindy strikes a chord with young people, specifically women. On Twitter (where Mindy has as many followers as Jamaica has citizens), I constantly see tweets that say, "I AM Mindy!" or "Mindy gets me" or "Meet horny singles in your area click here."
She managed to conceive of, write and produce 24 episodes of this show. That's 12 hours of tape. That's basically six feature-length films or one Terrence Malick film. To be in the writers room and see her take a small idea for a scene and build it into a great comedy run, or to be on set and watch her turn a regular beanbag into a physical comedy set piece, is a thing of joy.
Hold on. As I reread my e-mail, I now see that in fact it is Mindy who is being honored for her spectacular year and not me. Honest mistake, and I am not embarrassed. She really does deserve it. That's not to say I don't, but she's truly incredible.
Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele struck gold during a tense election cycle with the cathartic "Obama's Anger Translator" -- with Peele as the famously aloof, no-drama president and Key as his angry alter ego, Luther. Peele, 34, whose impersonations range from Flavor Flav to Morgan Freeman, had perfected Obama by the time the duo's Comedy Central show, Key & Peele, debuted in January 2012.
"The challenge was, how do we allow the president to maintain who he is and still get the comedy across?" says Detroit native Key, 42. "If you take him out of character, no one buys it. Jordan has been working on his impression for quite some time, so all I had to do was channel my inner Detroit."
In January, ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live was bumped up to 11:35 p.m., where Kimmel, 45, could compete head-to-head with Leno and Letterman.
Kimmel, who hosted the Emmys and White House Correspondents' Dinner in 2012, not only has closed the ratings gap (winning on certain nights) but also gave NBC cause for concern -- so much so that the net has implemented a switch of its own.
Kimmel's writers offer a peek at the notes he regularly gives them.
Let’s try this.
Why isn’t anyone putting their name in Final Draft?
I like the idea, but it needs to be funny.
You missed the point of the assignment.
None of these work.
WHO WROTE THIS?
You guys did not spend enough time on this.
It’s Schwarzenegger. Please learn to spell it.
This is good but needs better, funnier examples.
I highly doubt Tom Hanks will find this funny.
This needs a stronger ending.
This is a 12:05 idea.
Please stop pitching this.
Not much here.
Let’s skip this.
This isn’t The Man Show anymore.
You realize it’s Sweeps?
You guys spent way too much time on this.
We need a stronger angle.
Please put your name in the header in Final Draft.
When Jonathan Winters died April 11, many in the comedy world turned to Maron for insight on the passing of the 87-year-old legend.
"That hour I spent with him was a high point of my life," says Maron, 49, of the March 2011 interview he did at Winters ' Montecito, Calif., home for Maron's WTF podcast. "He was a genius, he loved life, and I was so honored to be able to contextualize him for people who never knew his comedy."
Maron's passion for the craft -- and blistering openness about his struggles with drugs and dysfunctional relationships -- has made him a star in his own right: Since 2009, the New Jersey native's podcast has become the most coveted destination for comics to come clean and kvetch (check out his August 2011 chat with Andrew Dice Clay), with more than 75 million overall downloads and an average of 2.4 million a month.
WTF's success has spawned not only Maron's just-published memoir, Attempting Normal, but also a scripted TV series, Maron, which premieres May 3 on IFC. The show, a fictionalized version of the podcast, is set to feature Denis Leary, Adam Scott and Jeff Garlin, among others.
"Honestly, I'd given up on anything like this happening," says Maron. "I approach everything with earnestness -- that's how I do the podcast and the TV show. I'm glad it's finally working out!"
Since she catapulted to fame in 2011's Bridesmaids, the 42-year-old Mike & Molly funnywoman has won an Emmy, hosted SNL (twice!) and proved a box-office force: Despite mixed reviews, her 2013 starrer Identity Thief debuted to a robust $37 million opening weekend.
Up next: buddy-cop comedy The Heat.
Four seasons in, the half-hour comedy credited with reviving the form continues to garner awards and ratings. Next, its lucrative repeats will be relied on to launch USA's comedy brand.
THR turned to the show's writer, executive producer and master tweeter Danny Zuker, 49, to tell us -- in 140 characters or less -- why Modern Family is the best comedy on TV.
"Some say it’s the great cast, others cite the writing, but I think history will show the key to Modern Family’s success has been my tweets." -- Danny Zuker (@DannyZuker)
NBC's beloved comedy has proved a significant launchpad for its diverse players, who have booked their hiatus with films, comedy specials and more ahead of an expected fifth-season renewal. A sampling of their other gigs:
Aziz Ansari, 30
Film: This Is the End; voice role in Epic; co-writing Let’s Do This with Judd Apatow
Tour: Buried Alive
Rashida Jones, 37
Film: Decoding Annie Parker
TV: Two-year deal with Warner Bros. TV with partner Will McCormack
Rob Lowe, 49
TV: HBO’s Behind the Candelabra; narrated Nat Geo special The 80s: The Decade That Made Us
Nick Offerman, 42
Film: The Kings of Summer; We’re the Millers
Tour: American Ham
Book: Paddle Your Own Canoe
Aubrey Plaza, 28
Film: A Many Splintered Thing; The To Do List, which co-stars SNL alum Andy Samberg
Amy Poehler, 41
Film: A.C.O.D. with Adam Scott; You Are Here with Zach Galifianakis
Books: Inked a book deal in January
Chris Pratt, 33
Film: The Lego Movie, with Offerman, due out February 2014; lead, Guardians of the Galaxy, August 2014
Adam Scott, 40
Film: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
TV: Launched Gettin’ Rad Productions; produced Adult Swim specials
With gutsy jabs and timely quips (sorry, Taylor Swift!), comedy queens Fey, 42, and Poehler, 41, garnered stellar reviews and a 17 percent ratings uptick for a Golden Globes telecast that THR’s chief TV critic called “anything but boring.”
During a brutal election cycle ripe with material, Comedy Central’s The Daily Show With Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report rose to the occasion, producing unrivaled political satire that kept them firmly ensconced as the Nos. 1 and 2 late-night programs among viewers 18-to-49. THR asked the staff of each show to pick its favorite segments of the past year:
Tim Carvell, Daily Show supervising producer, selected its dissection of Republican National Convention speakers — whose collective message, said Stewart in the segment, was that President Obama had turned America into “a blighted socialist hellscape where jack-booted thugs lock you up for thinking about Christmas.” Then there was Clint Eastwood and his empty chair. “We made the Eastwood moment into a piece about how the Republican Party had been campaigning against a Barack Obama that only they could see,” says Carvell. “Plus, it had one of our all-time favorite over-the-shoulder titles: ‘The Old Man and the Seat.’ ”
Colbert’s staff selected its host’s rebuttal to Donald Trump’s overhyped “October surprise,” an offer to donate $5 million to Obama’s favorite charity in return for the release of his college applications and other records. Colbert turned the tables with a $1 million counteroffer to the charity of Trump’s choice if Colbert could “dip” a certain part of his anatomy into Trump’s mouth. “It shatters the socioeconomic paradigm of billionaire-as-hegemonic-patriarch,” the Colbert staff told THR in an e-mail from the 17-person team, “but mostly it’s our favorite because it has the word ‘balls’ in it.”
In its sixth season, CBS' The Big Bang Theory has achieved a rare feat: record ratings. The show has skyrocketed to become TV's No. 1 scripted comedy thanks to syndicated reruns on TBS and new touches from first-year showrunner Steve Molaro. A January original earned a record high of more than 20 million viewers, and an April encore bested American Idol in head-to-head demo competition. The series also lured six-time Emmy nominee Bob Newhart to film his first comedic guest role in more than a decade. Newhart explains Big Bang's appeal:
Chuck Lorre said to me recently, "OK, what would it take for you to do one of my shows?" There aren't too many producers who can use that phrase, "one of my shows." At last count, I think it was four. I'm not sure. I think he's got a pilot going -- he had to do something on Saturday and Sunday, I guess.
So he said, "How about The Big Bang Theory?" and I said, "Yes." The show is beautifully cast, has great writing and it's intelligent, which is a vanishing commodity. When we were doing The Bob Newhart Show and Newhart, we'd take a minute to set up a joke, but it paid off because the reaction was huge. Now there seems to be a rhythm in sitcoms: setup, joke, setup, joke, setup, joke. The Big Bang Theory doesn't follow that relentless beat; that's one of the reasons I took the job. And Chuck and I agreed my scenes would be taped with a live audience; there's an adrenaline flow to doing it that way. The writers know material is judged -- and not by a laugh machine.
Tosh doesn't need to spend a dime on ads to sell out a 25-city tour. He just tweets the dates to his 8.1 million followers, and tickets are gone.
The 37-year-old's top-rated Comedy Central series, Tosh.0, caters to the YouTube generation, jumping on memes and trending web humor and skewering them in timely fashion. His fifth season is averaging nearly 3 million viewers, well ahead of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.
There are few touring comics for whom Wills, 50, hasn't booked dates. In fact, the Live Nation veteran has proved integral to the careers of such acts as Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, Handler and Hart. Wills reflected on his year in stand-up:
Shows booked: 531 in 2012
Top revenue generator: Kevin Hart
Biggest breakout: Amy Schumer of Comedy Central's Inside Amy Schumer (He puts Hannibal Buress, W. Kamau Bell and Maron on his honorable mention list.)
Best places to discover talent: The Punch Line in San Francisco and the Upright Citizens Brigade in Los Angeles
Most interesting thing happening in comedy today: "It used to be about waiting around for late slots at clubs, and you had to be on TV. Now, people are becoming famous off the Internet -- Rob Delaney is a great example of that. And because of the Internet, comics are finding audiences around the world. Kevin Hart sold out the O2 in London!"
The 27-year-old Aussie actress is popping up on every platform, with a TV pilot (ABC's Super Fun Night), a hosting gig (MTV Movie Awards, up double digits in the ratings) and a red-hot movie career that includes memorable turns in the hits Bridesmaids ($288.4 million in worldwide box office) and Pitch Perfect ($113 million) as well as new entry Pain & Gain, which opened to a modest but weekend-winning $20.2 million.
"Rebel has the skill of being able to say a joke that nobody else could get away with," says Bridesmaids director Paul Feig, who customized Wilson's role after seeing her audition. "Coming from anyone else, it would be too mean or too politically incorrect or too weird, but Rebel just completely sells it."