The 40 Most Powerful People in Comedy 2019

2:30 AM 6/19/2019

by Edited by Seth Abramovitch

The Hollywood Reporter polls industry insiders and mines the data to assemble the second annual list of the artists and executives with the clout to make the world laugh, delivering eyeballs to film and TV and billions in arena grosses.

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Profiles by Trilby Beresford, Kirsten Chuba, Mia Galuppo, Natalie Jarvey, Katie Kilkenny, Michael O'Connell, Bryn Elise Sandberg, Rebecca Sun, Benjamin Svetkey and Lindsay Weinberg.

  • Kent Alterman

    President, Comedy Central, Paramount Network and TV Land

    Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Viacom

    CATEGORY The Suits

    Like all cable networks, Comedy Central has had to fight to remain relevant in the streaming era. But as its president nears a full decade at the Viacom-owned brand, the 62-year-old exec is as committed as ever to courting new talent. Recent launches The Other Two and Alternatino With Arturo Castro have helped ease the burden of saying goodbye to edgy hits Broad City and Nathan for You. Alterman also has a stable of personalities — Daniel Tosh, Trevor Noah, Jim Jefferies — that keeps the network in the late-night conversation on both digital and linear platforms despite the wild surge in competition. Next up: another high-profile roast, this time for Alec Baldwin, which will air later in 2019.

    THE BLUEST I'VE EVER GONE "I told a filthy, 15-minute version of the Aristocrats joke to [former Viacom chairman] Philippe Dauman at a budget presentation. We got more money than we asked for."

  • Judd Apatow

    Director-Writer-Producer

    Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

    CATEGORY The Legends

    Apatow's features have grossed more than $2 billion at the global box office, and while an Oscar so far has proved elusive, he was rewarded last year for his small-screen efforts with an Emmy for his HBO doc The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling. But Apatow, 51, isn't resting on his iconic status. After ushering in a generation of comedy talent like Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer, he is continuing to foster up-and-comers, including Kumail Nanjiani (also on this year's list). A personal career high point: "I wrote a joke President Obama made about Trump," Apatow says, "Well, I guess that is more of a tragedy." He next heads into production on an untitled Universal comedy with SNL breakout Pete Davidson.

    MY COMEDY CRUSH Jason Schwartzman

  • Sacha Baron Cohen

    Actor-Writer-Producer

    Getty Images

    CATEGORY The Legends

    The chameleon-like prankster of Borat and Bruno fame returned with a vengeance in 2018, dropping a top-secret project — Showtime's Who Is America? — on an unsuspecting electorate. The incendiary series introduced a roster of characters (who could forget Italian playboy Gio Monaldo attempting to coax a confession out of O.J. Simpson?) and water-cooler moments (one led to the downfall of a Georgia politician). The 47-year-old Cohen's knack for controversy paid off for Showtime, driving its single highest day of subscriber sign-ups last year and drawing 2.8 million viewers for the premiere (see Comedy Actor Roundtable on page 100).

    THE BLUEST I'VE EVER GONE IS … "During the naked fight in Borat. I knew I could only survive for a few seconds while Ken Davitian sat on my face, since his weight put immense pressure on my lungs. I told [director] Larry [Charles], 'If I bang the bed twice, it means call cut and get me out of there, since I will pass out.' If you look at the actual scene, I bang the bed twice and the camera does not cut. At that moment I faced a dilemma: Breathe in a gasp of air from Ken's rectum, or die. I chose to die. At that moment, Ken fell off."

  • Kenya Barris

    Writer-Producer-Actor

    Earl Gibson III/FilmMagic

    CATEGORY The Auteurs

    As one of Hollywood's most prolific scribes, the Black-ishGrown-ish and now Mixed-ish creator made waves when he departed longtime home ABC Studios for an eight-figure, three-year overall deal with Netflix in August. His goal at the streamer: to deliver "disruptive comedy," he says. "Netflix with attitude." Barris' first attempt under the new pact will be Black Excellence, a Curb Your Enthusiasm-style family comedy, which he'll executive produce — and, for the first time, act in (alongside Rashida Jones). "Larry David was nice enough to jump on the phone with me for advice and he told me I'd regret it forever if I didn't," says Barris. "But now I keep second-guessing it. Did he say 'didn't' or 'did it?' And I can't get him back on the phone!" On the film side, the 44-year-old Girls Trip writer-producer continues to churn out material, including producing Universal's Little and New Line's new Shaft (and co-writing the latter).

    THE FUNNIEST THING YOU SAW THIS YEAR? "The Democratic Party desperately throwing up a Marvel Universe worth of superheroes, hoping just one can defeat the Orange Thanos hell-bent on destroying half the people in the world. "

  • The Bookers

    Adam Eget (Comedy Store), Estee Adoram (Comedy Cellar)

    Getty Images (2)

    CATEGORY The Gatekeepers

    As the manager of Los Angeles' Comedy Store, Eget is responsible for the club's resurgence in recent years. "I'm painfully bored with 'important' comedy," he says. "The freedom to try new things in this ultra PC climate is paramount to a comic's growth. That's the environment I'm trying to maintain and protect at The Comedy Store." He also served as pal Norm Macdonald's sidekick on the comedian's Netflix talk show and is producing a Comedy Store documentary series for Showtime. Adoram is the Comedy Cellar's longtime starmaker, serving as a fixture of the famous New York venue where Chris Rock, Jon Stewart and Sarah Silverman all got their start.

    COMEDY I'LL DROP EVERYTHING TO WATCH

    EGET Fast Times at Ridgemont High

  • Neal Brennan

    Writer-Comic

    Getty Images

    CATEGORY The Breakouts

    He may not be new to the game, but — after early, behind-the-scenes success writing Chappelle's Show — Brennan is enjoying a second act as a masterful comic with name recognition. At 45, he's the go-to punch-up guy for Chris Rock, Amy Schumer and Seth Meyers and is notably thanked at the end of specials for other pals John Mulaney and Hasan Minhaj. His own 2017 special, 3 Mics, catapulted him into the spotlight, and the L.A.-based comic now has regular gigs on both coasts, a newly launched podcast and a featured role in recent Netflix series Comedians of the World.

    COMEDY IN 2019 IS …"The most lucrative it's ever been despite the false claim that it's 'under attack.' I've never seen something under attack sell out this many arenas."

  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus and David Mandel

    'Veep' Executive Producers

    Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

    CATEGORY The Dynamic Duos

    HBO's uproarious political satire came in for a smooth landing after seven memorable seasons. Showrunner Mandel, 49, a veteran of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, had the unenviable task of taking the show over from creator Armando Iannucci and skillfully maneuvered it into the Trump era. "I am good at tuning it all out. The noise," he says. "I always say, 'Is it going to make my college roommates and my high school buddies laugh?' It sounds simplistic but that's the laugh I need to get." Louis-Dreyfus, 58, meanwhile, emerges with six straight actress Emmy wins for the role of Selina Meyer (bringing her total Emmy count to 11), plus a Mark Twain Prize.

  • Ellen DeGeneres

    Comic-Host-Producer

    Doug Inglish/Warner Brothers

    CATEGORY The Legends

    The reigning queen of daytime returned to the stand-up stage in 2018 with Netflix's Relatable, her first comedy special since 2003. The well-reviewed hourlong set — which begins with DeGeneres, 61, riffing on her very unrelatable lifestyle and career, which includes 32 Emmys and a Mark Twain Prize — netted her a cool $20 million from the streamer (bumping her total annual compensation to $87 million, according to Forbes). Throw in spinoff Ellen's Game of Games game show (a top three show for NBC) and her successful Little Big Shots on the same network (co-created with Steve Harvey), and the irony of her Netflix special title only becomes more apparent. Having already dominated television and stand-up, what could possibly still excite DeGeneres about the future of comedy? "Jet packs," she says. "Funny jet packs."

    COMEDY I'LL DROP EVERYTHING TO WATCH "It depends — what am I carrying?"

  • Jessica Elbaum

    Producer

    Getty Images

    CATEGORY The Suits

    The head of Gary Sanchez sister label Gloria Sanchez is producing some of the sharpest funny material around — Booksmart is currently sitting high atop the Rotten Tomatoes index with a 97 percent freshness score (even if that didn't translate into big box office). Elbaum, 41, also is behind the buzzy Netflix mystery-melodramedy Dead to Me, which has nabbed a second season, and developed the Jennifer Lopez-Cardi B-Constance Wu starrer Hustlers, about strip-club employees from New York who rob a Wall Streeter. "I'm excited that comedy can mean so many different things," says Elbaum, currently putting together a feature about the Eurovision song contest with Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams.

    I WISH THEY'D RETIRE THE BIT ABOUT … "It's the female version of …"

  • Hannah Gadsby

    Comic

    Jill Greenberg

    CATEGORY The Breakouts

    It was one year ago — June 19, 2018 — that the Australian performer's special Nanette premiered on Netflix and propelled her to worldwide acclaim. Ironically, the routine was framed as Gadsby's farewell to a decade-plus career in comedy, as she tackles misogyny, homophobia (including the internalized variety) and mental illness in a 70-minute set that evolves from stand-up routine to TED Talk to confessional to fiery sermon to self-emancipation declaration. Amid sparking an international debate about anti-comedy, Gadsby, 41, continues to perform. In March, she embarked on a world tour for her follow-up routine, titled Douglas, which will air as a Netflix special in 2020.

    I WISH THEY'D RETIRE THE BIT ABOUT ... "Prostate exams being uncomfortable and awkward, because they sound like fun times compared to state-regulated abortion bans."

    THE BLUEST I'VE EVER GONE IS ... "When holding my breath listening to men tell rape jokes."

    MY BEST AUDIENCE EVER ... "They all win. I've never had a bad gig. I am that good. And powerful. Obvs."

    WHAT'S THE FUNNIEST ...

    LETTER OF THE ALPHABET? "I'm more of a numbers man, myself."

    WORD? "Oblong."

    ANIMAL? "Echidnas."

    AND WHY? "Because it's a monotreme. Christians wouldn't like how they conceive."

    WRITE A ROAST JOKE ABOUT YOURSELF "I am so successful, I don't have to write my own roast jokes anymore. I've outsourced, and you can find them in the comment sections of my clips and Reddit threads about me. They're not particularly good or clever, but I'm too busy being successful."

    IF I COULD INVITE THREE COMEDIANS — DEAD OR ALIVE — TO A DINNER PARTY, THEY WOULD BE ... "I have autism. Meeting three strangers at the same time and preparing a meal is not my idea of fun, nor is thinking about which dead person to invite."

  • Bill Hader, Alec Berg

    'Barry' Co-Creators

    Getty Images (2)

    CATEGORY The Dynamic Duos

    "It's nice to be able to go into deep and sometimes disturbing areas," says Hader, 41, of Barry, likely the only laugh-out-loud comedy to explore things like PTSD, domestic violence and feral, taekwondo-master children. Besides ushering in a Henry Winkler renaissance, the show — co-created by Hader with Berg, 49, who's wrapping up Silicon Valley — won three Emmys (including acting kudos for Hader and Winkler) and saw its average viewership rise to 5.1 million in season two.

    THE FUNNIEST THING THAT'S HAPPENED TO ME RECENTLY …

    HADER "I had this surgery done to my teeth and I came out of it and apparently I texted Alec Berg, 'I need to go get burgers right now' — like, I was really out of it. And he said, 'Why?' And I said 'What, you don't believe me? I think you should stop texting me.' He showed me the texts the next day.

  • Tiffany Haddish

    Actress-Comic

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    CATEGORY The Breakouts

    In THR's 2018 Comedy Issue, Haddish revealed she wanted to make at least 50 movies by age 50. She's six titles closer to her goal, with Uncle Drew, The Oath, Night School, Nobody's Fool, The Lego Movie 2 and The Secret Life of Pets 2 all being released in the past 12 months, and mob drama The Kitchen and animated The Angry Birds Movie 2 coming in the latter half of 2019. As if that weren't enough, the tireless performer, 39, also pulls double duty on TBS' The Last O.G. and Netflix's Tuca & Bertie. And the woman who catapulted to international fame with her showstopping turn in 2017's Girls Trip is showing no signs of slowing. "There's work to be done here," she tells THR with a laugh. "This is a damn business!"

    THREE COMEDIANS — DEAD OR ALIVE — I'D LIKE TO HAVE DINNER WITH "Moms Mabley, Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor (so he can talk shit to Bill Cosby)."

  • Dan Harmon

    Writer-Producer

    Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

    CATEGORY The Auteurs

    The irascible Community creator — famous for being fired, more famous for being brought back — has crafted one of Hollywood's quieter success stories in the third decade of his prolific career. Harmon, 46, and his Rick and Morty co-creator Justin Roiland have the single most valuable property on Turner's Adult Swim. With a rich new 70-episode deal set to kick off its run in 2019, the animated sci-fi adventure remains a fan favorite, a source of creative envy among other television writers and looks likely to be among the crown jewels for the upcoming WarnerMedia streaming platform. Harmon continues to court fans on podcast Harmontown, whose live tapings in L.A. are always sellouts.

    THE FUNNIEST THING YOU SAW THIS YEAR? "The real answer is, my fiancee's 2-year-old niece being held in the air by her mother in Death Valley and taking a poop so big that from a distance it looked like she dropped a football from behind her back. I don't think that's a tasteful answer, though; I think I'm supposed to say The Bojack Horseman Halloween episode."

  • Kevin Hart

    Actor-Comic-Producer

    Don Arnold/WireImage

    CATEGORY The Legends

    Sure, there have been some setbacks this year: the old homophobic tweets that torpedoed his hosting gig at the Oscars and a lawsuit alleging that his bodyguards fractured a woman's face. But the fact is Hart, 39, can still fill seats better than any other comedian working. January's Upside, co-starring Bryan Cranston, was the rare straight-up domestic comedy film to gross more than $100 million. And Hart remains the No. 1 comedian on the planet in terms of concert ticket sales, with his Irresponsible tour so far grossing $42 million for 42 shows in 2019, and the rest of the year's shows already sold out. Up next: reteaming with Dwayne Johnson for a Jumanji sequel (Dec. 13) and with Ride Along director Tim Story for a movie based on another board game, Monopoly — very apt for such a bankable star.

  • Mindy Kaling

    Actress-Writer-Producer

    Getty Images

    CATEGORY The Auteurs

    The quirky Office alum went on to prove she could front her own show with The Mindy Project, which lasted three seasons on Fox and another three on Hulu. Now the 39-year-old has her eye on movie stardom with Late Night, which she wrote and stars in opposite Emma Thompson. The showbiz satire was snatched up by Amazon Studios for a record-setting $13 million at Sundance. Things are just as busy on the television front: In February, she inked a six-year, eight-figure overall deal with Warner Bros. Television; the Four Weddings and a Funeral reboot she co-created hits Hulu in July; and Netflix has handed her a series order for a 10-episode semiautobiographical comedy. She'll also release a collection of essays for Amazon (they sell books, too, remember?), out summer 2020. Her first book, published in 2011, spent a combined 121 weeks on New York Times best-seller lists.

    COMEDY I'LL DROP EVERYTHING TO WATCH "Coming to America or Borat. I love accents."

    MY BEST AUDIENCE EVER ... "The Office season one writers room. They were really hard to make laugh, so if you could, that felt good. But sometimes you would pitch something they didn’t think was funny, and suddenly it was just five men silently looking at their phones."

  • The Late-Night Hosts

    Samantha Bee, Stephen Colbert, James Corden, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Bill Maher, Seth Meyers, Hasan Minhaj, Conan O'Brien, John Oliver, Lilly Singh

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    Which host is winning the ratings game? 

    Depending on your metric, several of TV's many late night hosts claim to be winning the ratings game. By traditional Nielsen criteria, Stephen Colbert reigns supreme for CBS, even edging NBC's once-younger-skewing Jimmy Fallon among adults 18-to-49 for the first time during the 2018-19 season. Meanwhile, HBO boasts that John Oliver's weekly deep-dive delivers the biggest cross-platform crowd of all. (THR can't say where Hasan Minhaj compares, since Netflix refuses to divulge numbers.) Still, in the current climate, where hosts wrestle over the same political punch lines night after night, victors can change day by day, depending on who is able to cut through the clutter — be that by hosting presidential candidates (Colbert), shining a light on multi-level marketing schemes (Oliver) or luring 42 million to YouTube for a rush hour sing-along with Paul McCartney (Corden).

  • Phil Lord, Chris Miller

    Writers-Directors-Producers

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    CATEGORY The Dynamic Duos

    Han who? The duo bounced back from their conspicuous midproduction exit of 2018's Solo: A Star Wars Story with a series of box office-crushing animated comedies. The Lego Movie 2 and Smallfoot, which they produced, each made $190 million worldwide, while Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse won the best animated feature Oscar and netted them more than $375 million globally. It's little wonder that the pair's upcoming sci-fi directorial project, The Last Human, prompted a bidding war and they inked a massive five-year deal at Sony in the nine-figure range.

    THE FUNNIEST ANIMAL 

    MILLER "Dolphins, but most of their humor is mean-spirited."

  • Chuck Lorre

    Writer-Producer

    Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Netflix

    CATEGORY The Legends

    The man credited with single-handedly keeping multicamera sitcoms alive bid his most successful creation adieu this year, sending off CBS' The Big Bang Theory after 12 seasons and 280 episodes with a satisfying series wrapper that drew 18 million viewers. Not that Lorre, 66 — who tells THR that his current comedy infatuation is the edgy Phoebe Waller-Bridge — hasn't shown plenty of skill in the single-camera realm too: Young Sheldon has pulled in an average 14 million viewers in its second season. And Lorre's Netflix exploration of aging, The Kominsky Method, surprised many by winning two Golden Globes — for best comedy and Michael Douglas as best actor in a comedy. (It earned a second-season order not long after.) Next up, Bob Hearts Abishola, a CBS sitcom about a sock-factory owner in Detroit who falls for his Nigerian nurse.

    THREE COMEDIANS — DEAD OR ALIVE — I'D LIKE TO INVITE TO DINNER "Dead comedians at a dinner party? What is wrong with you people?!"

  • Natasha Lyonne, Maya Rudolph

    Actresses-Producers

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    CATEGORY The Dynamic Duos

    The friends signed a first-look deal with Amazon in November — just don't call their Animal Pictures projects "female comedies." Instead, Lyonne says the goal is to highlight "female voices." Rudolph adds that she's tired of being seen as "part of this group of 'women in comedy,' which is a drag." Their efforts are bearing fruit: Lyonne, 40, co-created and stars in Netflix's Russian Doll, with Amy Poehler on board as co-creator. "[It's] a relief that now my point of view is out there, for better or worse," she says. SNL alumna Rudolph, 46, appears in Poehler's Netflix feature Wine Country and lends her voice to Fox's upcoming animated Bless the Harts.


    COMEDY I'LL DROP EVERYTHING TO WATCH 

    LYONNE "This great Milos Forman movie called Taking Off with Buck Henry."

    FUNNIEST WORD?

    RUDOLPH "Butthole."

  • Seth MacFarlane

    Actor-Writer-Producer

    Getty Images

    CATEGORY The Legends

    The multihyphenate is being courted heavily as his deal with Disney-owned 20th Century Fox TV nears its end. "We hope Seth is here for a very long time," studio co-head Jonnie Davis told THR in May. "He's a Mount Rushmore figure of the studio." Family Guy continues to be a major draw, even as it extends into its 20th year on the air. Meanwhile, the 45-year-old animated comedy king has expanded his realm, through production company Fuzzy Door, to include live-action sci-fi series The Orville on Fox, in which he also stars.

    WRITE A ROAST JOKE ABOUT YOURSELF "Seth MacFarlane is so ugly, I wouldn't fuck him with Bea Arthur's vagina (which I have on loan from the Smithsonian because I am a large donor)."

  • The Managers

    Dave Becky, Julie Darmody, E. Brian Dobbins, Michael Lasker, David Miner, Peter Principato, Christie Smith

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    CATEGORY The Advocates

    From scoring clients film and TV gigs to orchestrating tours to landing book deals, these comedy masterminds hold in their hands the careers of Hollywood's funniest people. Principato's Artists First steers top talent like Tiffany Haddish, Michael Showalter, Awkwafina and Ike Barinholtz. His colleague Dobbins works with Kenya Barris, Niecy Nash and Tracee Ellis Ross. At Rise, Smith saw client Liz Feldman score a second season for her Netflix series Dead to Me, and Darmody's client Chris Pratt will reunite with director James Gunn for Guardians of the Galaxy 3. Lasker saw Kumail Nanjiani get nominated for a writing Oscar in 2017. And between the two of them, 3 Arts' Miner and Becky handle the business of Tina Fey, Kevin Hart and Mike Schur.

    FUNNIEST WORD 

    PRINCIPATO "Kumquat. Say it with me."

  • Sebastian Maniscalco

    Actor-Comic

    Brian Higby

    CATEGORY The Arena Fillers

    "The environment has changed," notes the stand-up, 47, who says the days of comics waiting for sitcom stardom are long gone. Instead, Maniscalco — an everyman comedian with a badda-bing-badda-boom delivery — envisioned a career of filling arenas, like Andrew Dice Clay (whom he has opened for). And he's achieved it: Maniscalco was the second-biggest live comic in the nation this year, bested only by Kevin Hart, and earning north of $16 million for his past 30 shows, according to Billboard Boxscore. That success has opened doors on the acting front, with roles in Green Book and, next, a part in Martin Scorsese's gangster epic The Irishman, opposite Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci — or, as he refers to them, "my Italian superheroes."

    THREE COMEDIANS — DEAD OR ALIVE ­— I'D LIKE TO HAVE DINNER WITH "Richard Pryor, Johnny Carson and George Carlin."

  • Melissa McCarthy

    Actress-Producer

    Gabe Ginsberg/WireImage

    CATEGORY The Legends

    Since breaking out with her Oscar-nominated turn in Paul Feig's Bridesmaids eight years ago, McCarthy, 48, has established herself as one of the most greenlight-able names in comedy, with more than $1 billion in global box office grosses since 2011. True, August's dirty puppet movie The Happytime Murders was a miss and she's been tackling more dramatic roles of late — her performance as real-life forger Lee Israel in Can You Ever Forgive Me? earned McCarthy her second Oscar nomination. But she'll return to comedy this December in Warner Bros.' Superintelligence, about a woman whose electronic devices start talking to her. And the Groundlings alum will put her serious improv chops to use as a host of NBC's Little Big Shots for its fourth season. Says NBC Entertainment co-chairman Paul Telegdy, "She's going to bring a completely fresh perspective to it."

  • Kate McKinnon, Pete Davidson

    'SNL' Standouts

    Getty Images (2)

    CATEGORY The Breakouts

    On SNL, McKinnon, 35, is the undisputed MVP, known for her impersonations of Hillary Clinton, Rudy Giuliani, Jeff Sessions and Kellyanne Conway. Davidson, the youngest castmember at 25, is known for headline-making Weekend Update appearances (his back-and-forth with Rep. Dan Crenshaw) and his "scumbro" fashion sense. (There also was that low-key engagement to Ariana Grande.) Outside of SNL, McKinnon's career continues to crackle; she's tackling shamed Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes in Hulu's The Dropout. Meanwhile, Davidson stars in Sundance standout Big Time Adolescence and is collaborating with Judd Apatow on a Universal project about his Staten Island childhood and the death of his firefighter father on 9/11. Somehow, he also found time for a successful comedy tour with fellow power lister John Mulaney. He says one highlight in a year full of them was "seeing Adam Sandler enjoy himself while performing Opera Man on Weekend Update. It made me cry and my heart smile." McKinnon recalls Sandler's song tribute to Farley: "We all stood together and wept watching. It felt like a celebration of their friendship, and of the love-you- forever kind of friendships I'm lucky enough to have at SNL."

  • Lorne Michaels

    Producer

    Getty Images

    CATEGORY The Legends

    Bracing himself for another aggressive presidential election cycle, Michaels remains comedy's most intriguing impresario and elder statesman. The Saturday Night Live executive producer, 74, still pulls an average 8.9 million viewers and a 2.3 rating among adults 18-49 to the 44-season-old show — making it one of broadcast's most successful comedies. His Broadway Video shingle is behind recent breakouts The Other Two and Shrill, both from SNL talent, as well as HBO's quirky Spanish-language half-hour Los Espookys. Michaels also remains an active EP of Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show and Seth Meyers' Late Night.

  • John Mulaney

    Actor-Writer-Comic

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    CATEGORY The Arena Fillers

    Naming his 2015 comedy special The Comeback Kid turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy for Mulaney, 36. Despite a slow start following his 2012 departure from the SNL writers room and a failed 2014 Fox sitcom, his career is bustling. In the past year, Mulaney has starred in another stand-up special for Netflix (at a sold-out Radio City Music Hall), hosted SNL for the second time, and voiced Spider-Ham in Sony's Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which grossed $375 million. He also has a role on the Netflix animated comedy Big Mouth, co-created by buddy Nick Kroll and set to return for a third season.

    MY BEST AUDIENCE EVER "Friends on nitrous."

    IF I COULD INVITE THREE COMEDIANS — DEAD OR ALIVE — TO A DINNER PARTY, THEY WOULD BE ... "Nick Kroll, Pete Davidson, Ali Wong. I don't like meeting new people. Also, I don't want to eat with a dead person because you'd have to explain anything recent to them."

  • Kumail Nanjiani

    Actor-Writer-Comic

    Getty Images

    CATEGORY The Breakouts

    The Emmy-winning HBO show that catapulted him to stardom, Silicon Valley, may be heading into its sixth and final season, but Nanjiani has plenty of big-screen projects to fill the gap. Thank the success of The Big Sick for that; his autobiographical indie vehicle made $56 million worldwide. The Pakistan-born comedian, 41, also has popped up repeatedly in bigger-budget fare, like Sony's Men in Black: International, Fox's Stuber and Paramount's The Love Birds. And he soon will make his Marvel debut in The Eternals opposite Angelina Jolie. He says, "I feel like what is falling under the umbrella of 'comedy' has expanded so much in the past two years."

    I WISH THEY'D RETIRE THE BIT ABOUT …

    "The bit that is always in the trailer where someone goes, 'I got it! I got it! I don't got it.' "

  • Will Packer

    Producer

    VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty Images

    CATEGORY The Auteurs

    The producer who brought Tiffany Haddish to the moviegoing masses with Girls Trip has proved time and again that the midbudget comedy is not dead. Packer, 45, who has a first-look deal with Universal, was behind Marsai Martin's Little, which grossed $40 million domestically on a $20 million budget. His gender-flipped rom-com remake What Men Want, meanwhile, cost $20 million and pulled in $54 million. Then there was the Kevin Hart-Haddish two-hander Night School, which cost $29 million to make and grossed $77 million. Not to be left out, Packer's TV efforts include Bigger set for upcoming streamer BET+.

    WRITE A ROAST JOKE ABOUT YOURSELF "Packer thinks he's funny."

  • Amy Poehler

    Actress-Writer-Producer

    Presley Ann/Getty Images

    CATEGORY The Legends

    "There's a fine line between 'Never been better' and 'The sky is falling,' " philosophizes Poehler about the current state of comedy. "The way people are consuming entertainment now, you can either think it's the end of days or you can appreciate the opportunity." Poehler, 47, clearly chose the latter. The SNL and Parks and Rec alum directed her first feature, Netflix's girl-trip comedy Wine Country, and will be shooting her second for the streamer, Moxie, about a 16-year-old girl who discovers her mom's Riot Grrrl past, as early as this fall. "I like the problem-solving aspects of directing — and then you have to decode what you've shot in a dark room," she says. "I love dark rooms." Poehler also is voicing and co-producing a new animated Fox series (Duncanville), has just wrapped the second season of Making It, her crafting competition show for NBC, and continues to produce Netflix's Russian Doll, which just got picked up for a second season.

  • Issa Rae

    Actress-Writer-Producer

    Gregg DeGuire/WireImage

    CATEGORY The Breakouts

    The creator and star of HBO's Insecure stretched beyond TV this year with roles in films The Hate U Give and Little. "It's really interesting to me to see other people's creative processes," says Rae, 34, who adds that HBO has been "so supportive" in giving her time away from the comedy, which will return in 2020. Next year, she'll also star alongside Kumail Nanjiani in The Lovebirds and in romantic comedy The Photograph. Allowing Rae to stretch her wings has been to HBO's benefit, too. Through her overall deal with the network, Rae is executive producing Robin Thede's upcoming A Black Lady Sketch Show.

    THE FUNNIEST LETTER "Q. It needs U so much."

  • Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg

    Creative Partners

    Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for CinemaCon

    CATEGORY The Dynamic Duos

    "How often do you get to see the supernova before the star collapses, nonetheless be a part of it?" jokes Rogen, 37, asked about the state of the comedy genre. Count Rogen and Goldberg, 37, among the last true survivors. After signing a first-look pact with Long Shot studio Lionsgate, the duo's gearing up for the release of Universal's kiddie raunchfest Good Boys and is in postproduction on Sony time-travel comedy An American Pickle. On the small screen, they have Amazon's upcoming series The Boys, Showtime's recently renewed Wall Street comedy Black Monday, and the fourth and final season of AMC's Preacher.

    FUNNIEST ANIMAL?

    ROGEN "Probably monkeys. They throw their shit at people and do that thing where they stick the finger up the ass and smell it and fall off the tree. Monkeys have provided some pretty solid comedy. A lot of monkeys have been used in comedy. Isn't the second lead in those Night at the Museum movies a monkey? Wasn't there a monkey in The Hangover? A monkey was the seventh friend on Friends for a while? I think it is all the same monkey. I think I worked with that monkey on a photo shoot. That monkey is the unsung hero of comedy, I guess. If there was an actor in both Friends and Night at the Museum, they would be really famous, but the monkey who achieved that got nothing. We keep calling it 'the monkey'— we don't even know the goddamn monkey's name! Get that monkey on this list. That monkey has to be one of the top 40 people in comedy. I don't want to be on this list unless that monkey is on this list." (Editor's note: Crystal the Monkey was deemed ineligible.)

  • Adam Sandler

    Actor-Comic-Producer

    Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

    CATEGORY The Legends

    A pivot to streaming turned out to be prescient for the onetime Pied Piper of young male box office. He signed a four-year Netflix deal worth $30 million to $40 million in 2014, which was then re-upped in 2017, and recently released one of the platform's starriest projects: Murder Mystery with Jennifer Aniston (June 14). Sandler, 51 also has reignited his stand-up career by taking his first Netflix special, released last year, on the road. And what better way to remind the world of his comedic powers than with his hugely hyped return to SNL after 24 years. His musical tribute to the late Chris Farley helped deliver the show's biggest viewership this year — a 4.8 rating — not to mention tears aplenty.

  • Amy Schumer

    Actress-Writer-Comic

    Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

    CATEGORY The Arena Fillers

    The year started bumpily for Schumer, 38, after pregnancy complications forced her to cancel tour dates. But she turned the ordeal into comedy lemonade, joking about it on her critically acclaimed new Netflix special Amy Schumer: Growing. (Schumer welcomed her first child, a boy, May 5.) She has sold out arenas, successfully negotiated with Netflix for a pay hike (reportedly more than the $11 million it was offering) and became the first woman to rank on Forbes' list of top-paid comedians. Next, she will join Steven Yeun and Richard Jenkins in the film adaptation of Stephen Karam's Tony-winning play The Humans — which, dark as it is, does qualify as a comedy.

  • Michael Schur

    Writer-Producer

    Getty Images

    CATEGORY The Auteurs

    The 43-year-old TV wunderkind behind beloved cult comedies The Good Place and Brooklyn Nine-Nine signed an overall deal at Universal Television this year in the nine-figure range. As The Good Place starts to wrap up — the afterlife comedy's coming fourth season will be its last — Schur tells THR that his comedy mission will be to focus on projects that have a good reason to exist. "A while ago in TV it was like, 'Who is the big star?' and 'Is this a funny idea?' " says Schur. "Now you have to say, 'Here's why this idea is going to cut through the incredible amount of white noise that's out there.' " Next up, the Netflix LGBTQ animated spy series Q-Force, which Schur says is "going to have something to say about masculinity and the queer community and the way organizations can be cruel and inhumane."

    MY COMEDY CRUSH Valerie Harper

  • The Talent Agents

    Ayala Cohen, Jason Heyman, Sharon Jackson, Blair Kohan, Greg McKnight, Matt Rice, Rachel Rusch, Steve Smooke, Richard Weitz

    Getty Images; Courtesy Photos

    CATEGORY The Advocates

    WGA hardball tactics may have rendered agents writerless, but they still wield outsized power when it comes to talent. At UTA, Heyman has propelled the careers of Ali Wong, Zach Galifianakis and Will Ferrell, and recently signed Tiffany Haddish. Kohan continues to handle Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, in addition to Hannah Gadsby and Paul Rudd. McKnight works with Simon Rich and Bo Burnham, while TV head Rice helped clients Phil Lord and Chris Miller win an Oscar for Into the Spider-Verse and Bill Hader win an Emmy for Barry. WME's Jackson has a red-hot roster that includes Natasha Lyonne, Beanie Feldstein and Amy Poehler, while Weitz crafted Fresh Off the Boat creator Nahnatchka Khan's four-year overall deal with Universal TV. CAA's Rusch helps to steer James Corden and Trevor Noah, and Smooke works with Jamie Foxx and Tracy Morgan. ICM's Cohen reps SNL's Pete Davidson and Cecily Strong.

  • The Touring Agents

    Mike Berkowitz, Matt Blake, Steve Levine, Nick Nuciforo

    Getty Images

    CATEGORY The Advocates

    Plotting out tours is no simple task, but these agents know how to fill just about every club and arena in the nation, to say nothing of the world, and keep the cash registers ringing. At WME, Berkowitz has shepherded the careers of several stand-ups who've either filmed or released specials this year, including Amy Schumer, Kevin Hart and John Mulaney. UTA's Nuciforo handles the touring business of Ali Wong, Jim Gaffigan and The Lonely Island, which will launch its first multicity U.S. tour in June. ICM's Levine plots out the stand-up careers of heavyweights like Ellen DeGeneres, Chris Rock, Jay Leno and David Spade. And Gabriel Iglesias, Joel McHale and Trevor Noah are all among Blake's stable at CAA.

    COMEDY I'LL DROP EVERYTHING TO WATCH

    NUCIFORO Groundhog Day

    LEVINE Weekend at Bernie's

    BLAKE The Cannonball Run

  • Network Comedy Brass

    Amy Gravitt, Kate Lambert, Robbie Praw, Billy Rosenberg and Jane Wiseman

    Getty Images; Courtesy of Subject

    CATEGORY The Suits

    It's not just that these execs have powerful perches at enviable platforms, it's how they've used that influence. HBO veteran Gravitt oversaw Veep's graceful landing in the spring, along with Barry's acclaimed second season. She'll soon steer Armando Iannucci's return to the premium cable network with hotly anticipated space comedy Avenue 5 and welcome Phoebe Waller-Bridge with Run. Rosenberg established Hulu as a go-to destination for comedic series this year with his own triple threat: Aidy Bryant's Shrill, Ramy Youssef's Ramy and the Andy Samberg-produced PEN15. At Netflix, Wiseman has shepherded the platform's sprawling comedy slate — from Golden Globe winner The Kominsky Method to inevitable Emmy contender Russian Doll — while Praw oversees the company's free-spending stand-up comedy department and is bringing back Hannah Gadsby for a second, sure-to-be-hot-button special. FX's Lambert continues to set the standard for auteur-driven half-hours like Atlanta and What We Do in the Shadows.

    COMEDY IN 2019 IS … 

    ROSENBERG "Funniest when it comes from an emotionally honest place." 

    WISEMAN "A reprieve from a perpetual hellscape." 

    LAMBERT "Alive!"

  • Phoebe Waller-Bridge

    Actress-Writer

    Getty Images

    CATEGORY The Breakouts

    While Waller-Bridge was in New York for her stage version of Fleabag — her Amazon comedy about a London cafe owner with a pet guinea pig and a disastrous love life (season two dropped May 17) — she met with a secret agent admirer. Daniel Craig asked the 33-year-old British playwright turned TV Renaissance woman (she also wrote and ran BBC America's Killing Eve, and has new comedy Run coming to HBO) to punch up the script for the much-troubled Bond 25, adding some depth and humor to the female roles. "The important thing is that the film treats women properly," Waller-Bridge said recently of her take on 007. "He doesn't have to."

  • Geof Wills

    President of Comedy, Live Nation

    Getty Images

    CATEGORY The Gatekeepers

    As the big kahuna at the nation's most powerful live-comedy promoter, Wills, 57, has boosted the careers of stand-ups from Dave Chappelle to Ali Wong to Tyler Perry, whose Madea's Farewell Play tour did a staggering 134 shows. The veteran booker — who came from England to California as a teen — is constantly scouring clubs, along with social media platforms, for breakout talent. With 800 to 900 shows a year, he remains the town's most successful live comedy impresario — and he's only seeing his business get bigger as the market goes increasingly global thanks to the streaming effect. Says Wills, "Live comedy in all of its forms is killing it this year for us."

  • Ali Wong

    Actress-Writer-Comic

    Getty Images

    CATEGORY The Breakouts

    The stand-up queen, 37, added "rom-com sweetheart" to her bio this year, starring in and co-writing the Netflix feature Always Be My Maybe (her fourth project at the streamer). Along with breakout 2016 special Baby Cobra and 2018 follow-up Hard Knock Wife, she also voices one of the leading roles in Netflix's animated Tuca & Bertie opposite fellow THR power lister Tiffany Haddish. But perhaps the biggest indicator of her comedy clout? Keanu Reeves agreed to play her Always Be My Maybe love interest because he was a fan of her work.

    MY COMEDY CRUSH Donald Glover

    This story first appeared in the June 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.