The 40(ish) Most Powerful People in Comedy

6:30 AM 6/13/2018

by Edited by Seth Abramovitch

Need a good laugh? These days, we all do. Meet the TV auteurs, the stand-ups scoring $20 million Netflix specials and the ventriloquist booking arenas (for real!) as The Hollywood Reporter profiles the players behind billions in funny money in its first comedy power list.

From left: Tina Fey, Kevin Hart, Kumail Nanjiani and Ali Wong
From left: Tina Fey, Kevin Hart, Kumail Nanjiani and Ali Wong
Getty Images

Maybe it’s the unfunny state of the world or the emergence of global star-making platforms like Netflix, but audiences are devouring comedy these days. Attendance at comedy clubs in the U.S. is up 20 percent since a decade ago, and top touring acts can pull in up to eight figures. In its first comedy power list, The Hollywood Reporter singles out the people who are charting not just the creative culture of comedy but its booming business.

Profiles written by Seth Abramovitch, Marisa Guthrie, Natalie Jarvey, Andy Lewis, Michael O'Connell, Patrick Shanley, Rebecca Sun and Bryn Elise Sandberg.

  • Kent Alterman

    President, Comedy Central

    Lester Cohen/Getty Images

    CATEGORY The Suits

    Alterman, 61, runs a veritable talent factory, minting stars like Trevor Noah, Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson. With Netflix and other streamers circling for poaching opportunities, he's pushed Comedy Central to get better at keeping talent, signing Noah and Glazer and Jacobson to overall deals. Alterman, who led development out of New York before landing his current job in 2016, also helped launch the network's live events biz with the annual Clusterfest, which has featured such acts as Amy Schumer, Tiffany Haddish and Comedy Central alum Jon Stewart.

    I'm funny because... "I once took a course in comedy analytics."

  • Judd Apatow

    Director-Producer-Writer

    Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

    CATEGORY The Legends

    Apatow, 50, made his name with big-screen comedies like Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin and discovering young talent (James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel). But lately, he's focused on the small screen, producing the four-hour documentary The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling and Crashing for HBO as well as Netflix projects like the series Love and his own special, The Return, in which Apatow did stand-up for the first time in 25 years.

    "There is such an explosion of TV comedy that it's siphoning off good writers who used to write screenplays," he tells THR. "You never open up the trades and hear about a comedy sale. It's become a foregone conclusion that people think the market is disappearing for this."

    My most memorable bombing experience... "When I first started doing stand-up comedy, I performed at UC Santa Barbara opening up for Marc 'Skippy' Price [he played Skippy Handelman on Family Ties] and was booed off the stage. I deserved it."

    Brilliant piece of comedy that died too soon… "I wish they would bring back Lady Dynamite. I don't know if it was canceled or if Maria Bamford got tired of doing it. That was my favorite half-hour on television. I think she's the most innovative person in comedy. "

    Favorite Simpsons character "I probably relate most to Bart Simpson. I wrote a spec Simpsons episode trying to break into comedy and wonderfully, they actually turned it into an episode a couple of years ago. It was one of the great circle experiences of my career. I probably was and still am at heart a precocious, annoying child."

    Dream product endorsement "I've always felt like I've needed a more intimate relationship with the people who make Haagen-Dazs."

  • Kenya Barris

    Producer-Writer

    Brent N. Clarke/FilmMagic

    CATEGORY The Auteurs

    The 43-year-old brain behind ABC's breakout Black-ish (and 2017's hit film Girls Trip) was said to be in talks for a big Netflix deal after ABC's decision in March to pull a Black-ish episode tackling NFL players kneeling to protest police brutality. But feelings seem to have been smoothed over, and it's business as usual at ABC and parent company Disney: Barris recently launched Grown-ish on Freeform, Disney's youth-focused platform (its premiere drew 1.6 million viewers), where he also has a series order for a comedy called Besties. He's keeping busy with big-screen projects as well, writing a reboot of Shaft and a sequel to Coming to America (with Eddie Murphy producing, although it's not yet known if he'll star).

    I'm funny because... "My face started breaking out in seventh grade, and I realized I needed to get very funny very fucking fast — or get ready for a long couple years."

    Dream product endorsement Nike "Air Jordan III's. Hands down. Not 1's. Not IV's. Not even Air Jordan as a shoe. The III. Period. The greatest shoe ever made, and I want to endorse the shit out of it! And, if need be, make sweet love to it."

    If I didn't work in comedy... "I would have been a lawyer. I can prove anybody wrong or right about anything. Doesn't matter which side they are on. I just need a couple facts and to know which one they want the most. I'll prove the other one right. Besides being brilliant at debate, I'm also a bastard and a contrarian. They're gifts. What can I say?"

  • Dave Chappelle

    Comic

    Lester Cohen/WireImage

    CATEGORY The Legends

    After a lengthy hiatus, the 44-year-old stand-up returned in a big way, signing a 2016 Netflix deal for four specials reportedly worth more than $60 million. When the first two shows debuted in April 2017, they weren't universally applauded (some viewers were offended by Chappelle's transgender jokes), but they did draw massive audiences. In fact, the numbers were so good that super-secretive Netflix broke with tradition and declared the shows to be their "most viewed" comedies ever. He's also killing it on tour, grossing $16 million in the past 12 months from 22 live appearances (18 of which sold out), according to Billboard.

  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus

    Actress-Producer

    Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

    CATEGORY The Legends

    The Veep star joins the ranks of Richard Pryor and Lily Tomlin when she accepts the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor on Oct. 21, honoring her "wildly original characters and gift for physical comedy." Louis-Dreyfus, 57, has won eight Emmy acting awards, six for her portrayal of the cravenly ambitious (yet now almost quaint-seeming) Selina Meyer — a record. Breast cancer diagnosed in September has not slowed her down; after surgery and treatment, the final season of the HBO comedy starts shooting in August.

    Dream product endorsement "Douche and hemorrhoid cream."

  • Jeff Dunham

    Comic

    Getty Images

    CATEGORY The Arena Fillers

    In terms of putting butts in seats, there's no outdoing Jeff Dunham. The 56-year-old motormouthed ventriloquist sold 217,000 tickets in the first quarter of 2018, according to Pollstar, putting him on a par with major music acts like Kendrick Lamar and Bruno Mars. (His closest comedy competition is Jerry Seinfeld, who sold 53,000.)

    "Being a ventriloquist, you're the unloved stepchild, a prop act. You aren't seen as a real stand-up," says Dunham.

    How does he still get away with un-P.C. material like "Achmed the Dead Terrorist" in an ultra-sensitive era? "My audience is pre-sold," he says. "If I don't bring those guys out, they get ticked off!"

    Favorite Simpsons character "The guy who runs the comic book shop because I'm betting he would sell my crap, too."

    College comedy audiences are... "Not hiring me."

  • Will Ferrell and Adam McKay

    Creative Partners

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    CATEGORY The Movie Stars

    These Gen Xers (both are 50), who met on SNL in 1995, understood the power of the viral moment from early on. They founded comedy site Funny or Die in 2007, which killed with The LandlordBetween Two Ferns and other viral videos. They've also collaborated on the Anchorman movies ($263 million worldwide) and Talladega Nights ($162 million) and produced such TV shows as Eastbound and Down and Drunk History.

    Up next, Ferrell is stepping in front of the camera for his and McKay's English-language remake of the German comedy Toni Erdmann (with Kristen Wiig co-starring). The team will reunite with Step Brothers co-star John C. Reilly for Holmes and Watson, and McKay's Dick Cheney biopic Backseat is set for December release.

    My most memorable heckler... 

    McKay: "I was doing a stand-up bit about the stages leading up to a fight and a drunk audience member thought I was challenging him and charged me."

    Dream product endorsement

    McKay: "Leaves … they're everywhere for a reason."

    Guilty pleasure 

    McKay: Dateline

    I'm funny because...

    McKay: "There's no way I'm answering this."

    Favorite Simpsons character 

    McKay: "Ralph Wiggum because 'I'm learnding' "

    If I met Kim Jong Un, I'd tell him...

    McKay: "It would be much more shocking and disorienting to the world if you became a wise and caring leader."

  • Tina Fey

    Actress-Producer-Writer

    Dan MacMedan/WireImage

    CATEGORY The Legends

    The 30 Rock creator and onetime Sarah Palin impersonator can now add Broadway impresario to her résumé. Her musical adaptation of Mean Girls, which opened 14 years after the Lindsay Lohan film premiered, is a hit, with preview shows selling $1.3 million in tickets before the play officially opened. But as one door opens, others close: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which Fey, 48, has been exec producing, ends its four-season run this year, and her other TV producing project, NBC's Great News, was canceled. But Fey still works in front of the camera; she'll appear in Netflix's Wine Country, the directorial debut of pal Amy Poehler.

  • Donald Glover

    Actor-Comic-Producer-Writer

    Joe Scarnici/FilmMagic

    CATEGORY The Movie Stars

    Playing Lando Calrissian in Solo: A Star Wars Story didn't quite pan out as expected — it's the first Star Wars movie ever to lose money at the box office — but Glover's career is still moving at hyperdrive. He went straight from NYU to writing on 30 Rock, then to a starring role on Community before creating Atlanta for Fox, which earned Glover, 34, best comedy actor and director Emmys in 2017 and gave FX the best ratings for any basic cable comedy this season (with 2.7 million viewers).

    Add to that a 2018 Grammy and 30 million first-week views for the "This is America" video from his musical alter ego Childish Gambino. Up next is a third season of Atlanta and voicing Simba in Disney's live-action Lion King. "How do you know what people want?" he says of how he picks his projects. "Because I want to feel it."

  • Nick Grad and Eric Schrier, FX

    Co-Presidents, FX Networks

    Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

    CATEGORY The Suits

    FX took a big hit this year when Louis C.K. — whose Louie put the network on the comedy map and who was involved behind the scenes with multiple series, including Pamela Adlon's Better Things — severed ties after his sexual-misconduct scandal. But Grad, 48, and Schrier, 42, still have Donald Glover's Atlanta, not to mention It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which is entering its 14th season as the longest-running live-action sitcom (tied with Ozzie and Harriet).

    Favorite Simpsons character 

    Grad: "Comic Book Guy."

    Guilty Pleasure

    Schrier: "Million Dollar Listing."

  • Amy Gravitt, HBO

    Executive VP Programming, HBO

    Getty Images

    CATEGORY The Suits

    Her first job wasn't in an agency mailroom; she was a lieutenant aboard a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier. "It wasn't the normal training for a comedy career," she says, "but it does give you perspective." Later, she worked for George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh at Section 8, then, in 2004, became an executive assistant in HBO's comedy department. Today, at 44, she's the HBO exec overseeing the network's stable of Emmy-winning comedies, including Veep and Silicon Valley.

    The most memorable note she's ever given? "Can we have more screen time with the horses having sex?" she once emailed Mike Judge about an episode of Silicon Valley.

    Sitcom I'd reboot "Who's the Boss?"

  • Dan Harmon

    Producer-Writer

    Getty Images

    CATEGORY The Auteurs

    The years since his tumultuous time showrunning NBC's Community have been a boon to Harmon. The writer-producer, 45, has found one of comedy's most passionate followings with Adult Swim's Rick & Morty (October's finale drew 5 million viewers). The cartoon landed one of the biggest deals of 2018, with Turner committed to 70 more episodes, setting up Rick & Morty to stay on the air for as long as another decade. The cartoon boasts famous fans, and not just other comedy writers: Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss call it their favorite show on TV.

    Elsewhere, Harmon has a popular weekly podcast called Harmontown — where he delivered one of the few praised mea culpas of the #MeToo era when discussing his harassment of Community writer Megan Ganz. (She called it "a masterclass in how to apologize.")

  • Kevin Hart

    Actor-Comic-Writer-Producer

    JB Lacroix/ WireImage

    CATEGORY The Movie Stars

    Three years after becoming the first comedian to sell out an NFL stadium — playing in Philadelphia to 53,000 — Hart, 38, has upped the ante with his current Irresponsible tour: It makes 100 stops across the globe, including the Hollywood Bowl. Hart boasts NBA-style endorsement deals, pulling in $6 million last year through partnerships with brands like Nike and Mountain Dew. The Jumanji star will be back on the big screen this fall starring opposite protege turned phenom Tiffany Haddish in Night School. He also has monster social media followings: 35.2 million on Twitter and 59.5 million on Instagram.

    My most memorable heckler... "I was in a comedy club called Sweet Cheeks when a guy threw a half-eaten chicken wing at me onstage."

    Favorite Simpsons character "Homer. Everybody loves an irresponsible dad."

    Guilty pleasure "I love skin products. I've tried all of them. It's a metro thing. Good skin is a must."

  • Jamila Hunter

    Senior VP Comedy, ABC

    Dipasupil/Getty Images

    CATEGORY The Suits

    Hunter is responsible for the biggest sitcom hit in a decade. Unfortunately, that sitcom is Roseanne. Still, Hunter, 43, says she's proud of what was accomplished with the show before its star's racist tweet got it yanked from the air. "The writers and the team behind it did an amazing job at being true to the essence of what that show did so well," she says. "To me, the episodes still stand as very strong, quality, funny, heartfelt, genuine, authentic."

    Hunter is proud of other successes as well, like Modern Family and Black-ish, and seems to have weathered rough patches with star creator Kenya Barris, who was rumored to be eyeing a deal at Neflix. "We'll continue to work with Kenya," she says.

    If I met Kim Jong-Un I'd tell him... "He should probably try a new barber."

  • Gabriel Iglesias

    Comic

    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    CATEGORY The Arena Fillers

    "I started when there was no internet," says the man known to fans as Fluffy. "You had to make flyers, go to parking lots and look like a creeper putting them on cars." Now Iglesias, 41, gets the word out via his 9 million Facebook fans, who fill arenas like New York's Madison Square Garden and L.A.'s Staples Center.

    "It's like WWE meets the Food Network," he jokes of his performances, adding that he draws inspiration from the pro wrestling circuit. "You put out a good product, people will come out for it." Next up: Mr. Iglesias, a multicamera sitcom for Netflix in which Iglesias plays a high school history teacher — which was his career fallback plan.

    My most memorable heckler experience... "I was in Las Vegas doing my act at the Mirage, and after every punchline, some lady in the crowd would go, 'OH-kay!' And I'd do another bit and she'd go, 'OH-kay!' And I'm like, this is weird. Until finally I said, 'Are you OK?'"

    Dream product endorsement "Volkswagen! I have about 25 cars and microbuses. I have a museum for them. Jay Leno once said, 'Don't you get bored? It's the same car.' And I said, 'Well, no. I want to be known for this. I'm the Volkswagen guy!'"

  • Mike Judge and Alec Berg

    FilmMagic/Getty Images

    CATEGORY The Auteurs

    These three writer-producers make up HBO's comedy brain trust. Berg, 48, a former Seinfeld producer, and Judge, the 55-year-old creator of Beavis and Butt-head and King of the Hill, joined forces to produce the tech industry satire Silicon Valley, which, at the end of its fifth season, has so far racked up 33 Emmy nominations and two wins. Berg also has been working with SNL alum Hader, 40, on the hitman turns actor dramedy Barry — a story of "hope and self-improvement" is how Berg describes it — which just finished its first season.

    Most memorable bombing experience

    Berg: "Pitching ideas to Larry David that he didn't care for. There's no better feeling on earth than making Larry David laugh, but when he just stares at you like you're a moron … Sometimes he'd just look at you and walk away."

    Guilty pleasure

    Berg: "I'm Swedish, so I'm sorta dead inside. All my pleasures are guilty."

  • The Late-Night Hosts

    Jimmy Fallon, John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, James Corden, Samantha Bee, Sarah Silverman, Jimmy Kimmel, Bill Maher, Trevor Noah, Conan O’Brien

    Getty Images

    It used to be easy figuring out who was king of late night. In the olden days, you'd simply add up the number of people watching a show as it aired in real time. Today, that would give Stephen Colbert the title, with 3.8 million viewers a night. But TV these days, like so many things, is much more complicated.

    In fact, for late-night shows, TV is practically becoming irrelevant. The real battle for eyeballs is online, where jokes and bits are viewed billions of times. "It does seem to be the future," notes Seth Meyers, whose Late Night gag about bringing Game of Thrones' Jon Snow to a party has racked up 15.3 million views, four times Colbert's real-time viewership. "So we might as well figure it out."

    For The Daily Show's Trevor Noah, online clips are still a marketing gimmick — "It's like the Swedish meatballs at IKEA; it's not really what they're selling, but it gets people into the door," he says — but others see online as the writing on the wall. "It's not that late night is changing, it's that the way people watch it is changing," says James Corden, whose Late Late Show clips on YouTube have been viewed an astonishing 3 billion times. "When Hugh Grant went on Jay Leno for his big apology [in 1995], it was huge in the ratings. But today, that clip would be watched millions and millions of times."

    So, according to the new math, who is today's talk show king? Hint: it's not Colbert.

    Read the full story here.

  • Norman Lear

    Writer-Producer

    Getty Images

    CATEGORY The Legends

    At 95, the sitcom master builder (and America's social conscience in a sailing hat) has a workload that would exhaust TV writers a third his age. His Cuban-American reimagining of One Day at a Time has been picked up by Netflix for a third season and has won a Peabody Award. He's now working on his first animated show — Nickelodeon's Man of the House — and adapting Rain Pryor's one-woman show, Fried Chicken and Latkes, into a sitcom. He also earned a Kennedy Center honor in 2017.

    If I didn't work in comedy... "Perhaps politics."

  • Chuck Lorre

    Producer-Writer

    Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

    CATEGORY The Auteurs

    The king of the multicamera sitcom had four shows on the air this year, including CBS ratings juggernaut The Big Bang Theory, which wrapped its 11th season in May, and prequel spinoff Young Sheldon. At 65, he's been a fixture on the broadcast comedy landscape for decades, working on everything from Grace Under Fire to Two and a Half Men. But — fun fact — he began his career as a songwriter, penning the Debbie Harry hit "French Kissin' in the USA," before getting his start in comedy in the Roseanne writers room. His first foray into streaming — Disjointed for Netflix — was canceled after its first season, but he already has a follow-up at the streamer, The Kominsky Method, starring Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin.

    If I could reboot one sitcom "My Mother the Car."

    My most memorable bombing experience... "Playing guitar in Spike Jones Jr.'s band as the warm-up act for Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Shari and the sock puppet killed. We did not."

  • Seth MacFarlane

    Actor-Producer-Writer

    Getty Images

    CATEGORY The Auteurs

    20th Century Fox TV may not be a stable environment for writers as the studio prepares to be absorbed by Disney, but one talent whose job is safe is MacFarlane. The 44-year-old's lucrative Family Guy recently passed 300 episodes on Fox, while American Dad remains a top-rated offering on TBS after 15 seasons. The multihyphenate creator, who frequently tours to support his side gig as a swing musician, most recently shifted his focus to acting. He stars in Fox's space dramedy The Orville, renewed for a second run after ranking as one of the top 10 launches of the 2017-18 broadcast season.

    If I didn't work in comedy... "I would be a fighter pilot. I had an incredible kill rate at the Academy, but the secretary of defense said, 'He's too funny. Fox needs him more than we do.'"

    If I could reboot one sitcom "Not sure, but we need more Sheldon at every stage of life. We should have Zygote SheldonToddler SheldonMiddle-Aged SheldonElderly Sheldon ('Eld Sheld'). We should even have a live webcam in Sheldon's grave so we can watch him decompose. We gotta suck all the marrow out of Sheldon."

  • The Managers

    Peter Principato, David Miner, Dave Becky, Christie Smith, Michael Lasker

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    CATEGORY The Advocates

    These sherpas guide some of the biggest names in comedy, landing endorsements, book deals, personal appearances and in general maximizing their revenue streams. Principato's Artists First helps steer talent of many people on this list, including Michael Showalter (Principato's first client), Tiffany Haddish, Kenya Barris and Kate McKinnon. Miner and Becky at 3 Arts helped Tina Fey get Mean Girls off the ground, Kevin Hart set up Night School at Universal and Mike Schur's Brooklyn Nine-Nine get a second chance on NBC ("It was the moment of the year," says Miner). At Rise, Smith signed Alison Brie to her breakout role in GLOW, while Lasker at Mosaic saw Kumail Nanjiani get nominated for an Oscar in 2017.

    Guilty Pleasure

    Smith: "Canceling lunch."

    Favorite Simpsons Character

    Miner: "Ned Flanders, because his children hug him (My daughter wrote that joke)."

  • Melissa McCarthy

    Actress-Producer

    JB Lacroix/WireImage

    CATEGORY The Movie Stars

    One of the few actors to receive an Oscar nomination for a comedic performance (2012's Bridesmaids), McCarthy, 47, is also among the select stars who can open a film, with lifetime grosses of more than $1.1 billion. No wonder she was 2017's fourth-highest-paid actress ($18 million). She produces and co-writes (with husband Ben Falcone) most of her projects, including this year's Life of the Party. She's also one of Saturday Night Live's most popular guests — her Sean Spicer impersonation netted her second Emmy. McCarthy works blue in her next movie, the hard-R-rated puppet comedy The Happytime Murders, in theaters Aug. 17.

  • Kate McKinnon

    Actress-Comic

    Mike Coppola/Getty Images

    CATEGORY The New Players

    The 34-year-old Saturday Night Live castmember broke out during the 2016 election thanks to her surprisingly poignant Hillary Clinton impersonation, not to mention her killer Kellyanne Conway and Jeff Sessions (which helped her win an Emmy last year). She's also building a busy film career, starring in 2017's all-female Ghostbusters remake with Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig and Leslie Jones. Up next is a turn opposite Mila Kunis in Lionsgate's summer buddy comedy The Spy Who Dumped Me and a soon-to-shoot untitled comedy for Danny Boyle that will be released sometime in 2019. McKinnon will also be doing the voice of Miss Frizzle in Netflix's reboot of the classic kids show The Magic School Bus.

  • Lorne Michaels

    Producer

    D Dipasupil/FilmMagic

    CATEGORY The Legends

    Few people have had as much impact on comedy as Saturday Night Live's ringmaster, who's overseen the show for its 43-year run (minus four years in the early '80s). The past two seasons have seen SNL's best ratings in 23 years (it averaged 9.9 million viewers this season). He recently moved his movie deal from Paramount (where he'd been for three decades) to Universal (where he's making Baby Nurse) but has reupped his TV pact at NBC, where he's signed up through SNL's 50th season. Plus, Michaels, 73, has been exec producer on The Tonight Show and Late Night since SNL alums Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers took over the franchises.

  • Kumail Nanjiani

    Actor-Comic-Producer-Writer

    Getty Images

    CATEGORY The New Players

    The 40-year-old Pakistan-born comic actor has been wearing lots of tuxedos lately. His 2017 film The Big Sick, which he co-wrote with wife Emily V. Gordon, earned him an Oscar nomination last year for best original screenplay (and grossed $56 million worldwide), while his Emmy winning HBO show, Silicon Valley, wrapped up its fifth season. He also made his Saturday Night Live hosting debut in October and has been landing large parts in big-budget movies alongside major stars, like Voyage of Doctor Dolittle at Universal, in which he'll be acting opposite Marion Cotillard, Ralph Fiennes and Robert Downey Jr.

    My most memorable heckler... "I remember each one. But the most memorable was probably the one where someone yelled, "Where's Osama?" (This was obviously a few years ago.) I said, "I don't know. He stopped coming to the meetings." It was the first time I remember coming back at a heckler with any kind of success. Now I hope someone heckles me. Wait, no. Scratch that. I still don't want to be heckled."

  • Lisa Nishimura and Jane Wiseman

    VP Original Documentary and Comedy Programming; VP Original Series, Netflix

    Getty Images (2)

    CATEGORY The Suits

    With Nishimura, 46, Netflix has changed the comedy game special by special — from Dave Chappelle's massive $60 million comeback deal to launching Ali Wong's career (she netted nearly $2 million in touring grosses in 2017 on the popularity of 2016's Baby Cobra). "We're all comedy nerds, so we live for this," she says. Under Wiseman, 46, scripted series like Grace and FrankieGLOW and Norman Lear's One Day at a Time have upped the streamer's prestige factor.

  • Will Packer

    Producer

    Getty Images

    CATEGORY The Auteurs

    The mega-producer's movies have collectively grossed more than $1 billion at the box office. Last summer's Girls Trip was the sleeper hit of the year, catapulting Tiffany Haddish to superstar status. Packer, 44, is teaming again with Haddish — as well as with frequent collaborator Kevin Hart — for Night School, out Sept. 28. Also in the works: What Men Want with Taraji P. Henson, Little with Black-ish's Marsai Martin and Issa Rae and an Amazon alt-history drama, Black America, about a post-Civil War South run by newly freed slaves.

    Guilty pleasure "Watching bad stand-ups at black comedy clubs, no courtesy laughs. Brutal!"

    If I could reboot one sitcom "What's Happening!!"

  • Amy Poehler

    Actress-Producer-Writer

    Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

    CATEGORY The Movie Stars

    Since saying farewell to Parks and Recreation's Leslie Knope in 2015, the 46-year-old Saturday Night Live alum and Upright Citizens Brigade founder has shifted behind the scenes as a prolific producer for next-gen talent, bringing hip comedies like Difficult People (canceled last year but not before show­casing Billy Eichner, Julie Klausner and Cole Escola) and Broad City to the small screen. She's next directing her first feature for Netflix — Wine Country, a Napa-set girls trip in which she also stars alongside SNL pals Tina Fey and Maya Rudolph — and is executive producing the NBC sitcom I Feel Bad, which touts Poehler's name, and sterling track record, in promo materials.

    My most memorable heckler... "Who cares? The whole world is on fire."

    Dream product endorsement "A giant whale just died in Thailand after eating 80 plastic bags."

    Guilty pleasure "Let's not forget over 4,600 people have died in Puerto Rico."

    I'm funny because... "I don't even know anymore."

    If I didn't work in comedy... "I would never leave my house."

    College comedy audiences are… "Kids that are afraid they will be shot in their own schools. What has happened to us?"

    Sitcom you'd reboot? "Mr. Rogers. I miss him. We need him."

    The funniest thing about the Trump administration is… "Are you kidding me?"

  • Issa Rae

    Actress-Writer-Producer

    Michael Tran/Getty Images

    CATEGORY The New Players

    She parlayed a popular web series (YouTube's "Awkward Black Girl") into an HBO series (Insecure) about the daily travails of an African-American woman. Along the way, she's picked up a Peabody Award, two Golden Globe nominations and a slew of new HBO projects in development, including a family series set in the 1990s that Rae describes as a "black 90210" and a comedy about a bisexual man.

    But the 33-year-old Stanford grad, who majored in African and African-American Studies, says her life hasn't really changed all that much. "I don't consider myself famous," she says. "I'm not at a Rihanna or Beyonce level. I can walk into a grocery store just fine."

    My most memorable heckler... "It was in ninth grade. I took an improv class and presented a made-up character for the entire class and it just ... wasn't great. And the teacher made things worse by making an example of me. 'Class, was that funny? No, it wasn't. Let's talk about why it wasn't funny.' And I had to stand up in front of everyone while they picked apart why my shit wasn't funny. Super humbling."

  • Chris Rock

    Actor-Comic

    Donna Ward/FilmMagic

    CATEGORY The Legends

    Rock took home $57 million last year, according to Forbes, a big chunk of that from stand-up. "The road got really lucrative," the 53-year-old comic tells THR. "When I started, people were doing stand-up to get out of stand-up. They were like, 'How fast can I get a TV show?' Now, people actually want to be stand-ups."

    They especially want to be stand-ups with Netflix specials; Rock's 2016 two-concert deal with the streamer reportedly earned him $40 million (the first concert debuted in February). But there's more to life than a microphone and a brick wall: Rock also directs (Top Five) and acts, starring in 2017 alongside Adam Sandler and Jennifer Hudson in Netflix's Sandy Wexler. He's about to begin production on Spinning Gold, a biopic about 1970s record producer Neil Bogart co-starring Justin Timberlake.

    Sitcom I'd reboot "The Jeffersons. Best show ever."

    A joke I wish I'd written is... "Adam Carolla told one the other night that had me screaming. I'm fucking up the joke — but it's basically like: Every week, there's some new excuse to go to a kid's school. Why am I always at my kid's school? My dad was at my school one time my whole life. He stuck his head in the door while I was taking a test and said, 'Where's the wrench?' That cracked me up."

    My most memorable heckler experience... "I don't deal with hecklers anymore, I just get off the stage. It's a new day. I guess some people can be trash hecklers, but I ignore them. If you're mean to somebody onstage now, people lose their minds. I probably ended two shows early last year because someone was upset. And I was like, 'I'm not going to be violently taken out of context.'"

  • Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg

    Creative Partners

    Mike Windle/Getty Images

    CATEGORY The Movie Stars

    2017's The Disaster Artist was anything but catastrophic for the childhood friends and producing partners; the film scored Golden Globe and Oscar nominations. This year's raunchy comedy Blockers grossed nearly $90 million worldwide off a budget of just $21 million. Next year, Rogen and Goldberg, both 36, will release a political comedy called Flarsky, starring Andy Serkis and Charlize Theron, and head into production on a comedy pilot for CBS. They're also working on a big-screen adaptation of Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman's comic Invincible.

    If we didn't work in comedy...

    "The siren song of bovine-related architecture beckoned us since we were children, but the field proved intimidatingly competitive. As kids, we entered a bovine architecture competition — it did not go well. Our project was a three-bedroom house with a detached guest room/office that could double as a pool house (should the cow who ultimately occupied the space decide to go through the permitting necessary to install the pool). It was a dream. However, that dream would quickly turn to a nightmare. On the day of the final presentation, we had actual heifers walk through the space to be the judges of the final product. Well, we don't know if it was our avant-garde approach to layout or the use of deliberately conflicting materials, but this cow hated our dwelling and even had the gall to defecate in the sunken living quarters. Well, needless to say, we completely lost it. One of us bear-hugged the cow to restrain it while the other bludgeoned him repeatedly with a halibut that happened to be judging a nearby beauty pageant. Just know that architecturally pretentious heifer never defecated in the sunken living quarters of two children in a bovine-related architectural contest again."

  • Adam Sandler

    Actor-Comic-Producer

    Getty Images

    CATEGORY The Movie Stars

    The '90s comedy giant — star of such beloved classics as Billy Madison and The Wedding Singer — is, at 51, making the most of middle age. In 2014, he signed Netflix's first mega deal — four pictures for a whopping $250 million — and in 2017 re-upped for four more. He's still performing live, too, selling out clubs with longtime pals David Spade and Rob Schneider for a 2018 tour that grossed $2.5 million.

  • Amy Schumer

    Actress-Comic-Writer

    Steve Granitz/WireImage

    CATEGORY The Movie Stars

    Schumer, 37, parlayed her groundbreaking Comedy Central series Inside Amy Schumer into a film career, lucrative endorsement deals (Budweiser, Old Navy), a packed arena tour, a Tony nom and a publishing pact (her 2016 memoir The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo spent a couple of weeks on top of the New York Times best-seller list). Trainwreck, her 2015 debut feature — which she wrote and Judd Apatow directed — grossed more than $140 million worldwide, while this year's I Feel Pretty has pulled in close to $50 million. And when Netflix began handing out $20 million checks to male comedians for stand-up specials, she quietly renegotiated her own previous $11 million pact with the streaming service.

  • Michael Schur

    Producer-Writer

    Getty Images

    CATEGORY The Auteurs

    Arguably NBC's most valuable writer-producer who isn't named Dick Wolf, the 42-year-old showrunner is currently pro­ducing three sitcoms for the network: The Good Place, Brooklyn Nine-Nine (picked up by NBC after getting canceled at Fox) and newcomer Abby's. Schur has written and produced for a bunch of people on this list (like Amy Poehler) and has groomed a slew of young showrunners in his writers rooms (Dan Goor, Alan Yang). Bonus points for sharing industry scuttle (and baseball insight) on his popular KenTremendous Twitter feed.

    The funniest thing about the Trump administration... "Their haircuts! They all have such bad haircuts. It's like, who styled these people, am I right? Do they even have mirrors? Oh man, their haircuts are all so, so, so silly. Another funny thing about the administration is that it is rife with corrupt fascists who are undermining the basic pillars of democracy."

  • Jerry Seinfeld

    Comic

    Courtesy of Netflix

    CATEGORY The Legends

    The mainstream comedian — his sitcom's 1998 finale drew 76 million viewers — has been going niche. His Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, in which Seinfeld, 64, takes mini road trips with the likes of David Letterman, Alec Baldwin and Barack Obama, notched 100 million streams on Sony's Crackle and, in 2017, helped Seinfeld score a very mainstream $100 million deal at Netflix in a pact that includes two stand-up specials as well as all future and back episodes of Cars (the next season launches July 6). He also continues to do stand-up, with more than 100 dates a year.

  • The Stand-Ups on the Rise

    Michelle Wolf, Ali Wong, John Mulaney

    Getty Images

    CATEGORY The Arena Fillers

    They are the hottest trio in stand-up. Wong, 36, spent a decade slogging on the circuit, posting tickets to her shows on Groupon to fill seats. Then in 2016, Netflix gave her a stand-up special, Baby Cobra, and put rocket boots on her career (she's netted $1.8 mil­lion in touring revenue in the past 12 months). Similarly, it took just one gig — the White House Correspondents Dinner in April, which has since been viewed by 6.6 million on YouTube — to make Wolf, 32, a cause celebre in the comedy world, with Seth MacFarlane and Jimmy Kimmel jumping to the former Daily Show correspondent's defense (her Netflix talk show started streaming May 27). And former SNL writer Mulaney, 35, took a big step into the spotlight by hosting the show April 14, in a characteristically weird-funny episode that included a Les Mis-style tribute to ordering lobster at a diner.

    If I met Kim Jong-Un I'd tell him...

    Wolf: "I wouldn't tell him anything, I'd just give him a Netflix account. It's hard to blow up the world when you're knee deep in The Great British Bakeoff."

    Guilty pleasure

    Wong: "Instant Shin Ramuyn. The list of ingredients is longer than Shantaram."

    Dream product endorsement

    Wolf: "Nike. But if Adidas wants to counter, I'm listening."

    If I didn't work in comedy...

    Wong: "I'd follow Beyonce on tour."

  • Michael Showalter

    Actor-Director-Writer

    Michael Kovac/Getty Images

    CATEGORY The Auteurs

    First shooting to prominence as a member of '90s-era MTV sketch comedy show The State, Showalter has established himself as a go-to comedy director with 2017's The Big Sick. He also co-created both Wet Hot American Summer, the cult comedy turned Netflix series, and TBS' mystery comedy Search Party, renewed for a third season. Next, he's been tapped by Universal to helm a Christmas buddy pic starring Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer.

    A joke I wish I'd written is... "I saw Colin Quinn tell this joke one night: He's riding on an elevator. His floor is the 11th floor. Another person gets in and pushes a floor below the 11th. He's infuriated and he's thinking to himself, 'Do you not see that I have very important business on the 11th floor?!'"

  • The Talent Agents

    Ayala Cohen, Matt Rice, Jason Heyman, Sharon Jackson, Rachel Rusch, Richard Weitz

    Getty Images(2); Courtesy of subject(4)

    CATEGORY The Advocates

    Former SNL talent department head Cohen moved to ICM — but still works with Pete Davidson and Cecily Strong, while UTA's Heyman scores roles for Will Ferrell, Chris Pratt and Zach Galifianakis. WME's Jackson set up Amy Poehler's directorial debut, Wine Country, and reps Jonah Hill and Fred Armisen, while agency partner Weitz handles Tina Fey and Ricky Gervais. CAA's Rusch, who works with James Corden, negotiated Trevor Noah a massive Viacom production pact and five-year deal at The Daily Show. And Rice's UTA roster includes many names on this list, among them Alec Berg, Bill Hader, Mike Schur and Seth Rogen. All these reps specialize not just in finding and nurturing comedic talent, but making sure their established stars remain relevant.

    If I met Kim Jong-Un I'd tell him...

    Cohen: "Please don't hack my email."

  • The Touring Agents

    Mike Berkowitz, Matt Blake, Steve Levine, Nick Nuciforo

    Courtesy of Subject (2); Getty Images (2)

    CATEGORY The Advocates

    These days, when comics can make tens of millions on the road, these touring agents know every club and arena on the map — and tailor their clients' itinerary to find the perfect fit. WME's Berkowitz helped Amy Schumer become the first female comic to sell out Madison Square Garden and counts Aziz Ansari and Kumail Nanjiani among his stable. UTA's Nuciforo plots Ali Wong, Sarah Silverman and Jeff Dunham's careers. ICM's Levine scored Chris Rock his Netflix specials, and CAA's Matt Blake reps Gabriel Iglesias, Trevor Noah and Jo Koy.

    College comedy audiences are...

    Nuciforo: "Far too politically correct!"

    Guilty pleasure

    Levine: "I don't feel guilty, I'm an agent."

    If I didn't work in comedy...

    Berkowitz: "Rock star. This is all a ruse to get my demo tape in the right hands."

  • Geof Wills

    President of Comedy, Live Nation

    Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for Comedy Central

    CATEGORY The Suits

    If you’re a touring stand-up, there’s a good chance Wills, 55, has booked at least a few of your dates. As the industry’s top promoter, he does 800 to 900 shows a year and has proved integral to the careers of such acts as Kevin Hart, Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock.

    This story first appeared in the June 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.