No. no. no. It’s not funny. I mean, heroin production up in Afghanistan? Where’s the joke? I don’t get it.”
It’s a slow Coke-slurping Friday for the writers of The Onion, who slouch sleepily in their new offices, located, hilariously enough, across from a Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation. They sit amid just the kind of pop-culture flotsam you’d imagine would dot the home of the satiric weekly—a Bart Simpson toy in a Star Wars landspeeder, a still of Dom DeLuise from Going Bananas, a clipping of Osama bin Laden artfully pasted over a light switch—and slowly sling ideas back and forth. The cinder-block room, windowless and populated by six midwestern hipsters, could literally be anywhere, except for the small, handwritten note by the door:
”Welcome to New York!”
As any resident—and, heck, simple common sense—can tell you, New York hasn’t exactly felt like the laugh capital of the world recently. But ironically, that’s just what it’s become. Long the home of TV luminaries like Conan O’Brien, David Letterman, and Chris Rock, the metropolis has become home to a flood of up-and-coming talent (including the recently transplanted Onion) in the last few years, making NYC a place where good comedy—normally as hard to find as a gazelle sprinting down Broadway—can be had every night.
”We’re at a high-water mark,” says Eddie Brill, comedy talent coordinator for Late Show With David Letterman. ”In the ’60s, comedy was phenomenal, with Woody Allen, Lenny Bruce, and Albert Brooks. The ’70s were off. The ’80s were a boom. The ’90s were flat. But right now? I’ve never seen a better time for comedy in New York.”
”I’ve checked out improv in a lot of cities lately, and New York is doing the greatest job turning out talent,” says Horatio Sanz of Saturday Night Live. ”It’s become the third place to see comedy, along with L.A. and Chicago.”
As with everything else, the city presents a staggering set of options. Want TV? All five comedy-variety shows that received 2001 Emmy nominations for writing (Letterman, Conan, Chris Rock, SNL, and—this year’s winner—The Daily Show) are based in New York. Improv? The Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) Theatre. Underground stand-up? Luna Lounge. Mainstream? How about the new Madison Square Garden space, where Jerry Lewis will be making his first concert appearance in the city since 1953?
”All those places, all great,” says Janeane Garofalo. ”There is a very healthy community, especially for the discerning audience.”
”As you know, I sit on the board of the alternative comedy scene,” chuckles comedian, writer, and producer David Cross (Mr. Show, Men in Black 2), who moved to New York’s East Village from Los Angeles in May. ”And I can tell you, audiences don’t let you get away with being lazy here. You have to take risks.” Adds actress and playwright Amy Sedaris: ”My brother [humorist David Sedaris] and I have been asked to move our plays to Los Angeles and we’ve said no. L.A. is a showcase—it’s about trying to get noticed.”