Seaton Smith hosts Night Train at Littlefield with John Mulaney, Eugene Mirman, More
Every Monday night at Littlefield (a small performance and art space in Gowanus, Brooklyn, on the border of both Park Slope and Carroll Gardens) The Daily Show’s Wyatt Cenac hosts a comedy show called Night Train, where 6-8 comedians take 10-20 minute turns trying to entertain the audience while working on their material. Littlefield is a simple space – a converted warehouse with a stage, a bar and some folding chairs – and so is the perfect atmosphere for some informal stand-up comedy. Coincidentally, I’d been to the space once before – for the Vinyl Revolution Record Show – but last night was my first time there for a performance. Even though Cenac was replaced for the evening with guest host Seaton Smith (whom I’d never heard of) I was drawn to the show by the two headlining performers – John Mulaney and Eugene Mirman. (The $8 cover charge didn’t hurt either. Tickets to see Mulaney perform on November 9 at Town Hall in NYC cost over $50.) This weekly event is another example of why comedy in New York City / Brooklyn cannot be beat; every Monday night top-notch up and coming comedians perform to an intimate crowd for less than the cost of lunch and – even with an unusually strong lineup on a beautiful summer night – walk-up tickets were available. Last night’s performers were particularly hilarious, as many of the unknown quantities were just as funny as headliners Mulaney and Mirman. So with a night of Night Train behind me, here’s a quick rundown of some up and coming young comedians worth keeping an eye on:
- John Mulaney – In the world of comedy Mulaney is far from an unknown quantity. His star is rising at a meteoric pace, in large part thanks to his former position as a writer for Saturday Night Live, including co-writing the incomparable Stefon character played by Bill Hader. It’s unclear to me why Mulaney never went from writer to actor on SNL (a path taken by many to ultimate stardom, including most recently Jason Sudeikis) but having seen him perform live now three times I am sure that once he gets his opportunity in front of the camera he will become a household name shortly thereafter.
Best comedic comparison: Jerry Seinfeld. Obviously Mulaney isn’t Seinfeld, but his use of his voice and shifting cadence to make the joke land, as well as his effortless observational humor are all Seinfeld-like. SNL‘s Seth Meyers is also a good comp.
Representative bit: Doing What His Girlfriend Says.
- Eugene Mirman – Like Mulaney, unknown to the world at large but well-known within comedy circles. (Mirman pretty much runs the comedy scene in Brooklyn.) Mirman has a great voice, which has led to roles on animated series like Bob’s Burgers. His two main skills are story-telling – Mirman will get on stage and make a single 10-minute story his entire bit – and understanding how comedy works. For this reason, he is a great host and organizes multiple annual festivals across the country, bringing together some of the best young voices in comedy. [The 6th annual Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival in Brooklyn runs from September 26th through 29th, and features, among others, Kristen Schaal, Jon Benjamin, Ira Glass, Wyatt Cenac, Jim Gaffigan, and Kurt Braunohler.]
Best comedic comparison: Marc Maron, but in a nicer version. As a friend to other comedians, Mirman (like Maron) should have a long successful career that stays somewhat under the radar.
Representative bit: Eugene battles Time Warner Cable. (Skip ahead to the 3:12 mark in this video.)
- Seaton Smith – I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone talk as fast as Seaton Smith, but whatever he’s doing, it works. Smith seems to be going at a million miles per hour but the audience can (mostly) keep up as his material is extremely accessible. Smith’s act consisted of some basic material, like living as a black man in Williamsburg, growing up kind of poor (but no so poor) and misadventures trying to get an acting job. He’s not breaking new ground, but his angle (hipster black man but with just a little attitude) is fresh. I’m not sure why Smith hasn’t gotten the movie or television role he so desperately craves (his last “role” was as a stand-in for Chris Rock!), other than the sneaking feeling that based on appearance casting directors think they’re getting Rock, when they’re really getting Donald Glover.
Best comedic comparison: Glover. But you wouldn’t know it by looking at him.
Representative bit: Black spelling bee.
- Matt Koff – Normally I’m in favor of comedians erring on the side of being as weird as possible, but with Koff I found myself leaning the other way. Overall he probably had the best set of the night. I laughed harder for the first 7 minutes or so of Koff’s time on stage than at any other point of the night. However, in his last 3 minutes Koff did his own spin on some “Your Mama” jokes followed by a weird bit about mail-order marmalade, both of which felt out of place. Once he focuses his act a little bit, Koff is going to be a consistent comedian and actor.
Best comedic comparison: Hard to say. Koff writes for The Daily Show and in the past has written for the Onion News Network and The Newlywed Game. That should give you a sense of his quirky sense of humor. Kind of like a calmer Zach Galifianakis.
Representative bit: Newspaper runs the wrong horoscope. (Skip ahead to the 3:38 mark in this video, though from this point forward it’s all short funny jokes worth watching.)
- Ahmed Bharoocha – Comedians who rely on their ethnicity for their humor don’t often work for me. Bharoocha is an exception to that rule, probably because of his unique mix, being part Irish Catholic, part Pakistani Muslim. It’s almost impossible to not be funny growing up in that kind of environment. It also may be a result of him coming on stage and immediately launching into a bit about baby crows that drew the biggest applause of the night. If he’d done nothing else and just walked off stage after that bit his night would have been a success.
Best comedic comparison: Aziz Ansari. This seems obvious because of the racial component, but both Ansari and Bharoocha get a lot of mileage out of being quite different than their race would suggest.
Representative bit: God’s Children (below) and also “crow flight training program” linked above.
- Sean Donnelly – His material is pretty vanilla, so I’m not sure he’s unique enough to stand out from his peers and get beyond the world of stand-up comedy. That said, on any given weekday night I’d be happy to have Donnelly in a lineup I was planning to see. He’s in tune to how people think, and his voice and appearance combine to make his comedy funnier than it would otherwise be.
Best comedic comparison: Jim Norton.
Representative bit: Netflix streaming and Murder She Wrote. (Skip ahead to approximately the 2:25 mark in this video.)