One of the great pleasures of a festival is getting to revisit some of your favourite artists. Another is to check out performers making their first foray into the local market.
Who doesn’t want to see Jim Gaffigan, Trevor Noah, Sarah Silverman, Moshe Kasher, Tom Segura, Iliza Schlesinger, Brian Posehn, Andy Kindler, or Chris D’Elia? But they’ve all been here before.
A trio of rising stars playing the Biltmore Cabaret highlight some of the new faces coming to the JFL NorthWest Comedy Festival. Aparna Nancherla, Michelle Wolf, and Fortune Feimster have something else in common: they’re all hilarious. And hilariously unique. Oh, and they’re all women.
Nancherla and Wolf both have been staff writers on Late Night With Seth Meyers, while Feimster wrote for Chelsea Lately. But performing is more fun.
“I just learned that I write in a pretty specific voice that doesn’t necessarily cover, like, a middle-aged white male’s perspective,” says Nancherla, who wrote monologue jokes for Meyers. “Which is, you know, not a good or bad thing; it just is what it is.”
Wolf has a new writing gig on The Daily Show With Trevor Noah, as well. She came to comedy after a banking job on Wall Street. It’s been a quick and steady rise for her since she started doing improv in 2008 before transitioning to standup.
“I worked at a job where I was working 12 to 14 hours a day, six to seven days a week, and doing comedy at night,” she says. “I eventually switched over to standup because I didn’t like how after an improv show you were just done with it.” After only a couple of years, she was hired by Late Night.
Feimster, who started out in sketch comedy, was introduced to North America on Season 7 of Last Comic Standing, when she was but two-and-a-half years into her career. “I got an amazing opportunity very early on in standup to show people that I could tell jokes and be funny, but I did not have the material to go any further than that. So they gave me a platform and the perfect amount of time. Anything more than that would have been a disservice to me.”
All three cast a wide net with their comedy, attracting fans from outside their own racial, sexual, or political groups. The quirky Nancherla is the offspring of Indian immigrants to the U.S., both doctors. But she doesn’t make race a big part of her act. “I never really felt inclined to talk about racial stuff,” she says. “I grew up in a pretty diverse area right outside of D.C. I feel like I was sheltered from a lot of racial issues. I talk about it a little bit more but I would say it wasn’t something I gravitated toward from the beginning. It’s something I don’t lead with in my day-to-day life, so I think that crosses over into how I present myself in standup.”
Nancherla likes to end her set with a PowerPoint presentation. “It’s just a medium I think is funny; the seriousness with which it takes itself is funny to me,” she says. “The more anxiety-ridden side of that is that it’s a nice way to break up talking to people for an hour. I feel like I tend to hit a wall around 40 minutes where I’m tired of hearing my own voice.”
Feimster, who also starred in The Mindy Project, is a lesbian but isn’t doing agenda-driven comedy. “I would say my audiences are about 60 percent straight people and about 40 percent gay people,” she says. “I never wanted to be a comedian that only appealed to one type of person; I always wanted my comedy to be relatable to everybody. I get plenty of love from the gay community, which is really awesome, but thanks to Chelsea Handler and Mindy Kaling, I get a lot of straight audiences coming to my show as well.”
She doesn’t shy away from the topic, but also tells stories of her family and growing up in the South, among other things. “I’m a big girl so I talk about being a chubby comedian,” she says. “I just tell stories that I think are funny and hope that people find them funny as well.”
And if you follow Wolf on Twitter (@michelleisawolf), you’ll see she doesn’t avoid politics, and you know where she stands. But she welcomes both sides to her live shows. “If I’m doing political stuff, I try to write jokes where it doesn’t matter who you support or voted for, you would still find funny,” she says. “Because if you go too far in one direction, you’ve alienated potentially half your audience. I wouldn’t want to do that. You never know why someone voted for Trump. There’s a good portion of people that voted for Trump because it was a Hail Mary pass. They might not have had jobs for years and they need food on the table and they thought, ‘This is different and I’m desperate.’ So you can’t blame those people for wanting something to change.”
She says her show goes from broad social issues to more personal ones. “We’ll cover a lot of fun stuff. Some politics, some terrorism stuff, some dating stuff. You know, the whole gamut.”
See Fortune Feimster on Friday (February 17), Michelle Wolf on Sunday (February 19), and Aparna Nancherla next Saturday (February 25) at the Biltmore Cabaret as part of the JFL NorthWest Comedy Festival.