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Comedy’s New Wave

Eight rising stars guaranteed to keep you laughing for years

aziz ansari comedy packet rs1139

Chris McPherson

On Parks and Recreation, centered on a charmingly dysfunctional city hall in Pawnee, Indiana, Aziz Ansari plays Tom Haverford, a bottle-service-loving, wanna-be big fish in a small pond. "He wants to be Russell Simmons, but he's too scared to go to a big city," Ansari says. "He's doing stuff he sees rappers doing, and it's not impressing anyone but himself, but he's doing it. That's really sweet and funny to me." 

Like Tom, Ansari, 28, grew up in a small town (Bennettsville, South Carolina, pop. 9,425), where he was the only Indian kid in his school. Unlike Tom, Ansari leapt his small pond the first chance he got, enrolling at NYU as a marketing major. His heart wasn't in it, and after people kept telling him he was funny, he tried stand-up. He hustled his way up from five-minute slots to hosting entire evenings. On the strength of his stand-up buzz, Ansari was able to co-write and co-star on a daffy, unhinged MTV sketch show, Human Giant, which ran for two seasons; MTV offered a third, but Ansari was already planning to move to L.A., where he was hired on to Parks and Rec

He's never had any interest in "ethnic comedy" – but at the same time, being an outsider is a motif in Ansari's work, as in the (true) bit he used to do about hanging with Kanye West and Jay-Z. In the bit, which is several years old, he plays tour guide, ushering us into a glamorous world where he doesn't fit.

His distance from that world has shrunk. West and Jay-Z invited Ansari to join them while they were making Watch the Throne. Now that he actually counts those guys as his friends, Ansari says, "I don't talk about stuff like that as much in my comedy. Part of it is, I don't want them to be like, 'He's always telling stories.' " 

By Jonah Weiner

Click to read the entire Comedy's New Wave feature in Rolling Stone.

melissa mccarthy comedy packet

MELISSA MCCARTHY is Megan in ?Bridesmaids?. In the comedy, Kristen Wiig stars a maid of honor whose life unravels as she leads her best friend and a group of colorful bridesmaids on a wild ride down the road to matrimony.

Suzanne Hanover/Universal Pictures

Melissa McCarthy: Runaway Bridesmaid

Melissa McCarthy in real life: sweet and gracious, with a voice just a few decibels above a whisper. Melissa McCarthy as Megan, the groom's sister in Bridesmaids: a take-no-prisoners alpha gal who bites Kristen Wiig on the ass, attempts to seduce an air marshal on a flight to Vegas, and, most memorably, copes with a gastrointestinal emergency at a hoity-toity bridal shop by hiking up her dress, planting herself on a bathroom sink and shouting, "Look away!"

Megan was McCarthy's breakout role: a performance funnier, filthier and more gloriously over-the-top than anything she'd done on Gilmore Girls (where she played Lauren Graham's best friend for seven years) or Mike & Molly, the fairly conventional sitcom she co-stars in on CBS. 

"Kristen Wiig told us that Melissa was the funniest person she knew, but I was not familiar with her," admits Judd Apatow, who produced Bridesmaids. Apatow also cast McCarthy in his upcoming, untitled project, as a mom who becomes a rival of Leslie Mann, and encouraged her to vent her hostility. "Apparently, I love to swear," McCarthy says. "It was so therapeutic. I'll never have road rage again."

Says Apatow, "I definitely do not know anyone funnier."

By Gavin Edwards

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NEW YORK, NY - MAY 17: Josh Gad promotes "The Book of Mormon" original Broadway cast recording at Eugene O'Neill Theatre on May 17, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Paul Zimmerman/WireImage)

Paul Zimmerman/WireImage

Josh Gad: The Manic Nerd

Almost every day, Josh Gad gets a nearly identical e-mail from a friend or family member he hasn't spoken to in years. "It always goes, 'I know you must hear this a lot, but . . . can you get me tickets to Book of Mormon?' " he says. "I tell them, 'Sorry, even I can't get tickets.' " The runaway popularity of the Matt Stone-Trey Parker Broadway musical – which stars Gad as Elder Cunningham, a sci-fi-addicted missionary trying to convert a village of Ugandans to Mormonism – has made Gad a breakout star. 

Gad plays Elder Cunningham as a whirlwind of loquacious-geek energy, whether explaining Mormonism as a mix of Star Wars, Star Trek and The Lord of the Rings, or suggesting the Africans fuck frogs to cure AIDS. "I was expecting there to be major protests by Mormons," says Gad. "But the show has such a good heart that people looked beyond the edginess and saw a great, old-fashioned musical."

Gad's career took off six years ago with the Broadway musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Before that, he endured a string of rejections that nearly drove him out of acting. "I auditioned for Saturday Night Live four times, but never got past the first phase," Gad says. "When I got cast in Spelling Bee, I was about to take the LSAT."

By Andy Greene

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LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 20: Rapper Childish Gambino hanging out backstage at the 8th annual Rock The Bells festival sponsored by Reebok at San Manuel Amphitheater on August 20, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jerod Harris/WireImage)

Jerod Harris/WireImage

Donald Glover: The Triple Threat

Donald Glover was voted "Most Likely to Write for The Simpsons" in his high school yearbook – which was ironic, considering his mom wouldn't let him watch the show. "But she let me watch the Muppets, which fucked up my brain more," he says. "Like, 'Don't watch this show written by Harvard graduates. Watch this thing made by hippies on drugs!' "

Maybe he owes Mom a thank-you. Glover's humor is all Muppet-ish sweetness mixed with Simpsons raunch. Take Community, the sitcom in which he stars as Troy, a dimwitted jock-turned-nerd – a role that's helped make Glover, at 27, one of the most sought-after multithreats in Hollywood. Glover grew up in Stone Mountain, Georgia, where he used to entertain his elementary school with a Lamb Chop puppet. At NYU, he and some friends formed a comedy troupe whose online sketches got him onto Tina Fey's radar. She hired him to write for 30 Rock at the age of 21 – but what Glover really wanted was to perform. Within months he'd landed Community.

Soon you'll be seeing a lot more of him: He just shot The To-Do List, about a girl (Parks and Recreation's Aubrey Plaza) who sets out to cross some sex stuff off her list before she starts college. (Glover: "I'm the guy that eats her out.") He also has a Comedy Central stand-up special in November, and his hip-hop project Childish Gambino has a new album dropping the same month. 

Later this fall he'll come full circle, with his role in The Muppets, where he got to act opposite one K.T. Frog. Did they bond on set? "Mostly I just asked him about, like, what he ate for breakfast," he says. "If you get to a point where you're like, 'So, Kermit, I was fucking my wife in the ass last night . . .,' you probably need to cut back on the Kermit time." 

By Josh Eells

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lena dunham comedy packet

Lena Dunham with her Best First Screenplay award for "Tiny Furniture" in the ELLE green room during the 2011 Film Independent Spirit Awards at Santa Monica Beach on February 26, 2011 in Santa Monica, California.

Stefanie Keenan/WireImage

Lena Dunham: The City Girl

Unlike her characters, Lena Dunham has made the most of her post-grad years. At 25, she has a film to her name: 2010's Tiny Furniture, which chronicles one college kid's odd homecoming, was made for just $45,000. Judd Apatow was so impressed that he agreed to produce Girls, the HBO series Dunham created and stars in.

Girls follows twentysomethings looking for love and meaningful employment in New York – think ­Sex and the City for a post-recession generation. "You can't come here with the same piss and vinegar you could before," Dunham says. "Like, 'I've got a creative-­writing degree! Who wants to hang out with me?' It's a different world."

Dunham shot Tiny Furniture in her parents' Tribeca loft, acting opposite her mom and sister. "As a director, I like to create a family of feeling." She corrects herself: "I mean, a feeling of family. A Family of Feeling sounds like some terrifying hippie self-help book." 

By Julia Holmes

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John Mulaney for rs 1139 comedy issue Please credit Brian Friedman Shawn RubinOffice of Avi Gilbert | 3 Arts Entertainment212.213.2259 | 212.213.4186

Brian Friedman

John Mulaney: The Self-Mocking Stand-Up

It would be painful to watch John Mulaney relive his childhood humiliations, if it weren't so hilarious. "I get a bizarre thrill from saying weirdly personal things onstage," says Mulaney, 29, who just taped his second stand-up special for Comedy Central (it'll air in January) and also writes for Saturday Night Live. "I'm so afraid of being embarrassed in real life, but when I'm doing stand-up, I so enjoy sharing embarrassing stories."

At SNL, Mulaney channels his instincts for embarrassment into his greatest creation: Stefon, the gay, drug-addled club-land correspondent played by Bill Hader, the character's co-creator. Stefon has saved many an SNL episode with his "Weekend Update" ramblings about deranged New York nightlife attractions – such as DJ Baby Bok Choy, "a giant 300-pound Chinese baby who wears tinted aviator glasses and . . . spins records with his little ravioli hands." Mulaney based Stefon, in part, on an old acquaintance. "He was always trying to start underground club nights," Mulaney says. "He was a deviant."

Mulaney and Hader typically write Stefon's dialogue together over long Chinese dinners, but Mulaney likes to slip additional last-minute gags onto the cue cards in hopes of making Hader crack up on live TV (which he usually does). "Bill's very professional, so it's funny to fuck with him," Mulaney says. "I don't think he's made it through one."

By Simon Vozick-Levinson

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adam pally comedy packet

HAPPY ENDINGS - ABC's "Happy Endings" stars Adam Pally as Max. (CRAIG SJODIN/ABC) FOR USE IN R1139 COMEDY

Craig Sjodin/ABC

Adam Pally: The Brotastic Gay Buddy

As Max Blum on ABC's Happy Endings, Adam Pally plays a gay man who loves sports, guns and Revenge of the Nerds marathons. "Somehow, he's a hot commodity in the gay community even though he has no job and is slightly alcoholic," says Pally, 29, who's married to a woman. "People find that he's more like their gay friends than this effeminate stereotype."

Pally's parents were performers who toured in a cheesy variety act – "like the Jewish Abba," he says. They didn't go easy on him when he did a stand-up act at age five. "I bombed," he says. "My parents were like, 'No courtesy laughs in this house!' "   

Pally sometimes makes goofy free-form Funny or Die videos – like an interview where he pesters Fred Savage over whether he hooked up with a variety of child stars in the 1980s, including "Winnie Cooper" and "either of the Beckys from Roseanne."      

"I love that Louis C.K. line: 'How bad a person you are can be judged by how soon you masturbated after 9/11.' For Louis, it was between Towers One and Two falling down. I mean, I did that too."             

By Monica Herrera

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morgan murphy comedy packet

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 02: Comedian Morgan Murphy performs at the Launch at comix on November 2, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

Amy Sussman/Getty Images

Morgan Murphy: The Lethal Wit

"I got an electric car recently," says Morgan Murphy in one of her best stand-up bits. "They're terrible. They don't work. I know they don't work because I was in my garage last week for 10 hours trying to kill myself." Murphy, 29, has one of comedy's best deadpans, and she's bringing it to the writers' room of 2 Broke Girls, a sitcom about down-on-their-lucky Brooklyn ladies. "I think it's good," Murphy says. "And I hate everything."

Murphy was one of the original monologue writers on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, helping to give the show its voice. "Monologues were fun because Jimmy does characters," she says. "It's like you're writing a stand-up bit."

Murphy has toured with comics like Patton Oswalt, but she doesn't like to say she's a stand-up: "I just tell people I'm a writer. If you're on a plane, you can't be funny on the spot. I don't want to constantly impress people I don't care about."

By Erika Berlin

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In This Article: Aziz Ansari

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