From unsparing political satirists to acclaimed film directors to beloved minor characters on Canadian sitcoms, here’s a look at what’s funny in Madison this fall.
Capitol Theater, Sept. 12
For years, she was “Iliza Shlesinger, Working Comic.” But now she appears to have reached Prince (or at least Seal) status, shortening her moniker to just “Iliza.” Makes sense — her profile has risen quite a bit recently, thanks to her Freeform talk show Truth & Iliza and the four comedy specials she has available for streaming on Netflix right now. In the latest, Elder Millennial, she touches on aughties pop culture and gender politics in equal part, deftly walking a thin line between empathy and indifference.
Comedy on State, Sept. 13-15
Mitchell has been working clubs since the late ’90s, but most people will probably know him for the three seasons he spent on Saturday Night Live from 2003-2006.
Brink Lounge, Sept. 14
Local stand-up Nick Hart recently appeared on Conan, where he talked about a learning experience he once had at Pick ’n Save. He also won Madison’s Funniest Comic last year, and lost the race for Mayor of Madison in 2011 (no, really). He is running again in 2019.
Orpheum Theater, Sept. 20
One of the most popular comics in the game, the Chicago native Buress was on a bunch of silver screens this summer, appearing in the films Blockers and Tag. He’s also set to co-star in Slice, an upcoming werewolf comedy that stars Chance the Rapper. Hopefully Hannibal — who hilariously rapped on Open Mike Eagle’s “Doug Stamper” — was able to secure a feature on Chance’s next album.
Barrymore Theatre, Sept. 20
Like Buress, Madigan is a Southern Illinois University alum. Unlike Buress, she’s a former journalist from Missouri who’s spent nearly three decades turning her own plain-spoken observations into biting comedy.
Comedy on State, Sept. 20-22
Fun fact: Kreischer was the subject of a Rolling Stone article that inspired frat comedy classic Van Wilder. And Kreischer still exudes a lot of that goofy frat boy charisma, evident in his frequent shirtlessness. But Kreischer is more skill than gimmick, gleefully mocking his most bro-y and absurd moments, showcased in his wild story about getting mixed up with the Russian mob.
Tinder Live! with Lane Moore
High Noon Saloon, Sept. 24
Tinder is a lawless and chaotic place, but it’s much more palatable with comedian Lane Moore there to guide you through her own mobile dating experience. Live. In real time. Projected on screen front of the audience… OK, so this still sounds lawless and chaotic, but it’s also quite hilarious.
Comedy on State, Sept. 27-29
The Chicago-bred Santino deals in a relatable brand of observational comedy, so it’s fitting that he’s currently starring as a popular comedian on Showtime’s I’m Dying Up Here.
Barrymore Theatre, Sept. 28
OK, so Henry Rollins isn’t a comedian per se (he’s actually a spoken word artist), but he is a very funny guy. At least, he is if you like your comedy political, angry and strangely optimistic. Rollins cut his teeth fronting legendary punk rock band Black Flag, and a lot of that restless, iconoclastic energy is present in his often hilariously grouchy spoken word sets. There’s also way less of a chance of getting trampled in a mosh pit.
Comedy on State, Oct. 4-6
Some people are going to see Michelle Wolf’s name and get very upset. Those people are dumb. Wolf is one of the most exciting political comics to appear in ages, ripping apart the headlines of the day with surgical precision and punk-rock passion. Her Netflix talk show, The Break with Michelle Wolf, a scorched-earth take on late-night talk, was recently cancelled after its lone season. That sinks, but hopefully it means more stand-up from Wolf, whose HBO special Nice Lady is one of the finest hours of comedy around.
Whose Live Anyway?
Overture Hall, Oct. 4
Spun off from the beloved improv program Whose Line is it Anyway?, this show will feature Ryan Stiles, Greg Proops, Jeff B. Davis and Joel “brother of Bill” Murray, performing an array of improvised games, scenes and songs.
Michael Kosta & Roy Wood Jr.
Shannon Hall, Oct. 5
Current Daily Show correspondents Michael Kosta and Roy Wood Jr. have their combined 20 fingers on the various pulses of current events. Wood is a likably cantankerous comic who tends towards empathy, making him an excellent voice for taking on social issues. Kosta has all of those qualities, but also the added plus of being a former pro tennis player and four-time Big Ten champion.
Barrymore Theatre, Oct. 5
Titus, who had an eponymous Fox sitcom for three seasons in the early ’00s, often uses his family’s dysfunctionality for comedy fodder. Fans of Bill Burr won’t want to miss this — Burr and Titus deal in similar brands of blue collar philosophy.
Comedy on State, Oct. 11-13
Those who take their humor black should check out the soft-spoken Vecchione, a former Last Comic Standing contestant and frequent late-night guest.
Comedy on State, Oct. 14
A former host of MTV’s Guy Code, Schulz now co-hosts the comedic The Brilliant Idiots podcast with his former Guy Code cohort, Charlamagne Tha God. He’s also appeared on the Giovanni Ribisi-starring Amazon series Sneaky Pete.
Randy’s Cheeseburger Picnic
Majestic Theatre, Oct. 16
Though his frequent Trailer Park Boys scene partner John Dunsworth died last year, the spirit of Lahey lives on through Canadian actor Patrick Roach. His character Randy, the half-naked, burger-loving assistant park supervisor, is now the source of his “Randy’s Cheeseburger Picnic” tour, which promises “a bit of stand-up, a bit of silly games,” plus the chance to see one of the funniest characters to come out of the cult comedy.
Capitol Theater, Oct. 19
To a certain subset of comedy nerds, Maria Bamford is a household name. She’s a longtime member of “The Comedians of Comedy,” a clique that also features Patton Oswalt, Zach Galifianakis and Brian Posehn. She’s done voices for beloved cartoons Adventure Time and BoJack Horseman, and starred on her own Netflix series, Lady Dynamite, for two seasons. But above all else, Bamford is a truly special stand-up, using surreal humor to take a deep dive into the labyrinthine topic of mental health. Check out her Netflix special Old Baby for an even better intro than I could possibly give.
wellRED Comedy Tour
Capitol Theater, Oct. 20
Thanks to cornfed hucksters like Jeff Foxworthy and Bill Engvall, “Southern comedy” is all too often associated with retrograde politics and stupid catchphrases. The three dudes of the wellRED Comedy Tour are looking to upend that stereotype. Drew Morgan, Corey Ryan Forrester and Trae Crowder (aka YouTube’s “Liberal Redneck”) are a trio of Dixie liberals who hide astute (and hilarious) sociological observations under their thick drawls.
Michael Ian Black
Comedy on State, Oct. 28
Ubiquitous among alt-comedy dorks, Michael Ian Black is one of the funniest people in the world. The stand-up, author and former cast member on the cult MTV sketch show The State is a master of both the real and surreal. He equally dishes out political hot-takes and ludicrous flights of fancy, often in the same breath. Black recently wrote a book titled Navel Gazing: True Tales of Bodies, Mostly Mine (But Also My Mom’s, Which I Know Sounds Weird), which on title alone is a good window into his warped brain.
Barrymore Theatre, Oct. 29
Before James Corden carpool karaoke’d his way into America’s hearts, another hilarious U.K. import occupied his desk at The Late Late Show: Craig Ferguson. Unlike the crowd-pleasing Corden, the cranky Scotsman Ferguson brought a snarky, absurdist sensibility to late-night TV, a tone he carries with him into his stand-up. Ferguson most recently hosted a historical talk show called Join or Die with Craig Ferguson on the History channel.
Capitol Theater, Nov. 1
For those who love both political comedy and show tunes but have yet to find a good intersection between them, may we point you in the direction of Randy Rainbow? This YouTube star frequently puts a Broadway-spin on his acerbic Trump-bashing. And guess what: That’s his real name!
Capitol Theater, Nov. 2
The besuited Poundstone started doing comedy during the Carter administration, quickly developing a keen eye for observational comedy that often has an educational bent. She’s also an NPR OG, having been a frequent guest on both Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! and A Prairie Home Companion as well as hosting her own show (Live from the Poundstone Institute) in 2017.
Comedy on State, Nov. 2-4
For many, the Apatow name is a generational touchstone. It’s given us endlessly quotable films like Superbad, Pineapple Express and Bridesmaids, among countless others. Here, the acclaimed writer and director returns to his stand-up roots for a string of pre-election comedy gigs. This is a rare chance to get inside the head of one of a true American comedy treasure. At the very least, you’ll be able to tell your friends you saw the guy who co-wrote Heavyweights.
Lady Laughs Comedy Festival
Plan B, Nov. 7-11
Now in its third year, the Lady Laughs mission statement is to “showcase talented women with a dedication to LGBTQ+ and intersectional inclusivity.” The festival was founded by Chicago/Madison comic Dina Nina Martinez, who despite the rhyming name is actually a human woman and not a Dr. Seuss character, and is set to feature upwards of 100 performers.
Comedy on State, Nov. 15-17
Overture Hall, Nov. 18
Cleese is international comedy royalty. As a founding member of Monty Python, Cleese has been a part of some of the most beloved, quotable comedy on Earth. Here, Cleese will be espousing his views on modern politics and culture, all with a wit gleaned from 50 years as a professional comedian. This is more a master class in funny than any old stand-up set.
Barrymore Theatre, Nov. 29
Barber is an Australian social media star known for parodying celebrity Instagram photos, which she’ll discuss during her stop here. And for a twist in the story, she’ll also talk about how she’s become friends with some of them.
Orpheum Theater, Nov. 29
No matter what room he’s in, Lewis Black is the angriest man in it. Whether it’s in his blistering, acerbic stand-up specials and albums or in the form of Anger, the character he voiced in Pixar’s Inside Out, Black is perma-pissed. And since Black has always tended toward the political left, it will be interesting to hear which words he’s reserved for our dear leader (president or governor, take your pick).
The Second City’s Dysfunctional Holiday Revue
Capitol Theater, Dec. 1
Legendary Chicago improvisers The Second City are taking their show on the road, all in the spirit of Christmas (a word it pains me to write in early September). This sketch and improv show will skewer everyone’s favorite Judeo-Christian winter holiday, and all the beloved and bizarre traditions that go along with it.
High Noon Saloon, Dec. 1
Join Bryan Safi and Erin Gibson as the two comics take on women’s and LGBTQ issues and pop culture. Plus, in their extremely enthusiastic punctuation, “Singing! Dancing! Guests! Games! Clowns!” Leave your coulrophobia at the door; we all laugh down here.
Comedy on State, Dec. 6-8
Dana Gould has a way with words. He’s written for The Simpsons and The Ben Stiller Show, the latter of which he was also a performer. Gould is Seinfeldian in the way he twists American banality into malleable witticisms. And for extra street cred: One of his Simpsons episodes was 2003’s “The President Wore Pearls,” a highlight of the show’s post-golden age.