Stand-Up Comedy Returns This Fall—Here’s Who to See

Image by Katie Brown.
Image by Katie Brown.

Comedy is a medium that typically enjoys an audience. Athenian satires were performed in Ancient Greek amphitheaters; Shakespeare entertained all classes of 16th-century England and even the modern, televised Saturday Night Live feels incomplete without a crowd. We have written parables and vignettes, stories meant to make us chuckle to ourselves as we flip a page, and movies and television incite giggles on our own or with a friend. But is there anything greater than being surrounded by uproarious laughter, instigated in real time, and witnessing the stage’s temporary hero react to the audience’s glee?

We’ve missed stand-up comedy this year. As much as we can rifle through Netflix’s selection of specials, the current state of the pandemic requires something fresh. Our minds are fuzzy and the world seems to be burning around us. A little laughter therapy is well-deserved. This fall, new tours are debuting in-person and postponed 2020 lineups from 2020 are resurrecting. Though a slew of comics is hitting the road, we’ve narrowed our list to five comedians you can’t miss.


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A post shared by Nick Kroll (@nickkroll)

Nick Kroll

Tour begins September 27

When you think of Nick Kroll, stand-up may not be your first thought. Most recently lauded for his hilariously cringe and grotesque Big Mouth, he is a TV darling, known for hits like Kroll Show and The League. But Kroll is unafraid of the stage, having previously taken Broadway by storm five years ago with The Oh, Hello Show alongside college buddy and long-time partner-in-comedy John Mulaney. This fall, Kroll returns to the theater for his highly anticipated Nick Kroll: Middle-Aged Boy Tour . It’s the comedian’s first foray into a full stand-up special since his 2011 Thank You Very Cool. We’re expecting a heavy dose of self-deprecation alongside intrepid acknowledgements of what everyone is thinking but afraid to say. Hitting a limited roster of stops in Austin, Chicago, New York and San Diego, tickets are already selling like hotcakes so run, don’t walk.


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Nicole Byer

Tour began August 21

Stand-up requires a level of irreverence, an ability to bare all. Nicole Byer takes it to the next level. Sex, bodily functions, misadventures in drinking, embarrassing moments that most people would rather take to the grave than tell a room of strangers—Byer brings an unpretentious familiarity to her comedy that is approachable and painfully relatable. Her riffs feel more like a Facetime call with a friend than a carefully planned set; one YouTube commenter wrote on a clip from Comedy Central that, “It's like she would still tell this story in the exact same way even if nobody were there.” Byer has endeared us with her cult podcast, Why Won’t You Date Me?, bringing a necessary hit of reality and humor to conversations about love. She is delightfully refreshing, with no filter and a penchant for laughing at herself. For those who can’t make it to the theater, Byer will tape her stand-up special on September 5 in New York.


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John Mulaney

Tour began August 14

It seems like everyone and their mother has seen a John Mulaney special on Netflix, or at least knows who he is. The comic has gifted connoisseurs and newbies alike with one after another: New in Town (2012), The Comeback Kid (2017) and Kid Gorgeous (2018) taking over the streaming screens of millions. Mulaney is beloved for his boyish charm though his comedy reveals he’s more like a good Catholic boy in a pressed suit with something brewing underneath the surface. Both clean and cynical, he takes on tirades about drug addiction and child napping, all with a smile and the timbre of a 1960s television host. Mulaney recently sought treatment for alcoholism and cocaine addiction, and his New York test shows this summer seem to reflect a change in temper as the comic ditches his signature suit for jeans. The summer previews and the tour’s title, From Scratch, suggest we’ll see something entirely new from Mulaney—not far from the self-deprecation and childhood rumination we know and love but infused with the reality of his past year. Though it been perpetually sold out in some stops, keep an eye out for added dates.


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Trevor Noah

Tour begins September 10

The past year has borne an entirely new vernacular, adding apocalyptic words like “lockdown” and “super-spreader” to our daily vocabulary. Along with this roster of terrifying terms has come some of the most overused—and thus, dreaded and irritating—phrases like “unprecedented times” and “back to normal.”. The latter feels arguably the most irksome, as if we’ll ever truly return to business as usual. Comic and political commentator Trevor Noah plays on this absurdity in his new global stand-up tour, “Back to Abnormal.” Noah is adroit at analyzing the nuances of our shared—and differentiating—culture, approaching social issues with simultaneous gravitas and humor. Listening to anyone else wax comic poetic about COVID would probably be excruciating and eye roll-inducing—isn’t comedy our escape? But Noah is the man for the job. He isn’t pandering, but instead hits at the heart of our social reality with punchlines both relatable and fresh.

Maria Bamford

Tour began July 13

Maria Bamford is a comic who relies heavily on the impression, and she’s a master at it: whether it’s voicing her mother and father, two strangers we will never meet but immediately know intimately due to her tone and body language, or the dopey, irksome, label maker-obsessed deskmate. Shifting her jaw and bulging her eyes, scrunching her nose and her eyebrows, Bamford employs every inch at her disposal to get the point across; her attention to detail is potent, reflecting an innate ability to observe and analyze everyday annoyances. “What are you working on these days,” Bamford asks to herself in one performance, mimicking the nosy and overly friendly with a big, cheesy smile and leant-in posture. Her smile immediately drops, body shrinking into itself. “Oh, I’m done,” Bamford answers with a stutter and a grimace. She effortlessly captures the conversations we all hope to avoid and what we wish we could really say.

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