Introducing Hot Mic: A New Column Documenting Live Comedy in NYC

The phone-to-fame pipeline for comedians has only gotten stronger. Which begs the question: Are live shows still relevant? And if so, for what?

Introducing Hot Mic: A New Column Documenting Live Comedy in NYC

The first time I saw Megan Stalter live was December 12, 2019. This was easy to figure out because my camera roll is full of evidence: pictures of my ticket; pictures of my outfit (a cheetah print coat and a pink newsboy-style hat, for some reason?); pictures from the show; and a selfie of me next to Stalter herself—my cheeks flushed with true, earnest excitement, my eyes still watery from crying with laughter. At the time, I could barely believe she existed outside of my phone. The fact that I actually met her and exchanged words with her in real life? The fact that she took out her phone and followed me back on fucking Twitter? I rode the high for weeks.

That night in the Union Hall basement was not my first comedy show—it wasn’t even my first show at Union Hall. But it’s the first time I remember seeing a parasocial friend perform live. Stalter was somebody I’d come to know intimately—or rather, felt I’d come to know intimately—not through a TV show or a taped special or even a YouTube account, but through my social media feed. My friends and I screenplayed her weird, character-driven, front-facing camera videos to the TV in our college house and watched them over a bowl of popcorn. We treated every new upload like a movie premiere. So by the time I saw her live, I was primed. And onstage, she escalated. She didn’t take for granted that everyone had already seen her videos but she did use it to her advantage. The show was a masterpiece.

In the five years since, Stalter has landed star roles in Hacks, that one Please Don’t Destroy movie, and Lena Dunham’s anticipated new show, Too Much; and I’ve quit DuoLingo French three times. Don’t worry, she shockingly still follows me on Twitter.

And she’s not alone in her rise. The phone-to-fame pipeline has only gotten stronger. There’s Ziwe, of course, who went from her infamous Instagram Live Baited interviews to two seasons on Showtime. There’s Benny Drama, whose scripted series, Overcompensating, just got picked up by Amazon Prime after years of going viral on YouTube and TikTok. And then there’s this whole new wave of people who I watched go straight from my FYP to the mainstream: Leo Gonzalez popped up on Hulu’s This Fool last year; Sabrina Brier just had a cameo on Abbott Elementary; Kyle Gordon performed his fake European electronica song with the Jonas Brothers this summer; Boman Martinez-Reid went from making my favorite Kardashians sketches to landing his own show with Canada’s Crave.

Which begs the question: Are live comedy shows still relevant? And if so, what for?

Enter, this column: Hot Mic—a series of dispatches from the alt-comedy scene in New York that will aim to capture what it’s like to be in the audience of some of the city’s biggest up-and-coming comedians, as opposed to just scrolling past them on your phone.  I’ll spotlight, review, and make the case for why live shows are still worth your time; and, in some cases, warn you about the ones that aren’t.

Every week, I’ll cover a show where the stars are young, queer, trans, and way less white than their predecessors—the scenes that are continuing to reject the tired, misogynistic shit being recycled by 45-year-olds at Manhattan open mics. You might recognize some of their names from social media, popular podcasts, or taped specials; but most of them are just getting started, creating their own shows, stages, and genres. 

Who am I to be writing this? I’m Leah, I’m 25, and I’m a writer and dabbling comedian who occasionally performs in small shows around the city. I’m not particularly good at stand-up comedy, but—not to brag—I’m amazing at being an audience member. I make appropriate (but not creepy) eye contact, laugh loudly (but not distractingly), and I never interrupt or go on my phone (even when a show is really bad or really boring). In lieu of a trophy or medal, Jezebel has rewarded me with the power to sit in the basements, backyards, backrooms, barbershops, and bodegas of New York and then write about it. 

So close out of your TikTok, put your phone on DnD, and join me here, every Tuesday, on Jezebel dot com. I’ll do my best to make you feel like you were sitting in that basement right next to me…and give Meg Stalter a reason to keep following me on Twitter. 

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