Comedy Booms, Busts, and Toronto vs. LA | We chat with the creator the VICELAND series ‘Funny How?’

Taylor Erwin Blog

By: Lauren De Vries

Kliph Nesteroff has the name of a Swedish energy drink and the comedy knowledge of, well, someone who Vice has dubbed “The Human Encyclopedia of Comedy”, (*spoiler: it’s him). Kliph literally wrote the book on the show business of comedy, it’s called The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels, and the History of American Comedy and it’s fantastic. But soon to be another ‘fantastic’ is his upcoming series ‘Funny How?’, which examines what it’s like to live life as a standup; whether you’re Rhea Butcher using comedy as a vehicle for social change or Mike Birbiglia using comedy to dissect his personal life. Funny How? uses the immersive experiences of both rookie and veteran comics to investigate broad themes of the profession and illuminate the universal humanity that informs all aspects of the craft of comedy.

Ahead of his screening and live Q&A at Just For Laughs, we chat with Kliph to share all his secrets. Well… five of them at least.

What keeps you interested in comedy, even after writing a very thorough book on it and doing seven and a half years of standup?

After having had stand up experiences and writing a book, I had a larger context for everything that had been going on. Now, I’m interested in more of an informed point of view. Currently, there’s a big comedy boom going on, and because of that, I can identify the same patterns that occurred in previous comedy booms (like in the 80’s or the early 60’s). I can kind of see the ingredients that’ll contribute to the boom crashing. There is currently a surge of investment in comedy with a steady stream of Netflix specials but there is an emphasis on quantity over quality which usually leads to a bust. So I find the social overview and the greater context most interesting.

What do you believe you learned about comedy by creating the series?

Every episode begins with a premise that is based on my own prejudice and by the end of most of the episodes, my prejudice has been shattered or my point of view has been changed or expanded. For example, with our episode on Christian comedy, the content was obviously radically different than the secular comedy scene, but what I learned was that the struggle and the pecking order in Christian stand up comedy is almost identical.

Also, in our episode that focuses on queer comics, my belief that comedy should not be a vehicle for social change was dispelled. The queer comics that I talked to however showed me that even though it hasn’t been that way in the past, it is currently. Carmen Esposito and Rhea Butcher mentioned that every social movement in the history of North America have been created by oppressed minority movements – the queer community’s use of comedy is no different.

How does Toronto’s comedy scene differ from current-day LA?

Toronto has a great tradition of sketch comedy long before stand up. Toronto to me is most famous for being a very important cradle of sketch comedy. Obviously with Second City & SCTV,  but also with the underground rail road connection to SNL. Anybody that became a movie star- like John Candy or Dan Akroyd- have left such an indelible mark on Toronto, so even today it has such a thriving scene. In Los Angeles however, there are just many more opportunities. You have the chance to appear on multiple shows year after year after year whereas in Toronto it’s not as vast. 

Who are some of your favorite relatively unknown comedians?

I really like a guy called Josh Fadem. He is one of the only guys who does physical comedy on the stand up stage. He’ll go on stage and he’ll try to take the mic out of the stand and it’ll get tangled up on the stand, and then his leg, and then he’ll fall off the stage. For six minutes it is him struggling with the cord doing crack falls and it is hilarious. He is a brilliant physical comedian – it’s something I haven’t seen anybody else do in modern day comedy. And Joe Pera who is a weird and off beat comedian. When he does stand up, you can’t tell if he has a vision or not…and it’s completely mystifying to an audience. It’s not jokes, it’s a strange, off-beat comedy similar to Nathan Fielder. He has an odd demeanor and really blurs the line between comedy and reality.

If you suddenly had god-like powers and could make one massive change to modern comedy, what would it be and why?

I would make all comedians mentally healthy. I would make them happy and still retain their ability to be funny.


Follow Kliph on Twitter: @ClassicShowBiz
Funny How? airs on VICELAND from on July 10th – July 14th​ at​ 11:30pm EST.
Marathons of the series will run on​ July 16th and July 30th beginning at 8:00pm.
There will be a live Q&A and screening at Just For Laughs ComedyPro in Montreal on Thursday, July 27 at 7:30pm