We don't say you've probably never heard of these funny people as a challenge, or to suggest that we're more in-the-know and therefore cooler than you, so calm down and don't be so defensive. We simply mean that these comedians aren't as big as we believe they ought to be, and taking a random sample of a bunch of average Joes, we'd almost certainly find that more had no idea who these comedians are than would be familiar with them. And that's a problem we'd like to see rectified. So if you have, in fact, heard of them, good! Good for you! Now start doing a better job of spreading the word, you lazy son of a bitch.
Jim Norton: If you're a person who enjoys fresh, innovative comedy, then you probably don't watch Jay Leno's Tonight Show all that much. Ordinarily you'd be right not to, however Jay has recently been having some genuinely good comedians help him out with various bits, and the best of the best has to be little Jimmy Norton. His face may even look familiar if you were a fan of Colin Quinn's Tough Crowd show on Comedy Central. These days he's best known for his work on the Tonight Show and as the third member of XM's popular Opie & Anthony Show, but of course where he really excels is his stand-up. He's filthy, subversive, and sometimes genuinely hurtful, but what keeps him from being just another gutter comic is his keen eye for a fresh take on stale subject matter. For instance, you've heard every comedian talk about relationships, but you've probably never heard one talk about how his current monogamous relationship relates to his past sexual escapades with hookers, transsexuals, and transsexual hookers. He just released a new album, Despicable, and he makes it down to Houston every year or two and is absolutely worth seeing live, even if you've seen him before, as he's constantly coming up with new material. Don't heckle him, though, as he's also a hell of an insult comic, as you can see from his roast of Gene Simmons - and everyone else in the room.
Maria Bamford: We don't mean to be sexist, but for whatever reason, it can be difficult to find a really good female comedian these days. Whether it's a sexism thing, a cultural thing, an "I must modify my act to fit what sells best" thing, we don't even want to speculate. But Maria Bamford is a creature entirely unto herself. First of all, her voice work is uncanny. A lot of comedians do silly voices, but Bamford actually tends to do less silly voices to an alarming degree - her own voice is high and intentionally childlike, while many of her voices are professional-sounding and velvety. She doesn't sound like someone doing impressions, she literally sounds like different people, and the more normal the voice, the more bizarre a situation she will create for that character. Her skill comes not just from her voice-work abilities, but from her propensity for originality and unpredictability. Her stories spin out with wild creativity, and she embraces her oddball, sometimes dark sensibilities and still comes off as utterly likeable and endearing. She has the weirdness and wit of an alternative comedian, yet it's hard to imagine anyone not liking her. Especially when seeing her playful yet biting satire on mainstream female comedians.
Patrice Oneal: Perhaps we were unfair to single out female comedians earlier as easily stereotyped. It can happen to any comedian: female, black, Asian, Italian, nerdy, hipster, redneck... between the common public perception and the comics who intentionally play up to stereotypes for greater appeal, it can sometimes seem like all (fill-in-the-blank) comedians are the same. But you won't find another comedian quite like Patrice Oneal, not in any population. There isn't anyone more confident and more in control of his audience, but in a very unique way. If you tune in to Def Comedy Jam or Showtime at the Apollo or any African-American-heavy comedy show, you'll see a lot of loud, over-the-top bravado as a method of crowd control and stage domination. Oneal's confidence, however, comes from a quiet, simmering contempt that seems almost dangerous. Other comedians, you get the feeling that they might embarrass you if you heckle them. Patrice seems more likely to yell at hecklers until they flee the building... and in fact, that has happened. It's an oddly compelling feeling, to watch a comedian who's performing for you yet who may genuinely not like you at all. His subject matter tends to feature unique perspectives, as in his material on relationships. Without giving anything away, Oneal has no problem being the bad guy, as long as he gets to point out and disembowel the flaws and hypocrisies of the good guys, i.e. the women he dates.
Bill Burr:He seems like the most average, unassuming comedian you'll ever see. He's been on television quite a bit over the years, particularly on The Chappelle Show, but most people wouldn't even remember his face. His indistinct appearance makes it all the more interesting, then, when strange, fractured observations begin pouring out of him. Bill Burr seems to embody the uniquely American persona of someone who used to be filled with rage but has largely given up on everything, and so his comedy is a unique mixture of brief spurts of manic, angry energy followed by long stretches of passive "what do I give a shit?" analysis. At a comedy festival a few years ago held in Philadelphia, the crowd - proud to be in a city which is well-known for unnecessarily booing performers - made the mistake of booing Dom Irrera, a well-respected comedian Burr was following. When he took the stage and the audience tried the same thing on him, he made the decision to use the remainder of his 15-minute set to lace into the Philly crowd with an oddly precise yet furious method, displaying knowledge of the town to rival any tour guide and using that knowledge to utterly, coldly savage every aspect of it and its culture. And for the duration, he keeps a running countdown of his time remaining, just to remind the audience that he's in control of the situation, not them. You should definitely check it out. It's the most savage beating a town has ever taken, and by the end, they love him. He completely wins them over.
Kyle Kinane: As far as new comedians we're excited about discovering goes, Kyle Kinane is right at the top. He's weird, hairy, and drinks a lot, but before you think you're looking at some kind of Zach Galifianakis rip-off, allow us to correct you. Kinane's comedy comes not from surly confrontationalism, avant-garde character work, or piano-accompanied non-sequitirs. It comes, instead, from his ability to tell a story that brings you into his world, puts you in his shoes, and highlights the often surreal absurdities that can happen in what is usually a very ordinary world. It's the rebirth of observational humor, but it's nothing like Seinfeld. Just look at what he can do with a simple story about bunnies(and some animation).