17 People Try to Make a Comedian Laugh in 20 Seconds (Ft. Iliza Shlesinger) | Vanity Fair

published on July 2, 2020

– Okay, I don't look tan

Hi, I'm Iliza Shlesinger, a comedian,

and today we're going to
be doing an experiment

in Zoom

There we are!

So we're gonna have a bunch of people

who are waiting in a Zoom waiting room

I don't know who these people are

I haven't seen them

They don't know that I'm here

But these people are gonna
come in with their acts,

their material, whatever
they've cobbled together,

and they're gonna perform
it for me and you,

here in Zoom

They have 20 seconds, and I'll
tell you why they're funny

or why they're not funny, and hopefully,

you guys are gonna learn
some things about comedy

along the way

All right, let's do this

[energetic drumbeat]

– All right, Gianmarco, you
can go into the main room

First person's coming in Iliza

– All right


– Well, hello, oh!

– It's starting!

– Hi!

I'm Italian, and we do a lot of hugging,

we kiss each other goodbye,
we used to at least

And my roommate who is not Italian,

when he first saw my dad and
I kiss, he was just like,

"Ew, do you kiss your dad in public?"

And I was like, "Yeah, you
know what would be weird?

"If I only kissed him in private"

[Iliza laughs]

– Good!


– He had a good premise

– I'm Italian, we do a lot of hugging,

we kiss each other goodbye

– He had a good set up

– Do you kiss your dad in public?

– And he had good timing,

so I was waiting for that punchline

– And I was like, yeah, you
know what would be weird?

If I only kissed him in private

– Plus the second he said
he's Italian, I was like

this could either be really hacky,

or it's one I hadn't heard before

All right, next one


All right, hit that clock!

– Hey, I just want people
to be better at racism

That's pretty much all I want

If you're gonna be racist to me,

don't just call me a
terrorist, that's very lazy

I'd be a terrible terrorist

I can't keep a secret

That's a really [beep]ing
important part of terrorism

You got a couple drinks in me,

I'll tell you anything you wanna know

If I was a terrorist,

I would've screwed
everything up September 8th

I would've ruined the whole thing

– It was too much set up

– If you're gonna be racist to me,

don't just call me a
terrorist, that's very lazy

I'd be a terrible terrorist

– If you say to me from
the beginning, like,

"If you're gonna be racist,
don't be lazy about it"

Then I'm dying to hear, I'm like,

how are white people lazy about it?

But, he didn't stay in the pocket

He set up all of these things

And then the payoff was like a pff

– If I was a terrorist,

I would've screwed
everything up September 8th

– Like barely at the end

Look, this isn't easy

Having a timer in your face, ticking down,

is not normal and it adds
pressure and it adds stress

But that is a huge part
of being a stand-up comic,

and that's why we've put it here

Hello there

– Hi!

– Hi

You have 20 seconds to impress me

– So originally I submitted a video

talking about how I've
been low key thriving

throughout the quarantine,

but then yesterday my internet
went out for 20 minutes

and I literally thought
the world was ending,

but then when it didn't,

I immediately tried to buy
crochet needles online,

but then I couldn't,

because my bank account
was in the negative,

so instead I just gave myself
bangs and I started crying

[Iliza laughs]

– That's funny, that's funny!

A big part of comedy is seeing something

that's bright and shiny and awesome,

and then watching it unravel

Whether it's Chris Farley as
Matt Foley starting off okay

and then smashing into a coffee table,

or somebody starting off
great like in Trading Places,

and then descending into
being a total homeless mess

For her, she started with–

– I've been low key thriving
throughout the quarantine

– Which was a lie,

and then we watched one
bad thing beget the next

– But then yesterday, my
internet went out for 20 minutes

– And then we wanted to
see, how's our character,

how's our hero gonna
get herself out of it?

– So instead I just gave myself
bangs and I started crying

– What isn't funny is her
redeeming herself, and being like,

"And in the end, I made a million dollars"

What is funny is seeing
how she makes it even worse

by being like "And then
I cut my own bangs,"

which is crazy, but relatable,

because every girl has done it


– Someone just told me to go
back to where I come from,

which is very weird, because
I'm just white and gay,

which means that this guy
thinks there's a country

where gay people come from, which means,

he knows about Canada

– That's funny

It's been done before, the go
back to where you come from,

and then they say "Why,
that's an insane thing

to say to a person"

So we're taking racism
and turning it on its ear

– Which is very weird, because
I'm just white and gay

– The Canada is gay joke
has been around forever,

so for me, what worked was the delivery

– Which means he knows about Canada

– A big part of comedy is saying things

that have been said
before, but in a new way

So while it wasn't the
most revelatory joke,

he had a fun delivery

And funny is funny

[energetic drumbeat]

– Hey everybody it's
your man Steve Harvey

– Steve Harvey!

– Now even though we are
quarantined right now,

you gotta look fly

And that's why I had my
wife put an extra button

on my suit here, so I
look extra fly for the–

Aw damn

Y'all can see I ain't
wearing no damn pants

Goddamn it,

where the hell's the button
to turn this shit off?

– The key to what made
that funny was simplicity

We've all seen Steve Harvey impressions

Kenan does them on SNL really well

This guy, the second I saw
him, I saw the thick mustache,

and the bald head, and
the suit, I was like,

that's Steve Harvey, the
m%ustache lets you know that,

and it was simple

– Hey everybody it's
your man Steve Harvey

– [Iliza] We all know Steve Harvey

wears a lot of buttons on his suits

– That's why I had my
wife put an extra button

on my suit here

– [Iliza] And to be honest,

I was so distracted by the buttons,

I didn't even realize
he wasn't wearing pants

– Aw damn

Y'all can see I ain't
wearing no damn pants

– So that was a nice
little tag at the end

It's simple, it's easy, he
nailed it, and that was that

It's math

Okay, what's next


[Bert moans]

[increasingly frenzied squealing]

– Oh Kermie, that was
beautiful, mmm, ahaha!

[high-pitched laughter]


[Iliza laughs]

– Um, costumes are a tricky thing,

because there's always the uncanny valley

There's really two ways you can go

You can either nail it and
look just like the character

Drag queens are a great example,

whether you're Derrick
Barry doing Britney Spears,

or any drag queen doing Cher,
or whoever they impersonate

The other version is
kinda what this guy did

where you look nothing like the character

He was a dude in a beard
with like a cheap plastic wig

and odd-looking pig ears

It gave him even a wider
berth to do something weird

[Bert squealing]

If it was actually Miss Piggy doing it,

that might just be so uncomfortable

nobody wanted to watch it

[high-pitched laughter]


Falling off camera
though, is always funny


– This is my mom on every vacation

That's pretty

Oh that's pretty, hon isn't that pretty?

Oh is that a church, that's pretty!

Why didn't you tell me
you were gay sooner?


– Everybody loves to make
fun of their parents

Everybody likes to watch people
making fun of their parents

He moved the hair to the side, he's like,

"This is my mom on every vacation"

I was like, great, we're
gonna get some insight,

maybe the mom has a fun accent,

or she's got this quirky personality,

and instead, the mom just
sounded like a drag queen

who smokes too many cigarettes

– That's pretty

– This one was all about
expectation versus delivery

By the way, a real act takes time

You've gotta craft it,
it's still an art form,

it's something you need to work at

So these people are coming
in raw with just the basics

I guarantee the next
time they tell this joke,

it'll be just that much better

And that's how you build an act

– 20 seconds on the
clock, please impress me

– Of course

[landline ringing]

Can I go?

So this is my impersonation
of, this is my impression

of a parrot taking a bath

[landline ringing]

– What was that part?

– The body's in the fridge!

– What?

– The body's in the fridge!

The body's in the fridge!

– The body's in the fridge
is a hilarious punchline

It's a total misdirect

because we didn't expect
the parrot to say that

That being said, if you're gonna set up–

– This is my impression
of a parrot taking a bath

– I was so excited to see
a great parrot impression

That would've meant more
to me than the punchline

A great animal impression
is always a hit at parties

Unfortunately he lost me
because it just looked like

he had lost control of his neck

To me the funniest part of the whole bit

is that he had a landline
that was going nuts

Like, who gets that many
calls on a landline?


– All right

Okay, I'm gonna do a couple impressions

This is an Australian person

who's really into conspiracy theories

9/11 was an inside job

Okay, so that's that one

Um, here's another one

Brene Brown is my favorite comedian

That's me failing to connect with my peers

due to a fundamental misunderstanding
of what a comedian is

– Whoa!

Shots fired!

The tricky thing with name checking

someone who isn't Beyonce or the president

is that you run the risk
of not everyone in the room

knowing who that person is

– Brene Brown is my favorite comedian

– And then, to take it even further,

you shouldn't have to
have firsthand knowledge

of what the comic is talking about

for them to make it relatable

Women talk about being women
and men still find it funny,

and vice versa, because the
material itself is very funny

A trick to being a comic

is conveying the connections in your mind

that lead to funny thoughts
perfectly to your audience,

so they can come on that journey with you

[energetic drumbeat]

– You'd think guys online dating

would make more of an effort

because you only get one chance

to make a good first impression

Here are actual messages I
received within two weeks

[Iliza chuckles]

– Is it all from the same person?

– No!

[both laugh]

– Even if you've never
really done online dating,

as I haven't, I still have
seen people deal with those

And it's enough in the zeitgeist

that you know how painful that is

I'd never seen someone
print out the messages

and hold them up, but as she
was doing it, I could see,

I've gotten DMs that are
like that, like "Hello miss"

As she was doing it I started
getting angry for her,

I'm like, "What do these
guys think they're doing?"

So I laughed at her
because I felt her pain,

and comedy is pain


– All right, my name's Nate Dicken,

and this is beer roulette
instead of comedy roulette

I'm gonna close my eyes,
tell me when to stop

– Stop

– Ugh!

It was the pee again, wasn't it?

It was the–damn it!

I drank the pee again

That's the fifth time
this week I drank the pee

– Sorry you drank the pee

It's perennially funny,
the sort of sad, frat boy,

willing to do anything

The problem with that gag is
that it's a bit of a sight gag

in that one of those is labeled "PEE,"

but I was so focused, to his credit,

on him and what he was doing,

I thought all of those said beer

– Ugh!

It was the pee again, wasn't it?

– Then I had to stop watching him,

which you never want, because
you're not a magician,

I don't want to look at your
hands, I wanna look at you,

And I had to read that
it actually said pee

– I drank the pee again

That's the fifth time
this week I drank the pee

– You never want to give
the audience a reason

to stop focusing on you

– Damn it!

– You go watch Carrot Top,

you see the whole thing
is about what he's saying,

and the props

You never have to watch
Carrot Top explain anything

The props tell the joke

But drinking pee is funny,
if it's actually pee


– Smurf meat is the veal
of the mythical world

Marinate it in its own blood and tears

Don't throw out the bones!

They can be ground and
fried into tortillas!

I plucked smurf public
hair for this quill!

Don't be afraid to really
milk those sebaceous glands

for perfume oil

– The good thing about this
was his props were specific

He had his premise, he was
like, "We've murdered a smurf,

"and here is how we will
break down the body"

Like the Native Americans,
he's going to use every part

So, morbid as it is, it
at least was on brand

One of the things you have to keep in mind

when doing comedy, and this
doesn't come for a couple years,

but in the back of your mind is,

why are you telling this joke?

That's why people tell
jokes about their parents

coming from other countries,
or your home life,

or personal things about dating,

because these are things
that make you unique

that you wanna put out there

Or, is it simply that you
want to be seen on a stage?

And if so, you've gotta
dig a little bit deeper

We all wanna be seen, the question is,

why should people be watching us?

Hi there

20 seconds to impress me,
also, you are sideways

[Doris laughs]

– Okay

At the end of quarantine,

I decided to go to a movie theater,

because there was nobody there

So when I saw some jackwad

decide to sit right in front of me,

I said, oh, I'm gonna give him
a big old popcorn explosion

Oh, oh, wait, I'm exploding everywhere!

And he left

– I am the queen of fast delivery

I am the queen of looking
just frantic on stage

I like to think I've
been doing it long enough

that it's become just
my vibe and my product

One of the things that you
don't wanna do in comedy

is seem uncomfortable,

and it was so frantic and
the delivery was so fast,

all I remember was the
popcorn going everywhere

– I'm exploding everywhere!

– And if you're gonna have
popcorn go everywhere,

commit to it

Like, the walls of the
room should come down

It should be that the popcorn is hot

There's something to be said
for creating the expectation

that what's about to happen

is gonna be outlandish and crazy

If you deliver anything
just short of that,

your audience will always be disappointed

[energetic drumbeat]

– What is Alanis
Morissette's favorite jelly?

A traffic jam when she's already late!

I'm gonna open up a store
that only sells irons

and I'm gonna call it, Isn't It Ironic

And I'm gonna open up another
store and call that one

A Little Two Ironic

Yeah, I really do think


– The second he brought up the
premise of Alanis Morissette,

my mind just turned off

Now if you go far enough
back in time, like,

"You know what the problem
with the plague was?"

Maybe I might tune in

To me the funniest part was the like,

"Yeah, I do" at the end

– Yeah, I really do think

– That was the only part where
I saw any of his personality

The most important thing in comedy

is to fail and keep going,

because you know you
have something to say

If you think it's uncomfortable

to bomb in front of one person,

try actually doing this in the real world

If we ever get to leave our houses again


– Iliza!

– Yeah!

– Congrats on all your success, you know,

the Netflix show, specials,
and now you're doing Zoom calls

with a guy whose biggest
credit is this Zoom call

What do you have tomorrow?

A homeless telephone?

– Where are they gonna get the phones?

– No idea

– So what I loved about this
is that he made fun of me

Comics love that

We love ball-breaking
from the highest light

If you look at any of
the Dean Martin roasts,

or Don Rickles

The problem was, A, he asked
me, his audience, to engage,

and I wasn't sure if it
was rhetorical or not,

so I felt like I stepped on him

– Iliza!

– Yeah!
– Congrats

on all your success!

– And B, my heckle back was
just as good as his joke to me

Which is fine if you're
in a roasting environment,

but I'm in the audience

If you're gonna insult someone,

you don't want there to be a comeback


– America, what is wrong?

I was watching TV the
other day in my mansion

I am a dictator

And there was an ad

It said for $1 a day, I can
sponsor a quarantined American

[Tatenda laughs]

Africa is the first world now, bitch

[Tatenda chuckles]

– You never wanna bring up something sad

This is why Holocaust
punchlines are never funny

This is why spousal abuse
punchlines, abortion punchlines,

the joke's gotta be fire

for people to laugh so
much that they're removed

from the fact that they're thinking

about something sad and personal

That was a very long set up

for a very short punchline at the end,

which would be great
if the set up were fun

If the joke leaves you thinking
about the premise and set up

more than the punchline,
it's not a successful joke


[Linzy screaming maniacally]

[garbled noises]

– Oh, my god, I don't know
how to work this, sorry,

that's my 7th grade
photo when I was a blond,

oh no that's me eating trash
pasta out of the subway,

I don't know how to use Zoom I'm sorry

= Sometimes when you're too frantic,

and I've made a living off
of being frantic on stage,

while it was weird, that is not so funny

The good news is some of
these people want to be funny,

and you can see the want in their eyes

Desperation is a key characteristic
in being a comedian, so,

they're partially there

So that was a really cool experiment,

and the fascinating and
the best part about comedy

is that it is 100% subjective

So just because I wasn't
laughing, I don't know,

maybe some of you were laughing,

and maybe the things I
laughed at, you guys thought,

"Eh, not so funny"

The truth is though, there's
no right or wrong answer

That's why there's so many comedians

and so many types of comedy

So I give a big round of
applause to all the people,

all the comedians, I dub you comedians,

that showed up today and
tried to make us laugh

Because at the end of the day,

you're still watching this,
which means it was entertaining,

which means it was successful

[clicks tongue]

[chill music]

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