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Hilarious Hits at the 2015 New York Comedy Festival

Every year, the good people behind the New York Comedy Festival seem to outdo themselves, and 2015 was no exception. Picking and choosing which shows to catch is the most difficult part of the gig, but when it all boils down, so many performances are impressive that it’s difficult to find a dud. From more than 200 comedians in over 60 venues, here are our choices for the best acts at this year’s festival.

Stand Up for Heroes
The Theater at Madison Square Garden on November 10, 2015

Stand Up For Heroes has become a staple of the New York Comedy Festival — and for great reason. (That great reason is, of course, because it’s all for a great cause.) Presented in association with the Bob Woodruff Foundation, the ninth annual event included a gorgeous national anthem sung by Chris Botti as well as hilarious sets from Seth Meyers, Ray Romano, John Oliver, and Jon Stewart. Bruce Springsteen also rocked the house not just with tunes, but with some raunchy jokes, too. (Go Bruce!) The event honored returning service members, veterans, and their families, raising a lot of money through an exciting cash auction along with donations from the crowd — including Bruce Springsteen, mama Springsteen, and Harley Davidson. If you missed this year’s fantastic show, be sure to get on board next time. Trust us, it’s exceptional.

Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast
Carolines Comedy Club on November 11, 2015

The live taping of Gilbert Gottfried’s “Amazing Colossal Podcast” was co-hosted by Frank Santopadre, featured special guest Artie Lange, and all went down at Caroline Comedy Club. To say the show was hilarious would be an enormous understatement — it transcended hilarity. Gottfried and Lange’s amazing chemistry wowed the crowd with conversations and stories about Tracy Morgan, Donald Trump, Klan meetings, Hitler, Tom Cruise,  and arrests, as well as old TV and movies. They also discussed the differences between comedians being seen as offensive these days versus the old standards “back in the day.” Side note: We never knew Gilbert could do such a great Bill Cosby impression, but boy did he nail it. You can jump on Gottfried’s site and download the episode for an hour of non-stop laughter.

Kathy Griffin
Carnegie Hall on November 12, 2015

Kathy Griffin doesn’t hold back when it comes to her comedy and if you were in the house to see her “Like a Boss Tour” at Carnegie Hall during the festival, you witnessed it first hand. Filled with lots of energy, Griffin captivated the sold-out crowd with brand new material that covered dating young dudes, T-Swift, Donald Trump, sexism in stand-up, powerful kids, Caitlyn Jenner, and the Kardashians. Besides looking more gorgeous than ever, this ridiculously funny gal’s set seems to be getting better and ballsier by the day. We know we’re not alone in thinking that, thanks to the standing ovation she earned.

Bill Maher
The Theater at Madison Square Garden on November 14, 2015

Due to extra security, the antsy crowd waited for Bill Maher to take the stage for an extra 20 minutes on Saturday night. When he did appear, all was forgotten, and he was met with uproarious applause. No one was safe and no topic was off limits as Maher discussed marijuana laws, the presidential candidates, Ben Stein, ISIS, “Clock Boy” Ahmed Mohamed, boner pills, Michael Jackson, Bill Cosby, and the TSA. Never one to push his own agenda (just kidding), Maher also gave some suggestions to help our economy, gun control, and how not be anti-Muslim but rather to become “anti-hate.” It wouldn’t have been Maher without a touch of religion, and he gave it to the crowd with a holy wholly hysterical talk about the Pope a.k.a. “the cum police.” (Brilliant.)

Not part of the festival but honorable mention worthy…

We were awestruck when we were lucky enough to slip down to the Comedy Cellar to catch Big Jay Oakerson’s set. He delivered a complete crowd-work set fueled with a little help from fellow comic Wil Sylvince bantering from the audience. Fortunately for you New York locals, you Jay frequents comedy clubs around the city. He can also be heard on his podcast Legion of Skanks as well as alongside Dan Soder on the Bonfire. Do yourself a solid and check him out.

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LOVE THIS GIANT

David Byrne is more than just bicycle racks — however cool they are. Tonight, an incredible lineup of contemporary musicians and artists will honor the Talking Heads frontman’s career, from his days on the art-punk scene at CBGB to his forays into Latin and funk and onward to this decade’s collaborations with Fatboy Slim and St. Vincent. The lineup features Alexis Krauss of Sleigh Bells, the Roots, Amanda Palmer, CeeLo Green, Beth Orton, Santigold, and Cibo Matto with special guest Nels Cline covering songs from every corner of Byrne’s career. Proceeds from this yearly benefit go to support music education in schools, with past donations to Young Audiences New York, Little Kids Rock, and Church Street School of Music.

Mon., March 23, 8 p.m., 2015

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FULL HOUSE

Since 1991, musical worlds have collided for a good cause at the annual Tibet House Benefit. This year’s edition again mixes former “Downtown” stalwarts — including curator Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson, Patti Smith’s group, and Debbie Harry — with visitors from the hinterlands. The chakra-rocking Flaming Lips bring their Oklahoma oddness to town on the heels of their Beatles tribute, With a Little Help From My Fwends, while psychedelically inspired Kentucky country outlaw Sturgill Simpson will provide sturm-und-twang. But the wildest card could well be dazzling Cape Breton fiddler Ashley MacIsaac, who’ll be joined by his equally remarkable neighbor, Celtic keyboardist Maybelle Chisholm McQueen. Expect Philip’s cousin Ira Glass to perform some meta-radio magic, and submit to the Drepung Gomang Monastery monks’ ritual invocation.

Thu., March 5, 7:30 p.m., 2015

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Angelique Kidjo

The Benin-raised alternative energy source solidifies her rep as afropop’s preeminent international diva with a tribute to her late predecessor, South African singer Mariam Makeba, a.k.a. Mama Africa. Kidjo’s celebrity guests include Whoopi Goldberg, Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, British soul singer Laura Mvula, and South Africa folk fount Vusi Mahlasela. Kidjo, at the center of it all, will tap into her homeland’s rich percussion and vocal traditions.

Wed., Nov. 5, 8 p.m., 2014

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FUNNY PEOPLE

There’s a tragic only-in-America twist to “Stand Up for Heroes,” the New York Comedy Festival’s annual opening event. Co-sponsored by Veterans on Wall Street, tonight’s super-session features Louis C.K., Jim Gaffigan, John Oliver, Jon Stewart, Bruce Springsteen, and “surprise guests” who will attempt to apply wit’s wicked edge (and rock’s universal chops) to our country’s shameful treatment of its veterans. Part of comedy’s appeal is how it teases and torments our moral certainties, and few accomplish this with bigger net yuks than Tig Notaro (tomorrow at Town Hall), Hannibal Buress (Friday at Town Hall), Amy Schumer (Friday at Carnegie Hall), and Bob Odenkirk (Sunday at Gramercy Theater). Dane Cook (tomorrow and Friday at the Beacon Theatre) and Bill Cosby (Saturday at Carnegie Hall), on the other hand.

Wed., Nov. 5, 8 p.m., 2014

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Emerson String Quartet & Yefim Bronfman

When he pounds the keys, Yefim Bronfman sweats, furrows his brow, and delivers blow after punishing blow. A pugilist in a tuxedo, he is the Klitschko of the piano, each movement a round in the ring; like a .44 Magnum, his Rachmaninoff-size fists are used to the forceful kickback. So when he ekes out Schumann’s funereal piano quintet with the Emerson String Quartet, named for the gentle pacifist philosopher, expect a stark contrast. Yet they are fairly matched. It’s as though when Schumann decided to orchestrate a lone pianist opposite four strings, practically unprecedented, he had a fighter in Bronfman’s weight class in mind.

Tue., Oct. 14, 8 p.m., 2014

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Philip Glass Ensemble & Steve Reich

The fathers of minimalism go big with this three-day retrospective, their first double bill in decades. For the opening night, five seminal pieces that changed the way we perceive western classical are performed: Reich’s pressure-cooker “Four Organs,” which erupted into chaos in its 1973 Carnegie Hall performance; excerpts from Glass’s operas the CIVIL warS, a Robert Wilson collaboration with an operatic setting of Frederick the Great of Prussia, and Akhnaten, on the Pharaonic progenitor of monotheism; Glass’s slow-gestating “Music in Twelve Parts;” and Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians,” his first major symphonic work. It’s history as mathematical recursion, set to beautiful music.

Sept. 9-11, 7:30 p.m., 2014

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Patti Lupone

If anyone can be said to own this John Lee Beatty-designed room, she’s it. The beloved diva opened it two years ago to acclaim and has now signed a contract to appear twice yearly for two weeks a go. She concludes the summer run, a reprise of her Carnegie Hall concert, “The Lady With the Torch.” The material is by the best of the best, and there are no worries about the impassioned, knock-your-socks-and-knickers-off delivery. Scott Wittman directs.

Mon., July 21, 7 p.m.; Tue., July 22, 7 p.m.; Wed., July 23, 7 p.m.; Thu., July 24, 7 p.m.; Fri., July 25, 8 & 11 p.m.; Sat., July 26, 8 p.m.; Mon., July 28, 7 p.m.; Tue., July 29, 7 p.m.; Wed., July 30, 7 p.m.; Thu., July 31, 7 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 1, 8 & 11 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 2, 8 p.m., 2014

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Michael Feinstein

This piano man fronts a big event called “Standard Time with Michael Feinstein ASCAP…A Centennial Celebration.” Yes, it’s been 100 years since songwriters won the right to royalties and logged their ditties with the society (and some of them later with BMI). Also singing selections chosen from the thousands available will be Liz Callaway, Siedah Garrett and Jimmy Webb, whose ASCAP checks must be eye-popping. Feinstein, based in San Francisco since his Loews Regency room shuttered, should be back in the fall with a new upstairs at Birdland joint.

Wed., April 30, 7:30 p.m., 2014

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SONIC MILESTONE

The Kronos Quartet celebrates its 40th birthday tonight with a reliably eclectic and stylish program. The foursome may be entering midlife, but there’s no sign of a crisis among the dozen pieces representing both the international and experimental axes of their charter. More traditional notes will be struck during world premieres by minimalists Terry Riley and Philip Glass, while Kronos’s global reach expands with works by Syrian pop star Omar Souleyman and Osvaldo Golijov’s five-quartet arrangement of El Sinaloense by Mexico’s Severiano Briseno. And the younger composers the group nurtures through commissions are represented by Bryce Dessner’s Aheym (Homeward), Aleksandra Brebalov’s Bubbles, and Jherek Bischoff’s A Semiperfect Number, whose title just about nails Kronos’s own charmingly imperfect mastery of the unknown.

Fri., March 28, 8 p.m., 2014