“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again,” Jon Friedman began when he took the stage in front of a standing room-only crowd at Comix comedy club to host the sixth annual ECNY Awards last night. “The way to get a sold-out show is to nominate everyone you know for an award.”
The ECNY Awards (which used to stand for “Emerging Comics of New York,” but now means nothing — or, as Friedman suggested: “Elephants Can Not Yawn. But I googled it, and they totally can.”) were celebrated March 8 at Comix, honoring the best, funniest, and most creative performers, shows, and producers working in comedy in New York City. Nominees and winners were determined by a combination of public online voting and votes from a small group of industry professionals.
“What I enjoy most about hosting the ECNY Awards,” Friedman told me before the show, “is the energy and enthusiasm from the audience. The biggest challenge and drawback that I find is that there actually has to be winners and losers. It’s weird to chose a winner in comedy. It’s fun, and we work on it for three quarters of the year, and it all culminates in one night. That’s exciting. It’s a higher-stakes night than a lot of our usual backroom performances. It feels special.” Friedman hosted for the third year in a row, and past ECNY Award winners presented this year’s awards.
Kumail Nanjiani, last year’s winner for “Best Male Stand-up Comedian” and “Best One-Person Show,” put the awards in perspective: “Last year, I couldn’t be here because I was in L.A. to audition for a part I didn’t get,” Nanjiani explained. “This year, I’m here, but I was in L.A. two weeks ago, to audition for a part I didn’t get. So things have just been happening much faster in my career ever since I won an ECNY Award.”
Before revealing the winner of “Best Improv Group,” Kurt Braunohler said, “Improv is one of the few art forms where the audience and the performer are together the entire time.” Braunohler’s introduction, for the first award of the night, hinted that while the ECNYs might be considered a spoof of other awards shows because of their basis in comedy, the comedians involved take their craft very seriously and respect their fellow performers.
On the other hand, comics will be comics, and Sara Benincasa sarcastically disregarded Braunohler’s sincerity in her introduction of the award for “Best One-Person Show”: “This category honors the funniest narcissistic asshole in the comedy community — which is competitive.” Tom Shillue walked away with that dubious honor.
Leo Allen congratulated all of the nominees for “Best Host,” “even though most of you are throwing away your lives and will never make any money or have a meaningful relationship.”
Sketch comedy group Murderfist not only took home the honor of “Best Sketch Comedy Group,” but should also be recognized for “Most Exuberant Win” of the night. Most of the 11-person troupe rushed the stage to celebrate their big win — terrifying everyone in the first few rows. Nanjiani later exclaimed, “Murderfist! That was like when Three 6 Mafia won the Oscar!”
For the third year in a row, Andrew WK presented the “Emerging Comic Award” — but not before offering a member of Murderfist $20 to drink a quadruple shot of vodka on stage. (“The ECNY producers are not liable for anything that happens to that guy tonight,” producer Alex Goldberg told me later.)
Lizz Winstead seemed almost embarrassed to be honored for her “Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Tweeting,” a new ECNY Awards category. Or maybe she was just confused by Twitter enthusiast Michael Ian Black’s video introduction of the nominees.
Musical performances by the nominees for “Best Musical Comedy Act” were interspersed throughout the show, as well. Rap duo Snakes (comprised of two members of the NYC sketch comedy group Harvard Sailing Team) told us their dads are proctologists, with help from Chloe Wepper; Leibya Rogers taught us that “Leibya Spells Freedom” and she’s a vegan; Shayna Ferm wants everyone to rock out while knowing “Marriage is for Fags”; Stuckey and Murray played the song you always hear in the last five minutes of a TV drama; and spandex-clad Adira Amram has ADD. By the time last year’s honoree Reggie Watts came out to reveal Snakes as the winner, the room’s energy level (and drunkenness) had reached a fever pitch.
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“This is by far the largest crowd we’ve had,” Goldberg said after the show. “We’ve sold out, and we weren’t expecting to do that. Last year it was pretty full, but this was like teeming, overflowing.” Many latecomers even watched the ceremony from the Comix bar, where TV screens captured all the action inside.
“It’s a great showcase for these nominees, and we have a lot of industry here,” Golberg continued. “There are a lot of people here tonight from Comedy Central, who are not just our sponsors but they’re also scouting. We had multiple networks here this evening, plus agents and managers are here. The ECNY brand is becoming a lot stronger now. These people are selected by the community, and we’re just sort of the gateway.”
Beyond recognizing their peers for their comedic achievements, the ECNY Awards offer comedians a sense of shared purpose and unity within the otherwise grinding New York comedy industry.
“The comedy world is changing,” Tom Shillue, recipient of the “Best One-Person Show” award for Supernormal, said after the reception, “and this show is a good example of that. Community is really the basis of comedy. What makes us laugh is laughing with our friends. So when people say, ‘Oh so what, you made your friends laugh,’ that’s what it’s all about. Making the entire country laugh is not a noble pursuit anymore, really. And Comix gets that, because they understand that what’s happening in the comedy world now is kind of special, and they’re not presenting generic comedy to the world. Nor should they.”
“There’s an intimacy about doing your own kind of comedy that you would do with your friends,” added Kevin Allison, who won an ECNY for “Best Variety Show” for Risk! True Tales Boldly Told. “And I think the right sort of people perk up their ears and they draw nearer to you, so that you’re not punching it down their throat. People are coming together to hear it.”
“It’s time for the alternative comedy world to stop hiding in the shadows,” Shillue said. “At some point, you have to stop embracing the ‘alternative’ moniker and you have to say, ‘You know what? We’re the guys. We’re making comedy. This is it.’ It’s not a means to an end, and we’re not providing an alternative. This is funny shit. Come join the party.”
“It’s not like we’re just doing this until we can sign with a major label,” Allison agreed.
“You join our party,” Shillue said. “We’re not joining yours.”
Audiences would be wise to join the ECNY party. After all, Andrew WK already has — and he likes to party.
For more info, visit www.ECNYawards.com. Congratulations to all the winners and nominees!
– Daniel Lehman
See the full list of ECNY Awards nominees below (winners in bold):
Best Female Stand-Up:
Brooke Van Poppelen
Best Male Stand-Up:
Best Sketch Comedy Group:
BoF (Best of Friends)
Best Improv Group:
Big Black Car
Death By Roo Roo
I Eat Pandas
Improvised Shakespeare Company
Pete Holmes and Jessi Klein
Gabe Liedman, Jenny Slate and Max Silvestri
Joe Mande and Noah Garfinkel
Best Musical Comedy Act (Solo or Group):
Leibya Rogers (Mindy Raf)
Stuckey & Murray
Best One Person Show:
Big in Japan – Dave Hill
Dead Millionaire – Jenny Slate
Fag Life: A Conversation with Fred Phelps – Brent James Sullivan
Supernormal – Tom Shillue
Use It – Ann Carr
Best Short Comedic Film:
“DAMN (You Wish)” – Carolyn Castiglia, Tom McCaffrey, Mara Harron, and Anya Garrett
“Eagles are Turning People into Horses” – BriTANick
“Everyone Poops Trailer” – Landline TV
“Hey That’s Awesome!: 2012″ – Rob Lathan w/Bobby Moynihan
“What Do You Want on Your Tombstone?” – Elephant Larry
Best Variety Show:
Fifty First Jokes
Moonwork: An Evening of Original Works
Risk! True Tales Boldly Told
Outstanding Achievement in Flyer or Postcard Design:
Agorafabulous – Mike Wang and Lauren Goldberg
Brown Ambition – Anya Garrett
Fag Life: A Conversation with Fred Phelps – Mindy Tucker
Heart of Darkness – Dimitri Drjuchin
Swords Improv – Bradford Jordan and Eric Michael Pearson
Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Tweeting:
All Local Bands Suck (Except Ours) – Porter Mason
And Here’s the Kicker: Conversations with 21 Top Humor Writers on their Craft – Mike Sacks
Get Rich Cheating: The Crooked Path to Easy Street – Jeff Kreisler
Rejected: Tales of the Failed, Dumped and Cancelled – Jon Friedman
The Terrible, Horrible Temp-to-Perm Debacle: Book Two in the Just Make a Choice! Series – Bob Powers
The Will to Whatevs: A Guide to Modern Life – Eugene Mirman
Emerging Comic Award:
Dan St. Germain