comedians you should know

Brittany Carney Wants to Take Her Mom to an Awards Show

Illustration: Franziska Barczyk

This week, we’re highlighting 24 talented writers and performers for Vulture’s annual list “Comedians You Should and Will Know.” Our goal is to introduce a wider audience to the talent that has the comedy community and industry buzzing. (You can read more about our methodology at the link above.) We asked the comedians on the list to answer a series of questions about their work, performing, goals for the future, and more. Next up is Brittany Carney.

What would your Real Housewives tagline be?
“I’m a bitch, I’m a lover, I’m a child, I’m a mother, I’m a sinner, I’m a saint, and I am not ashamed.”

What of your work do you think you’re best known for, and what of your work are you  most proud of?
Right before the pandemic, I worked on jokes about my then–day job — assistant teaching at a private school. People began referencing me in relation to preschool material. While that did inform a chapter of my life, it was a short chapter. I’m most proud of bits I’ve managed on the Founding Fathers.

Tell us one story from your childhood you think explains why you ended up  becoming a comedian.
In third grade I attended an English-language girls’ school in Tokyo. I performed in Food Wars, some play based on Star Wars except about, like, groceries. I was a shy kid, far from a class clown. I got cast as the character based on Darth Vader and wore a big mask. I have no memory of the context nor plot, but I remember I got to goof around and be physical, shrouded by papier-mâché. My music teacher, Mr. Hendrix, the only Black teacher I remember at this school, laughed at my lines. When my name was announced at curtain call, Mr. Hendrix cheered loudly and gave me a big thumbs-up. I don’t know where he is now.

If a network green-lit a semi-autobiographical series for you to star in tomorrow, what would your character’s name and job be?
I like the name October, Toby for short. She’s a toxic rebel chef who braises beef in Chicago. Nah, maybe she’s an apprentice sushi chef in a cutthroat program. They call her Obama.

If you had to come onstage to just one song for the rest of your life, what song would it be and why?
“I Just Can’t Wait to Be King,” from The Lion King. I requested it once as a walk-up jam for a showcase at the Philly Punch Line, and now they’ve locked it in as my regular go-to. I haven’t figured out the right riff to contextualize it, exactly, but that won’t stop me. Enemies beware.

Tell us everything about your worst show ever. 
Gosh, there’s plenty. The first time I “headlined” was at a tropical-themed restaurant in suburban Maryland. An ambush on families enjoying their meal. My face was on the flyer tacked to the door. My dad’s cousin surprise-appeared from Philadelphia, just to see me bomb for 25 minutes.

Nominate one comedian you don’t know personally who you think is overdue for wider recognition and why.
My friend Matty Litwack comes to mind; he’s a unique and experienced killer. I know him from D.C. comedy days. The problem is that I do know him personally.

When it comes to your comedy opinions — about material, performing, audience, the  industry, etc. — what hill will you die on?
I’ll perish on this hill: I don’t like that stance where comics grip one elbow with the mic-free hand, fashioning a self-protective arm triangle. Cease this. It looks stiff, like you’re protecting yourself from getting impaled. Or Will Smith. But he’s not coming for you. I am, though, with a dang wrench. Open your arms. I’m not saying my stage presence is good; maybe it’s even messed the hell up. But I shout from the summit: Release your elbow. Make vulnerable your chest and core!

What’s an embarrassingly earnest goal you have?
I want to take my mom to an awards show.

What is the best comedy advice, and then the worst comedy advice, you’ve ever received, either when you were starting out or more recently?
My first heckle was a middle-age man who shouted, “Walk around the stage more!” Maybe that’s still the best advice.

That, or when I was half a year into mics, an older, more experienced woman in the scene told me, “Don’t let anyone get into your comedy head.” I’d run a bit by some dude comics, and sometimes they’d say, “I don’t understand” or “Are you on drugs?” (I was not.) Obviously let the audience into your head; that’s the whole point. They’ll decide if something works. To clarify, she/I mean “Don’t let comics who think they know you better than you get in your comedy head.”

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Brittany Carney Wants to Take Her Mom to an Awards Show