comedians you should know

Hannah Pilkes the Joyful, Ridiculous Muppet

Photo-Illustration: Selman Hoşgör; Photo Courtesy of Subject

This week, we’re highlighting 22 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, comedy during the pandemic, and more. Next up is Hannah Pilkes.

When did you feel that you were funny enough to make a legitimate go at comedy?
Oh jeez, does one ever really feel “funny enough”? I just know that it’s one of the only things in the world that continually brings me joy (and angst … but far more joy than angst), both performing and watching comedy, and so it felt like Okay … this is the path for me! Humor is also such a love language among my family, so making people laugh and laughing with the people I love feels very nurturing and cathartic.
Describe your comedy in five words.

What of your work do you think you’re best known for, and what of your work are you most proud of?
I’m probably best known for my character comedy online, but I’m most proud of taking what’s been successful in the online space and giving it legs in live shows. It’s both thrilling and terrifying to see what will translate, but when it does, that’s just *chef’s kiss* (Sesame Street chef specifically). I’m excited to share the hour I’ve been working on at New York Comedy Fest, and to continue getting to know the NYC comedy scene. I just moved here!

If there were a ’90s-style sitcom built around you and your material, in which you had to have a different job than comedian, what would be the title and logline?
“Hannah … get a load of this tall gal!”

It would just be an hour of me reaching for things in hard-to-reach places for neighbors, friends, strangers. Somehow it would last ten seasons and there would be an uproar when it got canceled. People would lose their shit. Maybe it would be called Hannah Goes the Distance or Hannah’s Helping Hand..ahs.

What have you done for comedy during COVID that you thought you would never do?
I’ve realized the power of comedy in the fundraising space and gotten to know my community on a deeper level. Though I think virtual shows are … umm, how do I put this … tricky? There was something really special about raising money together and collectively trauma-bonding over what a difficult time it’s been for everyone on so many different levels, and that even in this bleak moment, humor can be a healing tool. I also got bags for each individual wig, and brushed them one by one. I found it oddly soothing.

Who are some of your favorite comedians right now? Who is putting out work that excites and inspires you?
So many people, holy hell, how much time ya got?

Jenson Titus, Nic Scheppard, Nori Reed, Chloe Fineman, Grace Kuhlenschmidt, Charles Rogers, Ego Nwodim, Clown Zoo as a whole, Demi Adejuyigbe, Meg Stalter, Robby Hoffman, Carl Tart, Hannah Einbinder, Please Don’t Destroy, Zeke Nicholson, and so, so many more.

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?
Hmmmm, I would say some great advice I’ve received is to see how much further you can take a character. How much more can you involve the audience? How “dumb” can you go? I believe that was from Natalie Palamides and Chad Damiani at Stamptown, two of the most magic and fearless performers at one of my favorite shows. I got so used to doing a quick character once or twice live, and then kind of abandoning it, instead of continuing to build and “mine” for more each time. It’s nice to see them evolving into standalone pieces, rather than fleeting bits?

A less productive thing I’ve done as a comedian or performer in general — and this is just speaking for myself — is to try and derive my entire comedic identity from an institution. I regularly felt a deep sense of imposter syndrome, and it seldom felt inclusive for myself and for many others (for a myriad of reasons, which there’s not enough time for here), but the less I tried to fit in everywhere, the more I found community and the more I made my own imprint, if that makes sense. “Be your own comedic compass!” My friend Nic said that TBH, but it’s actually gonna be my expression now.

Tell us one story from your childhood that is a good representation of your life.
I grew up in New York City, and when we were kids my older sister, Jesse, would give me this made-up “tender” or payment called “bonus stars” for doing brave or ridiculous things. Like singing at the top of my lungs in the middle of Central Park, or rollerblading naked through our living room when my parents had company over. I think the origin of my character work came from the “bonus stars” system. My very first character was a jazz musician named Miss Tooty Fruit, who performed on our front stoop for strangers. That was probably like 150 bonus stars. I would say Jesse is largely responsible for this career path! Thank you, Sissles!
What’s an embarrassingly earnest goal you have?
Act alongside Molly Shannon, then have a slumber party where we stay up all night talking and I ask her 101 questions and we compare injuries we’ve sustained doing physical bits.

If you had the power to remove anything from the comedy world right now, from trends with material to how the industry operates, what would it be?
Justifying problematic comedians’ material by saying comedy “pushes the envelope.” We need to stop continuing to provide platforms for hate and these antiquated ideas just because these “comedians” are afraid they won’t be relevant anymore because their material relies on tearing down others. I don’t qualify that as comedy … it’s not groundbreaking, smart, or necessary in my opinion!

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Hannah Pilkes the Joyful, Ridiculous Muppet