comedians you should know

Ike Ufomadu Has Johnny Carson on Tap

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 Ike Ufomadu.

What would your Real Housewives tagline be?
“I’m not here to make friends. I’m here to make best friends.”

What of your work do you think you’re best known for, and what of your work are you most proud of?
I’m not exactly sure what I’m best known for. I was at South by Southwest this past March and got stopped several times by people who said they were a fan of my work, but nobody said the same project. So it may depend on who you ask. That said, readers might best know me as Ike from Ziwe, Ike from Words With Ike, or Inspector Ike from Inspector Ike.

I’m most proud of whatever the latest project I’ve done is. That’s the goal, anyway. Wouldn’t that be a great way to live?

Tell us one story from your childhood you think explains why you ended up becoming a comedian.
One day in second grade, we had a contest where we got called up to the chalkboard in pairs to see who could solve a math problem the fastest. I got called up with the class clown. I guess she thought she’d lose, because she blurted out, “Uh-oh, Spaghettios!”, which killed. The room lost it. I wondered how she could be so funny, and then wondered if I could be that funny too. Soon I got my hands on a couple of 101 Jokes for Kids books thinking I could get the same big laughs by reading the jokes to other kids at recess. This did not work, but something from that whole experience must have stuck with me.

If a network green-lit a semi-autobiographical series for you to star in tomorrow, what would your character’s name and job be?
His name would be Phillips. He’d be a former high-ranking figure in the federal government who’s since retired, moved back to his hometown, and runs a small amusement park.

If you had to come onstage to just one song for the rest of your life, what song would it be and why?
It would be The Brady Bunch. Not the main theme song, but the instrumental music that underscores the first moments of the opening scene, along with a sitcom-style voice-over of someone saying, “Ike is performing before a live audience.”

Tell us everything about your worst show ever.
The first mic I ever did was easily one of the most surreal and disorienting experiences I’ve ever had. Studying theater in college and doing plays in New York, I had a good amount of experience performing onstage, but something about that very first time of being face-to-face with a crowd of people without the structure of a play or something … It somehow felt like I was on drugs. I think I had the thought of, Whoa … all these people … are looking at me … and I am looking at them … Wow. Walking up to the stage, I was so sure I had material. But by the time I arrived at the microphone mere seconds later, it dawned on me that no, I had no material at all. I basically tried to share an inside joke I had with a friend about Christian Bale’s Batman and then asked if anyone had any questions. It might be the only memory in my life that has only ever played back in slow motion when I think back on it.

Nominate one comedian you don’t know personally who you think is overdue for wider recognition and why.
One comedian I’m a fan of from afar is Gastor Almonte. Is it his pacing? Is it his timing? Is it the way he weaves his material together? Is it all of the above? It’s hard to discern why someone makes us laugh.

When it comes to your comedy opinions — about material, performing, audience, the industry, etc. — what hill will you die on?
I believe that one of the greatest innovations in comedy this decade is that on Pluto TV, there is a channel that streams The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I do not watch the show 24 hours a day, but the fact that at any time whatsoever, I can just turn on that channel … It’s a breakthrough that rivals the moon landing.

What’s an embarrassingly earnest goal you have?
I think it’d be great to have a private rehearsal studio-slash-office. At one end of the studio is a desk. Behind that desk, a large bookshelf rich with books. And the rest of the room, an empty rehearsal studio. I sometimes wonder if I’d come up with different kinds of material if I moved around more when I was writing. Probably, right?

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?
One piece of advice I think about from time to time is “Just be yourself. It’s the only way it can work.” It’s said that Johnny Carson himself told this to Conan O’Brien himself when Conan was about to host Late Night for the first time. I like that it’s not exactly a guarantee that everything will work out. It feels like a subtle acknowledgment of the unpredictable nature of show business, along with the gentle encouragement to pursue one’s comic sensibility in spite of that.

I can’t for the life of me think of the worst comedy advice I’ve ever received. I think I only remember things that are useful to remember. With some work, I can remember some comedy advice that wasn’t exactly useful for me. But I hesitate to call it bad because perhaps it’d be useful to some other comedian. We’re all different people after all — different little jokesters joking in our different little ways.

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Ike Ufomadu Has Johnny Carson on Tap