comedians you should know

Someone Order Niles Abston’s Pilot Stat

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 Niles Abston.

What would your Real Housewives tagline be?
“My name’s Niles Abston, I fucking hate comedy and I should’ve been a rapper.”

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 Burger King story in my Comedy Central set because it went viral, but I’m most proud of my independent-comedy and-music festival “BASEMENTFEST” that I threw this past February for my birthday weekend in Brooklyn with my friend and producing partner, Cait. Seven sold-out shows over three nights. I headlined the last night of the festival, premiered my short film Notice to Quit, and got to pay over 50 comedians and artists for their time, and many of them are good friends of mine. We just created this very dope and unique experience together for the audience for three nights, and I can’t wait to do it again. The next one is here in Los Angeles at the Elysian Theater 9/22–9/24, so get those tickets because it will sell out.

Tell us one story from your childhood you think explains why you ended up becoming a comedian.
When I was 8 years old, I preached a 30-minute sermon to the adults in my church. Yes, child me stood there, mic in my hand for half an hour, to a hundred adults listening to me on a Sunday morning. To this day, I have no idea why they put me up to that, but when you see me perform and hear how cynical I am, it all makes sense.

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 love my name, Niles, so that’s what it’d be. I’d be a volunteer junior-high basketball coach. The pilot’s already written and it’s hilarious. Somebody buy it because I’m having an existential crisis from being unemployed.

If you had to come onstage to just one song for the rest of your life, what song would it be and why?
“Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” by Kanye West. I hope he sees my jokes about him on my new special coming out soon.

Tell us everything about your worst show ever.
My friends and I do a live-show version of our podcast called Y’all Had to Be Here, and earlier this year we were running the show at the Formosa Cafe in Hollywood, but one night was different. It was our last night performing there. Thirty minutes before our show was supposed to start, they told us we couldn’t do it anymore even though we had already sold 30-plus tickets. It was so embarrassing to have to explain to people at the last minute that we had to move the show to another venue down the street, and half the people didn’t come. When we asked the Formosa Cafe about the abrupt change, they told us that our show didn’t “line up with the demographics of their establishment,” and we all know what that means.

Nominate one comedian you don’t know personally who you think is overdue for wider recognition and why.
Chanel Ali deserves to be a comedy megastar. I feel like I’m in the presence of a famous person when I see her perform.

When it comes to your comedy opinions — about material, performing, audience, the industry, etc. — what hill will you die on?
One day I was talking about stand-up comedy with one of my favorite writers, Jamilah Lemieux, and she said, “Comedians made up this rule that you can joke about anything as long as it’s funny, but the rest of us didn’t sign up for that,” and it changed how I viewed performing. Long story short, that edgelord reactionary shit is corny. Write a real punch line. If I hear a comedian say they’re “fighting for free speech,” I immediately tune them out. Especially if they’re rich with Netflix specials and a podcast with millions of listeners.

What’s an embarrassingly earnest goal you have?
I want to be one of the biggest comedy-film directors. Just like when you see a director’s last name, like Peele, Tarantino, or Nolan, you know what kind of level of film you’re going to get. I want to be the same way. When people see my last name on a film poster, I want them to know they’re in for a very funny 100 minutes. And I want to do it with my friends and have a fun run like the Apatow-Rogen crew or how Will Ferrell and his crew did in the 2000s. Hopefully I can get the guys from the 85 South Show in all my movies too.

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?
The best comedy advice I’ve ever gotten was, “Only write stand-up jokes about shit that you love or you hate, because if you don’t really care about it, the audience will be able to tell, and they won’t care either.” The worst comedy advice I’ve ever gotten was from a couple older comedians when I first started. They told me I was more of a writer than a performer, so I should just forget the stage and focus more on writing. But I did this wild thing called being great at more than one thing, and I’ve never seen them on a list like this before, so fuck them. Respectfully.

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Someone Order Niles Abston’s Pilot Stat