It takes a lot of money to make a film and a lot of connections to get a network television deal. That’s why many auteurs have blossomed in the digital realm, and being funny is a surefire way to grab attention online. A little web series called “Delusional Downtown Divas” gave Lena Dunham the confidence to start her filmmaking career, which caught Judd Apatow’s eye. Web series “High Maintenance” is coming to HBO this year, and early sketches from Abbi and Ilana’s “Broad City” can still be found online. These aren’t anomalies. We’ve combed the thicket of web content to identify the next generation of funny and innovative storytellers, so you can say you knew them when.
Comedy fans have long been swooning over Daily Show correspondent Jessica Williams, and now her so-called “work wife,” Phoebe Robinson, is getting some well-deserved attention. Together they host “2 Dope Queens,” a monthly comedy show and a podcast for WNYC. Robinson’s solo comedy show “Night Late” is on YouTube, and she hosts “WOKE BAE” on Refinery29’s new female-driven comedy channel, Riot. The premise is simple: Robinson and a rotating cast of female comedians discuss the merits of various “hot, famous dudes who affect positive change in the world.” Funny, feminist, and political, Robinson should have a network deal in no time. As she quips in a clever Upworthy Original, “Have you not seen the president? Literally everyone’s black right now.”
Originally of the lo-fi cult hit “Jeffrey & Cole Casserole,” Cole Escola has been making funny (both haha and strange) Internet content for years. A renowned New York downtown cabaret performer, he whips up brilliantly quirky video teasers as promotion for his monthly live shows, though they would likely sell out regardless. Currently, his most popular video is “Mom Commercial,” a scathing satire of representations of moms in advertising. “Monologue for a Teenage Boy” is a saccharine teen fantasy with a dark twist, and “The Goblin Commuter of Hoboken” is an absurdist office parody. With a stint on Hulu’s “Difficult People” and an upcoming role in the Jemima Kirke vehicle “New York is Dead,” you certainly won’t be forgetting his punim anytime soon.
She’s the two-time Emmy nominated director quietly making waves all over the digital sphere (full disclosure: we’ve worked together), from launching a short film series for “This American Life” to pushing the envelope on branded content that has commercial producers clamoring for her work. This year, Giaever won a Webby Award and a Daytime Emmy for her “Videos 4 U” series, and was also nominated for her 20-minute Jetblue special, “Humankinda,” starring Sam Richardson (“Veep”). Though she crosses genres, she always remains true to her distinct style. Often absurdist, teetering on twee, and always searching for answers to seemingly simple questions, Giaever’s work is undeniably hers, which is to say, unlike anything else.
Fans of the real Chloe Sevigny will love “Chloe,” Drew Droege’s non-linear web caricature of the actress, which skewers all things indie. With cheesy green screen backdrops and catchy queer pop soundtracks, episodes are titled by mundane topics Chloe claims to have discovered, like Christmas, exercise, or toast. Peppered with obscure film and television references, Chloe’s quips never fail to tickle: “Awaken the skeleton with a bath of lavender gravy by Uzo Adoba,” or, “while riding half-bucket in Greg Araki’s hatchback…”
Droege’s best comedic touches are putting the wrong emphasis on the wrong syllable, inventing words, and alliteration. (“It was only when I rescued my Kevlar cloak from the genderqueer coat-keep…”) In 2015, Droege and “Chloe” director Jim Hansen released their debut feature, “Kill Me Now,” a welcome addition to the camp comedy/horror genre.
Hailing from Forest Hills, Queens, comedic rapper Awkwafina (née Nora Lum) may have attended the same high school as Nicki Minaj and Azealia Banks, but her work is both funnier and more political. In addition to producing well-polished music videos with titles like “My Vag,” “Queef,” and “Green Tea,” her stance as an unabashedly sexual and proudly Asian woman is a refreshing one. In her song “NYC Bitche$” she calls out another feminist auteur: “Shout out to Greenpoint, kielbasa in the oven/Greenpoint, where all the bitches look like Lena Dunham.” She also hosts a show for Astronauts Wanted called “Small TAWK” on YouTube interviewing other comedians, and recently collaborated with none other than Margaret Cho.