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Highly Specific Superlatives: The Best Bits Of Stand-Up Comedy In 2019


It's the time of year when everyone has a best-of list - best movies, best TV shows, best albums. Well, we're going to take you beyond those run-of-the-mill lists to something more specific - highly specific. Yesterday we heard awards for outstanding achievement by a hamstring - J.Lo in the movie "Hustlers" - and best use of a hammer in an action sequence. That went to the TV show "Watchmen" - loved it. Today we are going highly specific on stand-up comedy.

NPR arts correspondent Elizabeth Blair came up with three categories for us. The first - best comedy bit about pregnancy.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: And the honors go to Amy Schumer. Let's give a listen.


AMY SCHUMER: Usually when someone in the public eye gets pregnant, there's like a couple months where there's some rumors about them, you know? There's some, like - oop - bump alert. Right? Uh-oh.


SCHUMER: I was well into my second trimester.


SCHUMER: Not one [expletive] rumor about me - nothing.


SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Oh, Amy.

BLAIR: And by the way, this is probably the most family-friendly joke on Schumer's special.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) And even that had a bleep, yeah.

BLAIR: Yeah. Right. It's called "Growing." It's on Netflix. You can always count on her to be very raunchy. And in the special, she gets very real about what it feels like to be pregnant.

SHAPIRO: She is so famous at this point. She's had a bunch of comedy specials. Do her jokes still feel fresh?

BLAIR: She still feels fresh to me because as her life changes, so do her jokes. She's still making the messier side of life funny. But the bits themselves are so polished. She makes you feel like she's the funniest friend you never had.

SHAPIRO: OK. The next category is best joke about Jussie Smollett. He was an actor on the TV show "Empire." He ended up in the center of one of the weirdest stories of the year. In January, he claimed he'd been assaulted by two men who yelled racist, homophobic slurs at him. The Chicago Police say he faked the attack. Smollett stands by the story. There's a lot we don't know. What we do know is comedians loved this story.

BLAIR: This really became fodder for many comedians, including Dave Chappelle, Tracy Morgan, Chris Rock.

SHAPIRO: And so the award for best...

BLAIR: Jussie...

SHAPIRO: ...Joke about Jussie Smollett goes to...

BLAIR: Ramy Youssef from his HBO special "Feelings." And what's interesting is that Youssef shows a little bit of compassion for Jussie Smollett. I mean, this is a sad story in many ways. So let's hear a bit of it.


RAMY YOUSSEF: Like, if I were him, I would have made it seem like it was my plan the whole time. Like, the second I got caught, I would have called a press conference and been like - OK, now that I have your attention...


YOUSSEF: ...The ice caps are melting.


YOUSSEF: This isn't even Chicago. It's stolen Navajo land. Like, are we going to talk about the crimes of this country?

SHAPIRO: Ramy Youssef is less well-known than some of the other people you mentioned - Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock. Is he one to watch?

BLAIR: He's absolutely one to watch. And people should watch the whole special because this bit goes on for quite a while.


BLAIR: And it's more nuanced and more unexpected as it goes along. So he is from New Jersey. He's Egyptian American. He has his own Hulu special. So he's very active. He's on the rise, for sure.

SHAPIRO: Last award of the night - best bit on the immigrant experience.

BLAIR: And it's from Ronny Chieng, who was born in Malaysia, spent time in both New Hampshire and Singapore growing up. He's a correspondent for "The Daily Show." He was in "Crazy Rich Asians." And like the best stand-up comedians, he's hyper-observant and whip smart. This is from his new special "Asian Comedian Destroys America!".


RONNY CHIENG: The Chinese name for America is Meiguo. That directly translates into English as beautiful country. That's the Chinese name for America - beautiful country. That's what we say when you say America in sentences; you say beautiful country. Have you been to beautiful country? They have unlimited napkins in beautiful country.


CHIENG: They don't give a [expletive]. They don't even use it. They just take it and then just throw it away.


CHIENG: It's a beautiful country. China in Chinese is Zhongguo. That means middle country. It means nothing.


CHIENG: We named this place better than we named our own [expletive].


SHAPIRO: Is this pretty typical of Ronny Chieng's comedy?

BLAIR: Not exclusively. He jokes about his family. He jokes about what it's like to live in New York. But it is always from the perspective of someone who's straddling two cultures.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR arts correspondent Elizabeth Blair with highly specific comedy awards. Thanks, Elizabeth.

BLAIR: Thanks for the opportunity. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.