Fall's dropping temperatures mean it's time to head into comedy clubs and other places that can help you laugh yourself warm. This season Madison has a calendar jam-packed with excellent shows. From these, Isthmus has picked 16 you don't want to miss. Some are stocked with local favorites, and others feature famous headliners.
Visit isthmus.com/theguide for show announcements, including some much-anticipated New Year's Eve lineups.
Comedy Club on State, Sept. 18-20
No one on the planet wears trucker hats better than Friedlander. His hats -- and the various slogans stitched on those hats -- were a staple of his seven seasons on NBC's 30 Rock. On stage, Friedlander is incredibly confident; he calls his standup persona "The World Champion." Friedlander's shows promise a lot of clever riffing with the audience and, of course, at least one trucker hat. (See an Isthmus interview with the comedian.)
Barrymore Theatre, Sept. 19-20
Any type of group has a limited shelf life in Madison, be it band or book club or frisbee team. It is only a matter of time until a member moves away or somebody gets a new job or baby arrives and makes it difficult to practice. So it's amazing that local sketch group the Prom Committee is still going strong. Formed in the long-ago 20th century, the group features sharp, well-honed writing and an amazing cast chemistry. Plus, you've got to admire a local act that can fill a venue the size of the Barrymore.
Plan B, Sept. 19
Most comedy shows are still really, really heteronormative. Producer and host Dina Martinez is looking to change that with Alphabet Soup, a monthly LGBTQ comedy show. September's edition features headliner Kelsie Huff, a Chicago comic who's an amazing storyteller. She's even found a way to turn serious body-image issues into something hilarious.
Barrymore Theatre, Sept. 27
At live shows by Adult Swim's anti-comedy duo Tim and Eric, you can never tell if they're trying to make you laugh or if they are just laughing at you. They've passed through the Barrymore before, but this time they're bringing Dr. Steve Brule (aka actor John C. Reilly). Reilly made Brule into possibly the most bizarre comedy character of the last decade. This show is already sold out, probably because a lot of people really want to see an Academy Award-nominated actor yell "dingus." If you look hard enough for a ticket, you can hear him shout it out, too.
True Coffee Roasters, Sept. 26
While many comic musicians deal in irony, Phillips is brutally personal, crafting catchy songs about his professional and romantic failures. He's also comfortable in the realms of politics and history, which he recently showed as a storyteller on Comedy Central's Drunk History.
Atlas Improv, Fridays from Oct. 3 to Nov. 7
Improv groups usually hold auditions for new members behind closed doors. While that may be effective, it doesn't make for a very good show. Local troupe Atlas Improv models its auditions after reality-TV elimination programs. Over six weeks, the audience and a panel of judges whittle down a group of improv wannabes. The winner becomes a full troupe member. Atlas only holds the competition every other year. Past winners include Madison's Funniest Comic 2014, Stacey Kulow (see "How Atlas Improv brought Bryan Morris and Stacey Kulow together").
Comedy Club on State, Oct. 4
Doug Benson returns to the Comedy Club on State for the second time in 2014 to record an episode of his podcast Doug Loves Movies. Attending a Doug Loves Movies taping is a unique experience -- it feels halfway between a taping of Michael Feldman's radio show Whad'Ya Know? at Monona Terrace and a living-room hangout with a group of friends. Benson books a great panel of comedians for the show and does a solid job moderating while still giving the members opportunities to indulge in hilarious tangents.
Multiple venues, Oct. 16-19
While 2014 has been a great year for comedy in Madison, no event will come close to the Madison Comedy Festival. Taking place in four venues (the Comedy Club on State, Majestic Theatre, Barrymore Theatre and Orpheum Theatre) over four days, this is a megaton of comedy. Bookers have scheduled events to suit a wide variety of tastes, including theater shows with big names like John Hodgman and Chris D'Elia. The fest will also have some favorite headliners from the Comedy Club on State, like Chad Daniels and Kevin Bozeman.
Majestic Theatre, Oct. 24
Cenac left behind a job as a correspondent for The Daily Show, a job 99.9999% of comedians would kill for. He's a comedian who craves new challenges, and his October appearance will be a chance to see what he's been working on. Cenac's new hour of comedy is titled Live in Brooklyn, and the tour stop in Madison is cleverly titled Live in Brooklyn in Madison. In his new material, Cenac covers the gentrification of the neighborhoods he grew up in. While Madison may be far from the East Coast, our town can certainly relate to jokes about white people's love of all things artisanal.
Majestic Theatre, Nov. 13
Sketch duo Broad City, aka Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, were supposed to perform in Madison in March, but their tour was postponed when they received the positive news that their Comedy Central show was being picked up for a second season. While Jacobson and Glazer had built up a sizable audience through YouTube videos, their Comedy Central show brought them to a whole new audience. In a year when Comedy Central had what was probably its best-ever lineup of shows, Broad City stood out from the pack by featuring strong female characters and pitch-perfect writing.
Overture Center, Nov. 13
Few things compare to seeing a living legend in action. Watching Michael Jordan play basketball, Patrick Stewart deliver a Shakespearean monologue or Bruce Springsteen play "Thunder Road." Seeing Bill Cosby do standup matches any of those.
Glass Nickel Pizza-Madison East, Nov. 15
Madison has a lot of local standup and a lot of local improv, but the two forms of comedy rarely share a show. Sean Moore, a veteran of standup and improv, curates this monthly show on the third Saturday of every month. November's show features Madison standups Mike Schmidt and Chris Lay, who will each perform a set. Improv troupe Monkey Business Institute will then do improv inspired by the standup comics' sets.
Orpheum Theatre, Nov. 22
As an actor, Sykes has appeared on shows such as Curb Your Enthusiasm and Alpha House and films such as the criminally underappreciated Pootie Tang. As a writer, Sykes won an Emmy for her work on The Chris Rock Show. Through all of her work, she displays an unflinching voice, using humor to challenge worldviews and soften harsh realities. Sykes will bring that voice to Madison for her Orpheum appearance.
The Kevin Bozeman 10th Annual Thanksgiving Eve Comedy Show
Orpheum Theatre, Nov. 26
Kevin Bozeman's annual event is based on a simple idea. Since a bunch of comedians come back to Madison to visit their families for Thanksgiving, they might as well put on a show. Bozeman always manages to book four or five headliner-level comedians in a single night. For the 10th anniversary of the Thanksgiving Eve show, Bozeman is bringing in big names like Hannibal Buress and is moving the show from the Comedy Club on State to the much larger Orpheum Theatre. It's a show worth attending even if it means you sleep through the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade the next morning.
Orpheum Theatre, Dec. 7
Oliver visited Madison to cover the 2011 Capitol protests for The Daily Show. Since then, his career has skyrocketed. He received stellar reviews while serving as a guest host for The Daily Show. This year, he launched his own fake news show, HBO's Last Week Tonight, which has launched a whole new genre: investigative comedic journalism. Oliver will step away from the desk when he comes to Madison in December. I hope his standup has remained sharp even as his television career has picked up.
Nate Craig and Townie Fest 6
Frequency, Dec. 28
Nate Craig is a local boy made good. A graduate of Madison West High and the UW, Craig left the Badger State to pursue a career in comedy and is now a regular on the Los Angeles comedy scene. You can still tell he's got some Wisconsin in him, though, as his Twitter is often filled with tweets about the Packers and Wisconsin politics. Craig also shows his hometown love with Townie Fest, the annual fundraiser he puts on for Aaron's House Madison, a local project that helps men stay sober after battling addiction.
[Editor's note: The Garfunkel and Oates performance originally scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 18 has been moved to Thursday, Nov. 13.]