From ‘Atlanta’ to ‘The White Lotus’

Comedy came in increasingly unexpected shapes and sizes this year.

There were form-breaking stand-up hours that made us reexamine what the art form could do, and genre-defying TV series that could turn on a dime from outrageous laughs to shocking violence or even heart-wrenching tears. The studio comedy may be a thing of the past, but the network sitcom is resurgent thanks to Abbott Elementary, and next year’s Best Picture frontrunner is one of the most bizarrely hilarious films in years.

With all of this in mind, we welcomed The Daily Beast’s Laura Bradley and Allegra Frank to The Last Laugh podcast to join our annual discussion about the funniest performances of the year and share each of our top five lists below.

Matt Wilstein

5. Zach Cherry in Severance

It can’t be easy to hold your own opposite both John Turturro and Christopher Walken, but that’s just what the relatively unknown Zach Cherry was able to do in Apple TV+’s Severance. Alongside fellow breakthrough newcomer Britt Lower as Helly, Cherry managed to get more laughs per minute as the overly confident Dylan in the otherwise “mindfuck” of a sci-fi dystopia from director Ben Stiller.

4. Meghann Fahy in The White Lotus

“I voted, didn’t I?” From the moment Meghann Fahy’s Daphne asked her husband Cameron (Theo James) that question in the Season 2 premiere of The White Lotus, I knew she was going to be my favorite character on the show. Her blissful ignorance, especially in contrast with Aubrey Plaza’s frustrated anxiety as Harper, made every scene featuring the two couples laugh-out-loud hilarious in the most excruciating way.

3. Ebon Moss-Bachrach in The Bear

Was there a more fully formed character on television this year than Cousin Richie on The Bear? From the moment Ebon Moss-Bachrach bursts onto the screen with his propulsive energy and nearly unintelligible Chicago accent, the wild ride begins and practically never slows down—even when he’s literally stabbed in the back by his mortal enemy in the middle of the most chaotic restaurant scene ever filmed.

2. Kate Berlant in Cinnamon in the Wind, Would It Kill You to Laugh?, A League of Their Own, and Don’t Worry Darling

In many ways, 2022 was the year of Kate Berlant. The influential comedian finally released her long-awaited stand-up special Cinnamon in the Wind at the same time she was debuting an entirely separate eponymous live show in New York—both directed by last year’s comedy icon Bo Burnham. That would have been enough, but she also put out the best sketch comedy of the year with John Early, stole scenes in the excellent A League of Their Own reboot, and even managed to get laughs in the otherwise dreadful Don’t Worry Darling.

1. Jerrod Carmichael in Rothaniel (and SNL)

Jerrod Carmichael has been one of the most accomplished stand-up comedians on the scene for years. But nothing could have prepared comedy fans for what he managed to do with his 2022 HBO special Rothaniel (also directed by Bo Burnham). His decision to come out as a gay man on stage may have been the headline, but the secrets didn’t stop there. Carmichael’s ability to remain present, surprising, and, most importantly, funny was unparalleled in this astonishing hour of stand-up. And six days later, he managed to do it all over again in the year’s best Saturday Night Live monologue, which managed to help us all move on from “The Slap.”

Laura Bradley

5. Kate Hudson in Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

It’s been a while since we’ve seen Kate Hudson, our one-time rom-com queen, in a big, splashy film role. In Glass Onion, however, Hudson dives right back into the limelight. In keeping with Knives Out tradition, Glass Onion runs on social satire—specifically by lampooning the exceedingly wealthy as airheaded egomaniacs. Hudson’s character, Birdie Jay, takes the gambit a step further with a drop of grinning self-parody. (Birdie just happens to be the face of an athleisure empire—a prime comedic opportunity for Hudson, who is herself the face of Fabletics.) With each purse of her lips and Instagram-ready twirl, Hudson swans through this movie, stealing the show in the process and confirming that the apple never fell far from the tree—in this case, Hudson’s side-splittingly funny mother, Goldie Hawn.

4. Tyler James Williams in Abbott Elementary

The “direct stare to camera” trope has begun to feel played out, but not in the case of Tyler James Williams’ performance as Gregory Eddie, the designated killjoy of Abbott Elementary. Whether Gregory’s discussing his childhood with an extremely stern father, explaining his distaste for pizza, or quietly grousing about his subordinate position to an utterly careless boss, he is Abbott Elementary’s everyman—our eyes in, and our voice of reason in, an often utterly bonkers place. From his grudging passion for gardening to his excruciatingly gradual “will they, won’t they (they definitely will, though)” with Quinta Brunson’s Janine Teagues, it’s impossible not to love good ol’ Greg.

3. Regina Hall in Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.

Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. deserved more acclaim and attention than it got this year. Sterling K. Brown and Regina Hall both dazzle as the embattled couple behind a scandal-plagued megachurch. But it’s Hall as Trinitie Childs whose performance stuck in my mind for weeks, even months, afterward. Trinitie stands by her man throughout the mockumentary, but her motivations for doing so become more visibly complex as the film progresses. As Trinitie’s world comes unglued—all in front of a gaggle of film producers whom she openly resents—Hall balances fragility and ego, vulnerability and complicity. Trinitie is both a victim of her husband and an enabler. And while Hall never lets Trinitie off the hook, the most remarkable thing about her performance is that by the end, most viewers will at least fully understand her point of view.

2. Lee Pace in Bodies, Bodies, Bodies

Some might say Lee Pace entered his hot guy era around the time this comedy slasher debuted, and others (this writer included) might argue that Pace’s smoldering days began much earlier. Either way, it’s hard to imagine who else could have brought such oddball humor to this role. It’s not just that Pace is a tall, adult man among a bunch of relatively scrawny twentysomethings in this movie (although that definitely doesn’t hurt). And it’s not just that he’s built like a Ken doll with a face to match (although, again… doesn’t hurt). It’s the off-kilter energy he brings as a grown-ass man named Greg who’s nonetheless found himself at a hurricane party with a coke-snorting Rachel Sennott and her rowdiest friends. Pace might’ve played an elf, a vampire, and a Marvel villain in the past, but this might be his most superhuman performance yet.

1. Michelle Yeoh in Everything Everywhere All at Once

And speaking of superhumans… Michelle Yeoh! The Malaysian superstar has discussed the delight she felt at finally being offered a role that allows her to embrace all her talents and showcase her emotional range, and as viewers found out in droves earlier this year, she made the most of every second. As Evelyn Wang, a put-upon mother consumed by bitterness about how her life has unfolded, Yeoh makes her character’s pain palpable—until she discovers she might just be the most powerful person in the universe and must battle an alternate-universe version of her daughter Joy, called Jobu Tupaki. (And somehow, their entire conflict centers around an everything bagel in the sky.) Whether she’s wielding hotdog fingers or kicking everyone’s asses in a fight scene, Yeoh remains in command of the camera at all times. As in all her films, it’s impossible to look away—especially when you lock gazes with the googly eye on her forehead.

Allegra Frank

5. Freddie Stroma in Peacemaker

Peacemaker was the funniest black comedy of the year, and one that I worry not enough people watched. The DC Universe connection may have obscured the fact that the show stars some incredibly idiosyncratic, hilarious characters, equally snarky and bumbling. The best was Vigilante, played with blustering ego, blistering chaos, and childlike insecurity by Freddie Stroma. The put-upon, self-appointed best friend of Peacemaker (John Cena), Vigilante just wants to join his pal in picking off bad guys. Too bad he’s equal parts annoying and terrifying, switching gears between breaking people’s limbs and making tone-deaf, pea-brained comments. Stroma did a killer (pun intended) job establishing the antihero, who arrived both fully formed and so funny.

4. Donald Glover (as Mr. Chocolate) in Atlanta

Atlanta ended its killer run this year, with back-to-back seasons that experimented with the show’s form and comedy. An episode in the fourth (and final) season, “Mr. Chocolate,” reminded me most of what the show was so good at in its first two seasons: bending reality to a fantastical degree. And Donald Glover is to thank for that, putting on tons of makeup and a bald cap to play the Tyler Perry-like Mr. Chocolate. He’s not as creepy as Glover’s Teddy Perkins was back in Season 2, but he’s having a lot of fun here—which is a blast to watch. A diabolical entertainment mogul is an easy villain to throw into a story; this episode reminded me of The Boondocks’ classic Perry satire too. But Glover dissolves into the character with aplomb, as if he’s been playing Mr. Chocolate for years. It’s hilarious and a little horrifying.

3. Angela in The Rehearsal

Was The Rehearsal reality or a performance? I am exhausted by and not about to reopen the discourse. But whatever Angela was doing on the show—I maintain that it was unscripted goodness—was endlessly funny. From her candid camera dances in the kitchen to her eerily calm reprimanding of Nathan, Angela played a large part in ensuring that The Rehearsal’s scheme worked. Every word she said betrayed a self-assurance that’s rare to find on TV, especially a show as absurd as this one. Angela is a woman of infinite patience, mystery, and opinions about Satanic practices, and I’ll never forget her for it.

2. Connor Ratliff in Dead Eyes

Dead Eyes was an excellent vehicle for Connor Ratliff, who’s been killing it in the alt-comedy scene for years. The podcast, where he recounts the story of how Tom Hanks supposedly fired him from Band of Brothers for having “dead eyes,” was his overdue mainstream breakthrough. Ratliff repackaged his inherent sad-sack energy into an earnest, sweet, always funny exploration of career setbacks. Proving a wonderfully empathetic interviewer, Ratliff was able to sell his more-famous guests on participating in his granular journey into tracking down Mr. Hanks and confronting him. Nothing felt more earned than that finale, when Ratliff and Hanks finally do sit and chat about the alleged incident. The result is a human, relatable, incredibly singular work of comedic art. And Ratliff’s hilariously measured commitment to the bit is completely to thank.

1. Misha Brooks in Players

Players couldn’t have worked without casting convincing actors to portray the subjects of the esports mockumentary. And most convincing of all was Misha Brooks as Creamcheese, a bitter former legend whose anxiety and ego have continued to rob him of his chance at League of Legends victory. Creamcheese nails that delicate balance of leaning into assholedom without turning everyone against him. It’s all thanks to Brooks’ talent for imbuing every braggadocious comment with a slight sadness—he knows that Creamcheese is a douche who claims to be the best because, otherwise, he’d be consumed by his self-loathing. It’s what leads to the funniest moments, like when Creamcheese tries and fails to puff himself up at a high school reunion. And it’s heartbreaking, too, when that failure clearly eviscerates him. It’s a brilliant performance that I hope we get more of.

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