One of Netflix’s primary fanbases, beginning with the sneaky genius of BoJack Horseman and continuing through Maria Bamford’s highly anticipated Lady Dynamite later this spring, has been cult comedy fans. Which makes perfect sense: who’s more likely to shell out money for a streaming service than a bunch of entertainment-obsessed nerds? (That’s also the idea behind NBC’s fledgling Seeso.)
This Friday, Netflix upholds that tradition with The Characters, its first sketch show that’s not a de facto Mr. Show revival. Unlike the comedy supergroup behind With Bob and David, the eight-person cast of The Characters, each of whom will write and star in their own episode, is deliberately less-established — though by no means unknown. Here’s your guide to the up-and-coming performers who came together to make the show, including alumni of Broad City, Saturday Night Live, and Orange Is the New Black.
Though Lapkus has a steady stream of side gigs doing some straight-up acting for the likes of Orange Is the New Black and Jurassic World, the world-class improviser is known to comedy fans as, in Jezebel writer Madeleine Davies’ words, a “podcast all-star.” She’s done plenty of character work on Comedy Bang Bang, but her own show tells you all you need to know about her wildly prolific sensibility. Called With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus, the podcast has a different premise every week — with Lapkus playing the fictional guest and her actual guest playing the fictional host. It makes perfect sense when you listen to it.
Praising a comedian’s Twitter to hype their film and television work can feel sort of backhanded, but seriously: Read. Kate. Berlant’s. Twitter. And then watch her standup, including a set on The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail (“I believe 100% that women are allowed to steal cosmetics”), and her Funny or Die series Yes vs. No with fellow cast member John Early, or really any video that captures an oddball energy — and an Ilana Glazer-like talent for truly weird faces —that’s truly unparalleled. Berlant’s sensibility starts with a straightforward feminist bent and quickly takes a left turn into the surreal.
Alone among The Characters, Dr. Brown isn’t a performer — he’s a character himself. The creation of Angeleno-turned-adopted-Brit Phil Burgers, Dr. Brown’s been around for over half a decade, starring in stage shows (one of which won the Edinburgh Festival’s top prize in 2012) and starring in mini-sketch series of his own. A graduate of the same French clown school attended by Sacha Baron Cohen and spoofed by Zach Galifianakis in Baskets, Burgers traffics in borderline performance art that frequently verges on anti-comedy — and often involves full-frontal nudity.
Paul W. Downs
Probably the best known of the eight, at least to a certain subset of city-dwelling comedy nerds, thanks to his role as Trey, Abbi’s boss turned coworker turned, most recently, possible love interest at Broad City’s terrifyingly accurate boutique fitness spoof Soulstice. Behind the camera, however, Downs is also one of the major creative forces behind the show — along with creative and romantic partner Lucia Aniello, he’s co-written some of its best episodes. He’ll co-star with Ilana Glazer in Comedy Central’s upcoming Time-Traveling Bong miniseries, and he and Aniello have both a 21 Jump Street spinoff and “a female-driven comedy described as The Hangover meets Weekend At Bernie’s” in the works at Sony. He’s a busy man! A very busy, very stoned, very talented man.
As his appearances on the likes of High Maintenance, Broad City, and 30 Rock might suggest, Early’s long enjoyed a reputation as one of the best the New York comedy scene has to offer. A stand-up, actor, and frequent collaborator with fellow Characters cast member Kate Berlant, Early is mid-transition from “hey, that guy” (from The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail, and Love, and Fort Tilden) status to well-deserved wider recognition. Here, have a deliciously awkward faux-interview with Kate McKinnon.
One of the unfortunate victims of the Great SNL Cast Flooding of the Early Teens — which would peak the very next season with short-lived newcomers like Brooks Whelan and Noel Wells — before the show finally settled on its current cast, Robinson went on to serve as a writer. Now, he makes occasional guest appearances on Late Night with Seth Meyers, and he’s set to co-star in Comedy Central’s Detroiters, about two friends on a quixotic quest to revitalize their beloved hometown, with Veep‘s Sam Richardson.
Another veteran of SNL (she’s been a writer since fall 2014, after previously auditioning for the cast spot that eventually went to Sasheer Zamata) and UCB, Rothwell’s also an occasional panelist on The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore. But all you really need to see is this sketch where she plays a TSA worker charged with “penis inspection.”
Horror aficionado (he co-hosts The Last Podcast on the Left with Ben Kissel and Marcus Parks) and accomplished actor (serving as comic relief for the likes of Wolf of Wall Street and Heroes Reborn), Zebrowski is best known for Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell, an Adult Swim workplace demon in which he stars as Gary, an ineffectual demon struggling to climb the ranks of Hell. Basically, expect creepy, meta horror comedy.