2023 Yes And…Laughter Lab Fellows

2023 Fellows

Ali Sultan #

Ali Sultan is a Yemeni-Ethiopian American comedian seen on Comedy Central, Don’t Tell Comedy, and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. He filmed his Half Hour comedy special in Dubai for Comedy Central Arabia and won the Best in The Midwest competition at Gilda’s LaughFest. His Drybar special has over a million views on YouTube and he loves his two cats.

Benjamin-Shalom Rodriguez #

Benjamin-Shalom Rodriguez is a filmmaker, comedian and celebrity game night host with Cal’s Game Night. He created and hosts the digital series, Stoned Breakups (Best Episodic Short Nominee, LALIFF 2022), and wrote/directed the upcoming Blackmagic Collective-supported feature, America’s Next Top Immigrant. He’s also an alumnus of Sundance Screenwriters Intensive, Ryan Murphy’s HALF, and a recipient of the Will & Jada Smith Family Foundation Development Grant for his feature, Bar Mitzvah Boy.

Carrie Dougherty #

Carrie Dougherty, a producer based in Los Angeles, has worked on multiple films, including The Art of Murder (2018) and Only Mine (2019), both from MarVista Entertainment. She also has a deep-rooted career in studio-television production, with her most notable shows being Who Wants to be a Millionaire (2020), Master Minds (2020), and Whose Line is it Anyway? (2015-2019). Carrie’s latest work is in the Esports industry, which is a rapidly growing sector of the entertainment industry.

Chike Robinson #

Chike Robinson is a comedian, 3D Animator, writer, and actor hailing from Flint, Michigan. He was recently named a “Comic To Watch” and “Content Creator To Watch” at the 2022 New York Comedy Festival. He’s one third of the sketch comedy trio “ZANG.”

Dominique Nisperos #

Dominique Nisperos is a multi-racial nonbinary comedian of color with a disability. Their credits include ABC, Blue Man Group, Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, FunnyorDie, ABS-CBN Global, and more. A recovering academic, former Doctoral Candidate in Sociology, and Ford Fellow, Dominique graduated with honors from the University of California at Berkeley with degrees in Ethnic Studies and Sociology. Their mission is to create comedy that uplifts oppressed people, especially people of color, women, and nonbinary folks.

Ella Gale #

Ella Gale is a writer, director, and comedian originally from Colorado. She has been a Black List Feature Lab fellow and received the Black List x Hornitos “Take Your Shot” short film grant. The resulting short Hell Gig played at Fantastic Fest, Fantasia, and the Florida Film Festival. Ella has performed at comedy festivals like Moontower and Limestone, and has written for McSweeney‘s, Reductress, and the Hard Times.

Esther Chen #

Esther Chen is a comedian and actor from Taiwan. She is seen on HBO, Max, Hulu, Amazon, FX, NBC, Comedy Central and MTV. She is also the dialect coach for Mr. Robot S2&3 and contributed to the translations. Esther recently recurred on And Just Like That, shot a promo for Jerry Seinfeld’s Netflix special, and guest starred on Law and Order: O/C. She has performed at the American Embassy, a bakery in Chinatown, and a Jewish cemetery.

Jill Twiss #

Jill Twiss is an Emmy and Peabody Award winning comedy writer for shows like Last Week Tonight With John Oliver and The Amber Ruffin Show. She’s also a #1 New York Times Bestseller, with children’s books including “A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo” and “The Someone New.” Jill also writes sentences for the National Spelling Bee and recently completed a comedic play about the Seneca Falls Convention, titled “Sex Convention.”

Molly Ruben-Long #

Molly Ruben-Long is a Brooklyn-born-and-based comedian/writer/actor who has performed at Just for Laughs and The Kennedy Center. She has been on Vice and Fuse and she hosts a monthly stand-up show at Union Hall in Brooklyn called “I’m Actually From Here.”

Moujan Zolfaghari #

Moujan Zolfaghari is an Emmy award-nominated writer, actor and performer, who has written on TV shows such as TBS’s The Detour, The Helpsters, Tiny Chef, an upcoming animated DC project and more. As an actor, she can be seen on At Home with Amy Sedaris, Last Week Tonight & voices a mogwai in Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai. She’s also the co-creator of Mission to Zyxx, a sci-fi audiocomedy series on MaxFun.

Nahreen Tarzi #

Nahreen Tarzi is a Syrian-American writer, director, and comedian based in L.A. She was Head Writer for CBS Diversity Showcase and Frederator Networks, and has written for shows like Rubble & Crew (Nickelodeon), Blippi, Cocomelon, and T-Rex Ranch (Moonbug Entertainment). She was a finalist in the Universal Animation Writers Program and won Best Direction and Best Show at CrazyWokeAsians Solo Festival. She also has a popular 2-woman show (M.E. So Funny) centered on Middle-Eastern culture.

Ricky Sim #

Ricky Sim is a lawyer turned comedian originally from Malaysia. As a stand-up, he has performed in NYC, LA, Toronto, Kuala Lumpur at venues such as Laugh Factory and Carolines on Broadway. He performed at the New York Comedy Festival and the New York Queer Comedy Festival, and was selected as a 2021 PIT/SNL scholarship recipient. His stand-up comedy solo show “Coming Out to Dead People” was featured at the Off-Broadway Soho Playhouse theater.

Tiara Francis #

Tiara Francis is a writer, actor, and comedian from Harlem, NY. Her credits include Totally Biased with W Kamau Bell, MTV News, Bustle, NowThis News, IAF.TV, Refinery29, and UCB Comedy. She’s also performed as a member of BoogieManja Sketch and Comedy People’s Time Improv at the PIT. Her work incorporates her passion for pop culture, politics, music, history, travel, and sci-fi, and you can find her online at

V Marks #

V Marks is a Brooklyn-born, LA-based writer and performer with a BFA in Screenwriting from USC. Their pilot Puberty Too won the Humanitas College Comedy Award, and their feature Nice Jewish Girls was Top 3% in The Script Lab’s Free Screenplay Competition. Their writing explores the two questions that keep them up at night: “what do we owe each other in this cutthroat world?” and “how much gay sex can I put in one script?”

Zain Shami #

Zain Shami is one of the first hijab-wearing comedians to perform stand-up in the world. She has been featured on numerous TV shows and films, including the upcoming Netflix film Pomegranate, The Late Late Show with James Corden, The Syrian and many more. She may seem like your everyday Hijabi but she’s a TikTok dancing, foodie loving, Arab-American woman trying to normalize the everyday life of a Muslim Woman!

2023 Finalists

Adam Valen #

Adam Valen Levinson is Yale University’s first PhD in the study of standup, and the author of The Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah (W. W. Norton). A “gifted storyteller” (The New York Times) who “believes in harmony” (Maxim), Adam centers his written and TV work on unexpected communalities. He received the International Society for Humor Studies’ Young Scholar Award and hosts The Zal podcast with ultraorthadox Rabbi Dovid Grossbaum. He is based nowhere in particular.

Akila 'AK' Walker #

Akilah ‘AK’ Walker is an award-winning director, writer, actress and creative producer who specializes in telling personal, nuanced stories that center women of color. Akilah was selected as a Directing Fellow by NALIP/Netflix Latino Lens Women of color Narrative Short FIlm Incubator and her latest short film ‘Pedacito de Carne’ which premiered at the NALIP Diverse Women in Media Forum ‘23. ‘Pedacito De Carne’ is a docu-narrative film that raises awareness for Front-Temporal Dementia (FTD).

Amy DePaola #

Writer and director, Amy DePaola tells stories that find humor and heart in dark times and uncomfortable moments. She is a producing member of the Television Academy, a 2023 Blackmagic Collective Future Women of TV Directing Fellow, a Stowe Labs Alum, and has an MFA in Film from Emerson College. Originally from a land laden with white table-cloth Italian restaurants (Jersey), Amy currently lives in Los Angeles and studies with The Groundlings.

Blaire Postman #

Blaire Postman is an unexpected, high-energy comedian with no chill. She’s been featured by renowned podcasts, including “Just Between Us,” Slate Magazine’s “The Waves” and “The Jackie & Laurie Show,” and by some pretty snazzy comedy festivals. Blaire performs on cool-kid NYC stand-up showcases, headlines indy clubs nationwide, and tours theaters and colleges around the country with her solo show – “Lady ADHD” – garnering rave reviews from SF Sketchfest to Caveat Theater in New York. Also, cats.

Caitlyn Knisely #

Caitlyn Knisely is an LA based actor, writer and comedian with a flair of ‘sustainability geek’ tossed in. Her most recent credits include Shameless (Showtime), American Auto (NBC), For All Mankind (Apple TV+) and Veronica Mars (Hulu). She is a graduate of The Groundlings and performs live comedy with her all-female improv group The Pippa Middletons. When she’s not in front of the camera, she enjoys creating content with her sister Kirsten and hugging trees.

Cherie Danielle #

Cherie Danielle is an actor, writer, and comedian based in Atlanta, GA. She studied theater at AADA in NYC. Her solo show, “The Diary of an Afro Goddess,” was nominated for an AUDELCO “Viv” Award in 2016. Cherie’s TV/Film appearances include Barry on Netflix, The Deuce on HBO, and Woke on Hulu. Most recently, she was named a Finalist in the ABFF Comedy Wings stand-up competition in 2022.

Chris Welles #

Chris Welles is a New York City based non-binary writer, actor, and comedian. They are currently pursuing their MFA in Dramatic Writing at NYU. Their play “Appalachian Dove Song” was most recently featured in Barter Theatre’s 2022 Appalachian Festival of Plays and Playwrights. Chris can be seen as a writer/actor in Queer Window, an all queer sketch team that was featured in the 2022 New York Comedy Festival, and performing regularly at the Brooklyn Comedy Collective and other New York venues.

Claire Ayoub #

Claire Ayoub is a writer and director dedicated to creating entertaining, educational, and empowering content through her production company Try Anyway Productions. Claire is the writer/director of the upcoming feature film Empire Waist, a heartfelt dramedy about teens learning to love their bodies through fashion design starring Rainn Wilson, Missi Pyle, and Mia Kaplan. She performs her award winning solo comedy The GynoKid monthly at the Kraine Theater. To learn more, visit

Crystal Collins #

Crystal Collins is a writer, director, and producer. Her latest project includes Empire Waist, a body-positive, coming-of-age dramedy.

Drew Lausch #

Drew Lausch is an actor, comedian, and writer from Fargo, ND based in New York. He recently filmed Club Cumming Presents A Queer Comedy Extravaganza hosted by Alan Cumming. Drew co-hosts & co-produces Haus Party, a queer variety show that has been featured in the New York Times & TimeOut NY. Drew wrote, produced, and starred in “Sugar Baby” Web Series, which garnered thousands of views on YouTube. He was also written up as one of “8 Queer Comedians You Should Be Following Right Now” by Queerty.

Edson Montenegro #

Edson Montenegro is a NYC-based comedian, actor, and writer. They regularly perform sketch comedy and characters at venues like Brooklyn Comedy Collective, Littlefield, and Asylum NYC, with their sketch team Queer Window featured in the 2022 New York Comedy Festival. Recently, they were spotlit by Fuse TV as one of 8 First Generation Comedians to Highlight and have personal, comedic essays published in Insider. (IG/TikTok: @edsonmountaineggroll)

Emily Dayton Evans #

Emily Dayton Evans is a NYC based SAG/AFTRA actor, comedian, director, writer, and filmmaker. A proudly queer multihyphenate, Emily’s platform centers LGBTQ+ characters, and raises mental health awareness. Her work has been featured at HBO Women in Comedy Festival, SeriesFest, and she was recently named Content Creator to Watch by New York Comedy Festival. You can watch her in landmark television series; The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon), The Other Two (HBOMax), and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix).

Fifi Dosch #

Fifi Dosch is a writer and stand up comic. She has written for Beavis and Butthead on Paramount Plus and the Comedy Central Roasts. She is also the first transgender Paid Regular at LA’s The Comedy Store. Her rapidly blowing up TikTok page put her on E! Online’s “21 TikTok Stars to Watch!”

Frank Caeti #

Frank Caeti is a LA-based performer, writer, and director. Credits include: MADtv, Modern Family, Key and Peele, The Second City, UCB, Kennedy Center, Goodman Theatre and Jimmy Kimmel Live. He’s developed shows with Sony Pictures Television and Sacha Baron Cohen’s Four by Two Films. Frank has written for Warner Bros. and Disney Digital as well as plays that have premiered in Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington DC, and NY (Off-Broadway).


GARA is a performance artist and writer living in NYC. He moved to NYC from Iowa in 2015 where he was christened into the NYC stand up scene. After a few years of exploring his voice in the comedy world, Gara added his 16 years of dance training to his stand up set. He has performed on some of NYC’s most iconic stages like La MaMa, MoMa PS1, The Bell House, Stand Up New York, ARS NOVA and many more. He loves his dog and dancing in his kitchen.

Gretchen Wylder #

Gretchen Wylder (she/they) is bi-coastal artist and creator/writer/actor of indie queer comedy series “These Thems,” which screened at 40 film festivals and won seven awards. A pilot version is being developed. She trained in improv at UCB and has a vast background in musical theatre (Off-Broadway’s Avenue Q, Rent, Wild Party). In 2018, Gretchen founded independent film company Wylder Womyn Productions with laurels at Tribeca, Outfest, Oscar-qualifying HollyShorts, et al.

Kirsten Knisely #

Kirsten Knisely is an LA based writer, director and producer. As a playwright, she’s been produced by Jeff Daniels at his Purple Rose Theatre Company. A a filmmaker, she’s worked on The L Word: Generation Q (Showtime), My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman (Netflix), and You’re the Worst (FX). She’s likewise dedicated to producing PSAs for clients such as The Trevor Project and creating media that focuses on social justice and reform.

Laura Avnaim #

Laura Avnaim is an actor, writer, and comedian, based in Los Angeles. She completed the Core Improv Program at UCB, as well as forays into musical improv comedy. She has written comedic sketches, shorts and television series. As an actor, she can most recently be seen in her recurring role as Mary on Apple TV’s Swagger, opposite O’Shea Jackson Jr. She also been hosting her own live cooking show for the past 2 years.

Marie Cheng #

Marie Cheng is currently a Co-Producer/Writer on the CBS single-cam comedy Young Sheldon. Prior, she was staffed on Disney’s Just Roll With It. She has written and performed sketch comedy for iO West and Upright Citizens Brigade, and is a grateful five-time recipient of UCB’s Diversity Scholarship. As the first in her family born in the U.S., she gravitates toward fish-out-of-water stories. She loves half-baked cookies and animals that look like bread.

Michael Beers #

Michael Beers is stand up comic and advocate. He currently travels across the U.S. and Canada performing for for audiences big and tiny. Clubs, Schools and conferences mostly. He also works as a consultant for several non-profits that work on equity for people with disabilities. In 2005 he won the Norman G Brooks Comedy Competition at the Hollywood Improv, 2012 Michael won the FunnyFest Rising Star Competition in Calgary, AlBerta, and in 2017 won the Montana Comedy Competition.

Nthenya Ndunda #

Nthenya Ndunda is a standup comedian, actress, writer and producer born in Kenya, and currently resides in Los Angeles. She is the 2019 & 2022 JFL Standup and Pitch winner, America’s Got Talent recruit (2020) and one of NBC’s Writers on the Verge nominees (2021). At the end of the day she is a huge fan of comedy and getting people together for a good laugh.

Quincy Cho #

Quincy Cho is a writer and actor based in Los Angeles, CA. She co-wrote Love and Noraebang starring Randall Park, a telenovela K-Drama podcast series, which was nominated for the iHeartPodcast Awards for Best Overall and Best Fiction Podcast. She can be seen on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and Shameless and in national commercials for the Super Bowl, Bud Light, Jack-in-the-Box, and Starburst. A former webcomics producer and copyeditor, she enjoys pole dancing, kickboxing, and carbs.

Ryan Simantel #

Ryan Simantel is an award-winning filmmaker whose 1-minute short film Invisible Heel just passed its millionth view online. Yes, it’s going viral! Most recently, Ryan improvised 12 different roles on the Emmy-nominated Discovery Plus series Book of Queer. Next up? Ryan stars in America’s Next Top Immigrant, a reality show mockumentary where contestants battle for U.S. citizenship.

Sam Given #

Sam Given is an NYC-based actor/writer who’s performed everywhere from Broadway (The Inheritance) to back alley. Additionally, Sam is an artist-in-residence at Skeleton Rep, and is developing his play, “Flinch,” with Judy Gold about fathers and their very colorful sons. Other favorite credits include an award-winning turn as Tracy Mills in “The Legend of Georgia Mcbride,” “Rent” at the Hollywood Bowl, and traveling the country as Ziggy Stardust in a David Bowie tribute show.

Sam Morrison #

Sam Morrison is a Brooklyn based comedian and writer. He just made his late night television debut on Late Night With Seth Meyers and his solo show “Sugar Daddy” became a critically acclaimed Off Broadway hit. He also performed in the Stand Up NBC Finalist, The Drew Barrymore Show, and was staffed on the first season of Blind Date, hosted by Nikki Glaser, currently airing on Bravo.

Sara Newton #

Sara Newton is the show runner of MDR Sketch Comedy Show launching on PBS this July. She is the media content creator for Sea Shepherd. Sara lives for finding the delicate line between absurdity and disdain. Sara is the founder of Conservation Comedy which uses absurdist sketch humor to share a message. Her history is rife with bad reality TV production and perfection in sketch comedy creation.

Vanita Kalra #

Vanita Kalra is an LA-based actress, writer, and comedian. She is a member of the 2023 M Film Lab South Asian Screenwriters cohort. As an actress, she shot the lead role in the comedic short Auntie (EP: Paul Feig), currently streaming on The New Yorker, and played opposite Kate Winslet in Mare of Easttown (HBO). Vanita is also a civil and human rights attorney and holds a JD from Yale Law School.

Vico Ortiz #

Vico Ortiz (they/them) is a proud Latine/non-binary/gender fluid actor/activist born and raised in Puerto Rico. An American Academy of Dramatic Arts graduate, their breakthrough role was in Transparent, which opened their career to the LGBTQ+ entertainment community, with appearances in VIDA, Everything’s Gonna Be Okay, Sex Lives of College Girls, and Our Flag Means Death. Vico received Queerty Award nominations for their roles in These Thems and Our Flag Means Death.

Will Craig #

Will Craig is a UCB and Second City trained comedy writer based in LA. He has previously written for the digital comedy collective Nightpantz including the award-winning short film Let’s Build a Ramp. He is currently lending his talents to Conservation Comedy (sketch with an environmental edge) and his work will be seen in The Marina Del Rey Sketch Comedy Show coming this summer to PBS.

Yvie Jones #

Yvie Jones is a Philadelphia-based writer, comedian, and multimedia storyteller. Jones is a 2023 St. Nell’s Humor Writing Resident who loves stand-up and is in awe of good improv. She also produces audio plays while launching a small business incubator for entrepreneurs of color that is cleverly disguised as a cool public market.

Zach Teague #

Zach Teague is a queer Brooklyn based musical comedian, writer, and actor from San Antonio, TX. He has been seen on Alan Cumming’s Queer Comedy Extravaganza on Showtime and can be seen performing at venues across New York City. In addition, he created and hosts the wildly popular queer variety show, “Haus Party”, at The Bell House alongside his comedy partner, Drew Lausch.