The Yes, And… Laughter Lab (YALL) – a competitive comedy incubation lab that sources, trains, and builds industry and social justice networks for leading and emerging diverse comedy writers and performers – today announced its 2023 Fellows. The fellows were competitively chosen by an all-star Selection and Leadership Committee, including Alice Mathias (I Think You Should Leave), Aparna Nancherla (BoJack Horseman), Brittany Scott Smith (A Black Lady Sketch Show), Chris Gethard (The Chris Gethard Show), Jeffrey P. Jones (Peabody Awards), Jenny Yang (Busy Tonight), Ryan Cunningham (Inside Amy Schumer), and leaders from top social justice organizations, including Pillars Fund, Color of Change, Define American, and others.
In its fifth year, the Yes, And… Laughter Lab received hundreds of applications from diverse creators of subversive comedy from across the United States for its competitive incubation lab. Applications were judged by the strength of their originality and creativity of their comedy, potential for social impact, and practicality of development.
2023 Yes, And… Laughter Lab Fellows:
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 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, 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 Willie 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 tiarafrancis.com.
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 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!
As part of their training in the lab, YALL fellows attended a two-day intensive training in May in Los Angeles. To provide the fellows with insights and perspectives on their work, the YALL training brought together writers, comedians, and industry experts, including Ayman Samman (Momo’s Amerika), Franchesca Ramsey (iCarly), Jandiz Cardoso (Sundance Institute), Kay Cannon (Pitch Perfect), Keisha Zollar (Astronomy Club), Walter Kelly (Big Mouth), along with social justice leaders from Define American, GLAAD, The Representation Project, and The League.
The 2023 YALL Fellows will culminate their experience in the program in the fall at YALLFest, the inaugural comedy and social justice festival celebrating YALL’s fifth anniversary, scheduled to take place on October 26-27, 2023 in New York City. The festival will feature a showcase of the thirteen original comedy projects created by the current fellows, as well as performances and panels featuring YALL fellowship alumni and community members.
“YALLFest is a first-of-its-kind comedy festival, bringing together social justice and entertainment leaders to foster further collaboration across these communities,” said Yes, And… Laughter Lab co-founder Caty Borum. “Based on our track record of showcasing the most exciting diverse comedians in the country, we aim to create the premier festival for the entertainment industry, philanthropy, and human rights organizations to celebrate comedy and find new ways to collaborate.”
“The comedians showcased in the Laughter Lab are not only hilarious, but they are addressing timely and complex social issues through their work,” said Mik Moore, YALL co-founder. “Inviting a mix of entertainment industry and social justice leaders to hear from them creates opportunities not only for the comedians themselves, but for entertainment industry leaders to meet the calls from a generation with new standards and expectations of Hollywood when it comes to representation and social impact.”
The Yes, And… Laughter Lab also named thirty one comedy creators as the 2023 Finalists. They will join the YALL community and have access to year-round online programming, networking events, and receive opportunities to perform at YALLfest. The 2023 YALL Finalists are: Akilah Walker, Adam Valen Levinson, Amy DePaola, Blaire Postman, Caitlyn Knisely, Cherie Danielle, Chris Welles, Claire Ayoub, Crystal Collins, Drew Lausch, Edson Montenegro, Emily Dayton Evans, Fifi Dosch, Frank Caeti, GARA, Gretchen Wylder, Kirsten Knisely, Laura Avnaim, Marie Cheng, Nthenya Ndunda, Quincy Cho, Sam Given, Sam Morrison, Sara Newton, Vanita Kalra, Yvie Jones, Michael Beers, Ryan Simantel, Vico Ortiz, Will Craig, and Zach Teague.
Co-created in 2019, and co-directed by the non-profit innovation lab and research center Center for Media & Social Impact (CMSI) at American University and creative agency Moore+Associates, the Yes, And…Laughter Lab is designed to introduce diverse comedians to the entertainment industry, social justice organizations, philanthropists and activists who can help bring their work into the entertainment marketplace. The program has trained and continues to work with over 180 artists, a majority of which are people of color and women.
Yes, And… Laughter Lab’s partners include leaders in comedy and social change, including 3Arts Entertainment, A Penny For Your Thoughts Entertainment, Above Average, Artists First, BoomGen Studios, CAA Foundation, CAPE, Caring Across Generations, Color Creative, Color of Change, Comedy Central, Define American, GLAAD, GloNation, Harness, Haven Entertainment, Imagine Artist Management, Irony Point, Key Rat Inc., MGM, MPAC Hollywood Bureau, MuslimArc, National Lampoon, NBCUniversal, Netflix, The Opportunity Agenda, Paramount, Pillars Fund, Powderkeg Media, RespectAbility, Spotify, Starfish Accelerator, Topple Productions, TBS, truTV, Wise Entertainment, and WV Entertainment.
The Yes, And…Laughter Lab is funded by Comedy Central, Doris Duke Foundation, Luminate, MacArthur Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Pop Culture Collaborative, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.