Have you heard the one about the up-and-coming comedian who steals a more established comic’s jokes, but everyone laughs and no one gets mad? That’s the concept of “Schtick or Treat,” a Halloween comedy show where each performer impersonates a famous stand-up comedian.
Now in its 10th year, the annual October bonanza brings more than 40 comics to the stage as their favorite — or, in some cases, least favorite — titans of comedy with short, two minute-long sets. Past years have included fake versions of everyone from the big names of yesteryear, like George Carlin, Joan Rivers and Richard Pryor, to the current heavy-hitters like Louis C.K. and Amy Schumer, and those singular voices like Weird Al Yankovic and Andy Kaufman.
Though some of the performers are excellent at mimicking, the comedians don’t have to be the next Dana Carvey to make a splash at the event.
“People have made it their own,” co-host and co-founder Matt Ruby told amNewYork. “You’re supposed to do a famous comedian, but some people do a straight up impression and some people do something in the flavor of that comedian, or something more avant-garde.”
According to Ruby, several of the most memorable and successful sets from years past featured comics taking the concept in their own direction. For instance, in 2016, the audience was blown away by Jason Burke’s doing Andrew Dice Clay as Donald Trump. “It was almost a shocking thing, to see Donald Trump’s words delivered by Andrew Dice Clay,” Ruby explained. “You were like ‘oh my god, they’re the same person and I never realized it before.’ It was a pretty interesting political commentary in a subtle way.”
The hosts get in on the fun as well. Mark Ruby and co-host Mark Normand roast the comics between sets and do their own impersonations. Ruby had his own moment reflecting the political zeitgeist last year, when he spoofed Jimmy Fallon’s infamous Trump hair tussle by pretending to be the “Tonight Show” host as he played with Adolf Hitler’s mustache.
While audiences from past years might recognize several of the names from the lineup (both of the faux comics and the real ones), they can expect an entirely different experience. No one is allowed to repeat one of their past impersonations, which means all the old material is entirely fresh for the performers.
Since the show’s humble beginnings in Long Island City’s cozy venue The Creek & the Cave, it’s grown bigger and bigger each year. This time around it will take place in both Los Angeles, and at The Bell House in Brooklyn.
“Part of why it works so well, is that in comedy the worst thing you can do is steal someone else’s material — it’s really frowned on, there’s this whole code,” Ruby said. “Something that’s nice about ‘Schtick or Treat’ is it’s the one night of the year that allows, and actually encourages, stealing. It actually inverts the relationship comedians have with each other, and that’s part of the reason why the show is such a success.”
If you go: “The 10th Annual Schtick or Treat” takes place at 8 p.m., Oct. 29 at The Bell House, 149 Seventh St., Gowanus, thebellhouseny.com, $15, 21+