Cambridge comedians, from A (Amit) to Z (Zach)

Cambridge is rich with comedy talent. Here are some comedians who live in the city as well as perform in it, so you can watch them sunbathe or shop for groceries to see if they do it more wittily than the average resident. Do you belong on this list? Let us know at editor@cambridgeday.com.

Despite the headline — which is ours, so we can do with it as we like — this list starts with some recent additions, not with the alphabetically appropriate Amit. For the Amit and Zach referred to in the headline, keep reading.

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Name and age: Laura Crawford, 23

What was your inspiration for getting into comedy? I’m the youngest child and, typical youngest, I was used to getting lots of attention. I always had a very strong imagination. I used to dress up and act for my family and later in community theater and church plays. I’ve been both the Virgin Mary and the Easter Bunny (not in the same play). I’m very grateful for all the teachers who let me dominate their classrooms. When I was very little I watched “In Living Color” — I wanted to be in the sketches and a Fly Girl — and “Married With Children” and “The Simpsons” (without my mother’s knowledge). They all taught me that you could be bad, but if you were smart about it you would be okay. I’ve also been very influenced by “Absolutely Fabulous” and “Strangers With Comedy.” Finally, at Emerson College, after not doing anything acting-related for three years, I took sitcom-writing and standup classes with the great Mike Bent, and as part of the final I got to appear at The Comedy Studio. And that’s where I met Rick Jenkins, who’s done so much to help me improve. Between the two of them, they’ve been like my comedy dads. That’s going to make them feel so old.

What are you working on? I‘m working on working more, like performing at The Comedy Studio and  Mottley’s, open mics anywhere that will have me, battling snow and laziness. Getting more comfortable on stage, developing my stage presence. I’m trying to have a prolific Twitter account. And to be less self-involved — meaning learning more from seeing other, far greater comics than myself and just supporting fellow comics. Not less self-involved like working in a soup kitchen. I want to avoid that as much as possible. I’m also trying to  finish a film script in 2010. That’s my big ambition..

What are your longer-term goals? I look to people like Mindy Kaling and B.J. Novak on “The Office,” both involved in Boston comedy and who went on to make names for themselves at a pretty young age. That’s a model I’d like to follow, and I’d like to do it in six years. Six years, not five, because that way I have a year to fool around. I want to make everybody in my family, high school class and Merrimack Valley jealous.

Where can people see your work? I’m often at the Comedy Studio and doing stuff with Anderson Comedy. In the meantime, people can find me on Twitter and Facebook and contact me at laura_crawford@emerson.edu.

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Name and age Ryan Douglass, 21

What was your inspiration for getting into comedy? I was raised in Chicago, and my parents had friends involved with Second City and ImprovOlympic. I remember attending a couple of shows — specifically one Second City show at Wrigley Field with T.J. Jagodowski in the cast — and remembering that I wanted to do that. My dad also had tapes of Andy Kaufman’s PBS show. Second City and Andy Kaufman were my big influences when I was around 6 or 7, and they haven’t left me. I’ve always been attracted to comedy that tests the boundaries of sanity. When my family moved to rural Connecticut, I spent my time in high school in a basement watching online videos of Eugene Mirman, Stella, and Tim and Eric before they were discovered and had cable television shows (which I was really proud of at the time).

What are you working on? You can find me doing a lot of sketch performance, standup and comedy writing in general. While I enjoy acting, I want to learn as much as I can from a writer’s standpoint. I’ve been focused on writing this past year and more lately on standup — it utilizes both skills.

What are your longer-term goals? At this point, I’m looking to learn as much as I can and improve as a writer and performer as much as possible. I’ll be graduating from college in December 2011, and between now and then I just hope to learn as much as I can from Boston. The future is in the air. This is a pretty talented city, and every night I find myself humbled (as much as I hate the expression) seeing people like Zach Sherwin, Maria Ciampa, Harry Gordon, Chris Fleming, etc. If I can look back and say I brought something worthwhile to the state of comedy, I’ll be satisfied.

Where can people see your work? I had a one act film noir-to-stage at ImprovBoston recently. I perform mostly there and at The Comedy Studio. ImprovBoston is where I do sketch with The Ruckus; The Comedy Studio is where I do standup with myself and a microphone on a stand. Two very different venues, in my opinion. I wouldn’t be half the comedian I am now if it weren’t for these two venues. I have found both to be professional in their own way and extremely beneficial in my development. I also enjoy all things to do with Rob Crean and the Anderson Comedy Group — I’m a huge fan of Boston’s alternative-comedy scene. I’m probably most invested in the silly shit I do with people like Chris Coxen and Rob Crean. Honestly, I’m 21; all I can really do is learn at this point. I’m entirely new to this and learning just how unprofessional I am. People come up to me after shows asking for a card so they can follow me, and I still have yet to make one. But if they’d like to e-mail me, I’d be more than willing to let them know: ryandouglasshasemail@gmail.com.

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Name and age Natalie Baseman, 24.

What was your inspiration for getting into comedy? My friends were doing it! When I was 16, doing improv comedy happened to be one of the coolest things a nerdy kid from the southeastern Massachusetts suburbs could do (besides being in a ska band). After a few years, I realized I was totally hooked on making people laugh.

What are you working on? I’m on the ImprovBoston harold team, Maxitor. We perform at Harold Night on Fridays (although we’re switching to Thursday nights in September). I also write and perform with my alarmingly beautiful sketch comedy team, The Dowry. We are writing the ImprovBoston Holiday Show, which will be going up in December (when all the big holidays happen). I also get to perform with the IB house show, Friday Night Face Off and chat away with the smart dudes on the “Overthinking It” podcast.

What are your longer-term goals? Write for TV or screenplays. Id love to be able to perform regularly for awesome crowds like those in the Cambridge/Somerville comedy scene forever. Or have a daytime talk show.

Where can people see your work? My website, nataliebaseman.com, has a lot of me on there, including show dates, videos and links to more videos. Most of my upcoming shows are at ImprovBoston (improvboston.com or haroldnight.com), but I’ll be doing a few standup sets around Boston in the next few months. I hope to see you all there!

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Name and age Harry Gordon, 44

What was your inspiration for getting into comedy? I grew up in a family in which humor was very important. My father was the needling and bugging type with a penchant for telling stale lawyer jokes, and my mother was acerbic and sarcastic. I also distinctly remember getting Steve Martin’s “Comedy Is Not Pretty” as a Bar Mitzvah gift — at 13 years old, I thought this was basically who this guy was, with no idea how much work went into it. I liked that he could be weird and out there and still be respected and liked. (I thought I was weird and out there at the time, and wanted to be respected and liked.) It was around then I figured out one could be respected and liked by being funny. So today I’m extremely fake.

What are you working on? My main project is “Harry Roasts America!,” a biweekly show at ImprovBoston in which I show recent news and video highlights and then skewer them. It’s political and social and offensive. I’m constantly performing in different formats and venues, including with “Directions with Steve and Harry,” “Deep Dish” and “Snark.” I’m also writing and acting in a couple of TV pilots to submit to festivals around the country. In one I play a monk. A very offensive monk.

What are your longer-term goals? I’m going to keep expanding and sharpening “Harry Roasts America!” — it’s been an awesome writing opportunity already so far; I love playing the roast master role, and am excited to see where else I can take it. Overall, my goal is to make comedy as close to a full time job as possible.

Where can people see your work? “Harry Roasts America!” plays every second and fourth Thursday of the month at 10 p.m. at ImprovBoston. And because it’s so special, it also plays the fifth Thursday of the month if there is one. Big Media is against me, so they prevent fifth Thursdays a month in most cases. My full show schedule is online here.

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Name and age Deana Tolliver, 38

What was your inspiration for getting into comedy? I was a housewife living in the suburbs with an infant and a 2-year-old — I needed something to keep me sane. So I took an improv class. Six years later, I am a working comedian and a single mother living in Cambridge with my two kids. Comedy is the basis for everything in my life now.

What are you working on? I am starring in the ImprovBoston summer musical, “Lube!,” which I co-wrote. I am also a writer and performer in ImprovBoston’s sketch troupe The Ruckus. Our next show is in August, and I can be seen in the ImprovBoston Family Show each Saturday at 6 p.m.

What are your longer-term goals? To become the world’s foremost expert on pickling spices. And to tour our musical, “Lube!,” around the country, then to Broadway, where I will likely be replaced by Kristin Chenoweth.

Where can people see your work? There’s a great video of me with Janeane Garofalo on YouTube and I can be found on Twitter so people can hear all of my inane thoughts in real time. Also, I was featured on an episode of “Fetch! With Ruff Ruffman,” so if you want to see me teaching a bunch of perky children how to do improv, check that out on pbskidsgo.org.

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Name and age Jenna O’Brien, 26

What was your inspiration for getting into comedy? Growing up in a heavily Irish-Catholic community in Boston definitely provides a lot of material for comedy. My mother and father were huge fans of “Saturday Night Live,” “In Living Color” and Monty Python. I would do anything for attention or a laugh. I became serious about acting in college and studied under Davis Robinson, who fueled my comedic fire. Last year I was packing up to do the “actor in L.A.” thing and my boss (who has some friends in “the biz”) refused to connect me with anyone he knew until I started taking improv classes. I googled “Improv” and “Boston” and I got ImprovBoston. Good enough for me, so I signed up for a class. It was love at first sight. Improv and I started dating and things got really serious. We have been together ever since. Never did make it out to L.A., but I am happy to be in Boston performing with some unbelievable women at ImprovBoston.

What are you working on? I am working on a sketch show with a friend and performing with Flaming Awesome, a short-form improv troupe in Boston. I also produce the Wednesday night “Comedy Lab” at ImprovBoston!

What are your longer-term goals? GOOOOOAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLS! I am really excited to be writing and performing sketch. I am also working on my stand-up to break into a couple of more scenes. I would like to be performing in different cities and to start teaching.

Where can people see your work? Every Wednesday at the Comedy Lab at Improv Boston! Come by, say “Hi” and see some really awesome talented people! You can send me an e-mail at jobiearts@gmail.com and check out my troupe at flamingawesome.com.

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Name and age Matt Dee, 24

What was your inspiration for getting into comedy? I always enjoyed watching comedy growing up but never thought of doing standup until about a year ago, when my best friend thought about giving it a try and asked me to tag along. I’ve always loved writing, so once I sat down and focused on writing pieces that made me happy I started being really interested with telling the jokes on stage.

What are you working on? I am working on being really funny. In the future I hope to focus on being super hilarious.

What are your longer-term goals? They include writing a body of work I am proud of and having a chance to showcase that on Conan O’Brien. I would be happy with that, and also I think writing jokes for TV would be a neat job. I’d like to be able to do this before I’m 30.

Where can people see your work? You could e-mail me at omgmattd@gmail.com to find out — or hang out, and I will possibly slip in one of my jokes during conversation extremely casually. You won’t even notice. Well, you will notice the joke because you will be laughing but I mean it won’t seem forced, like this explanation.

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Name and age Rachel Rosenthal, 30 (yikes!)

What was your inspiration for getting into comedy? Besides trying to meet guys? Hmm, let’s see … I was lucky enough to be in a sketch and improv group at the ripe age of 13, and we performed all over Connecticut and New York City for five years. Back then, though, comedy was something I was just doing for fun and to satisy my need for creativity. I started working with ImprovBoston about seven years ago and met an abundance of talented and passionate people. This, combined with performing on a regular basis, made me realize comedy was no longer a hobby. It became my passion. As for people, Gilda Radner was one funny lady and a true inspiration

What are you working on? Lots of fun stuff! I’m working on “Cabin Pressure,” a show combining video sketch and live improv that takes place on an airplane and follows the lives of flight attendants. It goes up in March and April at ImprovBoston. I’m also on the Production team of the second annual Women in Comedy Festival, which goes up in March.

What are your longer-term goals? I’m focusing on a few exciting side-projects, as well as taking some writing classes. I have been performing regularly in Boston for a long time — and am looking forward to taking my comedy to more cities more often in the upcoming year (starting with two shows in North Carolina next month.)

Where can people see your work? I’m on stage most Saturday nights at ImprovBoston, but you can always check my schedule at theraeroshow.com for dates and details.

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Name and age Raj Sivaraman, 28

What was your inspiration for getting into comedy? I have enjoyed comedy since I was a small child. My original inspirations were John Cleese, Bob Newhart, Bill Cosby and Paula Poundstone. (Absolutely true, but only three of the four do I actually still find funny — can you guess?)

What are you working on? I am doing standup at The Comedy Studio, where I am comic in residence in March, and improvboston. I am also performing at the North Carolina Comedy Arts Festival in February. I perform with the Lightning Hawx and Latchkey Kids sketch comedy groups. I am also trying to create a system for incorporating social networking into Bank of America marketing.

What are your longer-term goals? I would like to be very rich so I can quit doing comedy and play cricket for fun in England (because they are not very good there, and I could become dominant) and have a villa in Provence, France. If I can do that in the next two to five years, that would be very nice. More seriously, I would like to write screenplays for movies and television and/or work on “The Daily Show.”

Where can people see your work? Here are some sites: myspace.com/rajsivaraman, professorgenius.blogspot.com, facebook.com/waltergenius and cheesesandwich.org.

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Name and age Amit, “old”

What was your inspiration for getting into comedy? I gave in to peer pressure, really. Also, I wanted a fall-back plan for the whole college-degree, working-a-day-gig thing.

What are you working on? Jokes! I’m still working on my five-to-seven [minutes of tested-funny, no-fail material]. (So far, I’m at around five minutes).

What are your longer-term goals? Honestly, I just want to have fun with it. My goals are just about getting booked stage time within a year, then … I don’t know. I’m just going to have fun with it and enjoy the people I meet and experiences I have.

Where can people see your work? Nowhere, really. Open-mic nights, I guess. I’m probably not polished enough for booked work yet, but: amit@effection.net or through here!

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Name and age: Emma Cheever Willmann, 24

What was your inspiration for getting into comedy? What made me take the comedic plunge was Bagel Friday. I had a job where the most exciting thing going on was, “Bagle Friday! Free bagels on Friday!” and while I do really like bagels … I needed to spice up my week. But enjoying humor was my main motivation. I grew up in rural Maine and had to find ways to entertain myself and cope with being in the backwoods. Mainers really have a great sense of humor, too. I love the equation of self-expression, laughter and people.

What are you working on? Material-wise, at this very, very moment, I’m working on some different material on marshmallows, the jail system and internalized homophobia. (Note: One of those concepts I am not working on, but you will have to come to a show to figure out which one.) I’ve been doing stand-up for a not quite a year, so I am working on … everything. Trying to be natural, trying to be myself, trying to keep it real, trying not to drink to much Miller Lite before shows, that type of thing.

What are your longer-term goals? Good question. My main long-term goal is to keep growing … and get better at setting long-term goals … apparently!

Where can people see your work? I’m been in New York since Jan. 16, but I come back to Boston frequently. I really do comedy (at least in some format) almost every night, so add me on Facebook for up-to date shows!

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Name and age Zach Sherwin, aka MC Mr. Napkins, late 20s

What was your inspiration for getting into comedy? I had a longtime performing bug (singing, informal comedy writing and rapping), and some college friends offered me a spot in a troupe they were forming. I jumped on it, we wound up touring beyond college, and that transitioned into this. Some influences were Adam Sandler’s “They’re All Gonna Laugh at You” album and Saturday Night Live in general in the early 1990s; Steve Martin; Weird Al; Stan Freberg; the Smothers Brothers; and hyperverbal rhyme-obsessed rappers such as MF Doom, Eminem and MC Paul Barman.

What are you working on? Settling into Los Angeles and working with new management to get stage and television time and market an album.

Where can people see your work? On the East Coast, nowhere except when I visit; so they can check out mrnapkins.com for updates.

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