10 Comics to Watch

Matt Braunger is an accidental comic. Growing up in Portland, Ore., he was the class clown. But when he went to Manhattanville College, N.Y., it was to study acting, and his trips to New York City were to see theater. “Standup wasn’t on my mind,” he says.

His post-college plans for taking Manhattan were derailed by his practicality: “I’m 6’4, 225 pounds, and I didn’t want to live in a box in New York,” he says. “Chicago has cheaper apartments and also hundreds of theaters. So I thought I’d go there first and get good.”

It was in Chicago that he first delved into improv, and from there segued into standup, in part just because he likes to challenge himself. “Someone said standup, and I said, ‘That sounds terrifying — I’ll do it,’ ” he recalls with a laugh.

Braunger brought his theatrical and improv skills along, too. “I like telling stories and I like to inhabit my characters,” he says. Braunger’s stories often are dark and blue, but he leavens that with his affable, occasionally goofy charm — that persona (and cleaner material) earned him big exposure last December with a long appearance on “Late Show With David Letterman.”

Braunger describes one idol, Jonathan Winters, as “a hilarious everyman with a deep well of darkness,” and while Braunger had a far happier childhood, he clearly models his humor on that approach.

With the Letterman appearance, a gig on the final season of “Mad TV” (including a jaw-dropping part in a “Weight Smashers” ad parody), a new role as a detective on the Internet satire series “Ikea Heights” and this summer’s release of a comedy album, “Soak Up the Night,” Braunger acknowledges that he finally has some momentum. But he’s also a realist and knows that such momentum is “an ethereal thing,” so really, he’d rather say, “Yes … with a question mark after it.”

P.O.V.

Braunger tends more toward stories than one-liners, and says Twittering has forced him to think more along those short lines:

“I don’t remember ever buying the pants I’m wearing. I think a reverse burglar put them in my closet.”

“Hey male bartenders! Singing ‘Drive’ by the Cars to single women at the bar is incredibly creepy. Or so I was told when I bartended.”

“Monday is the new Sunday. Hangover-speaking.”

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more