The SXSW Comedy Festival will feature Variety‘s Power of Comedy Awards, presented by Inspire, on March 10 at Austin’s the Creek and the Cave. Variety is thrilled to present these awards at SXSW for the very first time, recognizing comedic achievements across stand-up, film, TV and digital platforms. This year’s honorees, including Eric André, who’s receiving the Cult Favorite Award, will be joined by Bob Odenkirk.
Comedy Icon Award
Comedian, host, writer, producer, and six-time New York Times best-selling author, Handler burst on the scene in 2007, as the host of E!’s “Chelsea Lately.” She followed that up with multiple talk shows and specials for Netflix and HBO. She earned a Grammy nomination for Best Comedy Album for her 2020 HBO Max special “Evolution,” and in 2021 launched her iHeart Radio advice podcast “Dear Chelsea.”
Handler’s 2021 “Vaccinated and Horny Tour” took her to over 90 cities across North America and winning “Comedy Act of 2021” at the People’s Choice Awards. Her next tour, “Little Big Bitch,” launches this Spring.
Her hosting skills have also been on display recently, with acclaimed stints on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” last June, “The Daily Show” earlier this year and at the Critics Choice Awards in January.
“After being known as a gay icon who happens to be a comedian, receiving Variety’s Comedy Icon Award seems like quite the fitting evolution for me,” said Handler. “Thank you to Variety (and the gays) for this recognition!”
Scratching the surface of Patton Oswalt’s extensive acting resume yields films such as “Ratatouille,” “Zoolander” and “Young Adult,” television roles including in “The Sandman,” “Veep” and “The Goldbergs,” plus various appearances in video games, music videos and more.
In addition to all of that, he’s a stand-up veteran, with multiple comedy specials for Comedy Central, HBO, Epix and Netflix, plus over a half-dozen comedy albums. He has generated countless laughs and multiple Emmy and Grammy nominations, with a win in each, finding himself halfway to an EGOT.
With over 25 years of stand-up under his belt, Oswalt has watched the form evolve and grow, telling Variety in 2022 that some people use the term “canceled” to make themselves “seem more dangerous than they are,” adding, “It’s like the way people used to say, ‘Strap in folks, this is gonna get dark.’ No. If you have to tell people you’re edgy and dangerous, you’re not. You should just go up there and do fucking jokes.”
Comedy Director Award
“I don’t think I would have a career without comedy,” said Jake Johnson. “I hope to continue to explore different types of work. But comedy will always be the engine.”
Starting his career in the late 1990’s in New York as half of two-person improv/sketch group The Midwesterners, he traveled the country before he settled in Los Angeles.
Johnson built his career by starting with smaller roles and working his way up, but he’s also found his footing as a director, with his upcoming film “Self-Reliance,” which he also wrote.
Featuring a deep bench of talent that includes Anna Kendrick, Andy Samberg, Natalie Morales, Wayne Brady, Christopher Lloyd, and more, writing and directing the film allowed Johnson to shape the film to bring out the best in his cast.
“I try and rehearse with each actor before we start shooting so I can rewrite the dialogue with their character choices in mind,” he said. “I love when an actor feels ownership of their character, especially if they’re right.”
Comedy Actress Award
Actor, producer, director and author Anna Kendrick has achieved a wide array of accomplishments in a short amount of time.
After her breakthrough role starring opposite George Clooney in 2009’s “Up in the Air,” she’s been working steadily, appearing in popular film franchises (the “Pitch Perfect,” “Twilight” and “Trolls” films) and expanding her toolkit by producing, directing and writing.
Kendrick is also a New York Times bestselling author for her collection of humorous, autobiographical essays “Scrappy Little Nobody.”
“I think I tricked myself into thinking I was somehow prepared. You think, well, sure, my life is an endless supply of charming and amusing stories, right?” Kendrick joked in an interview for Vogue about her book. “And then you start writing them down and you get three sentences in and you’re like, Oh my god. I’m the most boring person ever to walk this green earth.”
Kendrick’s directorial debut, “The Dating Game” in which she stars with Nicolette Robinson and Tony Hale, is currently in post-production.
Comedy Innovator Award
“I love comedy. I love making people laugh and to be recognized for my contribution is the cherry on top of a career I’ve built with the help of others,” said Phoebe Robinson, excited to be recognized by Variety. “Back in 2006 when I was a receptionist at New Line Cinema, I would get to work early and read Variety every single day. Going from that to this moment is not lost on me.”
The writer, producer, creator and star of Freeform’s “Everything’s Trash,” Robinson has worked her way up in the industry, appearing in shows such as “Broad City” and “Search Party,” as well as writing and producing (“2 Dope Queens,” “Phoebe Robinson: Sorry, Harriet Tubman”) and is also a regular contributor to Glamour.
For the moment, however, she’s focusing on her upcoming honor.
“Seriously. I can’t wait to put on my finest wig and celebrate with everyone,” Robinson said. “Rumor has it that, despite us never meeting, Pedro Pascal is presenting me with this honor. Thanks in advance, Internet Daddy!”
Breakthrough Artist Award
Horror films aren’t the standard place where comedic performers break through, but Rachel Sennott’s performance in last year’s “Bodies Bodies Bodies” kicked her up a level, garnering rave reviews and opening doors.
The Connecticut-born actor and comedian was in college when she tried comedy at an open mic night and was a fixture of New York’s alt-comedy scene while also honing her writing skills by tweeting multiple short jokes a day.
“When I got to New York, my vision of what you could do as a career expanded, and then my comedic voice,” she told Variety in 2021. “I just like started tweeting so honestly, maybe even too honestly. It made me feel way more in control.”
Before “Bodies Bodies Bodies,” Sennott had been steadily climbing the industry ladder, with roles in films (“Tahara,” “Shiva Baby”) and television (“High Maintenance,” “Call Your Mother”) and is staying busy with upcoming roles in “The Idol” for HBO alongside Lily-Rose Depp and The Weeknd, and multiple feature films in post-production.
Tim Robinson and Zach Kanin
Comedy Sketch Award
Standing out from the pack in the crowded sketch world isn’t easy, but Tim Robinson and Zach Kanin managed to do it as the creators of “I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson.”
Robinson and Kanin were both writers on Saturday Night Live and Robinson also performed as a cast member in his first season. Later, both created, wrote and produced Comedy Central’s “The Detroiters.”
The duo discussed their “I Think You Should Leave” creative process with Vanity Fair last summer.
“We just think of what we would want to watch,” said Kanin, noting the lack of time constraints from Netflix allows sketches to be as long or as short as they like. “Because there’s no intro or interstitials, so, if you’re just watching sketches, that felt like that’s the amount that I would want to watch.”
“We’re just trying to find stuff that makes us laugh, that’s the only criteria” added Robinson. “We just want to feel good about it, and for us to be laughing while we’re making it.”