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Wednesday, June 19
The Indiana Daily Student

Black Voices

Black Voices: Biniam Bizuneh returns to The Comedy Attic


Biniam Bizuneh and headliner Robby Hoffman performed at The Comedy Attic this past weekend. In preparation for their visit to Bloomington, and Bizuneh’s return, I spoke with him about his time here and his career since graduating from IU in 2012.  

Bizuneh attended Pike High School in Indianapolis, making sketch videos of himself pretending to interview former President Barack Obama in his free time. After that, he wanted to keep making people laugh. He began studying telecommunications and television production at IU in 2008.  

He did all he could do while in school, running for track and field, making comedic “man on the street” videos pretending to be a British foreign exchange student, replicating comedians like Sacha Baron Cohen and joining the sketch comedy group Boy in the Bubble. He had a late-night show on IUSTV that he performed three times to a studio audience. He even referenced a video he made titled, “My Age,” a parody of the Wiz Khalifa song “Phone Numbers.”  

Bizuneh said he felt incredibly grateful to IU for giving him space to fail and experiment creatively with no real consequences.  

“If you do something that kind of sucks, only the other students will see it,” he said. “If you fail, you can say ‘Alright, that wasn’t good. Let’s keep moving on.’”  

Before graduating, he knew he wanted to go to New York or Los Angeles to continue stand-up. Mike Farah, CEO of Funny or Die, came to IU to show a movie he had produced with his friends titled, “Answer This!” Afterward, he went to get drinks with some students, including Bizuneh, who took the opportunity to express his interest in finding an internship in LA. Farah gave him his email, and an interview was set up.  

Three rounds later, he was turned down from the internship. He took to Twitter to cope. 

“I wrote, ‘had a dream I didn’t get an internship, then woke up and found out I didn’t get the internship. I hope the rest of my dreams don’t come true,’” Bizuneh said. 

His friend and LA writer Chad Quandt — who worked for Maker Studios at the time, a company representing YouTubers — saw the tweet and reached out with an internship offer.  

“I had a full scholarship to the master's program here in T-comm, which I told my parents I was coming back for,” Bizuneh said. “I knew in the back of my mind I was trying to turn it into a job, so I didn’t have to come back.”  

In the beginning, he worked at Maker, Pac Sun and a call center, all while putting together YouTube videos for about a year to hone his shooting and editing skills. Self-described as long-term prank videos, he took after comedy shows such as, “Nathan For You.” The decent virality from that helped him get a manager and eventually an opportunity to write for “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”  

“They send out things called packets, which list out submission specifications,” Bizuneh said. “It would say something like 10 monologue jokes, three desk pieces, 10 of these sorts of jokes. Kimmel does pranks, so I made sure to include ideas for stuff I had actually made.”  

He had the job for 13 1/2 weeks, a standard length before writers for late night can have their contracts renewed.  

“It was a great experience. It got me into the WGA. It got me health insurance,” he said. “Kimmel is such a nice guy, too. I have nothing bad to say about him. He still emails me about some career thing that he’ll see happen.”

A couple of years later, in 2021, Bizuneh began writing for “DAVE,” a semi-autobiographical sitcom about comedian and rapper Lil Dicky. In between writing for seasons two and three, he spent two years making a pilot for Hulu with his friend Opeyemi Olagbaju. It was passed on in the early fall of 2022. The writers’ strike started less than a year later.  

“I definitely spent that time trying to get into a consistent running schedule. I had to figure out how to bounce back from that,” he said. “I went to the protests, too.”  

Now that the writers have been working again for over a year, Bizuneh is back to performing and writing for “DAVE.” His recent return to The Comedy Attic was a sentimental one. The comedy club, which has now featured comics such as John Mulaney, Hannibal Buress and Tig Notaro, was established in 2008 when Bizuneh was a freshman. He did his first open mic there.  

I attended Hoffman and Bizuneh’s final show on Saturday. The atmosphere has always been a welcoming one — as many past performers will attest to — but Bizuneh was met with excited cheers after confessing his alma mater. As he tried to list off every dorm on campus, however, he was met with laughter. He connected with the audience straight away through crowd work and maintained the familiarity by drawing back now and again. The energy was high by the time Hoffman was introduced.  

Hoffman was born in New York and works as a writer and comedian. She appeared on Vulture’s “The Comedians You Should Watch and Will Know in 2020” and Conan O’Brien’s “Comics to Watch” list. 

“I just think she’s so good. She’s like neo-Larry David,” Buzineh said. “You see her do these jokes that are so crazy, but she makes them work because of who she is. She has this joke.... I don’t even want to ruin her material. I just suggest everyone go watch Robby Hoffman.” 

A neo-Larry David is right. Her observations about queerness, men and being in a relationship exhibited her ability to show just how much work it takes to have a negative outlook on life. Applause ensued as she left the stage, an audience satisfied with a night of laughter. You can catch her set on Netflix “Verified Stand-Up.” 

As far as advice for people trying to break into the same world, Bizuneh has takeaways from his own experiences.  

“It took me too long to realize you’re not really getting hired to do what you think is funny,” said Bizuneh. “Can you replicate the voice of the show and, within the confines of what is needed, can you be innovative?”

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