Watch EW's Awardist panel with Chelsea Handler, Michelle Buteau, Beth Stelling, and Jim Gaffigan.

By Rachel Yang
June 17, 2021 at 11:00 AM EDT
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For some of the biggest comics in the world, their proudest moments on stage weren't necessarily specific jokes, but moments that they felt made an impact. That's what Chelsea Handler, Michelle Buteau, Beth Stelling, and Jim Gaffigan, all comedians contending for an Emmy this year, told EW during a recent roundtable.

Handler, who released her special Evolution on HBO Max in October, says she's "most proud of being able to weave social and political justice and racial issues through my standup, from the lens of a white privileged woman."

"There's a line where I say the world is only getting browner and gayer, so you better hop up on board or you're going to miss the f---ing bus," she says of the special. "I'm proud of being able to make sure that I'm not up there telling jokes only for my benefit. Not trying to patronize or condescend to people, but to say, 'Hey, this is my viewpoint. It has changed a lot. This is the road I'm on, and this is what I've learned, come with me. Because we all need to make a lot of changes.'"

Beth Stelling isn't giving away her entire premise, but she says that she really wanted to tackle the stigma of abortion in her special Girl Daddy, which debuted in August on HBO Max. To really hammer home her point, she makes an analogy comparing "abortion to leftovers" (the food, not the show). "So watch the special to find out," she adds.

For Jim Gaffigan and Michelle Buteau, their most gratifying stand-up moments came after sticking to their guns and doing things in their specials that even people in their own camps initially questioned.

In Gaffigan's Pale Tourist, filmed in Canada and Spain, the veteran comic tailored his material to land with audiences in those two countries, a concept his reps told him "was a real bad idea," believing the set would be too regionally specific.

But Gaffigan says that when viewers reached out afterward, they told him they appreciated the way he "captured a unique take on different things," which he says "was kind of validating." The two-part special premiered last July on Amazon Prime Video.

And in Buteau's Welcome to Buteaupia, released on Netflix in September, the actress and comedian wanted to incorporate improv, which her producers initially thought was "a waste of time." Ultimately, that segment, which featured Buteau talking to the audience about her single friends finding love, proved to be worth it beyond just making people laugh. "Better than a laugh, I'm like, 'Oh, if I can just have somebody remember something, the next time they go out into the world and try and date, then that's the cat's meow, that's the chef's kiss," she says.

The group also addressed the question of whether any topics are off-limits in comedy. "That applies to certain people. Certain people get away with a lot more than other people do," Handler replies. "I speak from experience; I know I've gotten away with a lot of things. I've heard some jokes from people that I'm like, 'Holy f---, how did they get away with saying that?' But that's a person that people aren't going to go after."

Stelling puts it a different way: "You can't get canceled if your fans are pieces of s---."

Check out the full video above to see the comics also discuss the need for humor during the COVID-19 pandemic, material they're currently working on, and more.

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