Lafferty jumps on the lawn in front of the Cathedral of Learning
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This Pitt senior opened for Jerry Seinfeld. Now he’s part of Pittsburgh’s comedy renaissance.

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Seventeen-year-old Andrew Lafferty stood beneath the house lights of Michigan’s quaint and cozy performance venue, Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase, donning a plaid button-up and looking like a picnic table. The crowd was paying him no attention, and he was terrified.

“I was telling some joke about being 17, and my voice cracked,” recalled Lafferty, now a senior and English writing major at Pitt. “I said, ‘Sorry, guys, I’m still going through puberty.’ That was the only thing that got a laugh. I remember thinking, that’s who I am. Don’t pretend.”

That revelation has become his guiding light as he refines the kind of entertainer he hopes to be — an honest and compelling storyteller, like his favorite comic.

Lafferty tells jokes into a microphone against a brick wall

“When I started doing stand-up as an atrociously ugly white man, I learned many people don’t want to hear me talk about my problems on stage, which is a small hurdle I’ve had to overcome,” said Lafferty. “John Mulaney is someone who does that skillfully. In the last two years, he became more of a controversial pick, but of all the white comedians that have scandals, he’s my favorite because he’s one of the best writers. He’s so fun and refreshing to watch.”

The Ann Arbor, Michigan, native, who is also pursuing a certificate in the television broadcast arts, has since been awarded residencies in Austin and the Broadway Comedy Club, and performed in New York’s legendary Gotham Comedy Club, opening for the likes of Jerry Seinfeld.

Although his humorous pursuits are inspired by his dad, Brennan, a journalist, publisher and student publication advisor at the University of Michigan, he first considered comedy as a profession at age six.

“I realized someone was writing a script for ‘SpongeBob’ and thought, ‘That sounds like the perfect job.’”

By age 12, he discovered “Saturday Night Live,” which he said “changed my world.”

Lafferty began surveying the comedians on the show, a study session that has spanned nearly all 48 seasons, and determined, “That’s the blueprint. That’s what you do. It was improv or stand-up, so I started doing both.”

Pitt is where opportunities began unfolding.

After dealing with a tough start to sophomore year, he decided the best remedy was to pour himself into his passion. He learned the industry ropes as Bottlerocket Social Hall’s first intern before landing a spot on “Wheel of Fortune,” where he placed second and won $11,100 — an accomplishment he said Pitt friends helped him prepare for.

“As a comic, you’re [asked about] your TV credits, and most 19-year-olds have none. But now I did. It got a lot easier for me to start getting work.”

His schedule quickly filled up with Saturday shows in Pittsburgh. After his sophomore year, he spent the summer performing at festivals in New York City and Los Angeles, then spent a stint as a summer school elementary lunch monitor. These gigs led to run-ins with John Oliver and Jim Gaffigan.

The latter, he said, told him that “to get good at stand-up, you have to perform as often as you can, and that means doing bad shows in weird places like tents, barns and backyards. But experiences like performing with Jim Gaffigan show you you're doing all of this for a reason.”

A comedy renaissance in the ’Burgh

“I love cities and wanted to go to school in a city with big sports and where I knew I could do comedy,” said Lafferty. “There aren’t many schools like Pitt in the whole country.”

Summer visits to see his grandmother in Follansbee, West Virginia, included customary day trips to Pittsburgh for Pirates games, making the city an obvious college contender. Despite being recruited by Duquesne University’s football team at 16, Pitt landed on Lafferty’s radar because of Jesse Irwin, the first host of “Pitt Tonight,” a student-run late-night talk show. He watched every episode, inspired by seeing students just a few years older than him living his dream. He realized the University — and the city — was exactly what he needed.

“The comedy scene in Pittsburgh is having a renaissance,” said Lafferty. “This new generation of younger millennials and Gen Z people have this focus on the arts.”

In addition to Pitt’s talk show, he commended the Bottlerocket Social Hall, “founded by two 24-year-old Point Park graduates who wanted to see weird alternative comedy,” and other local venues for opening doors to new ideas and talent.

“For those wanting to see puppet shows, ventriloquism, drag shows or stand-up, there are a lot of those rooms popping up around the city,” he said. “The Pitt student body, we’re all in [and often stay in] Oakland, but there are so many cool young people doing really interesting things in other communities.”

Still, Lafferty said, he didn’t need to leave campus to find impactful mentors or courses.

“I grew up wanting to be a late-night comedy writer — those people who talk about the news and are politically informed — that’s how I chose English,” he said. “I was writing so much every day anyway, I decided to consolidate.”

He praised Emmy-winning screenwriter and English department lecturer Christopher Prouty, whom he worked for as an undergraduate research assistant, for helping him expand into a different narrative format. “English classes are great for what I do every day: think of prompts, jokes,” Lafferty said.

As far as what’s next, he said it’s prepping for a weekend of shows at Stand Up NY and Greenwich Village Comedy Club. He’s also hard at work on his new web series, “Andrew Asks,” a satirical news show where he answers questions like “Will a mustache help me find love?” and “Can pickleball save my friendships?See him live in more upcoming shows.

There’s surely more to come. But Lafferty said advice from comics who’ve arrived let him know he’s on the right path.

“I got to talk to Pauly Shore,” he said. “He called me on the phone and said, ‘You’re very likable. How long have you been doing stand-up?’ I said, ‘Three years,’ and he said, ‘Yeah, I would have guessed two and a half.’ I didn’t know what that meant. He said, ‘Just keep doing it. You’re going to get better. You’ve got to be funny and get people to want to listen to you talk, and you can do that.”


— Kara Henderson, photography by Aimee Obidzinski