Big weekends don’t begin on Fridays, but rather on Thursdays, so that’s how I found myself on a bus to Washington, District of Columbia, last week to arrive just in time for the kickoff of last weekend’s DC Comedyfest.
Someone joked that night that D.C. really was hosting the Chicago and New York fest, due to all of the comedic talent arriving from those two cities, but I know I wasn’t the only person excited to see the all-local District of Comedy showcase, as a few other industry types joined me in the DC Improv’s lounge on Thursday night to check out some comedians we hadn’t seen before. How would we know at the time — how could we know? — that this show would prove more worthwhile than the official industry showcase that followed on the Improv’s mainstage later that night? But we’ll get to that soon enough.
Jason Weems, from Baltimore, appeared on both the D.C. and industry showcases that night, performing essentially the same set twice, although he had the misfortune early in having to compete with a noisy waiter and an awkward atmosphere later. And, um, "scrotum meat?" OK. That’s a phrase that certainly sticks with you…hope you didn’t order the nachos. Also noticed his vocal delivery seemed to be influenced by Chappelle. Not that that’s a bad thing. He’s also all over that McCain joke about how his being a POW doesn’t make him good at winning wars.
Aparna Nancherla claims she is an introvert, which is an odd-but-true trait for a stand-up comedian, but is quick to point out, "I watch, TV, too!" so you can relate to her. She has a good, strong stage presence. If only she hadn’t gotten the silent treatment from Last Comic Standing this year, perhaps she would have been the first female winner?
Kojo Mante sees why it’d be foolish to endorse a national gas holiday, but has more to say about the foolishness of building a statue of a homeless guy, which apparently they’ve done there. Hampton Yount is one shiny, happy, white boy, and the audience loved his boyish boyishness (that’s a not-so-hifalutin way of describing his energy), all the way through his closing bit about the energy you need to sustain to write an angry letter. Jay Hastings went to the trouble of wearing the same outfit he had on in the Post’s Express spread on him, but apparently, people don’t even read free newspapers in D.C. any longer. "You think when you make the Express you’d be on the showcase," Hastings ranted. Although his bit on fingering probably would not have worked there…trust me on this one. Jon Mumma closed the local parade by imagining "swirlio" guys at the gym doing calf raises, poking fun at a Brad Paisley lyric, and noticing the things kids can get away with that adults simply cannot. He sounded like a guy you hear on the radio.
So, yeah. About that "Fresh Voices Industry Stand-Up Audition Show." It’d be for the best if I left all of the names out to protect the innocent, but really, some things need to be said about this show, which went awry from the get-go and only barely got back on track for a moment or two. Comics were buzzing before the showcase about the fact that TJ Miller couldn’t make it to D.C. to host because he was in New York City auditioning for Saturday Night Live (catching up with Miller later over the weekend, he said, well, perhaps I shouldn’t say what he said because SNL is making final decisions this week on him and a few others as possible cast additions). But without Miller, the festival looked to Dave Hill to substitute as host. As much as I love Hill and his quirky sensibility, he’s really more of an anti-host. It’s more than fine when it’s his own show, but he doesn’t bring the kind of energy to the room that young comics looking for TV exposure are going to want or need. So that started the show on an odd foot. But Jared Logan, first up, made things terribly awkward by starting his showcase for the industry by verbally attacking Hill — "Is that the host we’re going with tonight?" — and creating a mood where the audience was expecting a night of fights rather than laughs. Which leads me to another point of order. If you are performing for a panel of TV scouts (which this was, with people representing Letterman, Comedy Central, VH1 and E!’s Chelsea Lately), wouldn’t you want to do material that you could imagine them delivering on the TV? As I texted someone later during the show: "Some odd choices to showcase yourselves to TV scouts. Crowd not great, but not their fault." Many in the lineup simply didn’t bring the right stuff on this night. Kumail Nanjiani, or am I supposed to be calling him Ali now, went long but managed to engage the crowd and get everybody involved with the show again, leaving some scraps for the final two performers of the evening, Sean Patton and Brooke Van Poppelen. Patton got applause for his bit about calling in sick, and Poppelen found more than a few fans with her thoughts about brunch. You know what? It is for the best to leave out the other names from this showcase, because they’ll have better opportunities to shine in the future.
On a brighter note, I managed to get some sleep on the Greyhound bus back to New York City on Friday morning without losing my head. So hooray for that.