A fresh take on the Seattle comedy scene

The Seattle Times dropped in on its local comedy scene for a random portrait. So, as with most random portraits of comedy, the piece opens with things not going swimmingly at an open mic!

The focus seems to be on the "hipsters" (not my word, nor ever my word) of The People’s Republic of Komedy. The male and female halves of Shecky have more experience with them than I have — I left Seattle in 2001 — so perhaps I can try to make more sense of what Shecky calls the headscratcher quote from my friend Ron Reid at the Comedy Underground. Reid gets quoted thusly: "It’s a little more indie and artsy than it’s been in the past. The shows are either free or 5 bucks, so … there’s not this push to be exclusive or ‘make it big.’ I think the hipsters like it because no one’s ‘selling out.’ "

So how was it in the past? Well, if we’re talking about 10 years ago, when I first began frequenting the open mics to make the transition from improv, in Seattle, you had two nights at the Comedy Underground, a night at Giggles, and then random weekly bar nights that would spring up around the city whenever a fellow comic could convince the bar’s management to give comedy a try. The open mics attracted just about everyone in the scene, very inclusive in that respect because we all were in the same boat, whether newbies like me or guys and gals with years in the game, merely looking for stage time wherever and whenever we could get it. Maybe that’s what Reid means about it being artsier now, because the scene now has a subset that not only encompasses the certain types of comedians at the open mics but also the audiences. We didn’t have a specific comedy-savvy audience at our open mics. We had unsuspecting bar patrons, for the most part. So the Seattle comedians now have a more welcoming atmosphere for them to experiment and grow their voices. And that’s great news.

The Seattle Times article mentions Mitch Hedberg and Kyle Cease as guys who’ve used the Emerald City as a launching pad. I saw Hedberg win the Seattle contest in 1997, and not long after that, saw a teenaged Cease (in a suit, as I recall!) already headlining at Giggles. There are many others who’ve started in Seattle and gone on to bigger and better things (for one example, Joel McHale was a star at TheatreSports before going to L.A. where he now hosts The Soup on E!). And then there’s a guy like Reggie Watts, who somehow found a way to start his comedy life in Seattle without the traditional open mics and venues to become an Andy Kaufman Award winner and fixture in New York’s comedy scene. Where does he fit into the equation? Just wondering.

What do you think? Your thoughts and comments are welcome.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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