Enjoying a walkabout in the city this weekend, a friend and I noticed that in just about any other city, a Fringe Festival takes over the town and you cannot avoid seeing or hearing about it. But in New York City, the Fringe can be happening and you might not even know it. It could just as well be called the Underground festival. Except, oh, that festival is happening in NYC this week, too!
Yes, comedy fans.
If you're in Manhattan, or even Brooklyn, for the rest of August 2010, you have extra options for your entertainment dollar as both the New York International Fringe Festival and the New York Underground Comedy Festival have set up shops. I suppose the simple answer to the question posed by my own headline is that if you're in a black-box theater-type space, then you're at a Fringe show, and if you're in a comedy club or a bar masquerading as a comedy club, then you're at an Underground show. But let's stop trying to answer questions which are moot and answer one that you might find more useful.
Such as, what shows might be worth your time and money at these festivals?
With the Underground Comedy festival, it's always a bit interesting to see what shows they include, because often times, the shows are the same weekly or monthly shows that operate "underground" outside of the city's club system and just happen to be happening with a festival banner this time. See: Morrison Motel, which is happening tonight at Cornelia Street Cafe, with guests including John Oliver and Wyatt Cenac. Very underground? Not very, but still a fun time. Tonight also features the festival's annual "Emerging Comics Contest" at Gotham Comedy Club, which has in years past awarded comedians who have, in fact, emerged. This also is the festival that features the annual "New York's Funniest Reporter" contest. I'm neither competing nor judging this year, so you're all safe! Among other shows to keep an eye on: Franklyn Ajaye is performing Friday at the Green Room at 45 Bleecker, while Ted Alexandro headlines for an hour at Karma on Saturday. Check out the full schedule for lineups and ticket info!
The New York Fringe has dozens of shows listed under the comedy genre this year with multiple performances. I cannot speak for all of them. But I do know about a few of them...
Prelims 7-8 of the Boston Comedy Festival contest had Rich Ceisler hosting and doing plenty of time both up front and between acts. At one point during Prelim 7, Ceisler decided to rip the Herald. “If it happened today, it’s news to us,” he said. Hey, Ceisler. Here’s something happening today: You’re not in the contest. So stop hogging the stage as if the judges will notice, and let the contestants get to their sets. And when you’re offstage, stop talking so loudly that the contestants can hear you. Just a thought. I could write an entire post about some of the varied hosting performances during this contest, but it’ll only keep you from what you’re really after. The recap!
Prelim 7 (in order of appearance):
1) Valarie Storm: With a few drunks sitting front and center, things could get ugly. They do, but not before Storm gets through her time, focusing on the funny relationship issues between men and women. Ho. Hum. But she gets props for timeliness by singing “The Divorce Song” for Whitney and Bobby.
2) Korte Yeo: A good bit on why black-out stories never have happy endings. The drunks up front start hearing things they feel they can relate to and respond to. Not a good thing.
3) Mary Beth Cowan: She has fun with the companywide e-mail, but a lot of her punchlines need a few seconds to get to the crowd’s understanding, which is not her fault (they just don’t get it), but it doesn’t help her cause this night.
4) Evan O’Television: Yes, he really did his “two-man” act in the contest. Yes, the audience had no idea what was going on. Yes, it still ended up being pretty funny. No, the audience and judges probably won’t give him high marks. Very meta.
5) Dan Hirshon: Gets the Tutko laugh early on, gets big applause from everyone at the end. In between, something seemed a bit off. Hirshon did win the Carnival Cruise contest the night before, though, so congrats still in order.
6) Dan Boulger: Notes that exclamation points are for lazy writers. But he’s really funny! Boulger absolutely destroyed! Strongest set of the night!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
7) Brian Joyce: Said he couldn’t bring a newspaper on the plane last month, and wondered if the terrorists were MacGyver. Wait. No newspapers?!
8) Pete Johansson: Comes up to a completely cold stage and immediately ramps up the intensity, working the crowd, working it hard, riffing away. Another comic wonders if he has material. Does it matter? He did well. Turns out he’s also ramped-up offstage.
9) Peter Tudosio: How old is that mug shot on the Festival site? The Romanian keeps saying “you a hip crowd,” “nice crowd” even though they’re not really hip to his act, since it’s not hip. He rips Yakov Smirnoff. What a country.
10) Jason Lawhead: Panders to the crowd with pro-Red Sox jokes, but turns out he’s from Cleveland. What’s up with that hat? Why is it so quiet? Must be the hat.
11) Vargus Mason: Finished second in the San Francisco contest, which means he’s due for fame and fortune (see Robin Williams, Dane Cook). The theatrical training shows.
12) Steve Brewer: Married with kids and not happy about it. Funny bit about turning his nagging kid into a human snooze button. Angry but funny.
And your prelim 7 winners: Dan Boulger and Vargus Mason. No complaints here. Honorable mention from me to Pete Johansson.