Bumbershoot headlining comedian Eugene Mirman says Seattle is among the best cities (that he knows of) for new comics. Here's what local comics on this year's lineup have to say about the scene.
According to the characteristically hilarious (and surprisingly helpful) FAQ page on Bumbershoot-headlining comedian Eugene Mirman’s official website, Seattle is a good place to launch your comedic career.
Sure, Mirman didn’t get his start here: the voice of “Bob’s Burgers'” Gene Belcher “bombed for many years” elsewhere, including in his college town of Amherst, Massachusetts, before landing Saturday evening’s featured spot at Bumbershoot, the long-running music-and-arts festival taking place Aug. 31-Sept. 2 at Seattle Center. But if this year’s lineup is any indication, Seattle’s got a deep pool of funny people who have mastered the art of continuing to be funny in front of a room of strangers.
So what makes Seattle a particularly good spot to embarrass yourself on stage for years until you finally get your bearings? (And probably a few more times after that?)
“There’s a lot of great comics that have come out of Seattle,” Mirman said. “But what makes a city great in general is that it has enough of a comedy scene to support trying comedy several nights a week, without having so much stuff, like New York or L.A., that … if you’re new it’s very hard to find stage time with an audience.”
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If you haven’t noticed Seattle’s remarkably well-populated scene of comedy newcomers, you’ve had your head in the sand: from weekly open mics at The Comedy Nest, a women-centered open mic at The Rendezvous in Belltown, to Punchline Comedy’s four weekly open mics and features at Jai Thai on Capitol Hill, there are plenty of opportunities to get your foot in the door (and probably put your foot in your mouth, too).
“There’s room in clubs, and there’s room to produce shows and get experience,” said Seattle native Bo Johnson, who will perform in his second year at Bumbershoot this Sunday. “At least for me, I’ve been pretty lucky in Seattle … Getting to do Bumbershoot was kind of a childhood dream come true.”
And comedy events in the city aren’t just welcoming; they’re also unique, according to several local comedians. Johnson said that Seattleites often appreciate “smarter” jokes than the average audience (thanks, Bo!). And underrepresented identities often take center stage, according to Seattle comic Alyssa Yeoman, who will be performing every day at Bumbershoot this year.
“One of the positives about starting comedy in Seattle is that people here really do wanna see marginalized voices,” Yeoman said. “I think that’s given me the opportunity as a black woman to do comedy in a lot of different spaces, and people are really excited and on fire to hear from the not-usual stand-up person.”
While Seattle is a great place to get your feet on the ground, Yeoman said, the relatively small scene can make it difficult for comics to envision the next step in their career. For many, comedy success means leaving the city they love for bigger, more saturated scenes like New York or Los Angeles.
This year’s festival will be local comic Wilfred Padua’s last weekend in town before he moves to New York himself. (See him before he goes in “Bad Jokes with Wilfred Padua and HansmJustin” Friday evening at Vera Project, or in various shows throughout the weekend.)
“Seattle’s very supportive as a comedian to grow … from being a beginner to establishing yourself as part of the Seattle comedy scene,” Padua said. “But when it comes to pushing people to making this into a career, Seattle does not do that … I got to where I’m at because of Seattle, but I kind of hit a ceiling. It’s time to go.”
Comedians who outgrow Seattle’s comedy scene can always come back for Labor Day weekend: Bumbershoot lineups often feature hometown heroes returning for a stint on Seattle’s big stage. (See almost-local-turned-L.A.-comic Bri Pruett and now-New-Yorker Shane Torres, both of whom got their start in Portland, at this year’s festival.)
And, according to Mirman, Seattle is just a fun place to perform. If you’ve seen him in town before (he’s a regular at Sub Pop’s anniversary shows) a small amount of the material at his Saturday-night Bumbershoot performance will be familiar. But if you’ve only seen him on TV, expect almost all of it to be new.
“Just some excellent repeats,” Mirman joked, “and then mostly things that people will be like, ‘I’ve never looked at the world this way. Thank you for changing how I see things … about yogurt.’ I believe there are no yogurt jokes. I have now misled people.”
Your words, Mirman, not ours.
Bumbershoot, Friday, Aug. 31, through Sunday, Sept. 2; Seattle Center, 305 Harrison St., Seattle; $130-$225 single day, $240-$775 three-day pass; bumbershoot.com