Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Boston Scene: Looking Back and Forward to 2009

This was a year of transition for the Boston comedy scene. The Comedy Connection left Faneuil Hall for the Wilbur. Mottley’s Comedy Club opened to give Faneuil Hall a different, more indie-driven vibe. The Comedy Studio kept chugging despite losing staples like Micah Sherman and Myq Kaplan to New York. Dick Doherty stepped up his programming at the Vault.

There were rumblings about what would become of the scene, the usual concerns about hemorrhaging talent to New York and Los Angeles and speculation about the club scene. But at it’s base, this scene isn’t about the clubs. Never has been. The clubs, like the old Ding Ho and Catch a Rising Star, and more recently the Connection and the Studio, are just the facilitators. This scene is about the comedians, and from what I’ve seen over the past decade covering comedy in Boston, this scene will never lack for good comedians.

Nine years ago, I saw the Ding Ho reunion at the Somerville Theatre. I had been in town for about a year, and seen a few shows, but really hadn’t gotten my feet wet in the scene yet. At that reunion, I saw Bobcat Goldthwait, Steven Wright, Barry Crimmins, Jimmy Tingle, Don Gavin, Steve Sweeney, Lenny Clarke, Mike McDonald, Tony V., DJ Hazard, and probably twenty other comics whose roots were firmly planted in Boston.

It was an amazing array of talent, and an exhausting night as comic after talented comic took the stage. People took turns hosting just to get through it. You can read about the history of this scene all you want, but seeing wave after wave of comics of whom I was already a fan and hilarious veterans I had never heard of drove home just how rich the Boston comedy scene is, how deep its history. And the fact that I had laughed for more than three hours was proof this wasn’t just talk – these people were funny, and there seemed to be an endless supply of them.

A few weeks ago, I saw a lot of the same people at Showcase Live when Steven Wright was introduced into the Boston Comedy Hall of Fame. Crimmins gave us a glimpse into what it’s like to tour with Wright (Theme song --- “No Woman, No Press Charges,” and tequila and acid were staples, acid for the audience so they’d better understand the show). Bob Lazarus had the best set I’d seen him do. Ken Rogerson, Tony V, Don Gavin, Jimmy Tingle, Steve Sweeney, Lenny Clarke, Mike McDonald – the audience knew and cheered every one of them. They were old friends, a constant in an ever evolving city.

A few days later, the Paradise Rock Club hosted Robby Roadsteamer’s Greater Boston Alternative Comedy Festival. Roadsteamer had assembled some of the best of a new wave of Boston comedians. You can debate the term “alternative” if you’d like (in an awkward moment waiting for a sound cue that seemed like it would never come, host Shane Webb questioned alternative – “It just has to be weird, right?”). You can say it’s a false category, call it pretentious, however you perceive it. But what you can’t do is apply that old chestnut that it’s the “alternative to funny.”

Character comic Chris Coxen showed off his “combat dancing” as Danny Morsel (a mix of disco and punching and kicking) and his smoothness as loungemaster Barry Tattle. Mehran, who I was seeing in person for the first time, had a powerhouse set about being both gay and Iranian (the man is not shy about mining either for laughs). Bethany Van Delft was cool and intellectual, the Walsh Brothers told their wild stories about adjusting to LA, Anderson Comedy sang of Christmas with no pants. Shane Mauss pulled off a neat and seamless set of stand-up with a cell phone sketch sown in. And Roadsteamer clearly had the crowd behind him during his set of musical diatribes about the Boston comedy and music scenes, with help from a couple of muscleheads on my favorite of his tunes, “I Got Construction Boots.”

Two shows within three days of each other. Boston veterans, and a new generation of Boston comics. Whatever else might be in transition, the comedians are here, old and new, and they both have helped me laugh my ass off for nearly ten years. And there are continuing efforts to bring the two worlds together. Mottley’s approach to booking has allowed Shane Mauss, veteran Patty Ross, and Baron Vaughn (back home from New York) to headline. Artie Januario hosts a Wednesday night open mic at Giggles that regularly attracts veterans like Tony V (watch for that to start up again January 21).

My hope for 2009 is that people go out to see these comedians, and realize how lucky they are to live in a city where comedy never dies. And you don’t have to go very far to find it.

6 comments:

Chris said...

Some tasty words, hombre although Future Queer is livid that his historical, time travelling appearance did not make it into your entry. He has decided to haunt you for the rest of his life (or yours - not sure how that works with the time travelling element).

Alex said...

If anything, it would seem that 2008 was a year where alot of excellent comedians stepped up to make sure that the Boston scene is one of constant development and individuality.

Not to downplay anyone's accomplishments for this year but I think, in retrospect, 2008 will be seen as a stepping stone into 2009. We've paved the road and now we can spend this new year cruising down it.

BeastieT76 said...

One other thing worth mentioning in 2008 are the several new open mics that have become quite successful by hard working new comedians. Mike Pincus opened the Skellig in Waltham that happens every other Tuesday. Marc Van Kueren Opened an open mic in Billerica at the Newtowne II. Scotty Lombardo opened Comedy at the end of the World on Somerville/Charlestown line on Wednesday night. Napper Tandy's will be opening in early 2009 hosted by Sarah Matin and Tom Debiaso. Chrissy Kelliher has kept the Marshfield open mic running strong. And Todd Symonds has opened Doubled Over at Donohue's in Watertown where it is rare not to have a good size crowd there. Being a rookie comic myself these indie open mics are the grassroots of the comedy scene and are a necessity to the growth of any stand up comedian. (Sorry if there is and open mic that is new and I forgot mention)

Nick Zaino said...

Todd,

Thanks for the mention of the open mics. I will work on getting all of them listed on the Comedy Calendar.

Anyone can ask me to add a show by e-mailing me at nick@nickzaino.com.

Nick

Benjamin said...

How could one possibly forget...GRANDMA'S BASEMENT! Every Thursday @ the Howard Johnson Fenway! Started in November, and already touted as the best open mic in the city.

MrGod2yu said...

"...at it’s base, this scene isn’t about the clubs... The clubs...are just the facilitators. This scene is about the comedians..."

What an absolutely ridiculous collection of statements. It is not the clubs who are "hemorrhaging" to N.Y. and L.A., it's the comedians. Without the clubs, the comedians are just a bunch of scattered talent.

Every scene needs a clubhouse. Therefore, any scene worth paying attention to is a product of something bigger than it's members. A scene is not about the members, it's about the place they gather.

And any idiot who wants to try to say "well without the comedians there would be no scene either." In any scene, it is infinitely easier to replace talent than it is the clubhouse. The fact that you say something is "just a facilitator" as if that is just some minor detail instead of the entire reason it exists undermines the credibility of this entire article.