Local hero Hari Kondabolu performs on the Vera Project stage
I went to Bumbershoot for all three days this year and, by the end, I’d seen precisely one (1) band. Partially, this speaks to the fact that my ability to digest new bands has atrophied somewhat over the past few years, making me a bit of an old man who hadn’t heard of a sizeable proportion of this year’s acts (I believe it’s to my credit that the band I saw was The Butthole Surfers, not Hall & Oates). More importantly, this year’s festival continued Bumbershoot’s recent tradition of booking the hell out of their comedy stages. This year’s lineup featured some of the best standups in the country, and the fact that most of the acts were up-and-comers right on the cusp of major stardom just goes to show how well-curated the national stages were. Despite the entirely valid criticism that this year’s festival was light on female performers (the only ones on the national stage were Amy Schumer and one of The Gregory Brothers), I was rather impressed by the variety of styles and formats on display.
As in previous years, the local comedy stage was curated by local arts collective the People’s Republic of Komedy, featuring standup, sketch, improv and some shows that defy categorization (I really enjoyed watching an unsuspecting afternoon crowd trying to process Weird & Awesome with Emmett Montgomery, a variety show that included standup, storytelling and a hilarious reinterpretation of Hall & Oates’ “Maneater”). Honorary Seattleites Hari Kondabolu and Rory Scovel both dropped by from the national stages at some point during the weekend. It was fun to watch Hari go up at the “Celebrity Open Mic” – hosted by John Keister and featuring a surprise appearance from Mayor Mike McGinn – and run with the open mic format, talking his way through some new premises. When I saw him perform on the national stage maybe 24 hours later, he had already finished molding them into fully-formed jokes. Rory stopped by to do a hilarious, heavily improvisational set on The Humor Program!, a fake late-night talk show for which I am the sidekick (that’s as much of a plug as I’m going to give myself, because I have something resembling dignity).
All of the Intiman Theatre’s showcases were absolutely crammed with talent. One packed afternoon show contained Hari Kondabolu, Kyle Kinane, Anthony Jeselnik and unbilled host Baron Vaughn. Jeselnik closed out the show with his trademark brand of hilarious one-liners about horrendous things, rising well to the unenviable task of following Kinane, who I really can’t say enough good things about. For one thing, Kyle is almost disgustingly prolific – I’ve seen perform four times in about the past six months, and every time he’s somehow been reporting back from a new personal low. After introducing himself as “Uncle Barbecue’s new one-man show, ‘Boozy Falls Down'”, Kinane went on to recount a poor dinner choice off the menu at a 7/11 (“I think it had rust on it”), a recent DUI (“Whiskey Icarus flew too close to the sun”) and a long, weird story about a failed practical joke involving a “stuffed dude.” For my money, there’s no one out there right now who’s better at dragging the funny out of the sad.
One of the more unique choices for this year’s comedy lineup was The Gregory Brothers, a band probably best known for the YouTube sensation “Bed Intruder.” I’m a fan of their stuff on YouTube (I was pretty addicted to the “Auto-Tune the News” series for awhile) and I was interested in seeing how their songs would work live. Unfortunately, a lot of the comedy was lost in translation from auto-tune to live performance – even with the band’s videos playing on a big screen behind them, most of the jokes just kind of sit there. The thing is, The Gregory Brothers are still an unbelievably talented pop band whose melodies are good enough to transcend the cultural memes from which they draw their lyrics. It really was an enjoyable show, but I feel like it might have worked better on an outdoor stage where the audience wouldn’t be confined to chairs and could actually get their dance on.
With the Intiman playing host to all of the straight standup, the Bagley Wright Theatre was dedicated to pretty much everything else. I attended all three tapings of Comedy Bang Bang and laughed until my face was sore (see my earlier post), as well as the first taping of Doug Loves Movies, in which Rory Scovel again stole the show, getting heated with an audience member who was a little too vocal about how unimpressed he was with “The Tree of Life.” The real surprise for me on the Bagley stage was Chicago’s Improvised Shakespeare Company, a show I knew nothing about in advance and probably would not have seen if everyone I talked to hadn’t been raving about it all weekend. These five extraordinarily talented improvisers ask the audience for a title suggestion, then build a Shakespeare play out of nothing. The performance I saw was of “Titanic 2,” a tale of love and betrayal involving a few minor characters who somehow survived the original James Cameron film. It was incredible to watch these guys work, layering one level of jokes on top of another and bringing it home with a really satisfying conclusion (everyone dies).
So that was my weekend. A little bummed out I missed Ill Cosby though.