We’re officially in the home stretch of summer, and with the end of another season also holds the end of another Boston Comedy Festival, which wrapped up its five-day comedy romp through Davis Square this past Saturday night (September 15).
Each night of the festival brought its own dose of enchantment for the thriving local comedy scene, albeit a scaled-down affair this time around as compared to last year’s Scooby-Doo sandwich of festivities. However, the final two nights of the 2018 campaign were not only arguably the most exciting and energetic, but also heartily representative of the precision and prowess of each and every comic who performed.
While the more prominent selection of shows were not exactly punctual on their projected start times on Friday night (September 14), fans of shock comic Jim Norton’s alter ego, Chip Chipperson, swarmed The Somerville Theatre to take in a live taping of one of the most cult-followed podcasts in the country.
Norton was late to start the show by roughly a half hour, and the crowd began to grow restless before NYC-based comedian Sean Donnelly took the stage to throw some crowd-work jabs at the audience, as well as riff on the frustrations of being irish and pale.
Fred Toucher, of Toucher and Rich radio show fame, introduced Norton’s supporting cast of producer Cristina Palumbo, Anthony Cumia, and Sam Roberts, who performed a short skit before Norton, or Chipperson, rather, took the stage donning a Julian Edelman jersey and a Chicago White Sox hat. To say the entire theatre full of passionate fans merely erupted when Norton greeted the crowd would be a gross understatement. A better way to describe it might be along the lines of “utter pandemonium” or “unbridled furor.”
Feeding off the ensuing rumpus, Norton got to work quickly, not holding back with his most Boston-centric burns, from the alcoholic and homicidal tendencies of the Kennedy family to his reiteration of the tired “pahk ya cah in Havahd yahd” phrase. While the exact ratio is unclear, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the Kennedy jokes, which were admittedly almost flawless in execution and delivery, made up a good portion of the inaugural sketch sequence.
While Norton held court in the main hall, an all-star gathering was going down at The Burren, as a flurry of some of the festival’s best known faces took the backroom stage, and delivered scorching sets comprised of both tried and true material, as well as works-in-progress that seemed to dagger the crowd all the same.
Hosted by Alvin David, better known as “Big Al,” the dais included Jody Sloane, whose musings on aging and dating past 40 seemed to resonate with the multi-generational crowd. Joining her was Orlando Baxter, who brought stories of childhood let-downs and the humorous takeaways from teaching ESL students in Worcester, Chris Zito, and Lamont Price, whose tales of uncomfortable Uber pools and a childhood without a Nintendo console were as crushingly funny as they were oddly sympathetic.
While the battle-tested vets held court upstairs, the last of the stand-up contest finalists were taking shape, and the final selection undoubtedly made the climatic Saturday denouement all the more appetizing for even the most casual comedy fans.
As Emo Philips was taking the stage at Arlington’s Regent Theatre on Saturday night, the majority of festival-goers were making their way to their seats in Somerville ahead of what was sure to be a night of celebration, recognition, and an ushering in of a new generation of comedians.
To kick the night off, the “Godfather of the Boston Comedy Festival”, Jim McCue took the time to thank everyone involved with the festival, including his sister, Helen, before introducing the first comedian of the final stand-up boss battle, Portlandian Alex Falcone.
The crowd kept a decent tempo on their applause, as each comic left it all on the stage with their own unique outlooks and deliveries garnering a wide variety of reactions, and in theory each representing a different brand of stand-up. Representation from all over the country made their way into the final lineup, with Los Angeles-based Morgan Jay showcasing the fairly lost art of musical comedy, as he slung cheeky songs from his acoustic guitar about relationships and text fights, Utah native Alex Velluto trying to rationalize what he feels is the origin of angry internet comments, and New York-based Jason Choi riffing on the rarity of being Asian and 6-foot-8.
The local rep was strong in the finale, as well, with Erin Spencer, Kathe Farris, and Emily Ruskowski bringing the heat in their own ways.Whether it was Spencer’s comedic spin on her gender transition, Farris’ monotone delivery on the many ups and downs of parenting, or Ruskowski’s “Substitute Teacher” description of the Pope, each of their sets paid tribute to the solid comedy that the area has continued to breed for so many years.
Once the final eight stated their cases, the time had come to acknowledge the cultural impact of two native comedy icons: Gary Gulman and American Pie actress and Emerson grad Jennifer Coolidge.
Gulman, who received the Comedian of The Year award, showed grace and humility in his achievement, thanking his family, friends and fans for the support since he started doing stand-up over 20 years ago, and giving a special shout out to Jim McCue for his influence and support when he was starting out. Although he jokingly claims he only received the award because he was “the only comic not working on a Saturday night,” it should come as no surprise to anyone who is familiar with Gulman’s dedication to the game that he has been bestowed with this honor.
Giving a shout out to all the “straight-forward, no bullshit Bostonians” in the room as she stepped to the mic to receive her lifetime achievement award honor, Coolidge represented what makes Boston’s comedy scene so unique. Showing a strong sense of community and gratitude for a career steam-driven by dedication to the art, and a genuine desire to help create a better world for those around her, Coolidge hoisted her plaque in the air, and exited the stage as she received a standing ovation.
After the pair gave their acceptance speeches, the time came to crown a new stand-up contest champion, and it was ultimately Colorado native Nancy Norton, and her bold and energetic dramatization of Alabama lawmakers outlawing Dildos (or “Dildont’s,” as she puts it) that set her apart from the rest of the pack, and placed her on top of the pile when the dust settled, as the 2018 Boston Comedy Festival stand-up contest champion.
It was a rousing end to another great year at the Boston Comedy Festival, and given the fact that the 2019 gathering will mark its 20th anniversary, it’s almost certain that it’s going to be a shin-dig you won’t want to miss.