The first night of the Norfolk Comedy Festival just wrapped up. Billed as “Locals Only” night, it left no doubt that Norfolk, and indeed all of Hampton Roads, is home to a vibrant, diverse, and high quality comedy scene. The night featured two shows, dozens of performers, every style of comedy imaginable (except mimes thankfully), and kept the crowd laughing out loud throughout the night.
The night kicked off brilliantly with the talented, short-form improv skills of Occupy Muse, a group of students from the teen improvisational comedy classes at the Muse Writers Center in Norfolk. They do a style similar to that seen on the recently resurrected television series “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”. They are led through a series of games by their teachers from the Muse (Bradford McMurran and Sean Devereux, of the Pushers). Having seen the latest incarnation of the television show earlier this week, these Occupy Muse kids tonight trumped everything I saw on TV. The Occupy Muse kids were just funnier and there are some stars among them. No one left the show tonight without becoming a Jack DeBeau fan. This 13 year old little guy is so funny and so quick, everybody falls for him.
Battle Royale with Cheese
Battle Royale with Cheese weren’t handed their spot on the lineup tonight. They earned it, fair and square. They beat out several other improv teams at a recent contest for the chance to perform at the festival. Performing a long form improvisation style known as a Harold, they took the stage by storm with their sound and movement opener. On the audience suggestion of “Buttercup”, the group flocked around, largely in unison, chanting, mocking each other, laughing together, and so forth. Those chants and laughs then somehow gave birth to a series of absurdly hilarious scenes that included American tourists groping works of art in foreign lands, a Dad breaking the news to his son that he’d no longer be able to watch him sleep, and two Wall Street bankers samurai fighting over investment strategies. As the Harold progressed, the characters from the various scenes became intermingled and the audience roared at what ensued.
Plan B Improv
The third act of the first show featured the high energy antics of Plan B, a local improv group that was performing at the Norfolk Comedy Festival for the second time. Largely in a short-form style similar to that of Occupy Muse, Plan B kept the audience cracking up with more advance games that required a scary amount of focus and skill. The crowd deserved some credit for some of their suggestions during Plan B’s performance. In particular, the suggestion to act out a scene as rival drag queen cousins on Arbor Day, one of whom is demanding respect and the other is only reciprocatingg with money was awesome. And the Plan B members that acted out that scene without words killed it. It was scary how close the other Plan B members came to figuring out what the scene was despite the lack of dialog. They really only missed the fact that it was Arbor Day. Scary. Extra credit to Plan B for keeping the energy of the evening going after about ⅕ of the audience left to presumably tuck Occupy Muse in for bedtime.
In the words of host Ed Carden of the Pushers, the sketch and improv group Absolute Uncertainty put the sketch in the improv and sketch portion of the evenings festivities. And they destroyed. How can you not destroy when have a Nazi teaching children Christmas carols, inappropriate racially charged performances at a school talent show, and a candidate gangster who is unwilling to ride in an HOV lane alone in order to gain membership to a local gang? But for me, the highlight of Absolute Uncertainty’s set was Jesus, on the cross, sighing and remarking “what a day”. That sketch was edgy, well acted, and flat out hilarious.
The second show of the evening featured a wide array of local stand-up acts. Hosted skillfully by Tim Loulies, a fixture of the regions stand-up scene, the dozen stand up acts that took the stage delivered in quick succession. Featuring quite a few winners of local and regional comedy contests, they packed a ton of comedy into a short amount of time.
A number of the standups stood out to me. John Small took self-deprecating humor to a whole new level and had one of the lines of the night when he admonished the crowd that if they didn’t consider Kool-Aid a fruit, then they didn’t have enough poor friends. E (Just E) moved the crowd with her personal material dealing with sobriety and other struggles in life. Joy Julian won the audience over (though it seemed many were on her side to begin with) with her Southern charm. Garrett Barnes was definitely the most edgy comic of the night delivering a handful of jaw-dropping, did-he-just-say-what-I-think-he-said lines. Team Fred was smooth, polished, and definitely a crowd favorite.
But for me, the set of the night had to go to Everett Price. He killed with bit after bit after bit. I was not familiar with Everett before tonight and his southern accent and somewhat nervous initial demeanor set me up to be suprised. His material about the Tide light rail system, people shouting out of trucks, familiar but nonetheless odd expressions, and Mike Tyson were just funny as hell.
Honorable mention goes to the featuring act, Jim Seward, another fixture of the local stand-up scene and the evening’s headliner Adam Dodd. Jim seems to be a master of crowd work, hitting several members of the audience for material (myself included). Jim is moving to Tennessee soon and this was billed as his last local performance before he moves. The reaction in the crowd to the end of his set left no doubt he will be missed. Adam Dodd is a musical comedy act that had the crowd in stitches during some of his parody songs and in amazement at the depth of his knowledge of lyrics to old TV shows. Adam’s act was high energy and polished and a great end to a great evening of local comedy.
Brian is an IT guy for a local healthcare organization by day, a parent by night, and an improv student at the Muse Writers Center by every other Saturday. Brian can be found writing bad jokes on Twitter at @NULLgarity. Disclosure: Brian is friends with a number of the performers mentioned above.
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