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Keep them laughing: Stand-up comics make their way in the Valley

  • Hartford-based comic Penina Beedle, at lower right, served as a recent host of Bishop’s Lounge’s Sunday comedy open mic. 

  • Stand-up comics such as Sean Noah Noah at Bishop’s Lounge’s comedy open mics often try out new material in front of a crowd.  Photo by Sage Orville Photography 

  • Above and at right, More than 25 comics typically sign up for the comedy open mics on Sunday and Wednesday nights at Bishop’s Lounge in Northampton. 

  • Comedy as a Weapon founder Timothy Lovett (center) is seen with other comics who were part of a recent show organized by the comedy promoting company.  Photo courtesy of Comedy as a Weapon



Thursday, March 07, 2019

estern Massachusetts has a vibrant arts scene with an abundance of art galleries and music/entertainment venues across the region. Stand-up comedy also plays a big role in the area’s arts and entertainment community. 

There are several weekly open mics for stand-up comics to try out new material — welcoming and supportive places where comics can find out whether they’ve really stuck comedic gold or if they have a dud joke on their hands. One open mic takes place twice a week at Bishop’s Lounge in Northampton on Sunday and Wednesday nights. 

Nick Caron, who hosted the Wednesday open mic for eight years and recently ended his tenure as host, said there’s been a core community of comics in the Valley for more than a decade. The open mic previously took place at the former Yellow Sofa cafe, which closed in 2011. After the Yellow Sofa closed, the open mic moved to its current home at Bishop’s Lounge. 

At least 25 comedians signed up for a recent Sunday night session at Bishop’s, 80 percent of whom also frequently attend the Wednesday night open mic, Caron said. Some travel a fair distance to attend, he noted, from central and eastern Massachusetts as well as the greater Hartford, Connecticut area. 

“Comedy is all community-based,” he said. “It’s all about networking. It’s all about making friends. It’s all about connecting with people and connecting with venues.”

In Caron’s case, he finds inspiration from deadpan comics such as  Steven Wright and Mitch Hedberg. 

“I’ve been trying to break away from doing one-liners recently and start doing political material,” Caron said. “We’re in a really [expletive] political time. It’s not a joke, but there are some things” you can poke fun at. 

Eric Barakat, a comic from Hartford, said he thinks western Massachusetts has a strong comedy scene because there are established comics who are “the layer of cake above us,” who organize well-received shows and treat comedy like a business. 

He said that if he’s trying out material that might offend someone, he’ll debut a joke at Bishop’s comedy open mic. 

“It might come out from the wrong angle or misunderstood,” Barakat explained. “If I can get it over here, I know I can get over at rougher places because there are certain things you can say that will shut down an audience. As a comic, you have to know that.” 

Although Bishop’s comedy open mics continue to draw crowds, Caron said, the trend across the region isn’t the same. Smaller venues for comics have been disappearing over the past several years, including former Northampton spots such as Hinge and One Bar & Grill, he noted. 

“Those were great places with little stages on them where comedy can happen and those places don’t exist anymore,” he said. 

Still, there are other Valley venues where comics perform on a regular basis, Caron said: the 13th Floor Music Lounge in Florence, Luthier’s Co-op in Easthampton, Iconica Social Club in Northampton and Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield. 

Monk Kelley, a Northampton comic, says there are a lot of talented performers and a rich comedy scene in the Valley, which is also supportive of the LGBTQ community. 

“[Bishop’s Lounge] really cultivates voices that are not heard in normal comedy clubs,” Kelley said. 

Woozy Kurtz has been attending the Bishop’s open mic series for the past year and a half and also hosts an open mic at Hawks & Reed every second and fourth Tuesday of the month. He said he thinks there is a supportive atmosphere at Bishop’s and other comedy open mics, but audiences won’t laugh at a joke that isn’t funny. 

“They’re not going to give you something if you haven’t earned it,” Kurtz said. 

At the Sunday night open mic at Bishop’s more than a month ago, Hartford-based comic Penina Beedle, who was the host for the night, started her set filled with dark and self deprecating humor, relating a conversation with her mother.

“I was so mad. She didn’t notice how annoyingly depressed [I was]. I was like, ‘Mom, can we just make this about me for once?’ I’m like 90 percent kidding, right? And so she turns to me and says very calmly, ‘Well, Penina, if the whole world blows up, you won’t have to worry about killing yourself.’ ” 

Comedians Kim “Boney” DeShields and Timothy Lovett now host the Sunday and Wednesday open mics at Bishop’s Lounge, respectively. 

Both are involved with promoting comics in the Valley through “Comedy as a Weapon,” a company founded by Lovett in 2015 that has booked comedy shows at area venues such as The Academy of Music Theatre in Northampton, which feature a diverse selection of comics, both male and female and from different ethnicities and backgrounds. 

Before Lovett started Comedy as a Weapon, he was homeless. But his sense of humor in life was an enduring force that helped him change his life, he said. Years later, he got into stand-up comedy after a relationship came to a tough end. 

“I was at one of the lowest points in my life, and I wanted to do comedy. I said, ‘Things can’t get any worse.’ ” 

It was around that time when he befriended DeShields, who acted as a comedic mentor and encouraged him to try doing stand-up. 

“I was asking her all these comedy questions like, ‘How do you write jokes? How do you structure a set?’ She was like, ‘Do people think you’re funny?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, my friends think I’m funny’ … She left and came back and the next thing I knew they were calling me up to the stage. She went to sign me up.” 

Chris Goudreau can be reached at cgoudreau@valleyadvocate.com. 

For more information about Bishop’s Lounge’s comedy open mic, visit facebook.com/bishopsloungecomedy/. More information about Comedy as a Weapon can be found at comedyweapon.com.