Comedy comes to Artscape

Despite the risks, local stand-ups can't wait to try out their punch lines at the country's largest free art festival

  • Baltimore comedian Larry Lancaster will one of the 10 stand-ups performing this weekend at Artscape.
Baltimore comedian Larry Lancaster will one of the 10 stand-ups… (Baltimore Sun file photo )
July 15, 2010|By Mary Carole McCauley, The Baltimore Sun

If things go wrong at Artscape on Saturday night — and you just never know — 10 of Baltimore's most intrepid comics will suffer a long, excruciating and very public death by microphone.

For the first time in 29 years, the festival will offer a night of stand-up humor, LOL@Artscape. The stakes are high, because laughter is a notoriously unpredictable compound, and an open-air festival doesn't offer the ideal circumstances for generating yucks.

But the 10 funny men and women who auditioned for the two-hour showcase can't wait for the chance to try out their favorite punch lines.

"Everyone is really excited," says Jason Weems, the Baltimore comic who organized the event. "We're hoping it will be such a big success that it's an annual event from now on." (Television audiences may remember Weems from NBC's "Last Comic Standing." The Leith Walk Elementary School kindergarten teacher made the semi-final rounds for the seventh season, and appeared in two episodes of the popular show in late June.)

The comics, who were selected during an audition process, will perform sets of between eight and twelve minutes apiece. They are: Ayanna Dookie, Bryan "City Boy B" Harris, Jared Horning, Larry Lancaster, Kojo Mante, Tom Myers, Aparna Nacherla, Brian Parise and Mike Way. The host for the comedy showcase will be Seaton Smith.

"Everyone brings something different to the table," Weems says. "There isn't just one style of humor, or one point of view.

"Mike has an observational type of humor, similar to Jerry Seinfeld, where he takes something ordinary and turns it on his head. Aparna has a kind of dry and low-energy style that draws you in — and then she catches you off-guard with a hilarious punch line. Kojo is very quick-witted, and Seaton is one of the best hosts I've ever seen."

In some ways, the decision to add comedy to the annual summer festival seems long overdue.

"We're trying to add some events this year that really appeal to the 18- to 24-year-old demographic," says Kathy Hornig, the festival's director for the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, which runs Artscape. People want to have a good time, and people need to laugh."

But staging a comedy show in the free-wheeling atmosphere of an outdoor party for 350,000 guests presents its share of difficulties. By 8 p.m. Saturday, when LOL begins, festival goers are likely to be tired and hot. Some may even have tried to beat the heat by quaffing a succession of chilled brewskis.

"Most of events offered at festival are outdoors," Weems says.

"At first, they wanted the organizers to be performed on an open-air stage "But almost like a death sentence for comedians. We need to be in a controlled environment. It's hard enough to keep the crowd's attention when you're surrounded by four walls and a you've got a ceiling over your head. It's impossible when you have to compete with traffic and people walking by."

Instead, LOL will be staged in the Load of Fun's LOF/t black box theater. The location, at North Avenue and Howard Street, is a bit off the beaten path.

"Strictly speaking, it's not even inside the festival boundaries," Hornig says. "But, it's right in the center of the Station North Arts District, where Artscape takes place."

And, if only 120 people in that crowd of 350,000 find their way to the LOF/t, she says, the theater will be filled to capacity.

Hornig and Weems also want their LOL patrons to realize they'll have to leave the kids at home. The language is likely to be raw and the humor blue, and no one younger than 18 will be admitted.

"I told Artscape officials up front is it if they wanted to have a comedy show, it would have to be billed as an adults-only event," Weems says. "You don't want the comedians on stage to censor themselves. When they have free range, they can do what they do best."

And, that's no joke.

mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

If you go

LOL@Artscape runs from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday July 17 at Load of Fun, 120 W. North Ave. Free. Call 1-877-225-8466 or go to artscape.org.

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