After a low point, a resolve to change
After “The Stoner Show” ended, Bob Kitson and Gloria Butler raced over to Freddy’s Bar in Park Slope on 5th Avenue, 20 minutes or so away, to meet their two other partners, Liz Hall and Christian Polanco. They were all at Freddy’s to hear the 9:00 p.m, show, “Ed Sullivan on Acid with Calvin Cato and Rick James.” It was the evening of Day 1.
Kitson, Hall, Butler, and Polanco don’t want to keep their day jobs. They come alive in the nighttime, when they work to build careers in the comedy business. This year they tried to build something else as well: a new six-day event, the Park Slope Comedy Festival. From Oct. 9 through Saturday, Oct. 14, stand-up comedy will take place all along Park Slope’s Fifth Avenue, in bars like Freddy’s, The Montrose, Halyards, and Salzy, among others.
This year the first Park Slope Comedy Festival opened in….Bushwick. “The Stoner Show,” the first of the three shows planned that night, kicked off at The Divine Bar on 896 Broadway. The sports bar lets out into an open back porch area with five picnic tables, each with huge Sam Adams logoed umbrellas, wide open due to the damp, wet air. A wooden stage, a step up from ground level, was positioned in the corner with one bright light propped on the nearest table. The comedians stood in front of a spray-painted mural of two purple cell towers in front of a cratered moon over the Brooklyn skyline.
The six comedians who performed came from all over the country, each bearing a distinct personality. Zenobia Del Mar recently returned to the East Coast from California and lives in Boston. Her sharp, fast-tempoed northern accent came through as she joked about the weather, dating, and being a black woman. Drew Drevyanko, a 6’7” man with glasses and curly hair, is from Philadelphia and joked about his height, white privilege, and his fear of dying. The show closed with Kethia Chhang, 31, who has vibrant blue hair. Chhang wore a T-shirt with the words “I’m a rugged maniac” underneath a thick zip-up jacket in the humid 78-degree weather. He described himself as an Asian man with a black girl’s name who grew up in Texas. Chhang lives in San Francisco now, and works as a data analyst for a hospital by day. By night, at least on Tuesdays, he hosts a show called Boozeday, at ZocaLOL Coffee House, and produces “Khmers of Comedy,” billed as the first Cambodian-American Comedy Show.
This outdoor venue was chosen to suit the name of the performance, “The Stoner Show,” so those who attended would be free to smoke while listening , and a few of the 13 audience members did indeed light up cigarettes. Unfortunately, the noise of the nearby F train was a bit of a downer, challenging the voices of the mic-less comics. But they persevered.
The Park Slope Comedy Festival was Kitson’s idea. He then gathered the three other organizers, and they worked for six months planning the event. First, they reached out to everyone they knew who had connections with venues and could help reserve spots for the shows. Then they watched auditions. They asked comedians to send in tapes, and collectively viewed around 130 videos, they said, which took about three to four days. “It was a long process,” Kitson said. “Some were terrible. Some had poor video or sound quality. We decided to break it down to who had professional tape and that reduced it to 40.”
Kitson, who has a weekly show at The Montrose on Fifth Avenue, came up with the idea of the festival because of Park Slope’s already very established comedy scene: “A lot of comedy happens in Park Slope. I was like, ‘Why isn’t there a comedy festival?’ “ He asked around, he said, and found a lot of interest. Kitson said it was most fortunate to have three other comedians, his festival partners, who could devote time to put the event together.
By day, Butler is a receptionist at a dentist office and by night, she works on her seven-year comedy career. She also writes for a web series, which she says is another way to break into the business. “You don’t want to limit yourself,” she said. The South Carolina native has performed in D.C., Baltimore, New York, and Los Angeles. “In New York, comics are more supportive of other comedians,” she says. “They’re more willing to build something together and work in teams and support others that are in the same show. In L.A., comedians are more likely to sabotage you because they’re looking out for themselves and their own success.” Butler feels that this comedy festival gives opportunities for comedians to travel, meet other comedians, expand their name and talent, and perform in New York City, which she referred to as the comedy capital.
The first day of the festival ended with the final 10:30 p.m. show, “PSCF Roast Battle” at Freddy’s Bar. Comedian Perry Strong hosted as six pairs of comics made fun of their opponents in a joke battle. The six pairs competed in single-round battles that went for two to three minutes, and the winner of each round was given some of their own stand-up time after the last battle finished.
So far, so good, the partners say. They said they were satisfied with the first evening’s turnout, and they’ve already got plans in mind for next year’s festival. Butler sees the first year as laying down a foundation and building the trust of the community. Next year, she said, she hopes to recruit salespeople who can help with sponsors, which was a challenge this year.
“Right now we’re like the little festival that could,” he said. “We’ll prove ourselves and then next year, they’ll be like, ‘You made it kid!”