Local comedian Rachel Rothenberg on stage.

Rachel Rothenberg is a one-of-a-kind personality in the growing Salt Lake comedy scene. A true enigma, she’s a stand-up comedian who likes both fancy frocks and bugs. She dresses like a well-refined lady from a bygone era, and does so while telling poop jokes on stage—she’s unexpected and unforgettable. Rothenberg is also an up-and-coming powerhouse when it comes to producing comedy shows in the valley. Her very own show at Wiseguys Comedy Club, called Dumbbroads, features the funniest ladies in Utah. Her newest female-fronted show, Dumbbroads II, will be hitting the Wiseguys stage on Oct. 20.

A transplant from Connecticut to Utah, Rothenberg is no stranger to being a little bit strange herself. “I was really used to being an outsider there, I was always that way growing up,” she says. “So it doesn’t always feel weird to me to be a weird person in any context. It’s just sort of my default mode.” Rothenberg even willingly seeks out situations in which she would be strange, and comedy is seemingly a perfect fit. “In Utah, the comedy community was actually the first place that I felt like I fit in,” says Rothenberg. “I knew that I stood out as I’m not a guy and I’m not an ex-Mormon who’s been traumatized by the church—but they are kind of my people. I understand them,” she says.

“I was putting sprigs of rosemary in my nostrils while I wrote jokes. Didn’t work.”

After cultivating a lifelong passion for comedy through a love for Mae West and Sarah Silverman, Rothenberg finally took the dive into stand-up in March of 2016. “I spent a really long time overcoming stage fright,” she says. “I straight up blacked out from anxiety—no alcohol, just fear—for the first year and a half that I did it, every time I did it.”

On stage, Rothenberg displays her knack for joke writing.
Photo courtesy of Rachel Rothenberg

She filmed her sets just to remember the jokes that she would tell because she was completely in the moment. When it comes to her stage jitters and nerves, Rothenberg has tried all of the tricks of the trade and tidbits of advice from other comics. “I tried to use the smell of rosemary to improve my memory, so I could keep track of my jokes. I tried huffing rosemary for awhile. I was putting sprigs of rosemary in my nostrils while I wrote jokes. Didn’t work.”

Rothenberg is a bit different from other comedians, as she’s had no formal background in any performing arts. Her focus is on her writing, of which she says, “I’m a pretty good joke writer.” Upon seeing her on stage, though, “pretty good” feels like an understatement. Rothenberg is clever and quick to find original puns. “I think I have arrived at something,” she says.

Rothenberg discovered her ability to make people laugh while working as a political canvasser during the 2016 elections. It became her way of getting an “in” for a progressive candidate in rural Nevada. “It was going to be a stretch to convert any of them,” she says. The only way she could get people to speak to her while she was “dressed as some city liberal bitch” was by making them laugh so they would invite her in. “The reason that I do stand-up is to be heard,” she says.

“There’s politics in just being a human being with human problems and life choices.”

Her comedy, though, wouldn’t be considered particularly political. “At least for what I’m doing now, the political is often implied,” she says. “There’s a gulf between my sense of humor and my goals for the world.” She describes her comedy as “very juvenile:” “I love poop jokes and sex and silly things to laugh about.” She purposely tries to not get too serious, and just enjoy the fun of being funny. “There’s politics in just being a human being with human problems and life choices. It’s political [in that] that I’m telling that type of joke at all. It’s a political act just being a female in comedy making the same jokes as the boys do.” Her look may be serious, but her misdirect is that once the joke is delivered, it’s clear she was never taking anything too seriously at all.

Rothenberg had noticed that, although women were getting spots at comedy shows around Utah, their comedy presence onstage at Wiseguys was lacking. That’s when she saw an opening for a new type of show and took it. “Let’s just get some goddamn women on this stage, or on any stage there,” she says. “I didn’t understand why it wasn’t already happening and why no one else was doing it.” After all the ruffled feathers, the only pushback she received was exactly what she expected: somebody not understanding the name of the show. “It’s a joke based on the name of Wiseguys. It’s the exact opposite of a ‘wise guy’” Rothenberg explains.

“I genuinely feel that women are pushing the hardest right now of my peers that are doing it.”

Rothenberg points gleefully at the Dumbbroads poster.
Photo courtesy of Rachel Rothenberg

The current Utah comedy scene is experiencing a much-needed upswing of shows, open mics and comedy venues. Rothenberg is a huge part of that, as she is making shows to give a platform specifically to amazing local comics. She’s also using her comedy chops to make a space for a growing field of local women in comedy. “The sort of tag line and hashtag we are using for [Dumbbroads] is ‘only women are funny,’ which is a thing I posted to social media a long time ago and people got really mad about it,” she laughs. “I thought it was amazing that it ruffled a lot of feathers and made people really mad that I said it.” In keeping with her desire to uplift local female comics, she feels that these women are the best comics in the scene. “I genuinely feel that women are pushing the hardest right now of my peers that are doing it. The growth of the female comics locally has just been so incredible to watch.”

As far as what the future holds for female comics in Utah, Rothenberg says that “I think we could dominate, to be perfectly honest.” “I also think that the female comics locally are relatively supportive of each other now.” With more and more women getting into comedy—and getting to the top—she’s confident in the growing talent of female comedians. “I think that we are just trying to make each other better,” she says. “Instead of being viewed as a ‘slot filler,’ which is how I’ve felt that women have been treated for a long time in the Salt Lake scene, I would like women to just be who you think of when you think women are funny.” That’s why she only books the best of the best when it comes to showcasing female comedians in Utah, in order to provide a strong show from start to finish. Not to make something that is good in spite of having women on it, but creating something that is just a really great comedy show. Dumbbroads is just that.

Dumbbroads is a recurring show every two months at Wiseguys Comedy Club at the Gateway in Salt Lake City. Dumbbroads II is on Oct. 20 at 7:30 p.m., featuring Natashia Mower, Jordan Harris and Krystal Starr. Tickets can be purchased online or at the door for $5.00.

You can follow Rachel Rothenberg on Instagram @the_comedic_stylings_of and on Twitter @comedicstylings.

More on SLUGMag.com:
Abi Harrison: Standup Comedy and Fresh Pineapple
Robbie Brooks – The Far Side of the Mic

An expectant audience awaits the next Front Row Film Roast.

It’s unlikely that anyone would think of adding “drunkenly watching your favorite movies while comedians make fun of them” to a list of things that could happen in Salt Lake City, but that should forever be at the top of every local’s go-tos. It’s true that somewhere within the all of the odd rules, Zion curtains, and family-friendly theaters, there exists an oasis of cult film, boozy drinks and comedy. That beacon in the dark is the Front Row Film Roast at Brewvies.

This once a month comedy gem can only take place at the infamous Downtown haven that is Brewvies. Where the funny folks from Crowdsourced Comedy take over the theater to provide banter, nostalgia and drinking game entertainment. In the past, no film has been too loved to roast. They have skewered everything from Jurassic Park to Harry Potter to Love Actually. This roast round, they are unleashing on a movie dripping with millenial nostalgia, 10 Things I Hate About You. It’s going to be boy (Heath Ledger) meets girl (Julia Stiles) meets Shakespeare (The Taming of the Shrew) with a 1999 pop culture twist and dick jokes—lots of dick jokes.

You may be familiar with the Front Row Film Roast core group of roastmasters from the SLC improv force with Crowdsourced Comedy: Jessica Sproge, Andrew Sproge, Craig Sorensen and Trevor D. Kelley. Each month, they anoint an additional comedian roaster to dole out extra cinematic punishment. August’s guest comedian is local stand-up and wickedly talented entertainer Rachel Rothenberg, who’s first self-produced show, Dumb Broads, is showing at Wiseguys on Aug. 18.

“We always have a local guest comedian, a drinking game, it’s just a fun time.”

“We love rom-coms,” says Andrew Sproge. “I don’t know what you would call this, a teen rom-com?” The teen staple from 1999 has become a favorite for many as a modern remake of The Taming of the Shrew. “I think this is a good movie,” Andrew Sproge says. “Obviously we love Heath Ledger, so we couldn’t pass it up.” This is the first movie that put Ledger on the map for US audiences. “It’s very roastable.”

“You don’t see a lot of characters like her [Julia Stiles’ Cat Stratford], especially for that time,” says Rothenberg. “I just watched the movie. I hadn’t seen it before. Now I’m excited to make jokes about it.” 

Roaster Jessica Sproge has skewered Rom Coms in the past with much delight. “I studied Shakespeare in college and high school, so I know Taming of the Shrew better than I do this,” she says. “It’s mostly watching and seeing the blatant Shakespeare references.” For those who have never seen the movie, like her, they are in for a hidden treat. “It was fun to watch. I love late-’90s [and] early-2000s movies, they are really fun to watch.”

The layout of the show is similar to other Crowdsourced Comedy events, which means it is heavy on audience participation. “We always have a local guest comedian, a drinking game, it’s just a fun time,” says Kelley. “The whole idea is to deliver the experience of watching one of your favorite movies on the big screen with some of the funniest people you’ve ever met, i.e. us.”

“One of my favorite moments was during Space Jam. We had this dunk contest.”

The Crowdsourced Comedy crew in full Harry Potter garb.
Photo courtesy of Front Row Film Roasts

Sorensen explains the basics and says, “If you come to the film roast, this is what you can expect: You’re going to see a movie and we’re going to have a drinking game. You’re going to see it roasted by comedians and then usually we encourage people—if you want—to dress up. It’s not a requirement, but if you want,” he says, heavily hinting at the suggestion of late-’90s teen angst attire. “We’ve done a whole array of different movies. We’ve done rom-coms, we just did Jurassic Park, we’ve done Harry Potter, The Matrix and Labyrinth. Last year we did Independence Day,” he adds. “Nothing’s out of reach with the film roast.” They are aiming to connect on a personal level with the die-hard fans of the movies. “One of our biggest shows was Labyrinth. Not because it’s a good movie, it’s because we love David Bowie. People dressed up at the show as Ziggy Stardust and in other David Bowie outfits,” Sorensen muses.

At the roast of Harry Potter they sorted the audience members. Sorensen and Kelley would have them come up and riff on them, their looks, and their demeanor. “Instead of sorting them into a Harry Potter house it would be like ‘Kardashian she is!’ or ‘Republican!’ That was one of my favorites,” laughs Sorensen, who still owns the sorting hat.

Kelley talks about the audience participation on a past show, “One of my favorite moments was during Space Jam. We had this dunk contest.” Audience members were asked to come to the front to demonstrate their best slow motion dunk. “People were super creative. I’ve watched basketball my whole life and I saw some things that I don’t think would’ve been created outside of that venue,” Kelley says. 

“[Brewvies is] literally the only place in Salt Lake City where this could happen. It’s such a unique thing.”

To begin with, Brewvies is the perfect home for a twist on the film experience, and adding the monthly Front Row Film Roast for SLC screenings is a one-of-a-kind experience that only happens live. “It’s obviously very adult-oriented. It’s a bar, you have to be 21 to get in, so that already sets the tone for what it is that we’re doing,” explains Andrew Sproge. “We encourage people to drink responsibly. We have got deals with Lyft to get home. It’s literally the only place in Salt Lake City where this could happen. It’s such a unique thing.” This is an event that you will not want to miss. “It is full of hot quotes, hot bods and hot Shakespeare,” says Andrew Sproge.

So, if you are ready to break out your black panties or are just merely “whelmed”, get to Brewvies August 24th early enough to snag some of their amazing food and drinks, play a little pool, and then settle in to have all of your teenage memories dashed by the Front Row Film Roasters. The film and roast starts at 9:00 PM and tickets can be purchased online or at the door for $12. The day of the show there is a ticket give away on their social media, where fans can comment on a post and a winner will be selected at random.

Front Row Film Roast is sponsored by Utah’s own Bohemian Brewery. You can check out more about Front Row Film Roast on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The show price is $12 on frontrowfilmroast.com or at the door. Order early, as the show may sell out. Show starts at 9:00 p.m. on Aug. 24.

The Crowdsourced Comedy crew in action at a Front Row Film Roast
Photo Courtesy of Front Row Film Roast

More on SLUGMag.com:

The Front Row Film Roast of Twilight
Dumpster Dive: Salt Lake Cinema Trash Night Keeps it Classick

Photo courtesy of Crowdsourced Comedy.

Crowdsourced Comedy is a unique, audience-generated experience from some of Utah’s most seasoned and talented improvisational comedians. No two shows will ever, or can ever, be the same. This isn’t your mother’s improv either—with this troupe no topic is taboo. Crowdsourced Comedy puts on regular showcases, charity events, improv classes and can even been seen at corporate events or birthday parties. This is wit and humor as fast as you can yell a suggestion. The audience is always part of the show. The four troupe members of Crowdsourced Comedy are Andrew Sproge, Jessica Sproge, Craig Sorensen and Trevor Kelley.

The troupe got their start nearly a decade ago when a group of improv comics and friends got together in Utah County and decided to do a show. “We used to do improv together in Provo,” says Sorensen. “We kind of trained together. We went across the country [and] did a lot of workshops together. We did shows and eventually we got to the point where we were wanted to do this on our own and our way … When you do shows in Utah County it’s very family oriented. So we’re like—’Let’s go to Salt Lake and say the ‘F’ word!’”

They branched out into “Improv for Adults” as Andrew Sproge calls it. With the move from Utah County to Salt Lake City three years ago, the group found more opportunities to do shows in alternative venues—like bars and comedy clubs—places where they can attract the kind of audience members they love. “We want to talk about the issues and things going on in our world today from an adult’s perspective,” Andrew Sproge says. What sets Crowdsourced Comedy apart from traditional improv shows is that they aren’t just getting a one word suggestion from the audience. They really try to get to know the audience, their pasts, their passions and their stories. This is what they will base their scenes on and why they are “Crowdsourced”. “The best improv scenes are when the audience is involved—heavily involved—that was the genesis of Crowdsourced.” Sorensen says, “We want to pull them up, we want to get their stories, we want them to feel like they are [a] part of the show. Maybe they aren’t the star performers, but without them it would just be us trying to do some other type of comedy.”

In addition to regular shows, the Crowdsourced Troupe teaches Improv 101 and 201 classes at Sugar Space Studios in Salt Lake City. “As people progress we add them to our performers group to join us on stage,” Andrew Sproge says. The next 101 class starts May 14th  for the cost of $125. “People can pay as they go,” says Andrew. “We try to make it affordable because most people who are trying to get into acting or comedy are broke like we are.” The class runs for five weeks, and includes a student graduation show. The 201 class is on Tuesday nights once a comic gets down the basics. Anyone is welcome to come try out the 101 class. Andrew states that they have everyone from comics, to salesmen, to realtors and even psychologists. “The class can be for performers as well as people who just want to get outside of their comfort zone,” he says.

The main Crowdsourced Comedy Troupe consists of anywhere between 15 and 20 main players. The current roster includes a great list of regularly performing comedians, including Jasmine Lewis, Brian Higgins, Jeff Sproge, Hollie Jay, Maddie Bell, Amerah Ames, Adam Conrad, Arash Tadjiki, Dallas Briggs, Wallace Fetzer and Ivan Bigney. The troupe acts like one big family. As Andrew puts it, “The best improv shows are the ones where it is so clear that everybody is friends and they’re really having a great time and it’s so comfortable.”

Crowdsourced Comedy takes pride in having a diverse cast of players. “I have always felt that we really pride diversity,” says Jessica Sproge. “Improv is very white, straight and male-based. I feel like we want diverse people … We love people with different backgrounds—the same background is so boring,” she says. They make a concentrated effort to make sure that all groups of people are represented through the Troupe. Andrew Sproge adds that anybody can be an improviser. “We want people from all walks of life, because that makes the improv all-walks-of-life-improv.”

On May 7 they will be putting on a benefit show for Planned Parenthood benefit show featuring an all-women cast. “With the PP show we are only doing a woman cast because we want to highlight the women in the comedy world,” says Jessica Sproge. This show will be at 7:30 P.M. at Wiseguys Downtown Salt Lake. It’s a $5 donation with proceeds going to Planned Parenthood of Utah, who will also be in attendance with some cool swag.

You can see the next Crowdsource Improv showcase Tuesday, April 23rd, at 7:30 P.M. at Wiseguys at The Gateway, where they will be getting tons of suggestions and stories from the audience. The cost is just $5 at the door. “It will be tons of fun, and we desperately need people there to give us these suggestions because you guys are going to fuel every single scene that we do,” says Andrew Sproge.

To see more showtimes, classes, and information you can check out their website at crowdsourcedlive.com. You can also find them on Twitter (@csourcedcomedy), Instagram (@crowdsourcedcomedy), Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Photo courtesy of Robbie Brooks.

There’s passion and then there’s “get in line at 2 for the open-mic” passion. The second one, that’s Robbie Brooks. While some people get into comedy for fun, some get into comedy for a career. Brooks  was born for comedy, quite literally. Brooks dabbled in stand-up from a young age, but it wasn’t until a chance conversation at a comedy club in New York City that he decided that comedy was where he was meant to be. You see, he looks like a comedian, and he decided at that point that he couldn’t possibly be anything else.

Since he was a kid, he was an admirer of Rodney Dangerfield, Richard Lewis and Gary Shandling. Like them, he says, “You don’t have to pity me, I’ll do it myself.” In 2014 he found himself in New York City, and “I wanted to go to Dangerfield’s,” Brooks says. “Comedy had always been in the back of my mind.” He was just excited to get in and see a show. “The guy at the door starts talking to me and says, ‘You look like a comedian’.” Brooks does look like a comedian— jovial, quirky, like a well-adjusted and sober John Belushi or Artie Lange. “I get everybody,” he says. “How am I supposed to feel about this?” The door guy insisted it was a good thing, he had after all been hanging out there since the ‘80s, so if there is anyone who is an authority on it, it’s going to be this door guy. Brooks decided to give it a shot, but had to get out of New Orleans, where he was living at the time. “I decided to move to Utah and found Wiseguys,” he says this was when he decided it was time to finally just do it. The first time he hit the stage was June 2016. “I’ve been sick ever since. It’s a sickness,” Brooks explains. Now, you’ll see him doing a variety of shows from Ogden to St. George, showing up in line to get on an open mic list at 2.

He currently works with high school kids as a tracker, a kind of mentor. But his sights are set on comedy full-time. “I want to do this as a career. There’s nothing else. I didn’t go to college.” He’s a man with a plan, and a passion to execute. “I’ll be happy if I’m just working clubs, touring. I want to keep it down-to-earth, keep it fun. I’d love to be on TV , but I can be happy doing on the road stuff. It’s what I love. It’s my passion,” he says. He’s learned a lot from that first step on stage to now. “One of the things I’ve had is that I have a speech impediment. I used to talk really fast. Now I kind of stop and take a breath.” He puts the work in and pounds the pavement when it comes to being serious about stand-up, “there’s no short cuts,” he says.

Comedy can be a little ugly at times, “a little two-faced,” he explains. But he’s found his comedy family— a group of great comics and as he describes “awesome humans.” His advice to all new working comics: “Find your comedy family. Don’t just look for friends.” The difference is while friends can help you get on a show, “it’s best to find your comedy family and grow with them.” This family of his consists of several long time hard-working local comics: Eric ‘EK’ Kepoo, Matt Turner, Allen Carter, and Bryce Prescott. Together they do a monthly show in St. George at the Hilton‘s Office Lounge. “I would’ve never experienced that without them,” he says. He says that the word “family” fits his group well. “I think it’s because some of the older comics feel like older brothers (or sisters). EK and Matt are like big brothers.” He says, “We go through a kind of war together. Like brothers in arms, we are brothers in mics.” His approach to a show is to just get up there and have fun with it. “We have a job to do, and that’s make these people laugh. But at the same time, you don’t want to take it too seriously. You want to enjoy it,” Brooks says, “for us, it’s about having fun.”

He doesn’t do serious topics, no politics. He’s all about Comic-con, being single, and his mom. “I want the audience to get their minds off of things.” He simply wants the audience to have fun. “I want them to enjoy these few minutes with me and I want them to laugh. I don’t want them to worry about something,” Brooks explains. “We have an oasis of comedy where we’re like ‘come laugh, come enjoy us, see what we can do and just have a blast. Have fun with us.’” Everyone in his ‘oasis’ brings something different to a show.“I bring goofy to it,” he says. “You always have to be yourself, you can always tell when someone’s lying on stage.” His self-deprecating humor is catharsis for him, not a cry for help, though. “Comedy comes with a lot of depressed people, a lot of us are depressed. But why beat yourself up over the one thing you can kind of use that depression as an anchor and use it as fuel for something good like comedy?”

You can see Robbie Brooks perform January 29th at Wiseguys From the Far Side of the Mic. The show is only $5 at Wiseguys, Downtown at the Gateway. Show at 7, doors at 6. 21+.  “It’s going to be goofy, it’s gonna get weird,” he says.

Clockwise: Hollie Jay, Joe Everard, Andy Farnsworth and Torris Fairley.

special SLUG Localized comedy night brings the laughter back to the stage at Urban Lounge. Thursday, Jan. 24, we bring together four hilarious voices, representing some of the best that the Salt Lake comedy scene has to offer. The show is free, the drinks are cold, and there’s no better way to kick off 2019 than finally saying yes to that Tinder match and figuring out what makes them tick by judging how much they laugh at a live stand-up show. Remember, a healthy sense of humor is sexy. That being said, this is a 21+ show, and we won’t hold it against you when you laugh a little too hard at that one, really dark-humored joke (there will be at least one). SLUG Localized is brought to you, as always, by our amazing local sponsors: Uinta Brewing, High West Distillery, KRCL 90.9 FM and Spilt Ink SLC.

This Localized brings together a “host of hosts”: Andy Farnsworth, Hollie Jay, Joe Everard and Torris Fairley. These featured comedians each have made their mark on the Salt Lake City comedy scene by running and hosting local shows and open mics over the course of the last eight years. They have since grown into several of the funniest, hardest-working comedians in the valley. All natural performers, they put forth their own unique brand of comedy, each with their different passions for doing stand-up. Yet, they each showcase what it means to be funny in every facet that stand-up comedy has to offer.

Farnsworth has been doing stand-up since 2004, but, as he says, “only really since 2010,” when he started out in Chicago. He has recently made his way back to Utah after spending several years in the New York City circuit, performing with an impressive “who’s who” of modern stand-up. “In New York, you get to be on shows with everybody,” he says. Farnsworth has performed at bar shows in both New York City and Los Angeles. He’s opened for Doug Stanhope, shared the stage with a name-dropper’s fantasy list and currently hosts his popular comedy podcast, Wandering the Aisles. This January, he’s recording a comedy album right here in Salt Lake City. If that wasn’t enough, he adds to his nerd credibility with the fact that he did a fellowship at the University of Utah for comedy fiction writing.

Farnsworth’s thoughts on being a comedian are answered best in existential ponderings: “I’ve tried to stop—I can’t,” he says. “Really, if I could not do it, I would … Why I do comedy is not funny at all—it’s actually heartbreaking.” It’s possible that he’s just being humble. However, he is known for his hilarious musings that border on neurosis. Farnsworth’s comedy  has been described as “autobiographical and conversational.” “I had someone tell me that it’s a fun meltdown,” he says. “Now I’m going to have to reproduce a meltdown every time, which is painful.”

Torris Fairley also started out in 2004, but again, “only really” since 2010, which appears to be a magical year. He bounces between gigs in Utah and Nevada and began his stand-up career in Chicago. He describes his comedy stylings as “universal,” which could explain how he can appeal to such vastly different audiences. Fairley developed a love for stand-up as a child watching the comedy legend, Richard Pryor, in concert. “He had me laughing to the point I couldn’t breathe, and he had me in tears,” he says. Now, Fairley can’t see life without comedy. “Quite honestly, I was just born to make people laugh. I have more opportunity to make people laugh with stand-up comedy, whether it’s an open mic or while at work, or home, or out grocery-shopping,” he says. Fairley has hosted a long-running, weekly open mic at Big Willie’s, along with other featured shows and comedy competitions.

Joe Everard has been hitting Utah stages for the last four years and has become a staple host in the open-mic scene, as well as and running feature shows. He’s a valuable player in the comedy game, as it takes nerves of steel to put on a weekly late-night open mic at a bar at the Ice Haüs, complete with a revolving door of drunken hecklers. Everard started young with the spark of confidence only a comic can really understand. Everard says “I was raised Catholic, and now, whenever I go into a church, I see Christ up there and say ‘I could do that,’” he says. He discovered his passion for comedy by feasting on some heavy-hitter stand-up specials, like Dennis Miller’s Citizen Arcane. With his witty, satirical one-liners, his comedy style is perfectly funny without being complicated. As far as figuring out the pulse of Utah comedy, he’s taken notes and formulated his strategy. He says, “The pulse is slightly off-tempo. I think you just have to find the right rhythm and just get in that groove, just like anything else.”

A newcomer to the stand-up scene, Hollie Jay hit the ground running a year ago and hasn’t quit. She’s hosting open-mic nights, performing on featured shows and opening for big acts right out of the gate. What she lacks in stage tenure she makes up for in dark, sarcastic humor. She’s found that comedy was a just a natural fit for her. “I’m super awkward offstage, so being onstage gives me a chance to practice not being super awkward,” says Jay. “I feel like literally no other form of therapy has ever worked for me—nothing. Therapy, drugs, family, friends, nothing else feels like it has worked for me the way that it should. Comedy feels like that one thing that’s life-changing and the thing that you use to get through life. That’s my one thing.”

Each of these comedians have different experiences within the different comedy scenes, but each share their thoughts about the uniqueness of our local scene. “The scene’s really great. There are a lot more comics here, and people are moving in from other cities,” says Farnsworth. “People are learning to kind of make it outside of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. It’s growing I think.” Jay agrees and says, “People are shocked to know that Utah has a stand-up scene. And we actually have a very strong stand-up scene here. I think the myth from the outside perspective is that it wouldn’t be very big or very strong or important, but it totally is.”

The movement and growth within the comedy scene in Salt Lake City excites the comedians. “It’s definitely growing,” Fairley says “Salt Lake City has a great opportunity to stand out just by putting egos aside and just hoping they’ll make people laugh. If they do that, there’s a lot of talent—some hardcore talent.”

To each of these entertainers, comedy provides value and is much-needed as something that brings us together. Everard says, “I think one of the most fascinating things is listening to a crowd. You can sense the human gestalt emerging and where you can have a group of several hundred different people that come from different walks of life, and for that very brief moment, they breathe in rhythm, and sometimes they don’t even realize when they are responding to something and why they are responding to it.”

There is contemplation about what comedy offers audiences other than just a laugh. Fairley says, “We help people. The sound of the audience is the best thing, because all that is is the sound of you healing people. Laughter is the best medicine. So I feel like when people are laughing, that’s the equivalent to saying, ‘Thank you, you’re healing me, I’m better now.’”

While comedy is changing in the era of YouTube and Netflix, there are still one-of-a-kind perks to live comedy. Farnsworth explains the differences with the “old school” stand-up and the “new-school,” highly-accessible comedy. “The comedy I fell in love with is in a room with that low ceiling and that spooky, haunting thing. You can’t reproduce that on a Netflix special,” Farnsworth says.

Everard and Jay both see these new platforms making comedy logistically easier for comedians, but the downside is that there are now almost too many voices to choose from. Fairley doesn’t like the rapid changes to comedy as entertainment. “The quality isn’t there—Netflix really doesn’t understand stand-up,” Fairley says. “It’s watered-down now. I’m not saying the people aren’t funny, but I’ve heard funnier shit locally.” 

With live, local comedy, there are no edits and anything can happen. Farnsworth talks about the new type of emerging comedy fan. “There [are] so many people that like DIY comedy, comedy that’s not major-label comedy. This show is a great example of that,” Farnsworth says. He still can’t believe how many people want to come see his live shows. “People just want the experience of being out. They like that.” In fact, Everard points out that there are now multiple venues to see live comedy in the state, as fans begin to gravitate toward more of a genuine experience.

Moreover, Fairley passionately advocates for getting out to see live comedy: “Not only are people going to get good-quality stand-up, but we’re going to represent stand-up the right way.”

In 2019, there will be many opportunities to follow these highly talented comedians. Farnsworth launches the new season of Wandering the Aisles in February, which you can find on iTunes and Stitcher. Farnsworth’s comedy album will be recorded at Urban Lounge Jan. 12 at 6 p.m. doors at 7 p.m. and available for purchan on iTunes in March. Fairley can be seen on multiple shows within the Las Vegas and Salt Lake comedy circuit, and Everard will continue to host and run shows within Salt Lake City. Jay will be hosting an all-female comedy showcase at the Ice Haüs. At this point, live stand-up comedy in Utah is unstoppable and has these wildly funny comedians within the best of the best.

If you want to see stand-up the “right way,” hit up Urban Lounge Thursday, Jan. 24 at 9 p.m. (doors at 8 p.m.) for this installment of SLUG Localized, a free, 21+ show.

(L–R) Amerah Ames and Greg Kyte during Comedy Church sacrament. Photo courtesy of Greg Kyte.

Lord, give us this day our daily Greg—Greg Kyte, that is, and his one-of-a-kind Comedy Church. Recently Kyte, local comedy powerhouse, has become a breed of comedy pastor, priest, bishop and cult-leader wrapped into one with his new show running every other Sunday at Keys on Main. This Church service is for believers, doubters, non-believers and comedy fans alike, which ultimately makes it one of the most eclectic places to be anywhere in the valley on the sabbath.

Kyte comes from a “super hardcore evangelical” religious background and is a transplant into Utah Valley.  Starting out as a student at the University of Washington he transferred to BYU to be a “light of the true gospel unto the Mormons”—but makes it clear he “wasn’t a dick about it”. During his process of playing missionary to all of the return missionaries, at one point he realized “oh wait, we’re both wrong”. When he gave up Christianity thirteen years ago, he quickly transitioned into stand-up comedy. Though he was not missing the religion, he did realize he missed the close-knit community he was once a part of. “When I was a hardcore Evangelical Christian, I was really good at that. I was really good at church,” Kyte says “That was really my place to tap into a community.” After leaving religion behind him, the comedy community ended up being the closest he had gotten to filling the same position that going to church once held. Kyte now labels himself as a “doubting atheist”. Kyte says, “It’s like I’m pretty sure there is no God, but I’ve been wrong about so many things that I could be wrong about that, too.”

But what if there was a comedy show that was like a church service? Kyte says, “It was brewing in my brain for years and I just needed to have a deep enough existential crisis or dread to make it come about.” There aren’t too many dissimilarities between church and comedy, if you really think about it. There’s less singing, not that he hasn’t ruled it out. “My ulterior motive is to build this community,” Kyte says. “A comedy show is what we’re putting on, but my bigger vision is that it would also kind of end up being like a church where people who are like me, who used to be religious and who miss the camaraderie of a place like this, that you go to once a week that you felt like you belong.”  He envisioned a comedy show that, at the same time, could be a good excuse to become a place for people to congregate and belong. The added benefit is that people can come back every week that he does the show, as if their mortal souls depend on it.

During the “service”, Kyte is the host and emcee. Each service brings on a a different guest comedian and featured comedian. “The focus of the show,” he says, “is definitely for comedians to do their material on religion or religion adjacent material.” As he explains it, religion is supposed to be an all encompassing thing that guides all of your choices in life—it’s not that hard to tie it all back to religion, somehow. “Ethics, meaning of life, even relationships, it can all tie back to religion,” Kyte says. After the comedic sets, Kyte then interviews the comedians about what their experience was in religion. If they weren’t religious what would that be like? If they were, what has that transition been like? And, if they still are religious how does that impact their stand-up and where are their doubts? Kyte was surprised with the initial feedback from the show. “People really liked the interview part,” he says. Kyte essentially  just wants to know the answers to the questions and just have a real conversation about it. He muses that he has always been fascinated with the whole journey of it all. Past featured comedians have included local greats like Aaron Woodall from The Mormon and the Meth Head Podcast, and Abi Harrison from The Bob & Tom Show, Comedy Juice.

As Kyte explains, the audience member that the show is designed for is for someone like him: A person who used to be religious but isn’t so much anymore. “That’s what I’m still struggling with even though it’s been thirteen years since I got out,” Kyte says. He realizes that comedy and religious faith aren’t typically friends, but “so much of comedy is that you’re analyzing stuff for bullshit,” which he theorizes as to why many comedians claim to be unaffiliated with religion. But, no matter where someone is in their journey and beliefs, he aims to create a communal, welcoming place for all. “We’ve had two members of the LGBTQ community do sets at comedy church, everyone just goes ‘that makes sense here,’” he says. He’s had audience members range from atheists to his former Bishop’s wife. “I’m not there to convince anybody they are wrong or anything like that, I want to be able to have the freedom to tell people why I do or don’t believe the things that I believe, and I want the other people who are there to have that same freedom,” Kyte says. The two groups of people that he doesn’t think would feel necessarily comfortable are either hardcore religious people or militant atheists. However, he states he is not trying at all to offend but to open up people who are not at either of the extremes to different experiences. Kyte is interested in the sharing of stories or as he says “a guided testimony of non-belief.” “It’s nice to hear from other people who reflect my story” Kyte says.

As with any great themed comedy show, he says that there are some gimmicky things that they will do—like the “church bulletin” designed show program with information on the comedians and upcoming shows. He also throws in a convocation at the beginning where he reads a verse from a holy book, which he says will always be “something outlandish and a little bit nutballs—straight from scripture with very little commentary.” His Comedy Church communion will end all services with a toast in which a mystery Latin phrase is recited, then he will let the audience know the likely humorous translation. “Participation helps build the sense of community,” Kyte says. Every service will also contain a “message”. Sometimes there are themes, such as a testimony meeting (open mic), funeral of the living (a roast) and a book club where they will read through Fight Club and do a comedic discussion about the existential novel. “Church is kind of the Bible book club, when you think about it,” he adds. Kyte has paid special attention and really has put thought into having fun without making the service blasphemous to people who still participate in church culture. He says it is “not for the sensitive, but not insensitive.” He tries to avoid anything that would have been ‘too far’ for him when he was very religious. “I don’t want it to be like church just for comedians, but want people to come that like comedy,” says Kyte.    

Keys on Main has been accommodating to open up just for Comedy Church, where those coming to ‘worship’ will not have to deal with any other distractions so typical for other ‘bar shows’. The services are just an hour long—7:30 P.M.–8:30 P.M. Afterwards Keys on Main generously stays open for everyone to spend time together, continue talking and drinking. They also offer a special Comedy Church shot for $4.00 or less, to help with that communion toast. The cover is an affordable $3.00 which, for the average person, is less than tithing and for everyone else is an unbeatable price for Sunday night entertainment.

Photos by Logan Sorenson | LmSorenson.net

Now that the holidays are behind us, everyone most likely needs a good drink and an even better laugh. A special January SLUG Localized brings stand-up comedy back to the stage at Urban Lounge. Greg Kyte, Marcus Whisler, Trevor Kelley and Amerah Ames cure the holiday hangover with a heaping dose of hilarity. SLUG Localized is brought to you by our fantastic sponsors: Uinta Brewing, High West Distillery, KRCL 90.9 FM and Spilt Ink SLC. Grab some friends, coworkers and the family that you’re still speaking to, and hit Urban Lounge on Thursday, Jan. 18, for a free, funny, 21-plus show.

It’s a new year with new resolutions, and most of those won’t last longer than the next 30 days. Here’s to hoping that you and everyone you know had this one on your list: “Laugh more with all of your friends.” Even if you didn’t have it on there, we can all pretend like we did, because SLUG Localized has just the thing to kick off your 2018 right. Ames, Kelley, Whisler and Kyte clock in nearly three decades on comedy stages between them—which is almost one-and-a-half Amerah Ameses. They each have diverse styles, and all have some side-splitting things to say (or sing).

Photos by Logan Sorenson LmSorenson.net
Amerah Ames  | Photos by LmSorenson.net

Freshest among them is the young, witty host of the weekly Comedy Open Mic at the University of Utah, Ames. Her smart and quick humor is the kind that we would typically see from an established comedian twice her age. She’s soft-spoken and quirky, and wouldn’t look out of place in the middle of the cast of Stranger Things. She’s a hardworking comedian and is frequently one of the few women in a room full of dudes at any comedy show or open mic. At every one of her shows, she does more than hold her own. She says she would someday like to impress “anyone over the age of 35. They’ve never laughed at anything I’ve ever said.”

Starting his foray onto the stage in both improv and stand-up, Kelley has performed with a variety of talented comics, even doing an opening set for Anchor Man’s David Koechner. Mainly implementing a storytelling type of comedy, Kelley offers an insight into a world most people are unfamiliar with. As he puts it, “Come out and I’ll teach you how to do sign language—with backwards hands.”

Trevor Kelley | Photos by :LmSorenson.net
Trevor Kelley | Photos by LmSorenson.net

One-third of the infamous Jokers Gone Wild and a proud Ogden native, Whisler is best known for being the “other” guitar-playing comedian in Utah. He does musical comedy because, as he says, “I can’t do stand-up comedy.” While no one may ever know about the quality of his jokes while literally standing up, he’s more than A-OK sitting down with a guitar and singing about some dark albeit hilarious subjects, like morning-after regrets, stalking and beta males.

CPA by day, comedian by night, “angry-accountant comedian” Kyte has been doing stand-up and yelling jokes at crowds for about 15 years. He’s intense, funny and has probably accidentally taught more comedy fans about the finer points of tax law than any college professor. Sure, there are other accountant-comedians, but as he puts it, there is only one angry-accountant comedian.

Ames started out at 19, which gave her a unique view into some of the complications of doing comedy in Utah. “One thing that I noticed when I first started was that Utah has restrictive liquor laws, so you can’t even go in an area where alcohol is being served without food, and that was kind of problematic,” she says. She also points out that in other states, being under 21 and wanting to do comedy at a bar is a little bit easier. “I just wanted to talk at people in bars. That’s it.” She’s of age now, though, but Utah’s liquor laws do put a kink in what’s normal to comedy scenes in other states. Kelley is on the fence and says, “I don’t know if that’s the driving reason, but it definitely doesn’t help.” 

A downside to doing shows at bars? The hecklers. Of his bar shows all over the Wasatch Front, Whisler says, “There was never not one without a heckler. You’ve just gotta hurry and have the edge.” Whisler says that during one of his songs—which has an over-the-top take on “loving you so much you’re chained to the radiator”—one of the audience members got offended and started yelling at him. “He goes, ‘When was it cool to sing songs about degrading women?’” Whisler just looked at him in awe, and the first thing that came to his mind was, “Well, ever since the second day in Canada in 1892, right after mayonnaise got invented, and Bill Cosby was actually white. That’s when it first came about.” Whisler says that once the heckler got it out of his system, he did apologize after the show.

Greg Kyte | Photos by LmSorenson.net

Ames adds to that, sarcastically saying, “That guy was a feminist icon, standing up for women everywhere. That’s so brave.” It’s not uncommon, and it’s not the first time a heckler felt like they were adding to the show or putting a comedian in their place. “I would like to thank that man right now for speaking for all of us,” Ames says dryly. At this moment, Whisler wants to point out that in no way does he think that chaining women to radiators is acceptable.

Ames is actually sad that she’s never really had hecklers. “I wish I was good enough to have a comeback ready,” she says. Then she quickly changes her mind.“I think if I got heckled, I would start crying and give them the microphone.” Lamenting, Kelley says, “I wish I got heckled. I never get heckled. This guy kinda heckled me one time. He said, ‘What’s wrong with your hands?’ And I was like, ‘What’s wrong with your fucking face?’”

An even more epic heckler story is the one that Kyte reminisces about from years ago, when he was hosting at a comedy open mic night at Wiseguys in West Valley. “It was the weirdest thing because he wasn’t ‘heckling’ heckling; he just wanted to chat,” Kyte says, laughing. “I would do a joke, and it was something about taxes, and he’d say something like, ‘Yeah, I did my taxes last year.’” When it continued with every other comic, Kyte got back onstage and made an announcement: “You guys are a great audience because ALMOST all of you know that you’re not supposed to fucking talk to the comedians onstage.” Eventually, the “heckler” was told to leave the room, but at the end, the comedians found him drunk and sleeping in the very back. Then there was only one true and appropriate response by any real comic: to take selfies with the drunk, sleeping heckler. Kyte gives advice to every potential audience member out there: “It’s not a dialogue. It’s a monologue.”

Marcus Whisler | Photos by LmSorenson.net

Kelley has insight to the heckler problem, given to him by Koechnor. “He told me that it’s been [his] experience that people who heckle shows usually just don’t have the social awareness that we are all listening to one person talk,” Kelley says. For some, it just doesn’t click. Just to be clear: Comedians hate hecklers and would like to invite everyone never to be “that guy.”

With the rise in popularity of dark comedy and more somber topics, there are ways to go about performing more delicate material and social issues. Not one of the four comedians thinks that there are ever jokes that are completely off limits, if it’s done right. Kyte says, “With those delicate topics, it’s really easy to go in there and—what’s the phrase? Fuck the terrier? No, screw the pooch.” He gets rid of old jokes that he realizes were never done mean-spiritedly but might come across as insensitive. “I’m more aware of the situation and want to be part of that change,” he says. It’s not that he won’t do jokes about those subjects anymore, but he re-evaluates how to handle them the way he wants to. 

There are some things that are getting harder to joke about because they used to be considered over the top, but now it seems like some people really do think in these “over the top” ways when it comes to race, sex, religion, etc. Ames says, “Like when the audience cheers in the wrong way.” Whisler yells, “NO! Uncheer! Uncheer!”

Sensitive topics have to be done right, and they have to be right a lot faster than jokes that can grow and get better over time. “Context is everything,” says Kelley. He talks about a controversial joke he wants to do, but he realizes that the stakes are really high. “I would have maybe one fuck-up with that joke, and I would need 50.” Without really getting it right through trial and error, he says, “You’d have to golden-gun it. You’d have to get it perfectly right the first time.”

Because of this dynamic, Whisler says he always runs his jokes past his parents. He says, “I figure if they laugh: One, I have the moral vote, and two, I’ve got the senior citizen demographic that I can go to.” With one of his jokes about trying to creepily get a woman’s access alarm code, Whisler says, “Just seeing my dad chuckle, it almost brought a tear to my eye—because my dad is a pastor.”

Ames’ dad doesn’t have a pastor background like Whisler’s, or any moral high ground, as she puts it. She says, “The look of terror on his face when I said that I wanted to have sex with a cactus onstage—it kept me going, I think.”

Kelley’s parents have never seen him do standup. “I would be terrified for them to do that,” he says. His mom asked him if he did any jokes about her, and he told her no. “The very next week, I made a joke about how my mom drank when she was pregnant.” He knows she’d hate that.

The Localized Comedy Showcase is a free show at Urban Lounge on Jan. 18. Doors open at 8 p.m., and the show starts at 9 p.m. The show is 21 and older because, more than anything, things might get weird. In one final plea, Ames says, “I would one day like to make a friend, and if you are that friend, you should come to the show.”

Colin Williams | My Suicide Note Charity Event

Few comedians can take their own, deeply personal, dark subject matter and transform it into an art form. Collin Williams has been traveling the world doing just that with his full-length, stand-up comedy special, My Suicide Note. A local himself, Williams has been doing stand-up since he was just a teenager, from Las Vegas to California, and then back to Utah. The old saying is that tragedy plus time is the formula for hilarity. Williams has over 10 years to his name doing stand-up, and, well, his whole life being himself. The show comes from Williams’ dark past, and the multiple suicide attempts he survived, which culminated in the titular suicide note.

It hasn’t been an easy process for him, opening up publicly about his pain and turning it into a comedy show. Williams’ comedy never started out this raw—his jokes were about the typical ex-girlfriends, observations and other mainstream topics. “I was trying to protect people that had hurt me,” he says. He held back but sometimes made a few short jokes here and there about his past. Williams never had a great chance to pitch the show on a “normal” comedy show in Utah, as a courtesy to other comics who have vastly different material than his. “If there is one thing that the state of Utah has, it’s the culture of repression,” he says. Where Utah audiences typically flock to see good, clean fun, Williams never found the right moment to break away from the typical comedy-club material into his dark tell-all stand-up. Then, last year, there was a turning point in his life.

At the time, he was actively trying to kill himself. He had a pretty fail-proof plan that he was determined to go through with. Just before he did, he had a “little voice” pop into his head and thought to himself, “Awesome plan. Sounds great. Love this all. You could do this, or, what if maybe you don’t and check yourself into the psych ward right now? You can always come back and do this next week.” He checked himself into a psychiatric ward instead. He was still so sure that he’d get out and go through with it—in the hospital, he wrote a 12-page suicide note detailing why he felt like he needed to. When he got out, he published it online on his own personal blog. “Every single secret was out there,” he says. “There was no one left to protect. I’d already told everything publicly. It was so mentally freeing.” He had nothing to hide anymore. “It didn’t solve everything, but from there, I ended up developing the show off of that.” The show he developed was taking that suicide note, secret for secret, and turning it into dark, delicious, comedy gold.

Collin Williams | My Suicide Note
Collin Williams | My Suicide Note

As a comic, his coping skills were to make jokes of everything around him. He has seen the other side of suicide, too, as he’d been at the bedside of a friend who attempted it as well. He was thinking, “I can keep trying to kill myself, or I could turn this into a show. And then I tried both.” After he published his note about his trauma, no one really freaked out, which surprised him. While writing the show, he had other dark moments, though. One in particular was a night where he thought he started out making art, and ended up writing another note in blood, which he felt was an emotional release. This actually did make a lot of people panic, as he also tried to self-medicate with alcohol. Spoiler alert: He survived that night. That second note is now the inspiration for his show poster. Writing about it, for him, is a way to help his healing process. “It’s the way I work through things,” he says, “but I understand that not everybody does.”

Williams’ show was initially set to launch in January 2017 at Sandy City’s now closed Sandy Station, however, as he puts it, “even my venue committed suicide,” he says. “What the hell is happening?” When his show was canceled due to the sudden closure of the venue, he had to regroup and decided to take the show

on the road nationally, and then—as it happened, by chance—around the world. “It was a rough week,” Williams says. He actually ended up back in a psychiatric hospital in Pocatello, Idaho—“the worst psych ward I’ve ever been in my life.” He recalls that at this hospital, they would Skype in the therapists. “Watching Dr. Phil at home would have been better,” he says. He checked himself out and took his show on the road. Once he got out there, he “technically” got to workshop the show at Second City in Chicago, as well as Improv Olympic, stateside. It’s a big “technically” because he was there on a night they were running shows, and not the improv they are known for. Although, to be fair, “if it comes down to a dick-measuring contest,” he still has bragging points. Not everyone can say that. He found a cheap plane ticket to London and decided to spend some time in Europe with the show. As he puts it, he’s got a credit to his fame for “breaking down crying in every major transit city” that hen was in. “London buses, check,” Williams says. “Scotland’s underground metro—they have one subway that runs in a loop in Glasgow—and I’ve cried on that.” They would remind him of the time his ex-girlfriend mentioned that she liked the city he was in. “I’d be in Paris [sobbing], ‘I wonder if this was the bakery she told me about!’” He notes that Paris is a beautiful city as he was looking around, thinking, “Look at all of these happy people. Fuck ’em.” His show was received well at all of the locations he performed. But, surprisingly, he’s only ever “walked” an audience member at a bar show in Dublin, Ireland. “With all of the material and everything I’ve done, it was Dublin. I know! I was surprised.”

As we mentioned what it would take to kill yourself in style, now that he’s getting notoriety, we determined that going out with drugs and hookers would be easier abroad. “If only comedy paid enough for coke and hookers,” Williams says. “They do pay enough for hookers in Athens. Ten Euros.” He realized when he was sitting in a bar that his bar tab was “One-and-a-half hookers.” There just aren’t a lot of well-paying jobs since the economy collapsed in Greece. “Kudos to them for legalizing [sex work] so those girls don’t end up in worse situations. Kudos to Greece for promoting safe sexual health,” he says, applauding.

Now that he has tested his show in multiple cities and countries, it was only fitting that he brought it back to where it was all supposed to begin. Returning to Utah, Williams will bring the show to Club 50 West for a one-night performance that will benefit charity. The return promises to be bigger, better, and bolder than its stunted beginning and closed venue.

Collin Williams | My Suicide Note

A few disclaimers up front: This show is not going to be for the easily offended and is not family-friendly due to the blatantly stated subject matter. With the name My Suicide Note, you’ve been forewarned. “A lot of people don’t do research before going to a comedy show,” Williams says. “They just go.” He adds that it’s “equivalent to just showing up to a movie theater and buying a random movie ticket, then being angry that Quentin Tarantino has way more violence than A Bee Movie.” He advises always to research a comedy show. “I would rather have an audience of happy people than an audience that is half-happy and half-debating about walking out, because that’s not good for the room as a whole.” Williams points out that “you will still get plenty of people that will walk out that will say there are things that shouldn’t be joked about. I think we that now hear that on an almost weekly basis.” He adds, “What’s amazing to me is that you watch the news and you think, ‘Those are our problems? The jokes?’”

Williams cites a statistic: “There have been 5,224 people killed by terrorists so far in 2017,” he says. “There’s an estimated yearly average of 14 people that have been killed by cow attacks. How many people died this year from jokes? My suggestion is go to a comedy show, order a burger and fight back.” He adds in a somber tone that he’s not going for any sort of shock value. “I realized that I can’t make a good honest joke off of someone else’s trauma,” he says, adding that there’s a line that can be drawn in comedy on what is or isn’t OK to joke about. “Is this something where you’re attacking a victim? Or are you expressing your own pain, your own emotions, or your own thoughts on an issue? Just because you are talking about something doesn’t mean it’s wrong, even if it’s a controversial topic.” For clarification, he divulged his set list and went over some of the topics he will cover (in no particular order): school shootings, cereal, suicide by multiple methods, Casey Anthony, abuse, the NFL, a couple of dick jokes (by his count, 12), vegans, child molestation, the Chinese (but in a good way), his religious upbringing as a Jehova’s Witness, Oompa Loompas, ex-girlfriends, infidelity, both god and money, cutting, men who like cats, the Unabomber, alcoholism, cold cases, suicide (as a side note) and psych wards. He will also be defending Louis C.K.’s past jokes.

Understandably, the nature of the show is incredibly dark, but it is also very real. Williams calls it a “10-percent show.” He does the show for his own catharsis. “Ten percent of people will really lov

e it,” he says. “For 10 percent of people, that’s the way that we embrace dark times. It’s through humor. Then there’s another 10 percent of people that it will traumatically scar them, if it’s their immediate way to try to deal with it. There’s no one-size- fits-all to depression.” He ultimately wanted to use this Salt Lake City show as a way to help other people, so he decided that he would donate every single dollar of this show to local suicide-awareness charities. While this is his outlet and his process, he wants to help people “who heal in different ways as well.” He points out that sometimes even people who want to use comedy to help themselves may still need help from other avenues and medication, too. “You should definitely not try to replace medication with jokes,” he says.

After he wrote the show, Williams unfortunately did end up attempting suicide again. “Even I don’t exactly know what the ending is,” he says. “This is how I keep. This is a motivation for me. This is a way that I have therapy. Honestly, the show is the one thing that keeps me from dying.” By the way, he does add that his girlfriend hates it when he tells her this. But he points out that he has some justified trust issues.

My Suicide Note will have its Utah premiere on Friday, Sept. 15, at 8 p.m. at Club 50 West. Tickets are $12 in advance or $15 at the door, ages 21 and up only. Proceeds from the show will be donated to Utah suicide-prevention charities, including the Utah Chapter of the National Association of Mental Illness. Even if you cannot make it to the show but want to support mental-health awareness and suicide prevention, Williams asks that you please donate to a suicide-prevention organization of your choice, NAMI or an organization that helps children who have been abused. Hopefully, he says, this show will cease to be necessary. You can find out more by checking the Facebook page for My Suicide Note or suicidenote.me.

Free Kittens is a comedy show as random as its name—and just as sure to fill you with as much glee as a basket full of free kittens. The bad news is that, currently, no kittens are actually involved. The good news is that this is a completely free (21-and-over) show that is put on once a month at The Urban Lounge featuring some of the best stand-up comics on the Utah comedy scene hosted by the one and only Jason Harvey.

Harvey is hosting not only this new monthly show but also the weekly Comedy Open Mic Mondays at the Ice Haus in Murray.  You might also recognize Harvey from his other randomly named comedy show: the long running Comedy and Other Opinions. As he puts it, his ADD keeps him pretty busy. “I used to do Comedy and Other Opinions,” he says, “where there was a set and then there were questions afterwards. I like doing things that aren’t just like, ‘Well, here’s your next comic.’ It kind of changes things up a little.” With Free Kittens the element that is different is the cards the comedians will draw subject matter from. Harvey says: “Comics come up onstage and immediately draw three cards, which are the suggestions from the audience that night or the internet on Facebook.”  So, they aren’t actual “free” kittens, per se, but they can be completely random. “The cards just say ‘free kittens,’ and I hold them out, and they can only see the backs of them, and on the other side are the suggestions.” 

The show’s element of surprise blends live stand-up comedy with a heavy dash of improv. It is a one-of-a-kind experience, even for diehard local comedy fans who have seen his guests many times. “Then, if you want to go see them later on,” Harvey says, “you’re still seeing something different from that comic. If you’ve seen this comic before, you can come and see them again at this show because they are going to have an odd challenge where they have to either write a new joke about this thing or incorporate something into their older material.”

Why Harvey gravitates toward such unconventional styles for his shows is actually pretty simple: “I think it’s all a big part of having ADD,” He says. “It’s how a lot of the time I write jokes.” Essentially, the audience gets to step into the thought process of a comic, with entertaining results. “If something’s not working in a joke, I can’t help stop tinkering with it,” Harvey says. “I might just hear a weird statement or something, and I’m like, ‘Oh shit, I can put that in my joke!’ So having to have a comic do it right then, it’s just funny to watch them out of their element a little bit. It’s forcing them to have to write onstage in front of an audience, and it takes them out of their comfort zone.” It’s all by design, and anything goes—or as he puts it, “It’s almost like you get to see the inner workings of comics’ brains—like, how will they incorporate this thing into their jokes. You get to see basically the gears in their brain turning a little bit to see where this goes.”

Free-Kittens copyNo actual comics were harmed in the making of this content, though. From seasoned veterans of the stage to newcomers, Harvey explains why he brings on the local comics that he has on the show: because they are all strong enough to handle the pressure. “On the last show, I had Nicholas Smith, Natashia Mower and Christopher Stephenson.” With the inaugural show, he wanted to make sure that he knew how their minds functioned, so he chose people he had worked with over the years extensively. “On this next show, I have Amerah Ames, Tanner Nicholson, Aaron Orlovitz and Levi Rounds.”  Rounds is one of the most seasoned comics in Salt Lake, and as Harvey puts it, “He’s just a fun guy to watch do comedy,” he says. “He’s someone that always tinkers and reworks things and does stuff like that. It’s going to be fun to watch someone who’s been doing comedy for a long time tinker with this new format of a show, where Amerah and Tanner are both newer to the scene.” With four comics of varying styles and experience, there is going to be a little something for everyone in the balance. “The flow of the show will be good,” says Harvey. “They are all very different but still all have themes similar enough, but at the same time, they are all different enough that it’ll be a good show. It doesn’t feel like you’re watching the same person do comedy.”

Harvey is always switching it up a little bit from show to show. “On this next show, I think I’m going to have people send me song lyrics. Just give me a line from a song, and I’ll try to see if they can somehow seamlessly incorporate that without them singing the song, or having the song be part of the punch line.” He’s had some previous moments that worked because they were so randomly unique. “On the last show, Jonny Brandin came on as Juan Knudsen.” Brandin’s onstage character started out as him in costume, doing other comic Tommy Milagro’s jokes about his mixed heritage. “Now, when he does Juan Knudsen, he does other people’s jokes from that night, just a little bit different.” The audience may not be in on the joke at first. Harvey announced him as “someone who just performed for the queen” and “an international comedy superstar.” And then at that point, “He redid Natashia’s set for five minutes. It was pretty funny.”

This is not the first time that he’s played with these themes onstage. Harvey loves the element of confusion and then the realization that comes with it. “It’s almost like a joke on the audience until they are in on it,” he says. This is similar to his “comic interruptions” that he used within the workings of Comedy and Other Opinions. “I’ve had Aaron Orlovitz try to get people to boo me one time onstage. It’s just really funny to try to see what I can do with some random audience interruption where it kind of brings the audience into the show, and I think it’s something I want to try to incorporate into it even more with Free Kittens.” Whether he’s implementing an improv gag, audience interruptions, or even the potential of T-shirt cannon giveaways, “It’s something funny that’s just a lot of fun and makes it worth coming out,” he says.

Free Kittens is a show designed to be experienced live for a reason. “You can watch stand-up on YouTube,” he says. “You can see stand-up on Netflix.” Between online content, specialized channels and now apps that can feed comedy directly to the fan, there is no shortage of where to consume stand-up these days. Harvey says, “You can see so much comedy without leaving the house now. My whole idea with the show is writing it for the audience. The comics have written their material that they’ve taken from their lives, and they are creating it for that audience. So I think the show should also be for that audience.” It’s not what one would normally see in a live stand-up show but more akin to the leaked online viral videos of moments that can only happen candidly, like comic meltdowns and drunken hecklers- but with more purpose. “I’ve had so many drunk people just ruin shows because I let them; because I was focused on them being loud and annoying instead of just being more present in the moment. I sometimes get too much into formula.” This is why Harvey makes his comics break that formula and stay on their toes. “That’s what’s amazing about a live thing: You have to adapt—any live performance, because you don’t know if Lincoln’s going to get shot in the back of the head, you know? Anything can happen, unlike when you’re watching something on TV. When you’re seeing it live, you could watch someone have a full meltdown.” No meltdowns guaranteed, but the rest is to be determined.

Harvey’s goal is to offer a night of pure escapism and fun. “It’s a free show, and it’s early enough in the night,” he says. “It starts at 7. Doors open at 6 p.m. We’re done by 8:30. Come and have a few drinks—get a few laughs in.” The chance to see and support local comedy at a great local bar is something very needed right now in our divided climate. “It’s nice to see people out and being communal—where people have a sense of pride in their community and we are going to take power in our own hands and have our voices be heard.” Harvey says that there’s nothing to lose— “It’s the beginning of the weekend, who wouldn’t want to start their night off with being able to come to a good comedy show that’s free, when there’s no cover at the door? That’s at least another beer inside. So come get your drink on.” Anything could happen, as the show is completely unrated and almost completely unscripted. So, if you are tired of the same thing on the news and on your Facebook feed is bringing you down, “come watch someone,” Harvey says. “Let them give you that moment of laughter. It’s a good escape, it’s free, and there’s drinks. Get out of your house and come laugh.”


Photos: LmSorenson.net

SLUG is bringing back comedy to the Urban Lounge with an all-local-comic showcase on Jan. 19 with headliners Abi Harrison and Levi Rounds, and featuring Shayne Smith and Christopher James. These four amazingly funny and incredibly talented stand-up comedians will share the stage for one night only, filling the concert venue with a new kind of music: the sound of unbridled laughter. This show is 21-plus; doors at 8 p.m., show at 9 p.m. As always, Localized is free, thanks to sponsors High West Distillery, KRCL 90.9FM, Spilt Ink SLC and Uinta Brewing.

These jokesters have a combined 32 years of stage time between the four of them, with performances throughout Utah and all over the U.S. The Utah stand-up comedy scene is rich with talent, and these four prove that at the heart of it all are hardworking and fearless people who have stuck it out through horrible gigs, rampant hecklers and thrown beer bottles to pursue a life on the stage.

Being a stand-up comedian is about taking the punches with the laughter, and it hasn’t always been an easy ride for any of them. In fact, even hardcore veteran comedians have little-known quirks. Rounds, who started his career over 11 years ago right here in Salt Lake, muses about his number-one fear when he’s on the stage. “I have to pee every single time before I go onstage,” he says. “Even if I didn’t have to pee three minutes before, I really have to pee then, and it’s at a very inopportune time, like, ‘You’re on in 30 seconds.’ ‘Alright. I’ll be right back.’”

Smith laughs in agreement. He says, “Anytime I do over 30, I’m not thinking about my set list. I’m thinking about how close can I pee before I go onstage. Because I’m gonna have to go when I get up there.” Smith, the new kid on the block with two years of comedy under his belt, says confidently, “I don’t have a lot of fears. Maybe I’m too stupid to be worried. Sometimes I worry about someone coming up on to the stage and attacking me.”

Rounds laughs at the idea and consoles him that it’s more of a reality than a fear in his case. “I’ve been punched onstage,” Rounds says. “I’ve had a knife pulled on me after a show, and I had to be escorted out of a city, and none of those ever scare me when I get up onstage. But I do have to pee right before I go onstage—every single time.” It’s not surprising to hear—Rounds is known for pushing the audiences’ comfort level with raw topics.

Another decade-long veteran of the comedy scene is James (@FatGuyPunchLine), but he confesses that he has a pretty natural concern to be nervous about when he’s onstage: “… If I was up there and I was confident in my set, and then everybody just periodically got up and left to the point that where everybody was just dissipated, and they were gone.” However, James tends to hold a crowd pretty well after all the years of practice. He landed a killer opening act for David Koechner last spring, who also kindly recorded the theme song to James’ local podcast, In Movie Nerds We Trust (@trustyournerds).

Rounds acknowledges James’ fear of the crowd abandoning you at the peak of your performance. “Oh, shit,” he says, “you get used to that.” Smith interjects in agreement: “Yeah, you go to Wyoming enough times …”

Yet, when it comes to Abi Harrison, who also has an 11-year run onstage, her fear is more focused on a specific situation and not the audience as a whole. “If there’s somebody I want to impress in the audience, sometimes I’ll be afraid,” she says. “It depends on whether I like them or not.”

James concurs: “I stopped bringing dates,” he says. “One time, a girl said it was ‘too much of a culture shock’ for her. That was a direct quote. She said, ‘I don’t think I can come to comedy shows with you anymore because it’s too much of a culture shock.’” Harrison nods in agreement. “There is a culture there, too, though. We’re the lowlifes, the underlings.” Comedians aren’t really known for their ability to keep it P.C. “We say a lot of horrific stuff,” says Smith. “Sometimes I forget how horrific it is, and then you get around normal people, and you start saying random things, and they’re like, ‘What?’ And, then you remember, ‘Oh yeah, I can’t talk about everything.’”

Rounds gets into the detail of the “shock” someone new to real, raw comedy would feel. “We get so used to each other talking about how we were molested and shit like that,” he says. As rough as that sounds, his fans have complimented him on that exact set being hilarious—“but you say that shit in a Chili’s bar or something, and they’re going to ask you to leave. So yeah, culture shock.” It should be pointed out that Rounds can sometimes go into some dark yet funny places with his comedy, which makes him a usual crowd favorite in the bar scene.

Smith one-ups Rounds on that thought: “Or, you’re talking about your stepdad beating you, [and] it’s ‘not appropriate in mixed company,’” he says. “But somehow, it’s appropriate onstage in front of strangers?” Smith and Rounds both laugh, and it’s apparent that they’ve all had this conversation before.

Each of them have been doing comedy for so long now that their lives have leaked into their sets and vice versa. As Harrison puts it, “It’s all one thing now. It’s just one thing.” It does help that she has an amazingly interesting life that she routinely talks about onstage, including material about her child and being married in the Mormon Church, but also being gay.

“I feel like my life leaks too much into my comedy,” says James. “The universe wants me to fuck up, so I have something good to talk about onstage.” As a comedian who is most known for his self-deprecation (and a Twitter hashtag, #Cjjokes, which took on a life of its own), he knows that there is always an upside to having a rough patch: In his case, it makes for good comedy.

“I feel like my career—heavy quotation marks around “career”—started officially, and it felt like, ‘Oh, this is a real thing, and I’m really doing it,’” says Smith. “Comedy was my life, and life was my comedy.” A frequent regular on the comedy club scene in and around Utah, it does seem that Smith’s life has become all about comedy—and really entertaining comedy at that—in his budding career.

“I said I switched religions to comedy,” says Harrison. “Like, comedy is my new god. I was thinking about the same thing, showing up to church like, ‘Is this open-mic tonight?’ There are three people here, and it’s fast and testimony meeting, and there are ‘investigators’ there.” She started her career at BYU and has a dedicated fanbase in Utah that can relate to her quick, clever jokes about Utah culture and deadpan delivery, because that is genuinely Harrison.

Sometimes, however, the comedy can leak a little too much into life. Smith shares an awkward moment where his comedy may have been inappropriately timed: “My aunt was dying of cancer, and we said goodbye to her. It was the very last time I’d ever see her,” he says. “We were walking out into the hallway, me and my family, and we were holding each other and crying. The man in the room next to us was going through his death throes, and he had a death croak and made that crazy sound. As we were holding each other crying, I said, ‘I’ll have what he’s having.’ Then I was like, yep, inappropriate.”

Since 2017 is a new start, a new year and all about new beginnings, each of the four actually wants to do some good with their comedy. Smith thinks his comedy is already trying to change the world—at least on a local, personal level. “I use it to make people happy that aren’t happy,” he says, “and that is the reason that I do it already.”

Rounds laughs and pokes fun at the positivity. “That should go in a Christmas song,” he says.

Comedy is a rare art form that has had a lot of impact on culture in general. James brings up a more down-to-earth observation. “I was listening to this random podcast, and someone said something that I thought was pretty awesome,” he says. “That comedians—we’re the kind of people that are actually brave enough to say things that normal people wouldn’t. Maybe that’s, in a sense, our way of changing the world. I don’t think that my comedy in particular is going to do anything groundbreaking [though], where it’s like, ‘Oh hey, you cured cancer with your dick joke. Congratulations!’”

Rounds has a slightly different take, though. “Seventy percent of the reason you do [comedy] is to make people laugh … I’m not going to begrudge anyone if they say 100 percent of the reason they do it is to make people laugh. That’s not for me to say for other people,” he says. “For me, it’s 70 percent—and then 30 percent is to make them think about something and to make them realize that they’ve been through some garbage, and you’re up there being very vulnerable about the garbage that you’ve been through and the garbage that you’ve seen, and you’re comfortable talking about it. So, maybe they can talk about it, too. And maybe there can be a little bit of change while they’re laughing about it. That I really like. That’s my favorite thing about comedy.”

Harrison pauses and thinks about it for a moment—“The same?” she says with a laugh. “I’m going to fight racism, I’ve decided.”

Smith agrees that stand-up has an important place at the table, especially for those who can relate to the darker, rawer style of comedy. “You’re arming people with the tools to deal with horrific shit that they might not otherwise have,” he says. “Being able to look at something in a funny way is a skill, or else everyone would be doing this. Then, they see it from your mind, and they can move on from there.”

In the end, James sums it all up perfectly: “People go to support groups to cope with horrible things,” he says. “They go to comedy clubs to finally be able to laugh at them.”