A glance back at the South Beach Comedy Festival; Wanda Sykes, Adam Carolla and more

South Beach Comedy Festival

Comedy Central’s South Beach Comedy Festival recently hit lower Miami Beach like an entertainment hurricane, providing a new nightlife option for local residents bored to tears with the 85 degree winters, golden beaches and clubs full of physically perfect people.

On Wednesday, March 2, I took in the first show of the festival – Doug Benson at the Colony Theatre. In all fairness, it was 7:30 on a Wednesday night, but the theatre was only half-full, consisting more of Miami’s grown and sexy, than the stoned and nerdy audiences Benson typically plays to. The crew had some first-night jitters to work out as the theatre lighting kept inexplicably alternating from dim to bright throughout the beginning of Benson’s set, prompting him to ask the audience if it was really happening, or if he was higher than he thought.

Graham Elwood opened the show, and came back out as a fun addition to Benson’s set to play the “Leonard Maltin Game” with an audience that, in general, had no idea what was going on. Benson was mostly successful throughout the night with a crowd that tried to be too cool for comedy; but the crowd was also extremely patient with a characteristically disheveled Benson who began to appear indifferent by show’s end.

The following night I returned to the Colony Theatre to see Adam Carolla. He put on a 90-minute multi-media performance that went off without a hitch in front of a sold-out crowd of podcast enthusiasts. He brought much more of a ‘dudes and bros’ crowd than the theater seemed accustomed to, but he went through his set naturally, riffing largely on odd street images he’s captured, while sharing social observations and abrasive opinions. Carolla had control of the crowd, whether using Los Angeles based, Mexican material to resonate in a city so familiar with Latin culture, or juxtaposing the high-brow, superficial setting of South Beach with his brash, unapologetically blue-collar stances.

He ended the show on a humorous, but inspiring bit that kept the crowd’s attention with every reveal of the walk through his Social Security statement dating back to 1980.

The very next night I checked out Wanda Sykes at the Fillmore at The Jackie Gleason. The energy was buzzing throughout the classically grand theatre, and every seat was filled by a mixed crowd of people who seemed to be fans for different reasons. Casual comedy fans and Friday-night-goer-outers were sprinkled throughout pockets of political junkies, blacks, and homosexual couples that came out in droves to eagerly support “their girl.” Almost everyone in the theater stuck around for the entire two-hour performance that largely covered Sykes’ newest role as a wife… and mother of two little white kids.

The entire festival line-up boasted several other wonderful comics that I regretfully didn’t get to see. I would have loved to witness how Bill Burr handled a prissy, glitzy crowd that South Beach certainly proved capable of producing. I also didn’t get a chance to pass by the free outdoor stage that the festival hosted in the middle of Lincoln Rd. Mall, but I liked the acts, Rachel Feinstein and Michael Kosta, that were being featured there.

While the culture of South Beach didn’t necessarily lend itself to the acts booked to perform at the festival all week, it was still an amazing time. From the little bit that I saw, the comics were top-notch, the venues were beautiful, and the crowds were ready to laugh. And in the few cases where things weren’t perfect… we were still on South Beach, so they kind of were.

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