Women in Comedy Festival: the Punchline Magazine recap

Comedian and co-producer of the fest Maria Ciampa
Comedian and co-producer of the fest Maria Ciampa

Last weekend the Women in Comedy Festival went down in Boston. Comedian Aparna Nancherla was invited to perform. We invited her to report back to Punchline Magazine for a bit of a recap. The results are below. Enjoy!

This past weekend, I went up to Boston, Massachusetts for the second annual Women in Comedy Festival produced by Maria Ciampa Michelle Barbera and Elyse Schuerman. Based on my experience there, I can positively say they put together a well-rounded, all-inclusive few days of reveling in the goodness that is ladies of laughter. Interestingly enough, I didn’t hear the word “tampon” once, though I have mixed feelings about that. They are such valuable slice-of-life items!

I stopped by the 8 p.m. Mottley’s Comedy Club show on Friday night, and was lucky enough to get a guest set since one of the original performers had to back out at the last minute due to a family emergency. It was a solid line-up hosted by Ciampa herself in front of a full and fully enthused house. Some of the audience members struck me as atypical of what I would expect for an all-lady show. My inner biases about frat boys were shot to hell!

Suffice it to say though that everyone had successful sets. Some of the comics I really enjoyed for the first time were Chicago’s own Cameron Esposito (recently out with her own CD) and Erika Edwards, as well as NYC’s Amanda Baramki who had some real insights on Q-tips. Jackie Kashian drove it home with a superb headlining set; she’s a pistol!

On Saturday morning, a few friends of mine (some of them new, hooray for festivals) attended Jackie Kashian’s panel on getting roadwork and dealing with comedy bookers and divined some insightfulness from it. Maria Bamford was also in attendance there. In fact, as to a question about how to navigate hanging out after shows to network if one is shy and awkward, Bamford admitted that she used to avoid it entirely due to her own anxieties in social settings.

Speaking of avoidance of crowds, Bamford held an exclusive eight-person open mic for comics and by comics in which I overheard that lucky participants practiced five minute sets in front of each other as well as fun exercises such as heckling and responding to heckling (in an entirely supportive environment, of course). Apparently, the lucky attendees lined up at 8 a.m. that morning to get the coveted Golden Tickets.

Maria Bamford
Maria Bamford

Of course, Bamford, being her usual gracious and whimsical self, wrote the following disclaimer on the Facebook page for the event:

Hello! I’ll be there! Sorry for limiting the numbers to 8 and I hope it works out for everybody-I think they’re going to do a lottery maybe?-it’s just more fun when it’s less peeps. If you’re worried you’re going to miss something, DON’T. It’s just going to be an open mike with other comics watching (as usual) and then I tell people to buy my favorite self-help books. (The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and Zen and the Art of Stand Up Comedy) You are on a journey. It’s not possible to miss anything. Your jokes are delicate pieces of sushi that need to be protected like coral reef or Europeans or tummies. Keep your bushel lightly trimmed so people can see your light but there’s still room to hide. You have everything you need inside your backpack. Etc. Thanks for being at all interested! I will not be on Facebook after this post for another 3 weeks, fyi. All photos have been airbrushed-be prepared for reality.”

Saturday afternoon, I attended a panel discussion, moderated by Ciampa, about the biz with a whole bevy of folk including Kelly MacFarland (the 2009 festival headliner), Rick Jenkins (who books the Comedy Studio, and the lone dude on the panel), Angela Peri and Melissa Paradice (of local casting agencies), Edie McClurg (Grace, the secretary, in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), Jane Morris (who founded Second City e.t.c.), Helen McCue (who helps organize the Boston Comedy Festival), Sue Constantine (who is the head of programming and director for the Improv & Sketch Competition for the Friars Club Comedy Film Festival), and later joined by Jackie Kashian.

The topics ranged from how to self-promote to what hat to wear at what audition. When the floor was opened up for audience questions, of course, one bold gentleman queried, “How does it feel to exploit yourselves? Please answer honestly.” Yet, somehow, that managed to veer the discussion into the love that drives people to perform when it can be a thankless and grueling career choice. Touche, sir!

Finally, Saturday night was another hilarious from start-to-finish impressive show at Mottley’s with Jennifer Myszkowski hosting, and a line-up including myself, Leah Bonnema Susan Alexander, Mia Jackson, Giulia Rozzi and headliner Kelly MacFarland, who tore the house down.

After that, I jetted back to ImprovBoston in Cambridge where I saw some pieces of one-woman shows and more stand up, including Sara Benincasa’s Agorafabulous, where she tackles overcoming agoraphobia and other demons; Bonnie MacFarlane, who got everyone to laugh about the darkest of topics; and Robin Gelfinbien’s My Salvation Has a First Name, and which came in the form of an Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.

I saw what I saw, and now you’ve heard about it. Maria, Michelle, and Elise should be proud. They’ve gone and done a very good thing.

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