We can’t keep them down, comedians.
Apparently they just go underground and multiply.
This week’s comedy shows are the biggest, most numerous, most diverse and celebratory since at least January 2020. It’s ruckus enough even to raise a dead act. The artists formerly known as Sweat Lodge (1994-2003) perform at the venerable Laff’s Comedy Caffe on Sunday, May 22. (7 pm., $15, laffstucson.com) Details follow, but here’s the top line of other shows on the horizon…
Unscrewed Theater’s 20th anniversary celebration on May 21 is a testament to Tucson’s ability to support a professional improv theater for the long haul. Its house team, NBOJU, still has several original members. They’ve invited all former members to join them onstage. (7:30 p.m., $5-$8 live or livestream, bit.ly/NBOJU20th5-21-22.)
On May 25, top comic and show-runner Roxy Merari celebrates the sixth anniversary of the relentless focus, hard work, generosity and sheer will with which she has made a popular regional comedy club out of the punk matriarch venue of Fourth Avenue, The Surly Wench. (7 p.m., $7, Eventbrite)
Mo Urban, Tucson’s Johnny Appleseed of new mics and shows the last half decade, had barely started her bi-monthly-ish series at BlackRock Brewers when the plague shut things down. She picked it back up again during the five minutes or so before Delta and Omicron hit, and she’s back with another great bill on May 21. (7:30 p.m., free)
And still, Laffs abides. Casey Bynum, manager and scion of Laffs founder Gary Bynum, shrugs off the travails of the last few years. He says the 34-year-old venue, Tucson’s only professional comedy club, has surfed not only COVID but the seemingly endless infernal chaos that is Broadway Blvd. construction. Business is pretty much the same over time, he says. Only the comics have changed at the Thursday night open mics, even though Tucson now has a dozen of them. For decades, Laffs was the only one.
Sweat Lodge is a collaborative quintet of self-described curmudgeons, gathering one last time to retire their “culturally appropriated” name. They are political cartoonist and columnist David Fitzsimmons; attorney and former TV comedian Elliott Glicksman;
musical parodist and leader of the Deadhead-adjacent local band Fish Karma, Terry Owen; librarian, comedian and sometime Loft Theater emcee, Mike Sterner, and theatrical producer and sketch comedy artist Nick Sievert. If this thoroughly unruly bunch seems familiar to readers, it may be from their annual charity extravaganza, The Arroyo Café, held in the winter holiday season at The Rialto Theater.
Glicksman says, “It’s interesting that some of our old humor is considered inappropriate now. We know the boundaries of acceptable humor and only plan to cross it a few times in our show.”
Asked about comedy’s recent growth spurt in popularity, he says, “I think there’s more comedy than ever but it’s on YouTube, TikTok, (Instagram) or podcasts. I don’t think clubs will soon return to the comedy heyday of the 1980s and ’90s.
“But there’s something intangible about hearing a live crowd respond to humor. It’s like a drug you become addicted to. And the Sweat Lodge for some unexplained reason, after 20 years, needs a fix.”
UNSCREWED THEATER’S NBOJU IS 20
Unscrewed Theater house team NBOJU (Not Burnt Out Just Unscrewed) has spent 20 years tickling funny bones of Southern Arizona family audiences, private gatherings and corporate events. Since 2014, they’ve also built a loyal audience for their own theater, performing every Friday and Saturday night. That continuity, and generosity of donors, allow them to keep ticket prices low and still contribute a portion of each show’s take to a charity-of-the-month.
NBOJU’s success is rooted in the short-form style of Whose Line Is It Anyway. Audiences see a different show every time, but always know what to expect.
Of Tucson’s burgeoning comedy scene, Executive Director Chris Seidman says, “Now there are so many open-mics or curated comedy options at so many smaller venues - clubs, bars, etc.” Even the traditionally family-friendly Unscrewed has recently added late-night, uncensored variety shows to its lineup. Seidman says that, along with the comedy scene’s substantial growth, “There’s more of a sense of community. At the core, I think we still all want to make people laugh in our own unique way.”
“(Any way) people discover improv, be it from Middleditch and Schwartz or hearing that their favorite (Saturday Night Live) performer was from UCB (Upright Citizens Brigade) or Groundlings or Second City, (if) they explore improv, (even) not knowing much about it, I consider that a win for us all.”
COMEDY AT THE WENCH IS SIX
Roxy Merari started out six years ago hosting a modest open mic on Monday nights at the Wench. Eventually she began hosting the occasional local showcase. More recently Merari added semi-monthly booked shows that now often include regional or even out-of-state comics she and The Wench attracted on Zoom.
“The pandemic was not a total disaster for (us),” Merari says. For quite a while we (did) live streamed mics weekly. We did virtual shows. Some people dissed us … but it ended up being awesome. I met comics from all over the country and world.
“Since then, several people (from) my virtual show came to Tucson and I got to hook them up with (shows) … including mine. And vice versa. Recently I was in Las Vegas and met a few comics in person that had been on my virtual show. They hooked me up with spots on their friends’ shows.”
Heading up the anniversary lineup are top local comics who have become personal friends, supporting Merari from the beginning. Monte Benjamin tops the bill. Phoenix comic Leslie Barton is featured along with Mo Urban, who helped Roxy get the Wench mic off the ground. Rounding things out are Phoenix transplant Eden Nault and Matt Ziemak, who ran several shows and mics here before relocating to Sierra Vista last year.
Mo Urban is a busy woman. With friend and fellow comic Priscilla Fernandez, cast member of the wildly popular retro game show, Urban co-hosts a Wednesday open mic and showcases for women and LGBTQA+. She’s a top choice for other producers’ shows, too, and always draws a crowd. So she only schedules a show at BlackRock Brewers when she has the bandwidth. That’s about every other month, she figures, but the dates aren’t predictable. Somehow enough people find it to pack the house.
BlackRock is Tucson comedy’s easternmost venue, so Urban draws both comedians and audience from Tucson’s far east suburbs and surrounding communities to the south and southeast of town.
The May 21 lineup includes headliner is Phoenix comic Gene Moore, known for his high energy and fast-paced observational comedy based on his life experiences as a gay, Hispanic Army veteran. Fellow Phoenician Ray Earl is also featured along with Roxy Merari, Morgan Kuehn and long-time Tucson favorites Autumn Horvat and Rory Monserat, who teaches standup at Tucson Improv Movement.
JOEY MEDINA AT LAFFS
Meanwhile, at Laff’s the comedy train still and always runs on time. In summer, that’s doors at 7 p.m. and shows at 8 and 10:30 p.m. The menu is pretty extensive but we recommend the grilled cheese sandwiches and zucchini fries if you’re not meeting your two-item menu with cocktails.
What really matters, though, is that this weekend the featured performer is Joey Medina! You will remember him from Paramount Pictures’ classic feature film The Original Latin Kings of Comedy with Cheech Marin, Paul Rodriguez, George Lopez and Alex Reymundo. If you haven’t seen it, you can find it on Amazon Prime.
Medina is Puerto Rican, born and raised in the Bronx. He was a professional boxer before turning to comedy and eventually logging 50 TV appearances, including his own SHOWTIME Comedy Special, “Joey Medina: Taking Off The Gloves,” also now streaming on Prime.
Recently he toured New Zealand and Australia with Russell Peters and, he says, performed for more than 36,000 fans.