Made for film fantasy: Screening Room sparks comedy creativity

click to enlarge Made for film fantasy: Screening Room sparks comedy creativity
(Jon Gonzalez/Submitted)
Jon “Polar Bear” Gonzalez brings his Whispanic Causing Panic show to The Screening Room at 11 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 13.

The story so far…

In the Aug. 4 column, we explored the beginnings of Tucson’s popular quarterly comedy variety show, Keep Tucson Sketchy (KTS). That showcase of live-sketches, videos, music and standup comedy is set for two shows, 6:30 and 9 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 13, at The Screening Room, 127 E. Congress Street. Tickets are $10 via eventbrite.com; $15 at the door if available. The show almost always sells out.

KTS’ origins started in the rubble of the Federal Trade Commission 1970s effort to liberate the tools of broadcasting into the hands of ordinary people. Tucson’s outlet was first Tucson 20, then Access Tucson 12. As that project faded, Brink Media reimagined and revived it as Creative Tucson.

A fun show emerged from the project: The Scorcher Report. A news show parody that included skits, on-location videos and jokes about Tucson News, it gave a klatsch of Tucson comedians, actors and writers a creative nexus they were unwilling to give up when the channel’s grant ended.

They regrouped and created the multimedia leviathan called Keep Tucson Sketchy. KTS landed at The Screening Room when their ambition leveraged a fairy-godmother-like connection.

David Pike has managed the 92-person capacity Screening Room since 2018. A former journalist covering music and movies, Pike also has written and produced independent films. He owns and runs the Arizona Underground Film Festival and Tucson Terror Fest. Now he also provides nationwide and international distribution for indie films, including films from South by Southwest (SXSW) and the Sundance Film Festival, through the Brink Media affiliate, BrinkVision.

Around 2018, as KTS was gearing up in Pike’s peripheral vision at Brink, Chris Quinn was bringing a jolt of fresh ambition to Tucson’s live comedy scene. Like dozens of other current Tucson comics, Quinn took the stage first at Roxy Merari’s Monday open mic at The Surly Wench. That experience introduced him to the Tucson comedy circuit. “I went to all the mics that were going on then,” Quinn said, “The Wench, Café Passe, Laff’s.” Now Quinn performs in showcases around town and even hosts at Laff’s from time to time. But in 2019, he was still a newcomer.

“I started an open mic very quickly for how little I had been doing standup,” he said, but Pike encouraged him from the time they first met. Quinn had gone with friends to a performance of REEL Tucson, a short-lived series that mixed drag and videos. The organizers wanted to include a standup element.

REEL Tucson folded, but Quinn and Pike kept talking. Pike was eager to bring comedy into the theater; Quinn staged a modestly successful showcase, then suggested a Wednesday open mic. “It was an open night,” Quinn said. “I knew from hearing older comedians say, to get better, you have to get as much stage time as you can. Hosting will give you that because you literally have to do it for however long. So that was really my goal, to get better at comedy.

“With David’s support it really took off,” Quinn said, “and before the pandemic, we were one of the most rocking open mics out there. I didn’t know if it was going to come back. So now looking at how many great shows we’ve had recently, and we have coming up, it is so exciting!” The Screening Room’s open mic is every Wednesday at 7 p.m. Signups are at 6:30 p.m.

While the mic returned successfully, the number and quality of the venue’s booked shows came on like a monsoon rain. “Since I reopened from COVID in May 2021,” Pike said, “I decided that comedy shows were very important for the community. Comedians have been producing their own shows, late night comedy (a Chris Quinn project), women’s showcase comedy (LadyBits, produced by Jen Blanco), Chicano Comedy (produced by Jesus Otamendi) and touring comedy.

“I’m just a venue. I had this idea of of having comedians produce certain shows on their own. Chris could help as much or as little as they wanted. Chris took off with it. It’s phenomenal what he’s done with it.”

Quinn said, “I feel like the comics had good ideas for shows but didn’t really have a venue that wanted to take a chance on them. That’s what The Screening Room has been doing.”

“Maybe it’s how things are in the world, but people need to laugh.” Pike said.


Blockbuster Weekend at The Screening Room

On Friday, Aug. 12 at 10 p.m., Jen Blanco spreads her wings as a producer and host, staging John, Jenn and Friends, a showcase featuring Los Angeles comedians John Brickley and Jenn Gonzalez. Tickets are $10 via Eventbrite.com.

Gonzales was the 2019 winner of the U.S. Comedy Contest, a legendary annual event hosted at Hollywood’s Comedy Chateau by Golden Artists Entertainment. Brickley is a podcast regular who opens for national headliners in clubs throughout the U. S. The lineup also includes Tucson’s Kyle Veville, Morgan and Victor G.

Blanco’s semi-monthly Lady Bits show is a blue-ribbon model of The Screening Room’s incubator programming. With a lineup comprising, exclusively, comics who identify as women, Lady Bits has been packing the house to overflowing almost from the beginning.

On Saturday, Aug. 13, following two Keep Tucson Sketchy shows at 6:30 and 9 p.m. (see eventbrite for tickets), Chris Quinn produces a late-night laugh-athon for deep-cut comedy hipsters and fans of Chicano comedy. At 11 p.m., viral underground wonder Jon “Polar Bear” Gonzalez presents his Whispanic Causing Panic Comedy Tour.

Gonzalez holds forth regularly on TikTok and broadcasts a weekly show on both Facebook and YouTube. Tickets are $29, $39 for preferred seating, via eventbrite.


Comedy Elsewhere

Laff’s Comedy Cafe, 2900 E. Broadway Blvd. (presales, reservations and performer details are at laffstucson.com) $15, $20 preferred seating. Friday, Aug. 12, and Saturday, Aug. 13, 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., featuring Justin Berkman, Dry Bar’s “Kosher Ham,” and former Daily Show writer, Jimmy Earl.

Tucson Improv Movement/TIM Comedy Theatre, 414 E. Ninth Street (presales at tucsonimprov.com). Thursday, Aug. 11, $7, 7:30 p.m., Harold Night with Harold teams Epsilon and Zeta; $7, 8:30 p.m. standup open mic; Friday, Aug. 12, free, 6:30 p.m., improv jam. 7:30 p.m., $7, The Soapbox with Alana Wiesling; 9 p.m., $7, Stand Up Showcase. Saturday, Aug. 13, $7, 7:30 p.m., Your Favorite Movie Improvised; 9 p.m., $7 The Dirty Tees.

Unscrewed Theater, 4500 E. Speedway Boulevard. (presales at unscrewedtheatre.org), $5 kids, $8, live or remote; Friday, Aug. 12, 7:30 p.m., Family Friendly Improv Comedy; 9 p.m., Fridays After Dark; Saturday, Aug. 13, 7:30 p.m., Family Friendly Improv Comedy; 9 p.m., Uncensored Improv Comedy with NBOJU and The Big Daddies.

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