Comedy Heaven comes down to earth in the Berkshires
by Larry Murray
There are more comedians coming to (or hailing from) the Berkshires this winter than ever before. Everyone, it seems, wants to get into the act, from the Berkshire Theatre Group (BTG) with its ongoing Laugh Lounge series at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, to Mass MoCA which is bringing their new High Mud Comedy Fest to North Adams. Even the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington gets into the act with satirist David Sedaris and his observant humor rising out of the human condition.
Sedaris takes the spotlight on Sunday, April 10th at 7pm at the Mahaiwe with his trademark sardonic wit and incisive social critiques. Sedaris is well known to the intelligentsia as one of America’s pre-eminent humor writers. The great skill with which he slices through cultural euphemisms and political correctness proves that Sedaris is a master of satire and one of the most observant writers addressing the human condition today. He is the author of Barrel Fever and Holidays on Ice, as well as collections of personal essays, Naked, Me Talk Pretty One Day, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, and Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, each of which became a bestseller. There are a total of more than seven million copies of his books in print and they have been translated into 25 languages. Tickets are $48 Members / $53 / $68 Premium Seating. To order, and for more information visit the Mahaiwe web page.
If Sedaris represents the high end of comedy, then Ben Kronberg appeals to the more populist vein, and appears in Pittsfield as part of BTG’s Laugh Lounge Series, on Wednesday, February 24 at 8pm at The Garage. Since his breakout performance at HBOs’ Aspen Comedy Festival in 2007, Ben Kronberg has performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live, John Oliver’s New York Stand-up Show, Last Call with Carson Daly, and taped his own Half Hour Special on Comedy Central. Comedy Central has named Ben as one of the “comics to watch” on several of their recommended lists.
Kronberg’s distinctively scruffy style blends clever one-liners with clueless observations that the yuk-yuk crowd loves, but I detest. Check out this clip to see if his brand of humor is for you.
Also coming up on Wednesday, April 6th at 8pm in the Laugh Lounge series is storyteller, writer and actress, Giulia Rozzi whose blunt and animated humor has earned her the honor of being a Moth GrandSLAM champion and a Boston Comedy Festival finalist, in addition to other awards. Rounding out the spring offerings is Kevin Meaney. This guy has been one of the country’s most popular standup comedians for more than 25 years. Tom Shales of the Washington Post said, “Picture the precocious love child of Jonathan Winters and Ethel Merman and you have some idea of Kevin Meaney’s act.” Mark your calendar for Wednesday, May 11th at 8pm.
Tickets for these Laugh Lounge performances run $12 in advance, $15 the day of. Contact the Colonial Ticket Office at 111 South Street, Pittsfield by calling 413-997-4444, or online at www.berkshiretheatregroup.org. The Ticket Office is open Monday-Friday 10am-5pm, Saturdays 10am-2pm or on any performance day from 10am until curtain.
MUDFEST CHANGES EVERYTHING
Take Mass MoCA’s expertise at running multi-day music festivals and transfer it to the wild world of comedy, and you are sure to have a fun couple of days when the High Mud Comedy Festival arrives in North Adams. The two-day laugh fest featuring a pile of performers thick with national comedic treasures and local stand-up heroes takes place soon, on March 11 and 12, 2016. But here’s the thing: not only are great comedians like provocative deadpan comedian Tig Notaro who headlines the inaugural festival which is hosted by NPR’s Ophira Eisenberg and featuring Brooklyn- and Hollywood-based live wire Sean Patton. More national and regional talent fills the museum’s stages, and clubs throughout the city. Post-mainstage, late-night gigs will take place at local venues — including the Mohawk Tavern, Desperados, and the Freight Yard Pub. So the weekend will feature names like Sean Patton and Ophira Eisenberg, plus more local talent including the MASS MoCA return of absurdist Dave Hill and a Berkshire-based comedy slate organized by and including the hilarious Tom Lewis, North Adams-based humorist Seth Brown, and Adams-based Mark Jagiello.
High Mud is destined to be one of the most hysterical late-winter comedy festivals in the history of Western Massachusetts. Unless there’s a blizzard.” – Jay Tarsis
The original idea for the High Mud Comedy Festival comes from the mind of television comedy writer and executive producer of The Bob Newhart Show (and MASS MoCA Trustee) Jay Tarses. Read on for more about the two nights of stand-up in MASS MoCA’s Hunter Center and an afternoon of comedy films to keep the laughs flowing.
Along about mid-March, we could use a few laughs around here. Who knows — if anyone shows up, this might become an annual event. I’m curious to see if they know what ‘high mud’ means in New York and Boston.” – Joe Thompson, director Mass MoCA
Known for her warm demeanor and conversational stand-up style, Tig Notaro is a highly sought comedian whose career spans from headline gigs to college living room tours, from Netflix to the Emmy Awards. A television regular, she’s done stints on Transparent, The Sarah Silverman Program, The Office, Community, and Bob’s Burgers, and had her own half-hour special, Comedy Central Presents Tig. Notaro regularly contributes to This American Life and for many years co-hosted the Professor Blastoff podcast with fellow comedians Kyle Dunnigan and David Huntsberger. That show came to an end in July 2015 after 217 episodes.
2015 was a banner year for the comedian: Knock Knock, It’s Tig Notaro premiered on Showtime in March, and both the Netflix documentary Tig and her first HBO special Boyish Girl Interrupted were released in August. Notaro stars in, writes, and is the executive producer of a pilot currently airing on Amazon, directed by Nicole Holofcener and co-written by Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody. One Mississippi is a dark, loosely autobiographical comedy based on a comedian who, after the death of her mother, returns to her childhood home in Mississippi with her girlfriend.
Notaro was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2015 for her sophomore release, Live, which sold over 100,000 units in just six weeks. The album is a 2012 stand-up set delivered just days after she was diagnosed with stage 2 bilateral breast cancer. Since her return to comedy following her diagnosis and treatment, Notaro’s comedy has developed a depth and openness that fans have passionately responded to with newfound support and engagement. She has announced that her cancer is in remission.
The host of NPR’s weekly game show Ask Me Another, Ophira Eisenberg is a skilled comedian and storyteller and one of New York Magazine’s selections for the “Top 10 Comics that Funny People Find Funny.” She tours as a host and storyteller with The Moth, and is featured on The Moth Radio Hour and podcast. Her wisecracking debut memoir, Screw Everyone: Sleeping My Way to Monogamy was published in 2013, and Zucker Productions recently optioned the rights to a feature film. Eisenberg hosts the High Mud Comedy Fest on Saturday.
Funnyman Sean Patton focuses his brand of high-energy comedy on biting personal anecdotes involving lively characters and circumstance. Raised in New Orleans, where his career began in 2001, the raucous and often foul-mouthed Patton has performed at Caroline’s, The Comedy Cellar, Gotham, Upright Citizens Brigade New York and Los Angeles, and at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. He made his television debut in 2009 on Comedy Central’s Live at Gotham, premiered his Comedy Central The Half Hour in 2013, and has appeared on Inside Amy Schumer, Maron, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and Conan.
New York Times critic Jason Zinoman states, “I’ve seen him perform more than a dozen sets, and he’s killed every time. He’s dynamite, even with ordinary material, turning standard Brooklyn hipster jokes into a stomping, roaring tour de force, and elevating a bit about sex-performance anxiety into high-stakes comedy… He’s the rare comic who goes over as well in a comedy club as in a bar basement.”
New York City-based Dave Hill is an absurdist comedian, writer, and musician from Cleveland, Ohio, whose talents run the comedic gamut. He hosts The Dave Hill Explosion at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre and appears as on-air talent for HBO and Cinemax. Hill has appeared on Inside Amy Schumer, contributes to This American Life, and every Monday night hosts his own radio show on WFMU, The Goddamn Dave Hill Show. As a writer, his work has appeared in The New York Times, GQ, Salon, VICE, McSweeney’s, and The Huffington Post. His first book, Tasteful Nudes: …and Other Misguided Attempts at Personal Growth and Validation, a collection of anecdotal essays, was published in 2012, and Hill’s second essay collection, Dave Hill Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, will be published in 2016. Hill performed to a sold-out audience at MASS MoCA in 2010.
Pittsfield-based Thomas Attila Lewis regularly performs his comedy across New England and the country, with recent appearances at the New Orleans Comedy Arts Festival and Nashville’s Wild West Comedy Festival. He is the producer and co-host of the award-winning comedy podcast, My Dumb Friends, and is the producer and co-creator of the Bill Burr Tours web series.
High Mud Comedy Fest promises to deliver a thousand laughs a minute (or at the very least, good beer) in MASS MoCA’s Hunter Center on March 11-12. Dinner will be available at Lickety Split before and during the show. A full bar serves Berkshire Brewing Company beers and Berkshire Mountain Distillery spirits. Two-day festival passes are $32 for students, $42 advance, $55 day of, and $75 preferred. High Mud might get dirty; best suited for audiences age 16 and up. Friday and Saturday admission to MASS MoCA’s galleries is included in the festival pass. A $5 gallery admission discount is offered to ticket holders on Sunday, March 13. Tickets for all events are available through the MASS MoCA box office located on Marshall Street in North Adams, open 11am to 5pm every day except Tuesdays through spring 2016. Tickets can also be charged by phone by calling 413.662.2111 x1 during box office hours or purchased online at massmoca.org. All events are held rain or shine.