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Breaking Down the 2014 Green Mountain Comedy Festival


Published May 21, 2014 at 9:00 a.m.

The sixth annual Green Mountain Comedy Festival gets under way this week. And with it comes an abundance of opportunities to have your funny bone tickled by nationally renowned standup comedians such as Myq Kaplan and Tig Notaro — see the interview with Notaro here — big-city improv-comedy troupes from ImprovBoston and New York City's Upright Citizens Brigade and more than 100 local performers. And that's to say nothing of the live podcast tapings and comedy workshops taking place over five days.

That embarrassment of comedic riches leads to an obvious question: Where to begin?

What follows is a day-by-day rundown of some notable shows slated for this year's festival.

Wednesday, May 21

The GMCF gets off to a hot start with a pair of standup comedy showcases at Nectar's and Club Metronome in Burlington featuring the newest and most seasoned comedians the state has to offer. Upstairs at Metronome, the state's most prominent standup troupe, the Vermont Comedy Divas, hold court, as they have since forming in 2006. Led by founder and local comedy guru Josie Leavitt, the Divas feature some of the area's funniest female comedians, including Carmen Lagala, Sue Schmidt, Tracie Spencer and Autumn "and others" Spencer.

Meanwhile, downstairs at Nectar's, longtime local standup and GMCF cofounder Kathleen Kanz hosts the Fresh Meat! showcase, which features nine of Vermont's newest comics. Be gentle.

Also on Wednesday, the GMCF debuts its first live podcast recording at the Halflounge Speakeasy with a taping of the 14th State podcast, hosted by local comedians Will Betts and Chicky Winkleman. The pod is a lively, funny mix of arts and culture talk, usually with a few dick jokes thrown in for good measure. The guest for this episode: veteran house music DJ Craig Mitchell.

Thursday, May 22

The name to know for Thursday is Myq Kaplan. Kaplan was a finalist on the NBC standup comedy show "Last Comic Standing" in 2010 and has since appeared on "The Tonight Show," "The Late Show with David Letterman," "Comedy Central Presents" and "Conan." Kaplan performs at Club Metronome and will also appear at the club earlier in the evening as a guest on the live taping of the WBUR podcast "You're the Expert," hosted by Chris Duffy and featuring comics Anna Drezen and GMCF cofounder Nathan Hartswick.

If spontaneity is your thing — or even if it's not — check out the On the Spot showcase at the Halflounge Speakeasy. The wits of local comics including Josie Leavitt, Carmen Lagala, Will Betts, Adam Cook, Sean Hunter Williams and 2013 Vermont's Funniest Comedian winner Phil Davidson will be put to the test. Each will be given an odd phrase and then have to devise a standup set, well, on the spot. It's harrowing and hilarious, which is what good standup should be.

Friday, May 23

What section of Seven Days did you first turn to when you picked it up today? Bullshit. It was iSpy and you know it. It's cool. We did, too, as did the improv comedians from ImprovBoston, UCB and Burlington's Spark Improv Troupe, who will comb this paper's recent missed connections to craft improvised scenes at the iSpy Improv Show at the Skinny Pancake in Burlington on Friday. It's a festival favorite and not to be missed. And, hey, maybe you'll finally get spied! Or not.

Moving on, if Facebook has taught us anything, it is that nothing is funnier than your kids. Did we say funnier? Sorry, we meant obnoxious. Anyway, toddler-shackled 'rents will finally have an excuse to get out of the house and rejoin the world for the Parents' Night showcase at Hotel Vermont. Hosted by Autumn Spencer — whose riffs on parenting are both wince- and guffaw-inducing — the show features comics Andy Perchlik, Bianca Cosby, Chad Cosby, Tracy Dolan and 2012 VFC champ Kevin Byer telling jokes about their kids that are actually, y'know, funny. All proceeds go to benefit the Comedians' Kids Inevitable Therapy Fund. (Kidding.)

On the improv beat, ImprovBoston's renowned Specter troupe headlines a show at the Skinny Pancake. Opening are Sherpa, a two-person improv team featuring a pair of Middlebury College grads, Ben Orbison and Adam Benay.

Meanwhile, in Barre, Sean Hunter Willams hosts the first of a pair of weekend showcases at Espresso Bueno. The Friday-night slate includes Schuyler Kepler, Cori Marnellos, Will Betts, Kathleen Kanz and Justin Rowe.

Saturday, May 24

Saturday is by far the busiest night of the GMCF. If you get shut out of tix to Tig Notaro, there are still plenty of options. Like, for example, the Good, Clean Fun standup showcase at Nectar's, an all-ages-appropriate show featuring PG jokes from the likes of Justin Rowe, Sue Schmidt, EJ Murphy, Colin Ryan and host Tracy Dolan. Or you could bathe in filth at the That's Just Wrong showcase at Halflounge, which features some of the most gleefully obscene comics around, including Kit Rivers, Kevin Byer, Natasha Druhen, Sam Pelletier, Chickey Wikleman, Dickey Balzano and host Chad Peterson.

Hotel Vermont hosts a pair of intriguing showcases called Northern Hospitality featuring a mix of local and regional comics. The early slate, hosted by Marlin Fischer, boasts Chad Cosby, Adam Cook, Druhen, Rivers and Murphy. The late show, hosted by Cook, features Fisher, Melissa Moran, Josh Starr, Will Betts and Ben Orbison.

Saturday also brings the return of UCB improv troupe Airwolf, who perform at Club Metronome. But since Airwolf includes a close friend of this writer, we can't in good conscience urge you to go, even though UCB has turned out more famous funny people than we can count. Better we simply enjoy the raucous sounds of Rough Francis, who are playing the Tig Notaro after-party at the Skinny Pancake, after opening for her earlier in the evening. Oh, wait. That's a conflict of interest, too, since RF front man Bobby Hackney Jr. is a Seven Days employee. Damn it. Let's move on...

Sunday, May 25

The festival's closing night is highlighted by comic DeAnne Smith at Club Metronome. The globetrotting comedian has made the rounds on the late-night talk-show circuit and is a regular at the Just for Laughs festival in her native Montréal. And, as always, Canadians are really funny.

Earlier in the evening, also at Metronome, check out the Best in Show showcase, hosted by Natalie Miller, which features several of the state's finest and funniest local comics, all of whom have won or placed in the annual Vermont's Funniest Comedian competition. These include Nathan Hartswick, Adam Benay, Carmen Lagala, Kyle Gagnon and Justin Rowe.

Over in Montpelier, another local showcase, Mass Appeal, brings the funny to Sweet Melissa's. This one, hosted by Joel Chaves, includes Bitsy Biron, Kathleen Kanz, Dan Murphy, Hillary Boone and NYC's Ben Orbison.

Finally, if all that funny business has you itching to try your hand at making people laugh, swing by the Spark Open Improv Jam at the Skinny Pancake and jump in. This edition of the weekly jam — it's modeled after the TV show "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" — will feature members of the Spark Improv Troupe and Rumblescone and is open to anyone who thinks they're funny. Good luck.

Green Mountain Comedy Festival: Wednesday, May 21, through Sunday, May 25, at various locations around Vermont.