- File: James Buck
- Nathan Hartswick and Natalie Miller
Communities around the state are gearing up for Town Meeting Day on Tuesday, March 6. You've likely been inundated with news and opinions about upcoming local elections and ballot measures, and are (hopefully) well informed on the key issues in your area. In the general spirit of civic-minded discourse, Vermont Comedy Club in Burlington hosted its third annual "town hall" meeting on Sunday, February 25. Club owners Natalie Miller and Nathan Hartswick facilitated the open-format assembly, which covered topics from cross-pollination between the improv and standup scenes to diverse representation onstage.
About 30 people sat in on the 60-minute meeting; most of them — including yours truly — were first-time attendees. Early on, the hosts acknowledged that a number of so-called heavy hitters in the local comedy scene moved on to other places in 2017. Though they didn't name names, folks such as Annie Russell, Kendall Farrell and Aaron Paulsen, among others, fit that description. But Miller and Hartswick, who are married, also mentioned that VT comics who've taken their material on the road report that the state's grassroots scene is becoming well known and highly regarded in other markets.
"We're all gonna be famous," joked Miller.
Audience members — many of whom were comedians and improvisers — had a number of suggestions and some mild concerns. More sketch comedy shows were requested, which, according to Hartswick, did not sell particularly well when the club first opened in 2015.
"To be fair, we programmed some of the weirdest shit," he said.
Insularity of the various camps within the larger comedy scene was a concern voiced by both the club owners and audience members. To combat cliques, student mixers were suggested. Another idea was a night of "improv versus standup," wherein seasoned improvisers would do standup, and vice versa.
Transparency was the name of the game during the gathering. Miller and Hartswick spoke candidly about the club's internal workings and operating costs. Fun fact: Though not on the menu, French fries are patrons' most commonly requested dish. But to be able to offer the saturated snack would cost the club upwards of $50,000 in ventilation work. Apparently, the search is on for a fairly priced AutoFry, a type of ventless deep fryer — because people need their nom-noms.
The hosts teased a couple of upcoming events, including March Madness, a multiweek, elimination-style improv tournament starting next month.
"Do you like getting unreasonably competitive during the month of March using a bracket-style contest but are allergic to basketball?" the event's description reads on the VCC website. It's like they can read my soul.
Other proposals: workshops in how to host a comedy night; the business of standup; and group-scene improv.
Before wrapping up, Miller mentioned an anonymous question submitted online prior to the event. She paraphrased (and I'm paraphrasing her): Why is the VCC punishing male comics?
The ludicrous inquiry referred to a few recent female-forward events. Miller was judicious in her response, focusing on the club's mission of inclusivity and the importance of having well-rounded representation onstage. But I'll be a little more blunt.
Whoever wrote that question: Go fuck yourself. Likening a night of female standup as "punishment" to male comics is laughable. Open your eyes, clean out your ears and read the goddamn room. The only reason such nights have to be explicitly publicized as such is because, like most creative fields, comedy is still male-dominated. Sheesh!
My biggest takeaway from the night: VCC wants your input. Its owners want to hear your ideas. If you have a pitch for an event or class, send them an email or get in touch via the club's website.
One stray thought I had while waiting for the show to begin: Given that you can see standup, improv and/or sketch comedy pretty much any night of the week in the state, I wonder if we'll ever see any comedy albums produced in the near future. Food for thought...
Letting It Linger
On January 15 of this year, Dolores O'Riordan, front woman and primary lyricist of the Irish rock band the Cranberries, passed away in a London hotel room at the age of 46. Her cause of death currently remains unknown to the public.
As many folks in Vermont's music scene have done after the passing of other major figures in rock — such as David Bowie and Tom Petty — Samara Lark Brown (the Wee Folkestra) will lead a tribute to O'Riordan and the Cranberries on Thursday, March 1, at Nectar's in Burlington.
"I was 12 when No Need to Argue came out," Brown said of the band's widely acclaimed 1994 album in a recent phone interview. "She's definitely one of my [favorites]." Brown added that she does an annual Irish music show on St. Patrick's Day and includes a rather untraditional Celtic classic: "I've always covered 'Zombie.'"
Partially inspired by local supergroup the Morris-set's tribute to Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill, another '90s staple, Brown recruited supporting vocalist Jackie Buttolph (the Leatherbound Books), bassist Jake Styles (Sad Turtle), guitarists Lara Cwass and Matt Harpster (Mob Barber), drummer Cody Sargent, and violinists Julia Deziel and Julia Maisto.
The 15-song set will include selections from the Cranberries' 24-year career — from 1993's Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We? to Something Else, which came out in 2017.
"What I find haunting is that so many artists release an album [right] before they die," Brown mused.
Expect to hear hits such as "Linger" and "Dreams," as well as some deep cuts.
If I were a superhero, my superpower would be the ability to get songs stuck in other people's heads. Here are five songs that have been stuck in my head this week. May they also get stuck in yours. Follow sevendaysvt on Spotify for weekly playlists with tunes by artists featured in the music section.
PREP, "Don't Bring Me Down"
Rush Midnight, "Don't Give Me Your Love"
Fitz and the Tantrums, "Don't Gotta Work It Out"
Mint Royale, "Don't Falter"
Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds, "Don't Pull Your Love"