a teenager pops his live comedy cherry
-By Chase Roper-
“I was just choking from laughing so much,” my son says to me between breaths. We are watching Pete Holmes on stage in the Banana Shack at Sasquatch 2012. Today is his 13th birthday and he is seeing live comedy for the time…
As comedy nerds, we all vividly remember the first time we witnessed live comedy. That feeling of absolute coolness as you experience the raw organic display of stand-up comedy happening right in front of your face. Not filtered by network executives or sweetened and edited for CD - just honest to goodness live stand up. Over Memorial Day weekend, my son turned 13 and he was fortunate enough for me to give him that first experience during the Sasquatch Festival at The Gorge in George, WA.
Sasquatch takes place in an oasis in the middle of a desert. Huge rolling hills, an enormous gorge with the Columbia river gushing through it make it difficult to complain about the heat, wind, and dust. Having never seen comedy in a venue like, I imagine my son and I will be seeing the likes of Nick Kroll and Rob Delaney (to name a couple) in a tent that will enclose a seated audience away from the many stages and blaring music coursing throughout the remainder of the festival grounds. As it turns out, we will be laughing our asses off in The Banana Shack; a white three-sided tent with an opening that faces a stage dedicated primarily for indie rap artists.
As I explain to my son about how “normal” comedy venues look (dark rooms, chairs, enclosed buildings) Connor leans into me and says, “These guys are pros though right? I’m sure they’ll be great.” Wow. The student has become the master. Indeed, there is nothing to worry about.
We enter the Banana Shack and sit amongst the semi-nude guys and gals in the loose grass. Observing Connor as he tries to take it all in. The music, people - the anticipation. I remember my first time seeing comedy take place somewhere other than my television. I was well into my mid 20’s - a die hard comedy fan since early childhood - when I finally made my way to The Comedy Underground in Seattle, WA. I don’t remember the host for the night nor do I remember the guest spot but featuring was Courtney Cronin and the headliner was Kyle Cease. It was a vastly different experience than sitting in a tent in the middle of nowhere. Instead, my son is trying to shut out the pounding bass and ignore the foul “incense-ish” odor he can’t quite put his finger on (finally, I have to explain he is smelling pot.) However different our first comedy shows are, his first time will always be remembered as an epic and pivotal moment in his life coming into his teenage years. Yeah, I’m patting myself on the back for this.
Click to hear Howard Kremer sharing his first live comedy memories
Officially, it is Pete Holmes who Connor will see as his first live comedian. I’ve never seen my son laugh as hard as he is at Pete doing an impression of all 10 year olds complaining that they have to go the bedroom. I’m glad to know he realizes how obnoxious he was three years ago. Pete mentions the noise level at the top of set but moves on as if it isn’t happening and the rest of in the crowd do the same. Honestly, after a few hours it has all become white noise; chest pounding, migraine inducing white noise. We catch up with Pete afterwards. Connor cannot believe he about to meet comedian who was just standing on the stage in front of him. the e*Trade Baby! I let Pete know that he is, in fact my son’s first live comedian.
“Oh, Wow! How old are you?”
“13? I was about 13 when I saw Bill Cosby. This wasn’t as good a show but I did do a dirty Bill Cosby impression so it’s come full circle.”
We stay for a bit of Rob Delaney, who I admire greatly, but my newly 13 year old finds his comedy going to darker places than he is able to relate with. The 15 minutes I witness is great. After enjoying some canned raviolis back in our tent and some gratis red bull and Pop Chips from the media room, we decide it is time for Connor’s first official live concert. The 3rd Anniversary Comedy Bang Bang! Episode, has my son convinced that he is going to love watching St. Vincent. The acoustic-y sounds laid down on that episode were terrific and yet, I am surprised at his eagerness for this concert. We get up front and I see a theremin on stage. This has to be great. SPOILER ALERT: It is great.
We cap off our adventure with Howard Kremer and Todd Barry. Howard is a truly original voice who likes to let things breath on stage and who you can tell is barely turning on his “Now I’m Performing” switch for the crowd. In other words, he is very natural and present as a comedian and my son is eating it all up. The audience laughs hard but is constantly being drowned out by music from the competing stage. I have never been to the Upright Citizen Brigade Theater, but I feel as though Howard is bringing that UCB vibe to this festival. After a rave crown watching something called “Beardy Man” clear out, the comedy fans crowd in once more for Todd Barry. Todd gets the misfortune of having Spac3man performing simultaneously. Seriously, this other stage’s volume level sounds as though it is inside our tent. Todd’s commentary on the impossible situation at hand is so spot on that you could almost assume he wrote a chunk on festival interruptions during afternoon comedy sets.
“Everybody who’s done this festival told me, ‘Todd, you’re going to hear lots of noise and music. Just ignore it, the crowd doesn’t even notice’,” Todd says to audience near the end of his set. “I’ve successfully brought it up about 40 times.”
Click to hear Todd Barry sharing his first live comedy memories
How did my son enjoy all this live comedy for the first time? He’s more in love with stand-up than ever, what did you think, that he’d hate it? Sasquatch may go down as one of the more difficult festivals to perform comedy at but a few tweaks in the timing of other acts could set all that straight. The true blessing here is that I was able to relive the thrill of that first time vicariously through my teenager and it was incredible.