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Today marks the beginning of the third Bentzen Ball comedy festival, presented by Brightest Young Things and curated by deadpan comedic genius Tig Notaro. Even with the unfortunate cancellation of superstar Rosie O’Donnell, the Bentzen Ball, which runs from tonight through Sunday, has plenty of performers that will appeal to even the casual comedy follower. There are three people in the festival that have been correspondents on The Daily Show (Wyatt Cenac, John Hodgman and Rob Corddry), one who is a regular guest on Louie (Todd Barry) and a few podcast superstars (Reggie Watts and Notaro herself). But one of the best parts of this festival is seeing some lesser-known acts before they blow up and sell out places like the Warner Theatre and DAR Constitution Hall. The 2009 Bentzen Ball offered audiences an early chance to see Nick Offerman before Ron Swanson became a household name. Last year’s festival featured a comedic musical duo called Garfunkel & Oates who now have their own television show. Here are a few acts featured in this year’s festival that deserve a look now, so you can flex those bragging rights later.
During the inaugural Bentzen Ball in 2009, a semi-unknown Kinane delivered one of the festival’s most memorable sets, and not only because he unmercifully and hilariously shut down an extremely drunk, shoe-tossing heckler. The Los Angeles-based comic took the audience down unexpected roads as he wove intricate analogies about topics like student loans and the realities of insomnia, which revealed more intelligence and insight than one might expect of a performer with a sports-bar demeanor and a gruff bark. Much of the material in that set eventually went into his excellent 2010 album Death of the Party and since that 2009 show, he has released a second special, 2012’s aptly titled Whiskey Icarus. Although Kinane’s gained more fans since 2009, he’s not the main draw on any of these shows—-yet.
Kaplan is a refreshing comedian because doesn’t feel the need to dumb jokes down for his audiences. Whether he’s talking about the intricacies of time travel or making a reference to a math equation, he assumes audiences get the references and for that, he attracts a smarter crowd. Kaplan has appeared on the late-night shows of Craig Ferguson, Conan O’Brien, and Seth Meyers, and he even has a 30- minute special on Comedy Central, but that doesn’t even mean that most people reading this will know how to pronounce his first name. (N.B.: It sounds like “Mike,” not “Mick.”)
If Smith’s name sounds familiar, it should: He started his comedy career here in D.C. and filmed his first DVD at the Warehouse Next Door. His material is both raw and intelligent with a handful of geeky references (he calls his video-game avatar a racial slur) and his very physical performance is even more hyperkinetic than the most high-energy comedians. This is the performer most likely to break out soon—-Mulaney, the new sitcom that he’s on with Nasim Pedrad, Martin Short, and John Mulaney will air three days after his Bentzen Ball appearance at the 9:30 Club.
If an extraordinary writing job is the key to meteoric comedic success as a performer, then Friedman is on the right track. She is a field producer on The Daily Show and was a staff writer on the Late Show With David Letterman. The latter makes particular sense: Friedman shares Letterman’s penchant for being straightforward and borderline acerbic. The Chicago-trained comic doesn’t shy away from handling potentially sensitive material, and while her point of view might cause some folks to cringe, it’s also refreshingly honest and almost always funny.
The Lucas Brothers
Judging by the continued successes of Seth Rogen et al., stoner humor isn’t going away anytime soon. Keith and Kenny Lucas appeared in the Jonah Hill/Channing Tatum vehicle 22 Jump Street, so their huge potential target audience has already gotten a glimpse of the identical twin brothers. But while they’ve done hare-brained things like bring real weed dealers onto their Comedy Central show, their laidback, tandem style of humor doesn’t dumb things down for their audience and leaves them wanting more.
Any local comedian will tell you that, even though its residents can sometimes be downers, D.C really is a funny city. But you don’t have to take their words for it: This year’s Bentzen Ball features plenty of proof in the form of two “8×8” shows at Black Cat. In each showcase, eight local comedians must whittle their acts down to eight minutes of their best material. Of the 16 participating D.C.-area comics, here’s who you should be most excited to see. —Tim Regan
Before becoming a full-time comic, Litwack’s claim to fame was earning slightly less than a third of a Ph.D. in physics. But Litwack traded his scholarly aspirations for a smart sense of humor, and look where it’s gotten him: He’s performed in venues across the country, and most recently, landed a spot on the Fox TV show Laughs. Though it’s fairly common for comedians to talk each other up (while presumably secretly hating each other), Litwack has earned the genuine respect and admiration of local comics and audiences alike.
Comedy style: His humor relies on the weird—and sometimes embarrassing—aspects of his Orthodox Jewish upbringing and childhood. “My name’s Matty,” he once told an audience at Skull Fest. “It’s a nickname for Matisyahu. That’s why I have a nickname.”
Who’s the funniest Washington Post personality on Twitter? There are some serious contenders, but one stands above the rest, if only by choice of career: Izadi. By day, Izadi works the general assignment beat for the Post, but by night, she moonlights as a stand-up comedian, and a damn good one. You may have seen her in the area before at venues like the DC Improv, Magooby’s Joke House, and the State Theatre. She’s also performed at the Women in Comedy Festival and last year’s Bentzen Ball.
Comedy style: Onstage, Izadi culls her brand of humor from observations on everyday experiences. “How can I be the frumpy one in the relationship?” she once mused at Story League at the Black Cat. “That’s my idea of gender equality … I, too, would not like to have to shower every day.”
When Shorte takes the stage, she’s usually wearing a bowtie. It’s kind of her thing. What else is her thing? Cracking jokes about gender roles, dating, and ethnicity.
Comedy style: Shorte often works her love life into jokes. “It’s weird how we as humans limit ourselves on who we can date based on whether they share a physical trait with an ex,” she told an audience at the D.C. Encyclopedia Show. “I can’t date women with moles on their necks. Last time I dated a woman with a mole on her neck, she didn’t answer my texts, she stomped all over my heart, she made me hate myself. I learned my lesson the first time.”
On his website, Schutt claims to be a “wise-ass for hire.” Judging by his resume, plenty of local businesses have taken him up on the offer: In the past, he’s performed at such local mainstays as DC Improv, Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse, the State Theatre, and the Black Cat.
Comedy style: The self-proclaimed “profanity enthusiast” sprinkles his comedy with blue language. In a joke told at DC Improv describing the absurdity of tattoo origin stories, Schutt relays a conversation with a friend about his first tattoo: “This? It’s just a pair of dice. And she’s like, ‘Because life’s a gamble, right?’ and I’m like, no, I just like dice, you know? It’s like in Memento, sometimes it’s like, oh, I don’t remember how I feel about dice—-oh, fuck yeah, dice are the best!”
Though McGill performed in last year’s Bentzen Ball, she figured to give it another go this time around. And she’s no stranger to the stage: McGill has performed at plenty of venues around town, and even took home the crown at the 2013 Commedia Dell Media comedy competition, where she represented her employer, the American Public Health Association.
Comedy style: Wordplay and absurd imagery is her jam, at least on Twitter. “I got hoes in different area codes,” she tweeted recently. “I’m a terrible farmer and my family will starve this winter.”
As an editor of the Washington Post’s Style section, Rachel Dry finds time to make plenty of jokes both on and off the job. In the paper, she’s recently penned articles on Lena Dunham’s new book, the death of Joan Rivers, and Jenny Slate’s Obvious Child. On stage, she tells stories about hanging out with unnamed ‘80s movie stars.
Comedy style: Dry isn’t afraid to take playful potshots from her post at The Post. “Clay Aiken is a fan of Myers-Briggs, the personality test that tells you if you’re a person who talks out loud about your personality type,” she tweeted.