Buzz- No clowning around: Local comedians take the mic
It might seem like a joke fallen flat–- Charlottesville has a comedy scene?–- but Jim Zarling and the Charlottesville Comedy Roundtable would challenge any nay-sayers to a stand-off. What makes C'ville a receptive bed for fledgling comics? A "unique" combination of supportive audiences, storytelling aesthetics, and proximity to the country's political epicenter, according to Zarling.
"[Comedy] is very competitive–- a lot of times, you go to New York, DC, the comedians are very protective, territorial–- they don't want to help each other out," explains Zarling, the founder of the CCR. "Other people see what's going on here and say, 'This really works?'"
Moving to Charlottesville after attending the University of Missouri, Zarling was shocked at the lack of comedy performed in town–- although he found the interest in stand-up comedy bubbling underneath the surface in comics and audiences alike. In September 2008, he joined forces with other casual comics to form the CCR, which found success with its first show in November at the Buddhist Biker Bar. Quickly setting up a monthly stand-up night, the craving for comedy grew, allowing the CCR to expand its current schedule of weekly performances and open mikes.
"There were no comedy clubs, no regular comedy shows [here]–- the people who wanted to do it just didn't know how to start," he says. "Because we don't have a corporately-owned comedy club, we're kind of free to do what we want."
While CCR's comedians– a motley group of around 15 regular comedians ranging from college students to veteran comics– stay away from "easy laughs" (read: offensive dirty jokes), they have a diverse set of experiences to draw from for their bits. A college town is always rife for stories, according to Zarling, and having an unusual take on everyday experiences will always draw a chuckle from a Charlottesville crowd. And while most local comedians stay away from political satire, Zarling himself finds varying degrees of success when he invokes health care reform or 9/11.
"With satire, there's a line–- what people in Richmond think is funny, people here think is kind of mean," he says. "The trouble with political satire is that divide between Democrats and Republicans–- it's a no-holds-barred, win or lose, with us or against us mindset."
As CCR has flourished–- during the weekly meetings, comics exchange bits and tips, and Zarling has found success with his Wu Prov improv academy–- audiences, hecklers, and professional comics have begun to flock to weekly stand-up shows and open mike sessions. While none of the CCR is quite ready to hit the bigtime, according to Zarling–- professional touring comics have a trove of 45-60 minute bits, while local comedians are starting at 5-10 minutes a set–- each comic involved in the burgeoning scene has taken up the challenge of tickling Charlottesville until it doubles over laughing.
"The audience in Charlottesville has been really cool to whatever anyone takes to the stage," Zarling says. "Everyone's hear to root for you."
Channeling Jerry Seinfeld? Addicted to NBC's Last Comic Standing reality show or glued to every airing of Chris Rock's stand-up on Comedy Central? Zarling encourages all jokesters and witty locals to take the stage with authenticity–- and not be surprised when that works.
"You can't copy someone else," he says. "It's all about finding what works best for you on stage and how to use the people who influence you without letting them mess up your act."
The Charlottesville Comedy Roundtable performs with headliner Al Goodwin Friday, June 18, at The Southern. Show starts at 10pm and tickets are $6.