The Hippo


Apr 20, 2014








A showcase, not a showdown
Granite State Comedy Fest is fast-paced, good-natured fun

By Michael Witthaus

12/6/2012 - Variety is the watchword at the Granite State Comedy Festival, to be held Dec. 7 and 8 in Portsmouth. Each night features a headliner and a staggering undercard of a dozen comics. 
Geographically, they hail from all over the country. Tax planner by day, comic by night, Tim Messenger works the Denver comedy scene, while former Bostonian Christine Crocker now lives in Texas. Evan Bowen spent the past two years in Tacoma before returning to Massachusetts. 
The lineup is multigenerational as well. John Baglio competed in last year’s Boston Comedy festival before he was old enough to drink, while Michele Mortensen is a fiftysomething who riffs on her former life as a corporate wife. 
Not quite middle aged Pat Oates gets plenty of laughs talking about dating a girl in her 20s. Agustin Reyes offers something for everyone — he’s 24 years old, born in Argentina, raised in Uruguay and half Jewish.
The inaugural event is the brainchild of comic Doug Blay, who wanted to showcase the wide range of talent in the region. “We were looking for a diverse group … delivering something a little bit different,” he said by phone recently. “The people that we picked are very good at the kind of comedy that they do.” 
The festival evolved out of Sketchy People, a Seacoast improv group that Blay was a member of, and will be held in the West End Studio Theatre, the troupe’s headquarters.  
The headliners — Mike Koutrobis on Friday, Rob Steen on Saturday — perform an extended set each night, but for the supporting comics it’s rapid-fire five to seven minutes each. However, Blay said, it’s not a showdown. “One of the things I did not want it to be is a contest … I wanted them to come and do their best stuff without being judged for it.”
Granted, there are more than a few competition winners on the bill. Jesse Bickford was recently named Maine’s best comic; Pat Janssen was crowned Best New England Bar Comic last summer at Penuche’s in Concord. Blay won the title last year, but he’s hosting, not performing. “I will be introducing,” he said. “I am looking forward to just enjoying these people.”  
Mortensen hated corporate parties because she couldn’t balance cocktail napkins, appetizers and a wine glass simultaneously, “and I thought Pinot Grigio was a Mexican wrestler.” 
Boston’s Christa Weiss hits winningly at singleton life with lines like this: “Dating a musician is like eating sugary cereal every day of your life. It looks fun, tastes good but will eventually rot your teeth and sell your television for dope.”
The 24 comics were winnowed from more than 60 submissions. “Three of us watched the video clips [and] scored them independently on presence, material and how funny we thought they were,” said Blay. “It was fun, and it’s amazing how many people I don’t know. It was also tough, because we had to cut a lot of people that we didn’t want to.”
A few things changed from the festival’s conception to its creation. The initial plan for a mix of sketch and standup was scrapped. Blay also envisions a true Granite State event – more comics, more venues. “What I would like to see is shows in both Manchester and Portsmouth,” he said. “That just didn’t work out this year with the time.  Hopefully, next year we will have more of New Hampshire in it and more word of mouth to get it out there.” 


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