Comedy culture 'alive and well' in Pittsfield
PITTSFIELD -- This small city will be filled with funny people this month.
Talent for four stand-up and improv comedy shows is booked for small and mid-sized venues here in Pittsfield. Combined, the comics' credentials range from regional and national comedy festivals to television appearances on ABC and Comedy Central.
The guffaws begin at 8:30 this Saturday night, when the WBEC radio stations and ZipStohr Comedy present the finale show to its "Laughing Stock 2013" comedy series at Baba Louie's restaurant. It will feature comics Mike Burton and Joe Larson.
ZipStohr will present its 23rd "Comedy at the Plaza" event at 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 23, in the ballroom at the Crowne Plaza. The show includes the return of Ira Proctor, Chris Coccia and new-to-the-Plaza comedienne Jody Sloane.
Royal Berkshire Improv Troupe, better known as RBIT, will present an afternoon of giggles at 2 on Sunday, Nov. 24, at The Garage at the Colonial Theatre.
Comedian Ace Aceto will present the "Royal Flush Comedy Show" at 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30, featuring a full hand of hilarious talent to close out the month's shows. The performance will take place at the Laugh Lounge at Spice Dragon restaurant, and features Thomas Attila Lewis, Dean Abbott, Linda Belt, Marty Caproni and Aceto.
Lewis, Laugh Lounge founder/organizer and city comedian, has a theory for any comedy show's success: "This only works if you're all laughing."
Lewis also brings in talent for "The Happy Fun Time Comedy Show," the Berkshires' only weekly comedy block, which takes place at Rumpy's Tavern in Lenox. He's also booked occasional shows at The Well in Great Barrington and for February's 10x10 Festival in Pittsfield.
He describes live comedy as an art form that allows performers to "get out there with some original ideas" in front of an audience.
Just as with traditional theater, people should check out comedy shows with an open mind and a turned-off cellphone. Lewis then encourages patrons to sit back and "let the laugh happen."
Rick Stohr and Dave Zerbato have been producing comedy shows in Pittsfield as ZipStohr Comedy for nearly a decade, at the Crowne Plaza and at other smaller and theater venues in the area.
Stohr said both men were fans of going to comedy shows but would have to travel outside of the Berkshires most of the time to catch an act. After a while, the friends, who both have marketing backgrounds, decided to try putting together their own productions.
"With the help of Kevin Bartini, a comedian who came out of Lee, we got it going, and found that people were hungry for [comedy]," Stohr said.
Both Stohr and Lewis said the comedy shows they've produced have had a history of good turnouts and gracious fans.
The struggle, at times, is finding a space, keeping ticket prices affordable and timing the shows in terms of how often audiences are willing to turn out for a chuckle.
Sheila Barnes, administrative assistant for WBEC's Live 95.9 FM, said the stations approached ZipStohr about producing a comedy series because they wanted to raise revenue while also giving "Berkshire County residents something to do." She said sometimes she and others feel like there's not much to do in the area, especially in the cold-weather months.
"Personally, I think people just like to go out and laugh," Barnes said.
Stohr said it's about planning a "fun night out for people where it's not too expensive and you always leave with a smile."
"Comedy at the Plaza," for example, is a quarterly event by design, Stohr said. The ticket price for this month's event is $25, which supports both the use of the ballroom as well as having part of the proceeds benefit a local charitable cancer cause.
Both the Laughing Stock and Royal Flush comedy shows are at smaller venues, with tickets priced at $20 and $15, respectively. RBIT tickets are $10.
Regional comedian Marty Caproni, who opened the Laugh Lounge series at Spice Dragon back in April and will return on Nov. 30, said both comedians and audiences thrive in local, intimate settings.
"For comics in general, I think a lot of us tend to like the traditional rooms where people are closer together," he said. "When you're on stage performing, you don't miss a thing in the room. You see everyone's face, every expression."
Linda Belt is one of the few female comedians who will be here in the city this month -- "The Queen" in the Royal Flush lineup. Though it's her first time at Laugh Lounge, she's also performed at various events in Lenox, Lee and Great Barrington.
She agreed with Caproni and said whether she's in a club or a theater, she is always looking for opportunities to connect with audiences in a personal way.
"That's why stand-up is an art in itself. When it's interactive -- and I don't mean heckler interactive -- the audience responds, and it brings your act into a whole different direction We feed off the energy of one another," Belt said. "We're the one venue where you don't have to be politically correct. We say what people are thinking because we're the ones with the guts to say it."
"I'm glad to see comedy is alive and well for the Berkshires. It's an area that has the population for it and I'm glad to see people are supporting it," she added.
Each of this month's comedy shows will bring its own flavor and genre of comedy to audiences.
Stohr said Saturday's show at Baba Louie's will feature both the clean, fast-paced style of Mike Burton mixed with the more low-key narrative style of Joe Larson.
He said the Crowne Plaza show will combine the self-effacing humor of Ira Proctor and the storytelling style of Chris Coccia, with Jody Sloane's persona, which is slightly "on the dirtier side."
RBIT performs in the vein of televisions, "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"
The Royal Flush show will feature the caustic commentary of Lewis; the fresh-faced material of newcomer to the scene, Dean Abbott; Belt's modern-life tales of a being a Jewish housewife-turned-divorcee-turned-new-homebuyer; Caproni's candid humor and observations; and the whip-smart comedy of Aceto, a.k.a. "The Good Catholic Boy."
"It really is an excellent community for comedy," said Caproni, who added he's familiar with Pittsfield's culture, "from the tiny hot dogs to the old GE buildings," to the city's Third Thursdays.
"Jabs aside, Pittsfield has a cool vibe about it. When you have a room that's right on North Street and people are laughing, it builds good energy. Plus you have people out there that support the arts, which is a good thing," he said.
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