by Sarah Bryant
There’s a revolution going on in Whatcom County. A social revolution that affects the way we look at ourselves, our community, and the world. This wildfire revolution that started in the beer soaked cantinas of this great county, now has some of Bellingham’s most beloved establishments incorporating and welcoming it into their businesses and their lives. Places like The Green Frog, Poppe’s 360, and The Wild Buffalo have all within the past year created nights dedicated to the appreciation and promotion of this revolution, and many more are joining the cause. What is this revolution? Stand-Up comedy.
You’re joking right? Is what you undoubtedly just said to yourself. The answer: sort of! (This is a comedy article after all). While I’m not sure any of our local comedians are about to pull a Braveheart and get disemboweled for the good of the cause, they are willing to fight in order to pursue their passion. Because of this fire and passion the comedians of Whatcom County have created a growing DIY comedy scene that has all but taken over the nightlife in downtown Bellingham.
“It’s a revolution because we wanted to do stand-up but nobody doing comedy at the time would let us. They were all improv or had featured acts once a month. We wanted more and we had no room to grow,” says Neill McLaughlin, a local comedian and one of the driving forces behind the comedy explosion in Bellingham. “That’s when Timmy (Rinely) and David (Schweitz) convinced the Green Frog to start hosting a weekly stand-up open mic and it just grew from there.”
McLaughlin is known as the “Godfather” of the Whatcomedy Country Club, a DIY troupe of more than 90 comedians who perform and promote stand-up shows for themselves and for each other across Whatcom County. And boy, can they rally. That comedy open mic, referred to as Gaffawingham, was the first in a long line of comedy shows popping up all over town that were started by members of the country club. The Tubb’s Tickler at Tubb’s Whiskey Bar, VIP open comedy call at The Village Inn Pub, The Whatever’s Clever Variety Show at The Green Frog, a split DJ and stand-up date night at Glow, and Comedy Open Mic at the Wild Buffalo were all started by members of the Whatcomedy Country Club and there are no signs of them stopping.
“It’s a real community feel. We have open discussions about how the shows are going and what could be done to make them better. Watching all the comedians grow, myself especially, has been a cornerstone of my life,” Says McLaughlin. Adding, “The Whatcomedy Country Club also great because we’re a community and we care about each other. So if one of us catches a break, it creates opportunities for all of us. We’re just trying to get out there as much as possible.”
Another key playing the comedy revolution of Whatcom comedian Randall Ragsdale and like his fellow Whatcomedy Country Club member McLaughlin, Ragsdale shares the determination to get more opportunities for their community to perform.
“Any time we can get on a new stage we take it,” says Ragsdale. “There used to be a stand-up scene in Bellingham. The Elephant Castle and The Fairhaven both had stand-up shows but they both got shut down. So we’ve been reigniting that flame over the past year and people seem to be getting really excited about it.”
Ragsdale is also the man responsible for getting local comedians an opening spot during the widely successful Comedy Nite at Poppe’s 360, a monthly event that features different nationally recognized comedians. Jay Benton, the founder and promoter of Comedy Nite in Bellingham and Anacortes, shares McLaughlin and Ragsdale’s excitement for the huge jolt in popularity that the Whatcom comedy scene has been getting. Benton’s Comedy Nite has benefitted from the growth in the comedy scene as well, frequently selling out shows, including the Seattle International Comedy Competition he hosted at Poppe’s which sold out long before the night of the show. So Benton adding the local spots to Comedy Nite was a way for him to support the blossoming comedy scene.
“Comedy Nite is a professional comedy show and variety is a key part of that,” explains Benton. “Randall added a whole new element with the local features. He goes around to all the open mics in town and if someone really impresses him, he shows them to me and if I agree they get a spot. It adds a local feel and it gives the local comedians a chance to experience a real comedy show, that’s not an open mic.”
One of the major roadblocks to their Whatcomedy revolution is the fact that there are no all ages shows for them to perform. Especially when performing in a college town, there is a huge audience that’s left untapped and desperate for comedy. In fact, the only establishment in town that hosts a stand-up night open to people under 21 is the Upfront Theatre, which has a monthly stand-up show on Thursday nights.
“The stand-up open mic has been running for probably around three years. The people who started it were a part of the improv group and wanted to try it out,” says Billy Tierney, the General Manager and artistic director of The Upfront. “Admittedly since those people left the enthusiasm for the show has gone down quite a bit but we’re trying to amp it up with some college discount nights coming up.”
Some of the performers at the Upfront are also a part of the stand-up community. On this subject, McLaughlin revisited his statement before of “if one of us catches a break, we all do,” hinting that if the two groups join forces, only good things can happen. Regardless, McLaughlin and Benton both admit that finding a venue that allows for all-ages shows is the next goal and step for the comedy scene in Bellingham.
“The future is very exciting,” says McLaughlin with a grin. “The whole goal is to make it and have your group right there with you. Things are speeding up and I think if we promote more and work hard, greater things will come.”
And as for his ever-growing Whatcomedy Country Club community, the rules still apply that anyone and everyone can be a part of the fun.
“Sometimes in stand-up you kill it right off the bat and have a great time. But then when they bomb completely they want nothing more than to fall off the face of the earth and never touch a mic again. That’s where the Whatcomedy Country Club comes in. We pick you up off your blubbering butt and get you back on stage; because nothing’s funnier than laughing at yourself.”
For more information, see www.facebook.com/WhatcomedyPub.