Comedy Review: Vermont comedy comes to town
By Jim Lowe
Staff Writer | September 07,2013
Tony Bate, a veteran comic, was the headliner Thursday at Vermont Comedy Club’s first monthly “Laughs by the Slice!” night at Montpelier’s Positive Pie II.
MONTPELIER — Indigenous comedy has long been part of the Vermont landscape — Waterbury Center’s George Woodard or Stowe’s Rusty DeWees come to mind — but it only recently became part of the state’s nightclub scene.
First there were the comedy shows and contests at South Burlington’s Higher Ground, but now there is an organization devoted completely to Vermont comedy. The Vermont Comedy Club, the creation of the husband-and-wife team of Nathan Hartswick and Natalie Miller, is primarily a booking agency for comics, but it also creates its own shows. (Hartswick and Miller’s other project, the Burlington nonprofit Spark Arts, teaches comedy.)
On Thursday, Vermont Comedy Club opened a new monthly series, “Laugh by the Slice!” that, among the seven comics performing, offered not only a wide variety of styles but also a broad diversity of skill. It must be noted that much of the humor was quite raunchy — and often very funny.
There was no doubt about the skill of the evening’s headliner, Tony Bates. A Montpelier native now living in Middlebury, he has performed at Higher Ground, Burlington’s FlynnSpace and White River’s Tupelo Music Hall, and was a semifinalist in the 2011 “Funniest Comic in New England” contest at Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun Casino. In other words, he’s good.
Bates’ humor centered on his age, over 50, and being a Baby Boomer. (He might want to be more careful with critics in the audience who are even older.) His stories of family, sex with the wife and disdain for the Baby Boomer may not have been entirely familiar to the younger members of the audience, but his ability to convey the material smoothly, with wit and style — regardless of a few bombs — made him resonate with the audience.
Delivery seemed to be what separated the “men from the boys,” or the veterans from the newbies. In his role as host, Hartswick proved an able and attractive raconteur whether the jokes worked or not. Miller, too, in a short cameo, proved to be a very funny woman, particularly when the jokes went awry. Professionalism pays.
A relative newcomer who proved memorable was Christine Parker of Montpelier. Her self-deprecating humor surrounding her obesity and lesbianism were all the more effective because she never lost touch with her dignity. In anyone else’s hands, comparing her big butt and her young daughter’s lack of breasts might be ugly, but in Parker’s hands it was actually charming, as well as hilarious. This is one to watch — and she will be back.
Joel Chaves, actually a waiter at Positive Pie, was particularly ingratiating because of his “sensitive” delivery and often seeming just plain pathetic. The key is that he did it all with the observing wit of an onlooker. While there was too obvious a reliance on notes, this is another one to watch.
Will Betts and Hunter Congleton each had something to offer, but their lack of discipline interfered. (A performance can seem undisciplined and be effective, but if it is, in fact, undisciplined it won’t work.)
The Vermont Comedy Club’s “Laughs by the Slice!” is a welcome addition to central Vermont’s cornucopia of entertainment delights. If you’re looking for some light-hearted fun, give it a try.
Vermont Comedy Club
The Vermont Comedy Club presents “Laughs by the Slice!” the first Thursday of each month at Positive Pie II, 22 State St. in Montpelier. This year’s remaining performances are for ages 18 and older and at 9 p.m. Oct. 3, Nov. 7 and Dec. 9. Cover is $8; call 802-229-0453, or go online to www.positivepie.com. For information, visit www.vermontcomedyclub.com.