If you want to witness a comedy scene teetering between local and regional recognition before its big break, "before it was cool," this is your year, Charleston. Charleston's comedy scene is making moves, at least according to Josh Bates, one of the city's more active and high-profile comedians and the organizer of this year's Charleston Stand-up Showcase.
At the showcase this year you'll see Bill Davis, who's opened for Amy Schumer and Todd Barry; Shawna Jarrett, founder of the Charleston Comedy Bus; and Bates, who was nominated for City Paper's Best Local Comic.
"Last year was the first year that it got to that level [of recognition]," says Bates, "when more visiting comedians from all over came … because they realized that Charleston's comedy scene is pretty good."
Why? "The hustle," according to Bates. "[comedians] are working harder. That, and there's a huge want for comedy. I'm selling out 200-seat theaters. People want it and we're finally getting recognition from other cities … because we have the audience for it."
You can judge that for yourself when 12 local comedians take the stage at the Commodore this Friday and Saturday, mining audiences for laughs about things like Citadel Mall's transformation, the garbage fire that was 2019, and, inevitably, dicks.
Speaking of dicks, it's been quite a couple of years for gender power dynamic shifts, not to mention a few uproars in the comedy world itself.
When it comes to gender and racial diversity on stage, our comedy scene has less to boast about.
"We're a lot of bearded white dudes," says Bates, "and I'm one of those bearded white dudes." When asked what would uplevel the Charleston scene in years to come: "Diversity. One hundred percent. We need women and people of color."
Shawna Jarrett is one of the two women in this year's showcase. She's lived in Charleston since age 12 — "though I can't say I'm from here or a native Charlestonian will rise out of the gutter to kill me" — and she is constantly developing new material with the monthly writers group she hosts at Tin Roof, if only because of her "weapons-grade ADHD." The other woman is Sarah Napier, who "has a dazzling smile that hides her sharp fangs."
"I'm glad that there are two [women], I'll say that," Jarrett concedes.
The myriad obstacles to breaking into comedy, both real and imagined, are responsible for keeping a lot of prospective comics away, Jarrett believes, and it's one of her resolutions (along with others like Heath Richardson who founded Chucktown Comedy League for up-and-comers) to see more new and diverse comedians on stages around the city.
"Starting everything scary is hard," she says, "like climbing a wall. But for women starting the wall is made of penises."
If nothing else, Jarrett hopes more open doors in comedy will lead to an even better scene for everyone — "the better Charleston is, the better Charleston is for me."
Expect new material, plenty of local digs, and plenty of crowd work at The Commodore this year. Maybe with a bit of new blood this will be the year Charleston really breaks through. As Jarrett tells aspiring comedians: "Talk into every microphone you are allowed to for a while." —Enid Brenize
$12 Fri. Jan. 17 and Sat. Jan. 18 at 8 p.m.