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  1. A Week In A Virgin By Rhonda Hansome

    Saturday, November 21, 2015

    A Week In A Virgin!

    An audition for heart failure medicine, a talk with TV mogul Shonda Rhimes, an HB Studios reading of an original play I may soon direct, and a family funeral were all eclipsed by the Yonkers Comedy Festival.

    Months earlier in conversation, Jocelyn Chia and Pauline Herveau mentioned a festival North of Manhattan. Eventually I surfed the Comedy Soapbox Festival Page and noticed an open submission deadline. But do I really want to register?

    I'm a Bronx resident, proximity is a plus. 
    The NoMa Comedy social media buzz is exciting. 
    It's a lottery-I don't gamble. 
    It's a contest-I'm not competitive. 
    Today's comedy scene doesn't give AF for my "old school" TV credits:
    Caroline's Comedy Hour, Arsenio Hall Show, Stand-Up Spotlight, Joan Rivers Show, Evening At The Impov and Showtime At The Apollo. I had clocked HOURS of network talk show spots while Comedy Central was still called Ha! 

    To break up my current string of sporadic late-night comedy club spots, dismal open mics, and non-paying benefits for victims of feline aids, I registered. A few weeks later I got an email that began exactly like 3 previous festival rejections: 

    Thank you so much for your submission to the first ever Yonkers Comedy Festival!

    We had more submissions than we imagined and were overwhelmed with the amount of enthusiasm for the festival. After extensive reviews of our submissions, 
    So here comes the big kiss off...
    we have decided to accept you into the festival. Say what???
    We would like to offer you our congratulations and welcome you to a very exciting event!

    Whoohoo! Yonkers Comedy Festival, Here I come!

    The kick-off at Rory Dolans was an appetizer laden 
    schmooze-athon / photo opp,


    preceding a record breaking event: the most comics telling one joke each during a 90 minute period. A room full of comics can go either way, this night was an occupational pleasure. 

    Maryelle Turner MC'd our comedy cavalcade. I followed Hector Louis and Mike Celona to do my bit for the record setting challenge. I left the stage and bumped into my long time pal, Jeffrey Gurian. Fun with friends AND free appetizers too? 
    Not bad for a 1st time Festival!  

    The next night I walked into La Lanterna, where the narrow bar area is jammed with a dozen comics waiting for the contest to begin. I explored the venue and found a well placed portable stage and sturdy looking microphone ready for the comedy competition to ensue. I was buoyed by the crowd enjoying dinner in the cozy dining room. I returned to the bar area and waited. 

    When will the competition begin?

    By the time our lovely and affable MC

    stepped on stage tables were being cleared. To my experienced eye, this festival contest was in the check spot, industry talk for a legendary black hole on stage.

    Forget having the spotlight or the mic. 

    Nothing can compete with the action in the house, as servers criss-cross a room dropping the bill on each table. Chrissie did everything short of hurling herself across the stage (which she actually did the night before!) to wrangle the attention of the post dinner audience examining their receipts like they were at an IRS audit. 

    Ken Perlstein was first up and worked his set like a pro. What's worse than having the opening set in a cold room?  Being called back on stage so judges can rip you a new asshole in front of the audience voting for you. Ken took it like a man, but every comic in the room knew the jab of comedy's fickle finger of fate.

    I was 4th in the line-up and decided nothing, including the dwindling audience, would keep me from having a good time on stage. Hot damn, my Jedi mind trick worked. The audience was with me and laughed in all the right places through my set. After all the applause, a voice from the dark balcony on my right declared,

    "Your energy is too high."

    WTF?? This is why I need Al Sharpton on speed dial. Not content with solidly landing his right punch, the judge went for a knock-out"Are you like that in real life?"  "Uh huh", I nodded in stunned assent. The complimentary comments from 2 other judges and acclaim from fellow contestants barely registered as I replayed the 1st judge's deft dismissal of my set.

    I couldn't possibly win the contest thanks to judge #1, but the audience was instructed to vote for 3 comics; since they had enjoyed my set, I had a chance at the bottom 2. 

    Not so fast, Missy! Didn't anyone tell you it's "Winner Take All"?
    $100.00 cash 
    spot at Comedy at Stonewall 
    An audition spot at the Comic Strip 
    2 guest spots at Stand Up NY

    All go to 1 person
    The Very Funny Dan Lamorte

    One winner, no show, no place; I wasn't even an also ran. Back to the drawing board with one more show to go.

    A week before friends who'd received my festival promos, said they would NOT come to see me in a "Heckler Show." I was so excited about being accepted in the festival I hadn't even thought about the format; until the morning of the show. Driving from Bronx to Staten Island for a family funeral gave me plenty of time to think.

    What is the concept of a "Heckler Show"? I'd cut my teeth in the original rooms of Catch A Rising Star, Improv and Stand Up NY, where the show was on the stage. Hecklers need not even try. They were dealt with swiftly from the stage, or politely escorted out. Now the audience is urged to disparage comics' hard work?

    At the funeral I offered comfort to cousin Steven's mourning wife and children. I felt guilty not attending the repast but I had to do a "Heckler Show" in the Yonkers Comedy Festival.

    I climbed the stairs at Dou's Lounge and was greeted with, "Mandatory paid coat check." I ignored her request and was pleased to see Debbie Bazza at the door until she asked me if I was there to see the show or if I was on it. I lost it. And Debbie got the brunt of my frustration. 

    "Why am I here? Did I ignore my mourning family to be insulted by drunks?" 
    I was almost off the rails when the MC  
    calmed me down and helped me feel like a human being.
    In spite of their multi-tasks abounding, both JC and  (festival co-producer) Frank Pellegrino were understanding and solicitous of my issues. I was grateful.

    So I watched the"Heckler Show" from the sideline. Even though I actually laughed a couple of times, I'm too old school to sanction audience abuse of my comrades.

    Driving home after my week in a virgin comedy festival, a cliche rang all too true.

    "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

    Kudos and thanks to the Yonkers Comedy Festival sponsors, producers, organizers and all my fellow comics for an extraordinary and strengthening experience.

    Rhonda Hansome is a writer, actress, director who does storytelling and stand up.

  2. 5 comments:

    1. Sharon Renay said...

      My Condolences. You are Amazing, and an Inspiration. I am so sorry you had to put up with that s*** Big Hugs. And mostly, so wonderful of you to do the feline aids benefit!! ; )

    2. It may have been a disguised blessing that you weren't on stage to be heckled, but I'm sorry you actually didn't have to be there at all and could've been with family. Congrats though on being accepted into the festival. I think I should apply next time.

    3. Unknown said...

      Great read and the ending is inspiring.

    4. RHC said...

      Thank you for taking the time to read.

    5. Great read! Thanks for sharing your experience!

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