The Downbar Stand-up comedy showcase, which will be putting on its fourth event this Saturday at Linda’s Bar and Grill, offers the chance to see local comedic talent for free.
The showcase puts a spotlight on six stand-up comedians from Chapel Hill and surrounding cities, promising a night of laughs and good food.
Eric Clayton, who started the Downbar Stand-up showcase and will host the event on Saturday, said he tries to introduce audiences to as many exciting new comedians as possible.
“I haven’t double-booked anyone yet, which I’m proud of,” Clayton said. “When I was starting out this idea, I just wrote down every single comic I could think of that I’d seen perform at open mics. Now, it’s getting to the point where people I’ve booked in the past are recommending other comics and introducing me to other people.”
Among the comics performing this Saturday is Bry Burguesa, who focuses on whatever he finds funny — even things that may, at first look, seem too serious.
“I’ll talk about my depression, or my mental stuff, or being Black," Burguesa said. "Things that aren’t necessarily funny, but there’s humor in there. I feel like there’s humor in everything.”
Burguesa has years of experience in the comedy world.
“Stand-up, I’ve been doing on and off for three years, and this past year I’ve been getting more serious about it," he said.
Not all of the comics have so much experience. Janeen Slaughter, who will be performing at Downbar Stand-up IV, is relatively new to stand-up.
“I actually took the class at Goodnights, Stand-up 101, in January,” Slaughter said. “I graduated in March, and I actually got out there to start doing stand-up around May.”
Slaughter's career has gotten off to a quick start, and she’s been able to do shows in Raleigh, Clayton, Durham and Chapel Hill. She said this has taught her a lot about adapting to different locations.
“You have to gauge your crowd and tweak your material based upon what’s in the audience,” Slaughter said.
In fact, Slaughter said she initially didn’t know what to expect from Chapel Hill audiences.
“Being an African-American woman, initially I was a little apprehensive because I didn’t know how I’d be recepted (sic) in Chapel Hill," she said. "I didn’t know if my jokes were going to be ‘too Black.’ But I’ve been very well-received in the venues that I’ve been in in Chapel Hill. The people have been shockingly amazing. I love it.”
A variety of experiences is something that Clayton values. He tries to feature a diverse group of talent, featuring comics across a wide spectrum of race, gender and life experience. He attributes his ability to cultivate diversity to his connections in the comedy world, such as Kathleen McDonald, a founding member of all-female comedy troupe Eyes Up Here Comedy and a regular performer at the PIT Chapel Hill.
“(Kathleen is) a community member who cares a lot about women having outlets in the comedy world, because that’s in the past been a kind of male-dominated community,” Clayton said. “Kathleen is really invested in that, and she does stand-up workshops for women that are open to the public. Thanks to her, I’ve been able to hear about some of the rising women doing stand-up in the community, and that also helps me have a balanced showcase in terms of diversity.”
There are many draws to local comedy, but the community is something that all the comedians said they enjoy. Slaughter said she finds enjoyment in the social elements of stand-up.
“I think local comedy scenes like this are really great because they give someone like myself, who’s very new to this, an opportunity to step out of their comfort zone,” Slaughter said. “I feel like the local comedy scene has kind-of nurtured me, so to speak… I’ve had some successes, and I’ve had some failures, but even in my failures, I feel like they’re still right there cheering me on.”
Clayton also said he thinks that the communal experience of stand-up comedy is what makes it special.
“Even if someone has an awful set, it’s a shared experience," he said. "It’s a beautiful thing to see a group of people who are passionate about doing something that they don’t get paid for, or rarely get paid for, and they put a lot of time into. It’s a really beautiful thing when that performance comes together and people do have that shared experience.”