Stay in the Loop
BSR publishes on a weekly schedule, with an email newsletter every Wednesday and Thursday morning. There’s no paywall, and subscribing is always free.
The Blue Heaven Comedy Festival returns to FringeArts for its annual weekend-long celebration of contemporary comedy. Featuring the best alternative comedy acts, the lineup includes Sarah Squirm (a.k.a. Sarah Sherman), who returns to Blue Heaven as a headliner after joining Saturday Night Live as a featured player. SNL fans know Sarah Squirm from her offbeat Weekend Update appearances and a boundary-pushing body horror sketch with singing meatballs.
The divine comedy
Fittingly, this year’s Blue Heaven takes unique and diverse approaches to comedy. According to FringeArts associate producer Zoë McNichols, the contributions of curatorial collaborators make this year’s festival extra special. “Friday night’s programming showcases some of the funniest and freakiest” performers from coast to coast, while “Saturday spotlights the best of local talent from our friends at Philadelphia’s own Crossroads Comedy Theater,” McNichols said.
Friday night brings the Philadelphia debut of Stamptown, an internationally-celebrated comedy collective. Founder and host Zach Zucker describes Stamptown as a “fun, fun-loving, and wild experience created as a protest to more traditional standup comedy lineups.” Instead of comedians standing on stage with a microphone, Stamptown performers “are more clowns and characters.” For instance, GiGi Holliday takes a witty, multicultural approach to burlesque, while Dylan Adler draws from a background in piano to perform musical comedy, like the song he created for the Covid comedy show Asians Strike Back. As Zucker noted, comedic performers “can do so much more with [their] time on stage” when breaking from the traditional format.
Not just clowning around
In a Blue Heaven first, Zucker will lead a clowning workshop for performers of all levels on Saturday afternoon. The workshop covers performance dynamics, audience sensitivity, reading the room, and more. This too differs from conventional standup comedy, as well as from circus clowns. Clowning can be interpreted as “learning how to be bad and loving being bad,” which makes a show enjoyable for the audience, Zucker said. McNichols added that Zucker is both “an incredible comedian” and “a classically trained clown in the Gaulier method” who brings a “low-brow meets high-art spirit that is so characteristically Fringe.”
The festival continues with Saturday’s Crossroads showcase, featuring performances from Shannon Fahey, co-host of the monthly Put It Down comedy and music series at Johnny Brenda’s, as well as Alyssa Al-Dookhi and Alejandro Morales. Al-Dookhi, a teacher at Crossroads Comedy and a YallaPunk artist fellow who has been featured on United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell, describes their approach as telling people something they didn’t know and ending with a laugh. This style developed from “being at the crossroads of intersectionality” as a nonbinary queer person and an Arab Muslim. Comedy, Al-Dookhi noted, offers “a succinct way to answer people’s questions.”
The Saturday lineup also includes improv guru Nick Gillette’s yurodivy, winner of the 2021 Fringe Festival Audience Choice Award. Featuring Alexandra Tatarsky, Aram Aghazarian, and experimental composer Fred Brown, yurodivy is a work of improvised physical theater. It differs from improv as you know it, and it may be a little unusual for a comedy festival, but yurodivy seems to fit right in with Blue Heaven 2022. Unpredictable and frequently hilarious, yurodivy aims at “spirited playfulness,” Gillette explained, “bridg[ing] a line between art and entertainment.” Letting go of the goal of laughter allows the performers to “stumble into things that are more poignant and more relevant for an audience.” This approach feels especially relevant as audiences and performers alike return to live theater to release pent-up energy and share a unique experience. Improvised work reflects “the livest of live theater,” as Gillette put it. And there is power in gathering, playing, and creating after so much isolation and routine.
Saturday night concludes with Sarah Squirm’s set. “In Blue Heaven tradition (something old, something blue ...) we’ve brought back a previous guest for a headliner spot,” McNichols pointed out. “I’m looking forward to the Fringe theater being filled with clowns and revelers for the first time following our renovation,” they added. Featuring fresh takes on comedy and the best comedic performers from around the country and Greater Philadelphia, this year’s Blue Heaven promises entertainments both familiar and unexpected.
What, When, Where
Fourth annual Blue Heaven Comedy Festival. Presented by FringeArts, 140 N. Columbus Boulevard. April 29-30, 2022. $25-$45. (215) 413-1318 or fringearts.com.
Proof of vaccination is required. Masks are optional.
Sign up for our newsletter
All of the week's new articles, all in one place. Sign up for the free weekly BSR newsletters, and don't miss a conversation.