by Patheresa Wells
When we listen to a stand-up comedian, the hope is that their jokes will evoke bellyaching laughter. Good humor has the ability to take us out of ourselves, our daily struggles, and stresses. And with everything that has been happening in the last few years between the COVID-19 pandemic, BLM protests, and political unrest, I am just going to say we could use some laughs. And the founders of the Upper Left Comedy Festival agree.
The first-ever Upper Left Comedy Fest takes place today, May 12, through Saturday, May 14, in Capitol Hill, where a lineup of over 40 comedians will perform at two locations, Northwest Film Forum and Club Comedy Seattle. Upper Left co-founder and comedian Isaac Novak has performed stand-up in Seattle for 10 years, and he said that he’s “always thought this city would be great for a comedy festival. We have a scene full of talented comics and a city full of anxious people who could use a laugh.”
Novak combined forces with film producer and director Sarah Crowe and writer and director CB Shamah to launch the festival, featuring some of the best comics in the Pacific Northwest.
For Novak, the festival is vital in bringing the community together in support of local comedians. He said, “Now we’re coming out the other side of this pandemic, we feel like people need laughs more than ever. The reception from the comedy community, as well as fans, has been very enthusiastic. Again, this city is full of comedy fans and is bursting at the seams with comedic talent. We’re here to showcase that talent and give comics a reason not to move to LA, or at least not this year.”
One of the performers, Columbia City-based comedian Birungi, moved to Seattle in 2008 from Uganda to pursue a degree but found himself behind the microphone after watching a local comedy open mic. He says, “I went to this noodle place for a cup of soup. Next thing I knew, some guy was talking about his trauma on stage, to strangers. And they laughed. I was intrigued. I went up to him after and said, ‘Sorry about your trauma, but how and where do I sign up?’ He showed me the open mic schedule. I went to one and haven’t stopped since.”
One thing Birungi enjoys about comedy is how it can connect us. Traveling for shows has taken him to many places he would have never visited — big cities like LA, NY, Atlanta, and small towns like Santa Cruz, Salem, and Eugene, where he has met Americans of all shapes, sizes, and opinions — and says he has enjoyed most of them. At the beginning of Birungi’s comedy journey, it was all about the support he received from friends coming to his shows, but now it has become more of a personal journey where he seeks to connect with strangers.
The festival is significant for local comedians like Birungi because it is a chance to perform without the added cost of travel and build up a fan base at home. Novak noted that while this is the first year they are putting on Upper Left, they plan to make the festival “bigger and better after this year” to showcase even more local comedic talent while pointing out that there are great local shows happening all the time. Listening to each other’s stories while laughing brings us together when we have been kept, at least physically, apart.
When Birungi talks about his jokes, he says, “I have something for everybody. My style is conversational; some short stories can be controversial but palatable. I might challenge your thinking along the way. Overall, I promise a good time.”
If you are interested in laughs, a good time, and supporting local comedians, visit Upper Left Festival for schedule and ticket information.
Patheresa Wells is a Queer poet, writer, and storyteller who lives in SeaTac, Washington. Born to a Black mother and Persian father, her experiences as a multicultural child shaped her desire to advocate for and amplify her community. She currently attends Highline College in Des Moines. Follow her on Twitter @PatheresaWells.
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