Stand and deliver: Local comedians join forces as opportunities grow

Sunday, September 21, 2014


Shadoe Barton, member of local comedy collective Harpoon Presents.


Bene Garcia, member of local comedy collective Harpoon Presents.

Open Mics in Lawrence

Make your comedy debut at these locations:

• Conroy's Pub, 3115 W. Sixth St., 10 p.m. Tuesdays and Saturdays

• The Replay Lounge, 946 Massachusetts St., 6 p.m. Thursdays, before "Good Time" showcase

• Gaslight Gardens, 317 N. Second St., 9 p.m. Sundays

• Harbour Lights, 1031 Massachusetts St., 8 p.m. Wednesdays

Upcoming event:

Joke Fighter II: Turbo Championship Edition Hyper Fighting, 10 p.m. Thursday at the Jazzhaus, 926 1/2 Massachusetts St. $5 cover

12 comics compete in this round and the top four move onto the championship, "Judgment Night," Nov. 20.

Visit Harpoon Presents on Facebook for updates and upcoming shows.


Rob Schulte, member of local comedy collective Harpoon Presents.


Joe Noh, member of local comedy collective Harpoon Presents.


Comedian Kevin White, right, and Miles Adams share a laugh on stage as Light performs his routine as part of the showcase following open mic night hosted by Harpoon Presents at the Replay Lounge, 946 Massachusetts, on Thursday, Aug. 14.


Leigh Nelson performs her comedy routine during the open mic of "Good Time" at the Replay on Aug. 14.


Comedian Kevin Brody performs as part of the showcase following open mic night hosted by Harpoon Presents at the Replay Lounge, 946 Massachusetts, on Aug. 14, 2014.

As Shadoe Barton approaches the Replay stage for her stand-up slot, nearly everyone in the crowd welcomes her with eager applause.

The Replay is sprinkled with fellow comedians from collective Harpoon Presents, regular attendees, and new faces who probably walked into the weekly comedy showcase unintentionally on their way to the bar.

Barton eases into a story about a one-night stand on her birthday that went horribly wrong. The details are personal and exceedingly raunchy, each one adding another level of uncomfortable, unsettling, but are, most importantly, universal.

“I tend to talk about far off relatable things that people don’t normally talk about,” Barton says. “They hear it and they tend to think, ‘I can’t believe she’s talking about these things, and, yes, I know exactly what she’s talking about.’”

Her vulgar use of detail — from naming the worst part of the walk of shame to making sound effects while describing sexual acts — are enough to make almost any audience member lose their cool in fits of laughter.

“Adult? That doesn’t quite do it. Inappropriate? Eh," Barton says about her style. "Nasty. Let’s go with nasty.”

She has earned herself a reputation of the queen of “nasty” comedy, at least among the other many comedians popping up in Lawrence.

“Shadoe is just hilarious,” says Harpoon member Bene Garcia. “She’s definitely the funniest person in Lawrence. The funniest lady definitely, but might be in the running for funniest person.”

Harpoon Presents

Barton wouldn't be any good without the increased opportunities to perform in town, she says.

Comedian and Lawrence resident Zach White formed a collective of local comics called Harpoon Presents in 2008, but was too busy as a Kansas University student to help it take off before moving to New York to pursue a journalism career. He spent time observing and performing comedy in the city, encountering a woman who worked a 9-to-5 job but still participated in 25 to 30 open mics a week.

“It was crazy,” White says, “but getting that kind of practice, that’s how you do it.”

Returning to Lawrence last fall, White started to implement the same comedy infrastructure that he saw in New York.

Local comedians needed more chances to perform and at various levels, he says.

Level one is the open mic for anyone to hop onstage for three to five minutes. If you’re good, White says, you advance to the second level by getting asked to do a showcase for a lengthier amount of time.

The third level is reserved for themed shows, where they might combine improv and stand-up, for example, and have participants riff on a spontaneous topic.

“It’s sort of adding extra layers of complexity on top,” White says.

Harpoon Presents made a serious push for weekly inclusion at venues last September, and it’s been on the rise ever since, with more bars setting aside time and space for goofy Lawrencians, in addition to bringing in touring comedians to Lawrence for Harpoon's ongoing series called “Comedy Freakout.”

“At this point in Lawrence right now, there’s at least four, if not five, open mics a week,” says Harpoon member Joe Noh, “which is a huge difference since I started in September with just one.”

When showcase event “Good Time” lost its original spot at The Eldridge, local comic Rob Schulte, found a spot for Harpoon at The Replay. This gained them greater exposure and a regular audience of 50 to 70 people every Thursday.

“Pretty much anywhere on Mass. Street can be converted into a place that you can do stand-up,” says Schulte, who helps organize and coordinate shows for Harpoon. “Not every place can be converted into a place where you can play music.”

The next step for Harpoon is producing Web content to extend their presence beyond Lawrence. White says Stanford and Sons in Kansas City has been known for too long as the only comedy club worth knowing in the region. It's unfortunate, he says, because we're doing far more outside-the-box events in Lawrence.

“There’s hilarious people here,” says the comedian Garcia. “Not only is there art and music in Lawrence, but there’s comedy, and there’s good comedy.”

How to make a joke

Barton, by day an esthetician at Salon Di Marco, had been told by her friends that she should try stand up for years before she finally went to “Who Need Practice?” at Gaslight Gardens in January of this year for her first open mic.

“It’s way different being a funny person than just telling successful jokes,” Barton says.

She models crafting jokes off one of her comedy idols, Richard Pryor, by turning her set into a series of short stories.

“I’ve always been a storyteller so that’s what is easier for me,” Barton says. “It’s easier to put a bunch of little funny details.”

Barton draws on her own experiences and takes them to new levels to execute the joke effectively.

A long way down the road and with much more practice, Barton says, she'd like to do comedy professionally. But for now, she's enjoying the ride.

“I remember telling my friend, ‘If I could remember all the happy, funny things that have happened to me, I’d be a happier person,’” she says. “I think trying to tell jokes has made me happier in the sense that something funny happens and then it’s in print and it’s there forever.”

When writing each joke, she provides at least three alternative directions in parentheses to give herself an opportunity to consider approaching her set slightly differently each time and help ensure a natural delivery.

“It seems a lot more like it’s off the cuff because it kind of is and in the moment you’re still kind of putting things together,” she says.

Bombs away

Even great comedians tell their share of jokes that bomb or have entire performances without getting much response from the audience, if any.

Jokes as dirty as Barton’s can’t always go over well. She'll admit she's wanted to leave the stage mid-set when that happens, but it's part of the experience.

"Finish it out," she says. "Power through. It can’t get any worse.”

Her worst experience was a 30th birthday party show at The Eldridge with some audience members in their late 70s.

“I tried to dumb it down, sex it down, and still people were just getting up and leaving,” Barton says. “Nobody really laughed.”

Luckily, she says, the sting eventually fizzles out.

Some comedians play to the crowd, but Barton says she is too high-strung to go off script. She prepared the material, went over it “a million times” and that’s what she is going to do no matter what.

“I don’t know what I’d do if someone started heckling me,” she says. “I’ve never had to deal with it, and God willing, I never have to. It’s nerve-wracking enough to get up there and try to be funny.”