As we reported a few weeks ago, Vermont’s first/best/only comedy club, Levity, is closing at the end of the month. To be sure, it’s a tough blow for a comedy scene that in recent years has really begun to legitimize itself in the eyes of casual fans. It’s not a knockout punch. But losing what had become something of a second home to many of the area’s up-and-coming comics has justifiably cast a degree of uncertainty around the future of comedy in Vermont. As the scene matures from adolescence into adulthood, there are legitimate questions regarding what the next phase of Vermont comedy will look like.
What is not in question is that the end of the Levity era is close at hand. This weekend, the club will host its final standup showcases. And on Thursday, March 28, a farewell open mic is planned to send Levity off to the great comedy club in the sky. In other words, opportunities to experience the joke joint are dwindling fast. So last Friday night, I made what was likely my last trip to Levity to pay my respects. And really, it couldn’t have been a more strangely appropriate experience.
The evening’s host was Raymond Waymond, a middle-aged local standup whose routine primarily centers on, well, being local and middle-aged — the old axiom “write what you know” applies to comedy, too. His riffs on marriage, Viagra, divorce, sex, Viagra, poking fun at podunk towns, and Viagra, while a little predictable, nonetheless had a certain stilted charm.
Josh Star has come a long way since last I saw him, roughly one year ago. He’s harnessed the manic energy that once threatened to derail his sets, which allows his delightfully warped perspective room to breathe. The results are often hilarious, something like Jim Gaffigan on speed.
Joe Gingras was a late but welcome addition to the bill. His painfully self-aware style of humor was endearing and a nice contrast to Star’s more aggressive approach.
Levity manager Carmen Lagala continues to impress. I’ve caught her on a few occasions since her breakout performance at the 2011 Higher Ground Comedy Battle, but I’ve never seen her so at ease onstage as on this night. She’s got great material and an increasingly commanding stage presence. That’s a potentially powerful combination. She’ll be among the comedians featured at both of the club’s final showcases this weekend, by the way.
At the midpoint of the evening, my companions and I — one of whom had never been to Levity and had been dubious of the caliber of local comics — were having a great time. From our perch at a back corner table of the near-capacity room, the laughs flowed as freely as the PBR. (Maybe those things are not unrelated?)
Unfortunately, the word soon came in that the evening’s headliners, a trio of comics from Boston — including BTV expat James Huessy — had gotten stuck in bad weather en route to the club from Beantown and might not make it in time. They didn’t.
The evening’s last remaining scheduled comedian, 2012 HG Comedy battle champ Kyle Gagnon, admirably doubled his set — no small task in comedy — riffing with the crowd and regaling us with sordid tales of being young, bored and drunk. (Twenty-two-year-old me would have gotten along with Gagnon famously.) His set wasn’t without some rough moments. But considering he’d planned on 10 minutes and did more than 20, it was impressive. (Gagnon will also appear at Levity this Saturday, March 23.)
You know you’re in trouble when you’re at a comedy club and the host starts soliciting audience members to perform — doubly so when one actually does. But that’s essentially how the night ended, as Waymond, clearly out of material, finally conceded the inevitable and apologetically bade us good night.
It was an inglorious end to an otherwise glorious time, which, in a way, is something like a microcosm of the Levity experience itself.
Levity has been a grand experiment; a great idea that ultimately failed despite good intentions. But if nothing else, it has opened many local eyes to the burgeoning comedic talent in Vermont. Those eyes won’t close just because Levity does. And I have a feeling the local comedy scene will continue to evolve and improve no matter where it calls home.
Thanks, Levity. It’s been a fun ride.
Oh, by the way. Todd friggin’ Barry is headlining the Green Mountain Comedy Festival this year. That is all.
Signal Kitchen is about to begin what is unquestionably the club’s strongest slate of shows to date. Gazing ahead at the calendar reveals a striking lineup between now and the end of May, including Caspian and the Black Atlantic this week — Sunday, March 24, and Monday, March 25, respectively — Darwin Deez (March 31), Baths (April 6), Jamie Lidell (April 10), Born Ruffians (April 12) and Thurston Moore’s Chelsea Light Moving (May 16), to name but a few. We’ve long been salivating over the alt-venue’s potential. It looks like SK is really stepping up to the plate. Good times.
Speaking of SK, the Hug Your Farmer crew, led by the Sweet Remains’ Rich Price, is set to unveil a new semi-regular series at the venue this Thursday, March 21, called Select Sessions. For each installment, the local all-star band featuring Price, Will Evans (Barefoot Truth), Josh Panda, Russ Lawton, members of the Grift and others, will be recreating a classic pop album in its entirety. First up, Paul Simon’s Graceland.
That Grace Potter and the Nocturnals are rock stars is no longer debatable. (They are. Deal with it.) But there are degrees of stardom. And recently, GPN reached a new level, going from “Rock Band That Contestants on TV Talent Shows Cover” — which, FYI, is just a notch above “That Band From That Commercial” — to “Rock Band That Lesser-Known Artists Cite as Influences.” This week, one such band will, ahem, grace our cozy hamlet, New Hampshire’s Gretchen & the Pickpockets, who cite GPN as an influence on their ReverbNation page. GP play GPN’s home state with a gig this Thursday, March 21, at Red Square in Burlington. No pressure.
I always appreciate when readers take the time to write in and express enthusiasm for a local band they’ve recently discovered and think I should know about. One such missive came in last week from a reader named “Jim” regarding the residency everybody’s favorite ginger guitarist, Bob Wagner, has going every Monday at the Monkey House. “I lucked into the sickest set of serious bluesy rock tonight,” writes Jim, adding that he feels “very lucky to have experienced that level of music locally. Too good to believe!” Actually, Jim, I do believe that. Now if we could just get Bob to release that Movelles album…
Last but not least, This Week’s Sign That Warmer Days Really Do Lie Ahead Despite the Fucking Blizzard We Just Got: Higher Ground has announced another artist for this Summer’s Concerts on the Green Series at Shelburne Museum. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros will play the museum’s stately lawn on Tuesday, June 11. Tickets go on sale this Friday, March 22, at highergroundmusic.com.
Once again, here is a look at what was on my iPod, turntable, eight-track player, etc., this week.
The Shivas, Whiteout!
David Bowie, The Next Day
Devendra Banhart, Mala
Son Volt, Honky Tonk