Film to be screened at Red River turns lights on New Hampshire’s lively comedy scene
When people think of hot comedy scenes, they typically think New York, LA, even Boston. Way down the list – if it even makes it on a list – is New Hampshire. But to underestimate New Hampshire comics would be a mistake.
Forget for a second that the Granite State has produced the comedic likes of Adam Sandler, Seth Myers and Sarah Silverman. For the past several years, a community of comics have come up through the back rooms of pubs and clubs in Manchester, Nashua, Dover and Concord, carefully honing their craft by playing to ever-growing and grateful audiences. While some do it as a hobby, others are using these venues as a training ground for what they hope will be a career in comedy.
“New Hampshire has a long history of comedy,” said director Lisa Romagnoli. “And you can make it. But you have to commit. You can’t half-ass it.”
This evolution was first noted in Romagnoli’s short film, Wicked
Funny. Recently, Romagnoli went back to check in on those fledgling comics, the scene they helped create and the new comics they inspired. This new film, Wicked Funny 2, will premiere at Red River Theatres in Concord on Saturday.
“I think a theme of the new film is how hard it is to commit to something creative, and how much work it takes, and how much you end up having to give up to pursue comedy as a career,” Romagnoli said.
About five years ago, Romagnoli had just graduated from college and was looking for freelance work when The Shasteen in Manchester started having standup comedy nights. Romagnoli’s friend Kevin Cotter was a regular and occasionally asked Romagnoli to film his sets for him. After a while, other comedians were asking her to film them as well, and before too long she was shooting the entire night, every Wednesday night.
“After being there for so long and getting to know everybody and seeing all the amazing talent that was there, I decided this is a really exciting, burgeoning scene for comedy in New Hampshire that really hasn’t existed before,” she said.
She started interviewing the comics, ultimately producing the first film, a 20-minute short that premiered in 2010. But since then, many of the comedians have gone in different directions. Some have moved to bigger comedy towns like New York City and LA, some are still in New Hampshire and others gave it up all together.
“I wanted to check back in with everybody,” Romagnoli said. “So about a year ago, I started doing interviews over a period of about five months. I got as much standup footage as I could – because I’m not really filming them anymore. And it turned into this feature-length, hour and a half film.”
The film includes five new comics, several of those who have been on the scene since the beginning, and even some who just couldn’t make comedy work for them.
“It was really interesting to juxtapose those who are fresh to the comedy scene and wide-eyed and really excited about it and those that have been doing it for four years, five years, six years and how your opinions of comedy change,” she said. “You’re not naïve about how hard it is to make (comedy) a career anymore.”
That’s true for comedienne Lauren Bancroft, 24,of Nashua, who’s been doing comedy for about two years. At the time, she was trying to figure out what to do with her life. Always “the funny friend,” she decided she wanted to be on Saturday Night Live. If that were going to happen, she had to get cracking at her local comedy clubs.
With two years of standup under her belt, it’s still a third job to two others, one of which is in IT. But her plan is to save up enough to move to Chicago or New York by fall of next year.
“I’ve gotten a lot of help, and I’ve been very lucky in the local scene in that I’ve gotten a lot of support; and also my friends and family are very supportive,” Bancroft said. “I just feel like if anyone decides to do something, then that’s enough to make it happen for them. And I decided that it’s going to work, so I will make sure it does.”
This can-do moxie is common among the comics, as is that sense of fraternity with each other more communal that cutthroat. Comics in New Hampshire are more interested in helping each other than competing, said comedian Jay Chanoine, 27.
Chanoine, who has been a comic for four years in the area, said they go to each other’s shows, write together and generally support each other.
“There is a community here, which is weird,” he said. “And you don’t find it in many other places. . . . But it’s very rare and not something you would find in a bigger city. Those people there are more cutthroat than we are up here, because it’s so much more concentrated where there are these clubs that are open all week and a number of clubs you could be doing.
“It’s not like that here. We all know each other, we all run into each other. . . . You get comedians that come out to weekend shows when they aren’t even on, which is unheard of. The amount of support amongst the community of comedians is really what keeps people coming in.”
The film starts at 7:30 p.m. Red River Theaters is located at 11 S. Main St. in Concord. Tickets are $7 in advance and $10 at the door and can be purchased at wickedfunny2.brownpapertickets.com.