After successfully flexing their funny bones for six rounds of competition, four University of Maryland, College Park funnymen found themselves on top of the college comedy scene.
Shawn Mazzarone, 22; Harrison Baum, 21; Isaac Hirsch, 19; and Luke Wiencecke, 20, are members of Maryland's stand-up troupe Off the Wall and were recently crowned finalists in the national, TBS-sponsored Rooftop Comedy Competition.
The students survived six rounds of competition, advancing in the pool of 32 schools based on online viewer votes and, in the final round of competition, votes of expert judges, including producer J.P. Buck of late night television's “Conan.”
Although students from Emerson College in Boston ultimately won out as America's funniest college kids on Tuesday, thereby earning a spot in Chicago's Just for Laughs comedy festival in June, the guys from Off the Wall say they're excited about the exposure the competition gave them.
“It feels cool to know that people who matter are watching our videos,” says Baum of Potomac.
The jokesters from Off the Wall boast varying comedic styles, much like their personalities. Hirsch, one of 12 MVPs in the competition, is described as a bit of a nerd by his fellow group members; his financial plan for the future includes hitting it big on “Jeopardy.” Mazzarone is a varsity wrestler at Maryland.
But the group believes their differences gave them an edge over the competition.
“We all have different types of comedy but we're all genuinely good,” says Baum. “We have no weak links.”
And even though they didn't take home the grand prize, the group is proud to be a part of a team that's gone farther than any Maryland team has in the past. “I'm proud of how we did no matter what the result is,” says Hirsch, of Ashton.
Hirsch and company are just the latest in a wave of up-and-coming stand-up comedians gaining momentum in the area. But despite growing popularity among young people, especially on college campuses, the Washington, D.C. area is not known for its stand-up scene.
“Traditionally, people are from here and get started here, but are discovered somewhere else,” says Ralph Cooper, 36, who along with Brad Ryan, 27, a friend he met at a D.C. Improv class, started District Comedy in 2011.
District Comedy hosts Awesome Thursdays with Brad & Ralph at the Regional Food and Drink (RFD) bar in Chinatown. When the duo started, they had to convince friends and family to come out and bulk up the audience. Now, they seat between 100 and 130 people a night and have a waiting list of comics wanting to perform.
And now, they're determined to transform Washington, D.C. comedy.
“Once we got the success of our show going, we kind of realized there was a greater thing we wanted to do,” says Ryan, of Bethesda. “So our mission statement...is to make D.C. a comedy city.”
Awesome Thursdays is open to any and all comedians, and Ryan and Cooper encourage new comics to come out.
“We definitely have a special place in our hearts for what we call our ‘virgins,' ” says Cooper, of Temple Hills. “Putting yourself out there...is not an easy thing to do.”
But Ryan and Cooper have some doubters to convince.
“I'm not super optimistic about it,” says Jack Slattery, 21, about Washington, D.C.'s prospect as a comedy city.
On April 18, Slattery was named Washington, D.C.'s funniest college student at D.C. Improv's ninth annual competition. The University of Maryland, College Park senior from Gaithersburg is a member of Maryland's sketch and stand-up group, the Bureau.
“[D.C.] attracts a type of person like your typical D.C., Ivy League...smug liberal,” says Slattery. “That kind of smugness and self-satisfaction, that's not conducive to comedy.”
Despite his bleak outlook on the Washington, D.C. audience, Slattery, who calls his comedy self-deprecating and dark, but at the same time cheery and funny, still enjoyed the D.C. Improv experience.
“It's rare that you get one of those unadulterated good feelings...I feel like that's a once or twice in a lifetime kind of thing,” says Slattery. “Plus all the glory and female attention of being the funniest comedian in Washington, D.C. isn't too bad either,” he jokes.
Slattery won an interview with Washington City Paper, 94.7 Fresh FM and, possibly most exciting, a one year supply of Popchips. The subjectivity of “a year's supply” apparently caused some tension between Slattery and the Popchips execs. “They were severely worried that I wasn't getting as many Popchips as I had imagined in my heart of hearts,” he says.
Like his fellow Maryland comics in Off the Wall, Slattery says stand-up is a means to an end. He would eventually like to write for TV. Mazzarone says he sees himself moving back home to New York or maybe Los Angeles, to pursue his dream of writing for a children's TV show although his quick-witted, often politically incorrect jabs are probably better suited for adult audiences. Annapolis native Wiencecke, whose first love is sketch comedy, says he'd like to write for “Saturday Night Live.”
But the guys of District Comedy are doing their best to make sure these young comics don't have to move to a new city to pursue their dreams.
“A lot of comics will turn around and say, ‘Things are going really well for me, I'm moving out to New York or I'm moving out to L.A.,' and it's kind of sad,” says Ryan.
“The goal here is to have it so that if you're a local comic, there's a way for you to have that almost New York-like experience,” adds Cooper. “The idea of being able to break in your own city should be something that should be able to happen. There's no reason it shouldn't be able to happen.”