One night, a stand-up comedian spotted a woman in the audience taking notes. She kept turning up at performances, but never responded to his teasing from the stage, never stayed behind to chat – just scribble, scribble, scribble.
“Joke thief,” he thought bitterly.
But from that inauspicious beginning, comedian Wayne Manigo and scribbler Mandy Dalton became close friends and eventually founders of the Washington DC Comedy Writing Group. The Group meets Mondays in Adams Morgan and is prepping for its debut at the Riot Act Comedy Theatre on February 7.
As it turned out, Dalton is a life-long student of humor – including a stint at the Nouveau Clown Institute in Barcelona, Spain – and keeps meticulous notes, which astonished Manigo when he was finally able to corner her after a show one night.
In discussing Dalton’s far-ranging pursuit, Manigo realized that Washington lacked a serious scene for those who wanted to do comedy, but not necessarily stand-up – a shadowy group that includes magazine and television writers, corporate trainers, clowns and non-exhibitionists with a simple passion for jokes. And so in January 2011 the Writing Group was born.
Though the focus is on having fun and developing new material, there is as much critiquing and advice available as you can handle. As Manigo says, “If you want to do comedy, come work with us, and we’ll help you get it done.”
“So you think funny can be learned?” I ask.
“It can be developed,” Manigo replies, diplomatically. “If you think you’re funny, you probably are.” And probably someone else thinks you are. “Reno 911 is going on eight years – I think it’s awful, but clearly someone thinks it’s funny!”
The group operates on two rules. First, there are none. Second, do not join if you are offended by anything – molestation, license plates as genitalia (don’t ask), women not being funny and black men joining the KKK are all on the menu any given night. Who could resist?
Not me, so on a Monday night, I directed the cabbie to Dahlak in Adams Morgan; he clapped and exclaimed, “the Eritrean place! I am from Eritrea.”
“Ok, yes – Eritrean place. Rough country, Eritrea.”
That opened the door to a monologue, complete with blood-curdling comments on neighboring country Ethiopia.
On arrival, the group was easily identifiable as the only non-Eritrean table in the joint. After starting with a half dozen humorists, the group has nearly 200 members, with about 15-20 attending every week.
First impressions: these were extremely nice people. I always imagined groups of comedians as roving packs of jackals, ready to reduce everyone and everything around them to a joke, but this was more like Toastmasters for comedians, or maybe AA. The newcomers were encouraged to share, but were never put on the spot. And every kind of funny was represented: creepy-funny, nerd-funny, Jesus-beard-funny – you name it, he or she was there.
After a few minutes of friendly banter, meetings start with introductions and icebreakers. “It’s a newspaper headline: fill in the blank,” a regular attendee announced. “They Didn’t Think I Could ______, but I Did!” And the room got silent for the first time while everyone scribbled furiously. Time was called, and those who wanted to share did so – and those who didn’t were left alone. For Washington, it was refreshingly uncompetitive. The rest of the evening was dedicated to discussing projects, trying out new material and, at the end, stand-up.
“Hey all you Ethiopians,” shouted one newcomer into the microphone. “I know what you’re planning!” He clearly needed to meet my taxi driver. I can’t print the rest, but somehow we were not thrown out. Chalk one up for the rules.
Performing February 7 at Riot Act Comedy Theatre: 801 E St. NW DC; 202-697-4900; www.riotactcomedy.com.
Washington DC Comedy Writing Group meets Mondays, 8:30 p.m., at Dahlak: 1771 U. St. NW, DC., @dccomedywriters, www.meetup.com/Washington-DC-Comedy-Writing-Group.