“My parents hate me slash don’t trust me, so they sent me to boarding school 15 minutes from my house,” LizaBanks Campagna deadpans on stage at Science Club’s open mic night.
Her parents have to trust her, though. She is an unsupervised teenager at a bar in Dupont Circle doing a stand-up comedy set. If she had a curfew, she would be breaking it.
For more than a year, 14-year-old LizaBanks has been a regular at open mike nights in Washington and Virginia. She estimates that she’s done stand up between 40 and 60 times. She performs so often that her boarding school, Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Va., allows her to count her off-campus comedy trips as an extracurricular activity, like soccer or lacrosse. The arrangement lets her leave campus almost every weekend to venture into D.C. and tell jokes. (LizaBanks has been telling audiences she’s 15 for several months to be taken more seriously on stage, but her fifteenth birthday isn’t until August.)
Even though most of the comedians she shares stage time with are at least a decade older, she’s not on the only teenager on the D.C. scene, as the Washington City Paper chronicled. Another 14-year-old comic, Leo Lytel frequents many of the same open-mike nights as LizaBanks, but she says their styles aren’t similar.
Max Rosenblum, who co-produces and hosts the show at Science Club, likes having Leo and LizaBanks perform at his shows because he tries to get a roster of comics that reflects D.C.’s diversity. He says Washington’s comedy scene is competitive, but also, “a great place to really come up and learn and really experience comedy for the first time.”
Rosenblum started doing stand-up comedy a couple of years ago after he graduated from college, and is impressed with LizaBanks’s initiative. “I know I couldn’t do that when I was 14 and 15,” he said.
Attempting to be a stand-up comic before you have a driver’s license has its difficulties, though. Her friends can’t see her perform at bars since they are all under 21. She has to reach out to venues – mostly bars – and ask permission to get in the door to perform. Some have refused out of fear they will lose their liquor license.
Her age doesn’t seem to matter much to the crowds, though, because she’s funny, her dry and self-aware delivery complementing her writing. She can transition from making jokes about pedophiles (“Just philosophically–what if there is free candy in the van?”) to riffing on her father’s recent obsession with CrossFit (“Which you would know if you ever talked to him, ever.”)
She mentions her age, but she doesn’t want it to be her only joke. “I don’t want to use that as a crutch,” she said. “I try to write stuff that doesn’t lean too much on how I’m , but is funny because I’m saying it.”
Rosenblum says the D.C. comedy scene rewards individuals who are driven and stick around, like LizaBanks. Since she’s been performing for over a year, she’s become just one of the comics – “not just the 14-year-old comedian on the scene.”
According to her father, Christopher Campagna, LizaBanks’s interest in comedy started after she read Tina Fey’s memoir “BossyPants.” He would also find her watching episodes of “30 Rock” and “Saturday Night Live” like she was studying it.
Like most teenagers, LizaBanks hid her stand-up hobby from her parents at first. She told them she was going to small shows with D.C. comics, but left out that she was performing.
When attending a comedy camp in New York for teenagers, LizaBanks told her father she was going to open mics all over the city. “That’s when it clicked,” Campagna said. “Like, she wanted to go there so she could go and get up.”
Her dad may not know that he’s the innocent target of one of her jokes, since her parents have never been to one of her shows. Compagna was frustrated at first that his daughter wouldn’t let him see her perform, but a friend, who is also a stand-up comic, told him to be patient. “His advice to me was: Respect that boundary. Because she needs to find her voice,” he said.
And LizaBanks says she knows she has a lot to improve on. She says she’s working on transitions between jokes, and also on the best way to open and close a performance.
All of this will have to wait a little while though. She’s currently far from the comedy scene, spending the summer at camp.
LizaBanks Campagna will be in New York from Aug. 4-15, hoping to perform there, and performing in D.C. after that. Follow her at @DownbytheLBanks for more information about upcoming shows.