Laugh Faceoff

D.C.’s March Madness of Comedy looks to unify and spotlight the city’s growing funny business

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Christian Hunt grew up in Glover Park, across the street from Fugazi founder Ian MacKaye. In 2010, Hunt had the idea to start a variety show that would showcase D.C.’s best comedians and musicians, so he emailed MacKaye for advice.

Hunt’s first thought was to put a pitch together and raise some money, but MacKaye stopped him short: “He says, ‘Look, if you want to pitch something, move to New York or Los Angeles. In D.C., we do things,’ ” Hunt recalls.

Three months later, the Capital City Showcase was born. The live variety show, which Hunt hosts, is now a monthly event at the District of Columbia Arts Center in Adams Morgan. The Showcase is Hunt’s way of embodying MacKaye’s do-it-yourself ethos.

This month, Hunt, 30, is teaming up with Bethesda-based District Comedy to launch the biggest Showcase-sponsored event yet: D.C.’s first March Madness of Comedy. The 36-comedian tournament begins tonight at Silver Spring’s Fire Station 1 and culminates on March 23 at DCAC.

Brad Ryan, 28, who co-founded District Comedy in 2010 with comedian Ralph Cooper, sees the event as a logical step toward making D.C. a well- respected comedy town.

The problem, Ryan says, is that whenever D.C. comics get good, they leave for other cities. Take Seaton Smith, for example, who decamped to New York a few years ago. “I wish someone like Seaton could stay in D.C.,” Ryan says, getting to the core of District Comedy’s mission — to make it easier for comedians to maintain a career here.

“All the [comedy] promoters in the area, they all have the same thing in mind,” Ryan says. “They want people to be able to walk into a comedy show anywhere in the city and see people they recognize.”

Christian Hunt hosts the CapitalCity Showcase, which co-organized D.C.'s March Madness of Comedy.
Christian Hunt hosts the CapitalCity Showcase, which co-organized D.C.’s March Madness of Comedy.

Though the event takes its name from the NCAA basketball tournament, it isn’t a bracket-style competition. For the next three weeks, the tourney will take over District Comedy’s free weekly stand-up shows at Fire Station 1 on Mondays, Petworth’s Blue Banana on Tuesdays and Chinatown’s RFD on Thursdays (with the exception of round 2; see below for details).

The first round will feature 12 D.C.- area comics at each venue; two more rounds follow and then, on March 23, six comedians will battle for the crown and a modest cash prize at DCAC. The audience will vote (determining who advances), though a panel of judges will ultimately name the victor. While the judges deliberate, comedian Tommy Sinbazo will perform a headlining set.

Ryan and Hunt stress that the tournament isn’t about crowning D.C.’s best comedian. It’s about having fun and promoting the area as a hub for comedy.

“Fun really is the underlying word,” Hunt says. “It’s not about who’s the best. It’s about getting a lot of eyes on the D.C. comedy scene.”

The Details

D.C.’s March Madness of Comedy starts tonight and runs for three weeks. All shows, except the final round, are free. The first round features 12 comics at each venue; the second round has eight each; there are four each in the third; and then, finally, six comedians battle at the championship.

Mondays: Fire Station 1, 8131 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring; March 4, 11 and 18, 7:30 p.m., free; 301-585-1370. (Silver Spring)

Tuesdays: Blue Banana, 3632 Georgia Ave. NW; March 5, 12 and 19, 8:30 p.m., free; 202-713-5011. (Georgia Ave)

Thursdays: RFD, 810 7th St. NW; March 7 and 21; 8:30 p.m., free; 202-289-2030. (Gallery Place) (Note: round 2, March 14, will be at a venue TBA.)

Championship Round: District of Columbia Arts Center, 2438 18th St. NW; March 23, 10 p.m., $15; 202-462-7833. (Woodley Park)

Improv Madness

Why should D.C.’s stand-ups get to have all the March Madness fun? The Washington Improv Theater’s FIST —  Fighting Improv Smackdown Tournament — begins March 14, with 67 three-person improv teams battling it out in a bracket-style contest. Over four weeks, teams will face off, with audience votes determining who advances. The winners get bragging rights and the satisfaction of knowing they are better at making stuff up than anyone else in D.C. (outside of Capitol Hill).

Source, 1835 14th St. NW, March 14-April 13, Thu.-Sat., $10-$20, see Washingtonimprovtheater.com for details. (U Street)

Rudi Greenberg is Express' Weekend Pass editor and comedy columnist.
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Rudi Greenberg | March 1, 2013