The Federal Diary
The Federal Diary
Joe Davidson

Federal Diary: Who’s the Funniest Fed? Competitors vie to find out.

Dayna Smith/For The Washington Post - Some of the contestants in the semifinal round of the Funniest Fed contest. Left to right, Lisa Dee, Brandy Reece, Nate Johnson, Doug Hecox and Dave Johnston June 13 at the State Theatre in Falls Church, Va. All but Hecox made it to the final round.

No matter how you view federal employees, attending a Funniest Fed competition will change it.

A dozen federal workers competed for that title Wednesday night in the semifinals of this year’s competition.

Joe Davidson

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about the federal workplace that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. Davidson previously was an assistant city editor at The Washington Post and a Washington and foreign correspondent with The Wall Street Journal, where he covered federal agencies and political campaigns.

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Naomi Johnson came up with the idea after doing some comedy open mikes around town nine years ago. She met a few others who were feds by day and comics by night.

“I started thinking that there must be a lot more feds out there who have done comedy or have always wanted to,” she said.

She was right.

Johnson, who works at the Department of Homeland Security, started the competition in 2007. Thirty people applied, and only about that number attended the first show.

Far more than that were in Wednesday’s standing-room-only crowd — everyone received Groucho glasses and nose — at the State Theatre in Falls Church.

A field of 12 comics was whittled down to seven by a vote of the audience and a panel of judges. Four were in the experienced category, and three were novices.

The June 22 finals will be at the Lincoln Theatre, on U Street NW in the District. Johnson said a portion of this year’s ticket sales will go to the Wounded Warrior Project. The winners in each category get $500 and Oscar-like trophies in the form of Geico’s gecko, the sponsor’s mascot.

Here’s a little bit about the finalists:

Lisa Dee (a.k.a. Lisa MacLeod) is a 50-year-old District native who works for the Justice Department.

“I got into comedy on a dare,” she said. “Friends had been bugging me for years to try stand-up, and one fateful New Year’s Eve they dared me to make it my resolution. In a momentary lapse of reason (and probably too many beers), I took the dare and two weeks later I was at a local open mike. I got a really good audience reaction and got hooked on it.”

Though the Funniest Fed strives to be a PG-13 show, only one of MacLeod’s jokes likely would make it past this newspaper’s editors:

“I recently turned 50. Now not only can I not remember anything, but now I don’t care! The other day, I was in a staff meeting, spewing what I thought was profound federal brilliance. But when I looked around, everyone was looking at me like I was a mental patient! So I thought, “What’s up with that?” . . . After the meeting I was in the bathroom washing my hands and I looked in the mirror, and to my horror I only had makeup on one eye! I looked like I had been giving everyone the stink-eye all day!”

Carson Gross, a 26-year-old Patent and Trademark Office employee, is from South Dakota and has lived in the District for almost four years.

“I got started in comedy because I realized a couple years ago that some of my happiest memories were when I’d have a roomful of buddies laughing and having a good time,” he said. “I want to create that atmosphere for more people, so I try to do that when I perform.”

But apparently only when he performs. Unlike other finalists, Gross declined to offer a sample joke from the semifinals because he didn’t want to provide “any more spoilers for the show.” His loss.

Nate Johnson is 28 and lives in Arlington. He works for the Social Security Administration.

“I dealt with a lot of stage fright my first year,” he said. “I literally threw up in the parking garage next to Ballston Mall before my first set. . . . I did an open mike in a bar where a rat literally crawled across my foot. I still go back there when I need stage time.”

His joke: “ ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is a great story, but I feel like Tolkien, the author, might have just been a nerd who was really frustrated with his marriage. Because when you break those stories down, they’re about a group of men, who chase after a ring, and as soon as they get it on their finger, it devours their soul. And even if they get it off, it’s like half of them is just gone, forever.”

Dave Johnston, 27, lives in the District and works for the Office of Personnel Management.

“Last summer, I performed an ill-conceived set at a barbecue at OPM. The jokes were hit-and-miss, but the crowd was supportive,” Johnston said. “Afterward, Director [John] Berry shook my hand, told me I did great and then said those four words every aspiring comic longs to hear: ‘Comedy is really hard.’ ”

His best one-liner: “There are some really unfair myths and misunderstandings about feds. You may have heard some talk recently about how feds are paid too much. Let me just say this: Feds are not overpaid . . . and my butler will totally back me up on that.”

David Miller, 38, lives in the District and works for the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

His opening joke: “How’s everybody doing tonight? I asked that once at a show — ‘How’s everybody doing tonight?’ and some lady in the back yelled out, ‘I don’t presume to be able to answer for everybody.’ That’s the last time I let my mom come to one of these things.”

Brandy Reece, 36, an Arlington resident, works for Congress and got her start in stand up “as a precocious 5-year-old listening to the adults at dinner parties talk and then I’d insert my little quips. Everyone would laugh. Except my mother. She was just trying to make sure I didn’t turn out to be a brat. Her efforts were wasted.”

She jokes about her breasts, even names them. And we’ll leave it at that.

Brett Yellen is 33, lives in the District and works for DHS. “My informal start stemmed from trying to entertain my family and friends,” he said, “and the sense of humor I needed in my former career as a middle-school teacher.”

His joke: “Self-checkout has actually changed the way I shop at the supermarket. I am so afraid of the self-checkout that I won’t buy anything that doesn’t have a clear bar code on it. Unless you count Fruit by the Foot, I haven’t bought a piece of produce in nearly three and a half years. I think I’m developing scurvy.”

Twitter: @JoeDavidsonWP

Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson.

 
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