Arts Beat

Who Will Be Crowned D.C.'s Funniest Fed?

A government employee who goes by the name Platinum, above, got the crowd laughing during a comedy contest for federal workers. Daren Sweeney, left, also did stand-up on the first night of the event in Arlington.
A government employee who goes by the name Platinum, above, got the crowd laughing during a comedy contest for federal workers. Daren Sweeney, left, also did stand-up on the first night of the event in Arlington. (Photos By Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post)
By Rachel Beckman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 17, 2007

"Government worker" is not

a phrase normally found in the same sentence with "laugh riot." But last week at an Arlington theater, federal employees performed stand-up comedy in a competition for the title of "DC's Funniest Fed."

The results were a mixed bag, especially for the few private-sector employees in the audience. For example, this punch line got big laughs: "What do you expect? I'm a GS-12, but I'm a GS-12 at the Census Bureau. In Census years that's nothing!"

Hint: It's a joke about pay scale.

In fact, that punch line -- and a bunch of others that didn't require a GS-whatever to understand -- earned comic and Census Bureau employee Shahryar Rizvi a spot in the finals. About 80 people, many wearing suits, attended the contest's first round last Wednesday at Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse.

The competition continues next Wednesday and culminates June 22 with the crowning of the funniest federal employee.

Rizvi, 26, is one of only a few participants who had ever performed stand-up, according to the show's organizer, local comic Naomi Johnson.

Rob Raffety, who works at the Consumer Product Safety Commission, had no comedy experience before his appearance. "Just being married," he joked.

His set opened the show. He started off strong with a bit about the irony of running a 10K race to benefit arthritis. "What's next? A Gummi Bear binge for diabetes? Philly cheesesteaks for obesity?"

The set went downhill from there, he later admitted. Transitions were either clunky or nonexistent and he shuffled from foot to foot. A riff on Chinese politics left the audience silent.

Johnson came up with the idea for the competition while working at the Health and Human Services Department in 1999. At the time, she was out of the comedy scene because of a bad gig where a group of drunks heckled her. The trauma of the experience kept her off the stage for almost a decade.

But last year, she quit her job with a consulting firm to travel and perform stand-up. She also hosted a monthly variety show called "Comedy Night Live" at Alexandria's Old Town Theater.


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