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D.C.-area nightlife, events and dining

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Bentzen Ball Comedy Festival

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By Lavanya Ramanathan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 16, 2009

Okay, stop us if you've heard this one: Sarah Silverman, Patton Oswalt and Lizz Winstead walk into a bar on U Street.

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Good one, right?

Except that it's true. Dozens of comedians from Los Angeles and New York are headed to Washington next week, lured here by the Bentzen Ball, an upstart comedy festival that will place them in venues better known for drinking, dance parties and bands.

Many of the performers you know because they're movie stars (such as Oswalt or Paul Rust) or television regulars (Laura Silverman or Natasha Leggero), or because they once made a viral video insinuating some pretty naughty goings-on with Matt Damon (ahem, Sarah Silverman). On the festival's busy days, they will flit from the Black Cat to Bohemian Caverns to the 9:30 club to HR-57, sometimes doing two shows a night. (You get the sense it will be hard to walk up 14th Street NW without bumping into a comedian.)

The ball is the biggest event ever attempted by the Web site Brightest Young Things. Comic Tig Notaro approached the editors about doing a festival, and they signed on to help pull the logistical strings while she enlisted her comedian friends.

For BYT, the Bentzen Ball (named for the Danish doctor who laughed so hard watching "A Fish Called Wanda" in 1989 that he died) represents a new effort to branch out.

"I think we were a little bit ready to do something different -- meet some new people, try some new formats," says editor Svetlana Legetic. "This is more fun for us in a sense, in that we are learning, we are pushing ourselves."

We caught up with five of the festival's performers to talk about their comic adventures and the appeal of performing in Washington.

Tig Notaro

Tig Notaro had been to the city only once, to perform in last year's DCcomedyfest, when she met up with a BYT writer for an interview and ended up befriending the whole crew. After the demise of that festival, Notaro set in motion an event of her own, calling in a few of her best friends to help. (She is, for example, BFFs with Sarah Silverman and appears on "The Sarah Silverman Program.")

Next year, her inner circle may get even bigger: She'll be playing mom to Kristen Stewart's Joan Jett in the movie "The Runaways," due out next year.

What are your impressions of Washington?

It's funny, because I'm sure to the rest of the world, D.C. is this city full of business suits and monuments, and I have been firmly lodged into the arts and party world of D.C. I forget there is a president in town.


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