Last year, local comedian and Underground Comedy founder Sean Joyce helped spearhead the inaugural 202 Comedy Festival, which featured comics who were either based in D.C. or got their start here. This year, the festival returns with a new name — Underground Comedy Fest — and a broader focus that welcomes funny people from all over. “If we’d kept the same goal in mind this year, we’d essentially have to book all the same shows and comedians because we got almost everybody,” Joyce says. One person Joyce couldn’t book last year was Rory Scovel, an L.A.-based comic who started his career in D.C. in 2004. Scovel will return to Washington this year to headline the festival, now renamed after Joyce’s production company, which books countless shows in the city each week. The festival, which includes 14 shows and dozens of comics, kicks off Wednesday and runs through April 1. Here are some of the comedians and performances that Joyce says you won’t want to miss.
Big Hunt Opening Showcase: Joyce hosts the festival’s first show at his main venue: The Big Hunt’s satanic-themed basement bar. He’s excited for New York’s Casey James Salengo, who just nabbed a Comedy Central special and recently launched the podcast “We’ve Never Seen ‘The Wire’ ” with fellow festival performer Eli Yudin. “Casey is kind of loud and excitable,” Joyce says. “He’s very gentle-seeming and then he gets loud — in a very funny way.” Also on the bill is Jordan Temple, who writes for the socially minded MTV News show “Decoded.” “He stopped by Big Hunt when he was in town a few months ago and really did great,” Joyce says.
Big Hunt, 1345 Connecticut Ave. NW; Wed., 8 p.m., $15.
Big Hunt Showcase: Though he’s not billed as such, Joyce says Jason Weems is essentially headlining this showcase, and for good reason. “I think that he’s the best comic in the area,” Joyce says of the Baltimore-based “Last Comic Standing” competitor. “He’s just a killer — crushes every time, no matter the environment.”
Big Hunt, 1345 Connecticut Ave. NW; March 30, 8 p.m., $15.
Rob Haze: The Atlanta-based Haze, who has opened for Dave Chappelle, headlines a night that includes the aforementioned Salengo and Temple. Another “Last Comic Standing” alum, Haze is just starting to break into TV, with an appearance last year on “Adam Devine’s House Party.” “He’s got a lot of momentum behind him,” Joyce says. “He’s got an interesting personality and stage presence that’s a little different, I think. It’s laid-back and cerebral.”
Bier Baron, 1523 22nd St. NW; March 30, 8 p.m., $10.
Romane & Lettuce: The most unusual show on the schedule stars D.C. comedians Romane Walters and Jamel “Lettuce” Johnson, who perform regularly as the band Romane & Lettuce. Johnson sings and tells jokes while Romane plays keys, Jono Allen plays bass and Mike Hernandez plays drums for something that’s not quite stand-up, and not quite a concert. The other comics on the bill — including 202 Festival performer Rob Cantrell — do their sets with musical accompaniment if they so choose. “I did that [once],” Joyce says. “It was pretty bad.”
Wonderland Ballroom, 1101 Kenyon St. NW; March 31, 8 p.m., $10.
Rory Scovel: The main attraction is known for his unpredictable sets and absurd characters that often emerge without warning. “Rory is my favorite comedian,” Joyce says. “You never know what he’s going to do next. Even seeing the same hour multiple times, there’s still spontaneity and there’s something about his performance that changes that makes it interesting. He’s got great jokes, but even without the jokes it’s just fun to watch him.”
Black Cat, 1811 14th St. NW; April 1, 8 p.m., $25.
Joe List, Carmen Lynch and Phil Hanley: This is the closest you can get in D.C. to a night at New York City’s famed Comedy Cellar. Big Apple comics List, Lynch and Hanley are regulars at the club, and often perform on the same shows. “They have styles that work well together,” Joyce says. “Phil is super-smart. He does a lot of interaction with the crowd.” Lynch was recently on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” and, according to Joyce, is a “pure joke writer. It’s a subtle performance — just facial expressions and jokes — but it works every time.” List, who opens for Louis C.K. on tour, is known for “tight, very densely packed jokes and self-deprecation.”
Black Cat, 1811 14th St. NW; April 1, 10 p.m., $25.
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