Arts Desk

Rejected From Bentzen Ball, Local Comics Book Their Own Comedy Show


Back after a four-year hiatus, Brightest Young Things' Bentzen Ball comedy festival is named after a Danish man named Ole Bentzen who laughed himself to death while watching A Fish Called Wanda. But when the event kicks off tonight at the Lincoln Theatre, featuring curator Tig Notaro along with Doug Benson, Wyatt CenacHeather Lawless, and others, not everyone will be as giddy as Mr. Bentzen. Some local comics are saying the festival left them out in the cold.

"Not to toot our own horn, but beep beep," says comic Randolph Terrance, sitting outside a bar on U Street NW about a week ago. "Beep beep.”

Terrance and fellow jokester Andy Kline are among the many local comics who were not booked to perform at the four-day festival this weekend, and some of them are a bit miffed about it. So they're doing their own event. Kline and Terrance have run a Saturday open mic at the Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse for the last five and a half years, and this Saturday, while Bentzen Ball is in full swing at D.C. venues, the comics plan to host "The Best of the DMV Comedy Showcase" (alternate title: "Rejects of the Bentzen Ball") at the Arlington comedy spot. To get on the bill, Kline says, the criteria is as follows: 1) You are funny, 2) you applied to get on the Bentzen Ball roster, and 3) you didn't make the cut.

After Brightest Young Things announced Bentzen's then-latest lineup on Sept. 10, some comics took to Twitter to criticize what they considered a lack of local talent.

BYT had made an effort to recruit local comics, though—about a week earlier, they'd posted an open call for YouTube clip submissions. The open call yielded 92 entries, according to BYT co-founder and publisher Svetlana Legetic. In the end, 19 locals were booked for the festival. Several of them were added recently as part of a cheap (or free, with purchase of another Bentzen ticket) locals-only "happy hour" show on Saturday at the Lincoln Theatre.

Nineteen seems like a pretty healthy number of locals. Yet Kline says the culture website and promoter still lacks a strong reputation among many area comics, who doubt its "on-the-ground" knowledge of D.C. comedy is equal to its understanding of, say, local music.

Legetic says she's fully aware of the Brightest Young Things stereotype. "I understand that a lot of people think that we’re smug assholes who sit in an office and drink, like, Vodka Red Bulls and throw parties,” she says of the six-person full-time staff. But she says "I'm incredibly aware of people who are trying to make it. We in the publishing world are also trying to make it. All the support, all the exposure, all the everything, matters."

The Bentzen Ball was curated by professional stand-up comic Notaro, who hooked up with BYT in 2008. At the time, Legetic says, Notaro felt that D.C. was a "really smart city that got a lot of jokes." She teamed up with BYT to produce the first Bentzen Ball in 2009, and it became the group's biggest event yet. "The idea was to do something over four days that's like this magical comedy camp, where people small and big, in terms of fame, can hang out," Legetic says.

Kline and Terrance performed at the 2009 festival. Since then, the local comedy scene has improved dramatically, they both agree. At the same time, Bentzen Ball has shrunk. There were 45 or 50 shows in 2009, which made it easy to accommodate lots of short sets from locals, Legetic says. But it also made the festival difficult to manage. This year, Bentzen Ball only booked 12 events. And critically, no one who played the 2009 festival was considered for this year's lineup. That was Notaro's decision, Legetic says, and BYT didn't make that especially clear to local comedians who responded to the open call.

The 2013 shows are organized into categories, including stand-up, improv, and variety (musical acts like Garfunkel and Oates), and they have themes, like the "Handsome Men of Bentzen Ball," featuring locals Michael Foody and Brandon Wardell. Legetic says after they pulled together all of the YouTube clips, Notaro sent BYT a list of around 30 people whom she thought would work best. That list was then whittled down to the final group based on their availability and how well they fit into a particular lineup.

(BYT staff member and stand-up comic Jenn Tisdale is one who made the cut, a fact that may rankle some applicants, Legetic says. "We had a conversation about whether we should put Jenn on it... But she works very hard and we think she’s very funny and Tig thinks she’s very funny, and in the end, that’s it. Are we going to punish someone?")

The festival is funded almost entirely out of pocket by BYT; 10 percent of the funds come from sponsorships. It's a gamble, but it might pay off: As of Friday, they had already sold more tickets—3,000—than they sold in 2009. But the process still feels very hectic and thrown together. Marc Maron, John Hodgman, and Eugene Mirman were all confirmed but had to drop out, Legetic says. They lost venues like the Hamilton, Sixth and I, Penn Social, Studio Theatre, Woolly Mammoth, and Black Cat, because they couldn’t keep holds without a concrete lineup. "It was like, 'We’re getting Amy Schumer! We’re getting John Hodgman! Tig just texted Louis C.K.!' Then, ‘This is not happening, that’s not happening. Zach Galifianakis is having a baby, Adam Scott’s, like, child is having a birthday that weekend."

Kline acknowledges that the local comics bummed about getting turned down may just need to develop a thicker skin. After all, it's comedy, where consistent and brutal rejection is normal, and can even fuel great material. "When I was younger, I’d probably have had my feelings hurt, too," he says. "Once you've been through that process where you know that you should have gotten that thing but you didn't get it for reasons other than just purely who's the better comic, you sort of laugh it off." Kline says that a D.C. comedy festival doesn't necessarily need to be hyperlocal, either. "I mean, Asheville, N.C., has a comedy festival. It’s not so they can showcase the local scene. It’s so other people can come to Asheville."

But the planned Bentzen Ball Rejects show—which Kline and Terrance are still finalizing—serves a distinct purpose, Kline says. They "wanted to point out that there are always people who get left out of these things, and let’s shine a light on them. Because quite often the locals are just as good as a lot of the people who got on or came in from out of town. They just don’t have the credits or the visibility." For Saturday's Bentzen Ball rejects show, they've confirmed appearances from David Tveite, Matty Litwack, Reggie Melbrough, Tyler Richardson, Chelsea Shorte, Chris Milner, Randy Syphax, Nate Johnson, Becca Steinhoff, and Ryan Schutt.

Are there any comedy festivals that get it right? Kline and Terrance both mention Just for Laughs, the mammoth showcase held every summer in Montreal since 1983. But even that one has its critics. "You can get into Montreal and it's this big industry gang bang, and if you don’t get attention from Montreal, you’ll be like, 'Fuck Montreal, it wasn't that good,'" says Kline. Case in point: Comic Doug Stanhope's answer to the Montreal festival, "Just for Spite."

While Legetic says she hasn't received any direct complaints about Bentzen's selection process, she acknowledges that some people are unhappy. But she hopes that if this revival of the Bentzen Ball is successful, it could get bigger and open up more opportunities for locals. "If this succeeds and this four days doesn't kill us, bankrupt us, destroy our faith in humanity," she says, "we’ll be there next year."

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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  • lex

    Notaro books those who can advance her career. The first Bentzen Ball featured three open mic comics, Jeff Klinger, Martha Kelly,and Jackie Kashian. In return for the invite they agreed to testify falsely in a criminal trial. Notaro had a vendetta against a more talented comedian and set out to ruin her.
    One of the open mice people, Martha Kelly, is booked this year as a means to keep her quiet. Notaro does not have cancer. She is a very disturbed lady. She feels nothing for others. It's all about her and how famous and rich she can become.

  • Jemima

    Oh Spitzberg, you old so-and-so*. noogies for you!

    *by "so-and-so" I mean psycho stalker.

  • bents

    I haven't trusted Ms. Notaro ever since I asked for an interview, and she insisted I only ask her the questions submitted by lawyers. When I asked her by phone - what cancer foundation she was donating to - and she hung up....
    I have never had this happen with an A lister, much less an unknown comic.

  • Ally Schweitzer

    Don't abuse this comment section. You've posted three similar comments under three different handles. I've temporarily unapproved your two most recent comments. Find one handle and stick to it, please.

  • karen

    Did it ever occur to these loser D. C comics that Tig is big time? Get over it and do your shows. Tig has cancer and she doesn't need this hassel. If you want to play big shows such as the Bentzen ball, you best pay your dues, whiners.

  • karen

    " Legetic says, and BYT didn't make that especially clear to local comedians who responded to the open call."

    They want a memo??? Get a life. Comedy is dog eat dog world and may the top dog win! Tig is going to pick nobodies when she can get top tier stars? I DON'T think SO.

  • Layla

    Wow pity party alert.

    Maybe if their material was better, they would get the gig. That's kind of how life works.

  • Andrew bucket

    My humble 2 centz:

    At most festivals like sxsw, cmj, etc there's a huge slew of unofficial shows that fill in all the gaps and make the festival what it really is. It becomes a party. People are actually exploring the extra-festival events late into the night. It grows and grows every year.

    What a wasted opportunity on the part of city paper and others taking the whole "reject" angle and instead make it this divisive thing. Crabs in a barrel.

  • Jeff Jetton

    This is really sad. We've worked incredibly hard to bring this comedy festival to Washington DC and a bunch of folks who should be pleased that a spotlight is being shined on the city as a comedy town (both the Washington City Paper and the local comedians who weren't chosen this year) are crying about sour grapes and making themselves look really pathetic in the process. It's called poor sportsmanship in sports. Have some class, WCP. You can deliver unbiased journalism to the masses and instead you just throw sand at people like a toddler in the sandbox. Totally uncalled for.

    Jeff Jetton
    Co-Founder, Bentzen Ball

  • Tyler Richardson

    I feel like I should speak as one of the rejected comics. Firstly, I have made no criticsm of the festival due to not being picked. I was asked if I was available to do a showcase on Saturday and said yes, as we all were. The showcase is not called "The Reject Show" that would make us sound like a bunch of hurt comics that are bitter. I will not speak on any of the comics that were chosen to perform, other than to say I am happy for my friends that get to take part in such a wonderful opportunity. But, we are not all crying, and most of us are working comics that have taken part in other big festivals. You win some, you lose some, please do not think that we are unfamiliar with the regular rejection that comes along with any aspect of show business.

    I will not pretend to speak for all of us, but I feel confident in saying that I speak for most. We wish the festival nothing but the best crowds, and have no doubt the performances will be great. Most of us will be at shows supporting friends and watching stars. I hope I answered that in an un-insulting way Jeff and Andrew.

  • joel

    Ok so this article just proved that comics are still pretty hateful and pathetic and miserable people? Get over yourself..

  • norman

    To set the record straight, re: the top comment, Martha Kelly is not only NOT an open mic comic, she's been on Conan, Premium Blend and has a host of other TV appearances. She also happens to be hilarious, and one of the nicest people I've ever known. She is also very fond of kittens and puppies.

  • David Tveite

    Really don't appreciate this article making us all sound like a bunch of bitter fucks instead of just some people who are putting on another comedy show. A lot of comics who didn't get into Bentzen Ball are disappointed and sure, some are a little pissed, but the objective fact is that there's more talent in the DC comedy scene than was ever going to fit on the festival lineup, so Andy and Randolph are putting on a free show to give a stage to some talented performers who were left off Bentzen Ball. The name is tongue-in-cheek and the show is happening on the other side of the Potomac. Quick, somebody punch another reporter so City Paper won't have to invent their own controversy.

  • Alexis Hauk

    "Quick, somebody punch another reporter" sounds like a super fun board game idea.

  • David Tveite

    Just to be clear, I was referring to this (, and not trying to incite violence against Ms. Hauk, who I'm sure is a perfectly lovely person when you get to know her.

  • Alexis Hauk

    Thanks. I'll tell my bodyguards to stand down. For now.

  • David Tveite


  • Sara Armour

    I feel very awkward. I think my tweet was taken out of context. I'm booked on the festival and I was being sarcastic. The comics on the festival ARE professional comics. I was trying to be cute. Just For the record.

  • mk

    Tig has never got any help and she resents that so many now are whining cuz they expect a hand out. She owes nothing to you people. She is taking names, and u best be sure u will not work with her in the future. Jeff has worked so hard to put on an awesome show and this is his thank you?!
    It breaks my heart to see such entitlement and lack of gratitude. Alexis is likely one of tig's stalkers in disguise.

    And Norman is right. Martha has done more than open mics. She can't help it if the world is too stupid for her humor and she still hasn't "made it." She has played the festival twice cause she's awesome and tig is smart enough to get her genius.

    No Moleste!

  • mk

    bents, Tig is entitled to not answer questions. She does not have any responsibility to YOU are ANYBODY else. As a queer womyn with a masculine appearance - she has had to struggle MIGHTILY. She reads every comment and article written about her. she recently hired an assistant to make sure that she doesn't lose track of her fans, or her detractors.
    Tig is FED UP with how negative people are about her physical appearance. She takes good care of herself. She shuns additives and maintains a raw diet -- YET -- Amy Shumer eats junk food and is praised to the skies. NOT FAIR.
    She owes nothing to the straight media that seeks to find fault with her, at every turn. DEAL with IT.

  • Curt Shackelford

    the more comedy shows the better, period.
    festivals, anti-festival shows, whatever--doesn't really matter as long as another show is happening.
    The more "commonplace" live standup comedy becomes, the more likely the public will take a chance on "dinner & a comedy show" rather than the default "dinner & a movie".

    Curt Shackelford
    "It's all in the delivery"

  • Wayne Manigo


    If the word 'festival' was removed from this title of this event, this would not be an issue. Follow me on this one....

    Comedy festivals usually allow comedians certain perks including:

    1. Exposure to people they may not have the opportunity to perform in front of prior to attending a festival event. This might include the headliners, promoters, and other industry people.

    2. The ability to network with other comedians from other parts of the country. Comedians who network at these events eventually get booked for other shows if they're good.

    When compared to the initial Bentzen Ball, this is really a collections of comedy shows. I'm willing to bet BYT took a financial loss on their debut event, and that may be one of the reasons it took so long for a second event. Anyone involved in the comedy community would agree that the local comedians selected for the shows deserved it.

    How they were chosen doesn't matter, as long as they're funny. The catch-22 question could be "How were the comics selected for the BB Reject's Tour?" Can you see how 'The Old Boy Network' can be a double edge sword?

    Here's my point: We have an event that places a comedy spotlight on the town. Why not build on it? Instead of bashing the Bentzen Ball, find ways to attract their audience for *your* next gig.

    They were able to attract a comedy audience that we (as comedians) could not reach. It would be a shame to let all that attention and hard work go to waste. Perhaps handing out comedy flyers at the end of the BB comedy shows is a start? I don't have the answers, but I know bashing the BB isn't one of them.

    My $.02.

    Wayne Manigo
    Co-Founder, Washington DC Comedy Writers Group

  • aaron

    Wayne Manigo says:"Perhaps handing out comedy flyers at the end of the BB comedy shows is a start?"

    How stupid do you think people are? This is why the locals were told to audition. So they would hand out flyers. But, Tig forgot about that. Too much.

    I no longer live in D.C, but if I did I sure wouldn't want a cancer scammer to represent my city. Come to think of it; D.C is a shithole and this is the "festival," it deserves.

  • wayne brody

    Wow. Pass out flyers for the Bentzen Ball? Washington is a big city with great comedians. Mandigo is acting as if it's a bunch of hicks who should feel graced by Hollywood heavyweights. Cough. Notaro burned bridges in NY, LA, and now Washington. She is a nasty lady.

  • http://www, Wayne Manigo

    I think Wayne Brody and Arron got my words twisted. When I mentioned passing out flyers...I was referring to the comedians passing it out for *their* shows. Self promotion!

    Have you left a concert (say the 9:30 Club, Riot Act Comedy Theater, where ever) and were met with people handing out flyers for *their* shows? Bands do this all of the time. My point was try raise *your* awareness to a targeted group. Someone who is attending a comedy show might accept a flyer from you as opposed to someone leaving a movie theater.

    Geez! I didn't think I'd have to spell it the concept to the letter. I'm not creating a blueprint for a solution, just tossing ideas out.

    BTW - If this incident is enough to tick you off to the point of throwing insults, just stop performing or watching comedy. Obviously, you don't have the stomach or the thick skin required to continue is this business. This industry is filled with rejection for a variety of reason.

    Nothing gets accomplished when everyone whines and no one offers solutions. I threw one off the top of my head. Both of you were quick to reply with feedback, but it provided nothing of value. Comedy can make some people very bitter. I am NOT one of those people.


  • Trigger Warning

    How about providing some support or citing some sources for these accusations about Tig Notaro?

    You're throwing out some pretty serious shit with impunity. Maybe it's true, maybe you're just bitter. But what you say means nothing if you can't support it.

  • DanielN

    There is only one comic from DC that hits journalists
    There is only one comic from DC that makes $300K+
    There is only one comic from DC that flies first class
    There is only one comic from DC that takes pictures of airline food
    There is only one comic from DC that has President Obama endorsing him
    There is only one comic from DC that buys 500K fake twitter followers.

    That comic is Dan Nainan and he was not in this festival making the entire thing a fraud!

  • lavalamp

    The reject comics didn't miss any thing. What a mess! Judging by this article, Notaro, hoped her celebrity friends would come and fete her for beating cancer. The Washington Post wrote a piece about how she was the "Belle of the Ball." The whole piece sought to sell her to the public. Nothing about the festival itself. Clearly, this was about her trying to seek affirmation from big names: To prove to herself and the world that she has arrived.

    Only Mullaly showed, and let's face it. It's been all downhill for her since Will and Grace.

    I feel awful for Tig. It seems she misread their concern about cancer tape as friendship.

  • robertavelez

    Tig is a crazy lady. She needs to be in mental hospital.

  • robertavelez

    she claim to have many stalkers and she write this???

  • bill blum

    Some proceeds were going to go to gay rights. Who cares about petty hurt feelings when money is going to such causes. The bad attitude of these comics likely made it so there were no proceeds PERIOD. Good work Washington City Paperand bitter comics. Now, Tig won't want to return with her influential friends.

    This article rudely points out that CK, Sarah Silverman, Andy, and Zach backed out. But, Doug Benson and Will and Grace Star, Mhegan Mallaly did! Ms. Hauk should try to book those kinds of names.

  • lll

    It sounds like Notaro called on press(the Washington Post) to cover some great event where her celebrity friends would feed her diseased ego upon her triumphant win over cancer. Otherwise, there is no reason she would sign up for this. When, all those "friends," backed out... No press but this honest article.

    The PR machine is something to behold. Notaro has invested and invested in attorneys and PR firms.... let's see how far they can take here.

  • ben


  • omg

    Art Levine has placed the blame squarely on Letegic. Nick Kroll, Martha Kelly and Cynthia Levin were all present at the first ball so that too is wrong, ms hauk