By DJ Dave Hoffenberg
“I’m funny how, I mean funny like I’m a clown, I amuse you? I make you laugh, I’m here to freakin’ amuse you? What do you mean funny, funny how? How am I funny?” said Tommy DeVito in “Goodfellas.”
If you want to see how people are funny, then head to the Outback Pizza in Killington every Wednesday night 9 p.m. starting on Dec. 21 for the Snowplow Comedy Competition.
Do you think you’re funny? Come prove it to win cash prizes. If you don’t, then just come for the laughs and register to win a ski trip. Each week 10 comics from around New England and New York, plus some walk-ins, will present a seven minute set of their best material and hope they make the judges laugh.
I am the head judge and each week I will be joined by two “celebrity” judges and the audience gets to vote as well. Week One judges are Killington’s Most Interesting Man Chris Thayer and the Outback’s own Sal “Paco” Vitagliano Jr. The winner each week will get to host the following week and get paid $50 for it.
Week one host and organizer is comic Michael Ray Kingsbury.
When Kingsbury was in grade school he discovered comedy as a way to look at life. He would do sketches with friends on the playground at Montpelier Elementary School in Vermont. In grade school, Kingsbury thought he was getting his big break and becoming a movie star in the film “I Am The Cheese.” He reflected on that experience, saying, “I was in a movie with Mike from ‘E.T. the Extraterrestrial’ (Robert MacNaughton). It was a really bad movie,” he said. “In the beginning I’m playing the game ‘The Cheese Stands Alone.’ I’m in a set of shorts you wouldn’t want to wear in prison. The Director picked us up at my best friend’s birthday party. He rolls up in a black sedan and yells out to us, ‘Hey you kids want to be in a movie?’ I think there was some asking our parents but basically we just jumped in the car… You can only do that in the 80s.”
He was 11 years old at the time.
“I remember thinking this is my big break and then nothing after that. I did do some plays in high school, I was in the drama club. I didn’t do any official stand-up comedy,” he continued.
People think comedians were the class clown of their high school but in reality most of them were not. Kingsbury said they’re usually the ones in the corner soaking things in. He was quiet in high school but could do pretty good imitations of things around him but would do those in small groups. A lot of those people told him he was funny but he didn’t believe them.
Kingsbury graduated from Metropolitan State University in Minneapolis, and then got his master’s degree from the College of St Joseph in Rutland. He was studying social work and criminology. He currently is a social worker in Rutland.
“I initially did theater arts but figured I was never going to get a job in that,” he explained.
In between Met State and St. Joe’s, on a best freind’s advice, he attended the Second City Theater in Cleveland, and that is where people go to get trained in improvisational comedy. That was in the late 90s and he attended for about four years. He was in the conservatory program and would do improvisational comedy weekly. “That’s really where I did a format that I got serious with,” he said.
Kingsbury’s first stand-up was at a coffee house in Mayfield Heights, Ohio. They had a good crowd and that went OK for him. He did about four minutes of shticky pop culture jokes. He also did some open mics very sparingly in Cleveland.
“It was just misery. I was doing more improv than stand-up,” Kingsbury said. His first paid gig was back in Vermont at Lake Dunmore. “When you first get paid doing comedy, you mount that bill on the wall. I got paid $20 for a horrible show. It was a summer camp at Kampersville where people are coming from all over New England to live in a trailer park for two weeks. People were sitting on picnic benches and I was very excited that I was getting paid. The guy running it told me, ‘This is not a prime spot for comedy, this is going to be awful.’ I was performing next to a ceramic beaver that was eating a hoagie. It was just horrible and I wasn’t that sure of myself at the time. I had a couple moments that were funny but I was doing more physical, flopping around. I bombed. I was all over the place, I didn’t have a real handle on my material. I got absolutely eaten alive by the crowd. Don’t assume that just because there are kids and families that they’re going to be good to you. I was doing stand-up for about a year straight at that time and after this, I didn’t do stand-up for almost a year. I got paid and I stopped. It taught me a lot and I’ll never forget that experience. What I learned was, 1. Don’t do comedy where there are picnic benches and 2. learn what I could’ve done different.”
The drive back from Kampersville to Proctor, which is about 32 miles, was the most depressing ride of Kingsbury’s life, he said.
His act has changed 360 degrees since then.
In 2010, he started back up doing improv with the Marble Valley Players. The experience at Kampersville taught him to be in a little more control of his material and to take his time. “I started working with a group and they put on some fantastic shows. I did that for about three years. I primarily was just doing improv and dabbling in stand-up. People probably don’t know, but there is a big comedy scene in this area,” he said.
In 2014, Kingsbury and Judi Tomkins started the local scene here in Rutland with a comedy night at the Coffee Exchange. “I didn’t think we would get anyone to come at all but we packed the place and we just kept going from that,” he said.
“When I first came back there was not a really active scene. When there is nobody there to do it with you, it’s kind of lonely. I wanted to start an open mic but I didn’t know anyone to do it with. Before the “Incident” (at Kampersville), I was driving all the way up to Burlington to do five minutes of comedy,” Kingsbury explained.
When the Coffee Exchange started a few years later, he brought a lot of those people down. He wasn’t sure how prominent the Vermont comedy scene had become but when they sent out the information people were rushing to get a time slot. “I didn’t think anyone would have any interest but this thing has been running for three years solid,” he said.
Around the time of the Coffee Exchange, Collen Doyle started a comedy club in the historic Bridgewater Woolen Mill. They put on shows there on various weekends.
Doyle will be competing in the Outback competition in future weeks.
“The scene started in Rutland but then all these splinter groups started popping up. You would think they wouldn’t get anyone in Bridgewater yet he’s able to get these special shows. It’s a great space. It’s got a brick wall in the back and it looks exactly like Evening at the Improv. He’s another guy that has done a lot for the scene. He’s a great guy that is a talented producer and he has created a beautiful theater there,” Kingsbury said.
The area comedy scene also includes a Comedy Night at Donovan’s in Bennington that Kingsbury hosts, Taps Tavern in Poultney, The Skinny Pancake in West Lebanon, N.H., and GW Foley’s Comedy Open Mic two Thursdays a month at The Local in Rutland.
“We play well with the people in Burlington, Albany, North Adams or N.H., they tend to play well with us. We put them in our shows and they have us in their shows. It’s a win-win situation,” he said.
We spoke of his comedic influences and he says those have changed over the years.”I like to think of myself as a ‘Hip Dad,’ which is kind of an oxymoron, but I really like Patton Oswald. He’s able to be a Gen-X Dad and still have some sort of relevance. I also really like Mark Maron. He’s got a quick comedic story telling style and that’s really what I’ve gone more towards. My comedy is punch-based but usually it’s more of a story based as opposed to just a bunch of one-liners,” Kingsbury explained. “When I was doing improv I was more of a physical comedian. When I started doing stand-up I tried to make my stand-up very physical and that’s just not what it is. When I was doing improv, I did what I needed to do physically. That to me is where the funny came from but now it’s more from story telling and conceptual, it has really changed. It’s the aging process.”
He grew up on favorites, Robin Williams and Jim Carrey. “I really like Robin Williams comedy but the thing about comedy is people think that when they meet you or meet him, that we can just do something funny for them. The reality is comedy does come out of seriousness, the truth and sometimes pain,” he said. “The beauty about Robin Williams is you saw this funny guy and thought he must be funny all the time and then he’s in ‘Dead Poets Society’ and ‘Good Will Hunting’ and you see what a great actor he was. I like seeing when a good comedian goes to more of a dramatic role. There’s a lot of things you can do with comedy, it teaches you a lot of things.”
Kingsbury is very excited about adding Killington to the scene and said that every week will be great. He says that he can’t believe all the great comics that have signed up already. “My feeling is that comedy is life and I think this thing up in Killington is going to be a fantastic opportunity for people to see some great regional comedy. I’m pretty psyched about this. This is like a dream come true. You’re going to see a great season of comedy.”
Kingsbury is like a superhero changing into his cape. Social worker by day and comedian by night. He really enjoys being a comedian and said, “how I like comedy best is for things to be kind of like on a wire. I love doing it because it’s something that could go completely wrong the entire time I’m up there but when it goes right, it’s so amazing… I like it because it gives me this edge of chance that I always feel like I need to take. It’s like a thrill ride I can’t get off.”
Photo courtesy of Dave Hoffenberg
MICHAEL RAY KINGSBURY