BCAF Spotlight: Standup Edition, Part 1!

For some, standing alone onstage and sharing their thoughts and neurotics with an audience is the scariest thing in the world - for others, it's hard to imagine doing anything else. At this year's Boston Comedy Arts Festival, some of the edgiest, funniest standups in the country are coming through ImprovBoston's doors to lay it all on the line and make you laugh, and we're celebrating them in the days leading up to the big event.

We were lucky enough to catch up with standups Kwasi Mensah, Kevin Hall, Christine An and MILF before they tear the house down at BCAF to discuss their thoughts on comedy today.

How did you originally get into comedy?
Kwasi Mensah: From a young age I've learned to lose all sense of shame when there's a spotlight on me. Between musicals and choirs, I've made my mom have to sit through way too many performances to count growing up. About two years ago, I would pass the time at a job I really hated by listening to storytelling podcasts and I loved hearing when comics would go on them. It made me figure I could try to do this myself and that's where I'm at now.
MILF: I always loved comedy, as a child, I loved making my family laugh and played pranks on them, especially my sister. But I really got into comedy after taking an acting class where we had to create a monologue based on a true story from our lives. And every time I told a story in class people started dying laughing, so I was like "Are they laughing at my life? Awesome! Let's do this!".
Kevin Hall: I was always the idiot goofball with an overactive imagination. Comedy was an outlet to share my demented beliefs with other people.
Christine An: In elementary school, I borrowed joke books from the school library. The jokes were mostly corny kid jokes—I remember wondering why other people found them to be so funny. That didn’t stop me from retelling them. I really enjoyed the joke-telling structure and had fun sharing corny jokes with friends during recess. The first time I took joke writing seriously was freshman year. I spent a lot of time thinking about jokes—both conceptually and technically—and wrote tons of humor pieces while trying out to be a staff writer for the Harvard Lampoon. Ultimately, I didn’t make it onto the staff and was pretty devastated because the Lampoon was one of the main reasons (i.e. beyond plain masochism and an irrational, deep-seated fear of having fun) I chose to attend Harvard in the first place. At that point, I had three years’ worth of jokes just sitting inside my proverbial desk drawer, moldering in shame and a profound sense of failure. Thankfully, I was taking a course on marginal global literatures at the time. One of my classmates—she would eventually become one of my closest friends from college—was the co-president of the Harvard College Stand-up Comics Society (HCSUCS). She encouraged me to attend one of their joke workshop sessions and give stand-up a try. We basically sat around a table and worked on improving our jokes—premises, writing, and delivery. I wasn’t a natural performer, but had lots of solid jokes to try out in front of an audience. In fact, I was an extremely self-conscious post-teen and hated doing anything in front of other people. Now, I’m much more comfortable with being on stage.

What is your favorite or strangest moment on stage?
Kwasi Mensah: This is kind of cheating since this happened offstage but I'm using it anyway. I have a joke that tries to be empowering to people with Autism, talking about the positives, how its close to having superpowers and how we could start using it as a compliment. I end the joke and with someone forgetting their keys at home and going "Ugh, that's so f***ing neurotypical". When I got off stage an audience member pulled me aside and asked me for my info because she was going to start using that line with her friends and wanted to make sure to pass on who started it. It made me feel like I really was coming at comedy from a place that helped talk about things I think are important.
MILF: The first time I performed my one woman show, which I developed at that class I was talking about earlier. I had a bit where I was playing my dad during a strike he did by himself in front of my school. I actually didn't think people were going to find it that funny, and when I heard them laughing I almost broke character, but my acting skills saved my butt ;)
Kevin Hall: I recently did a show in Asheville, NC where a pyramid of kegs and a new car was onstage with me. I ended my set by asking "do you guys even give a shit about DUIs" and the crowd went insane.
Christine An: I love the moments when I can do something super weird and have the audience really dig the weirdness. Once, I opened up a set by going on stage and applying lip balm nonchalantly for way too long and way outside of my lip area. I also love it when I can get someone to die from laughter, figuratively.

If you could collaborate with anyone living or dead, who would it be?
Kwasi Mensah: Tim Schaefer is a video game developer behind The Secret of Monkey Island and one of my favorite games of all time Psychonauts. He blends great storytelling with compelling experiences that don't take themselves too seriously. And it combines my former life as a game developer with my current one as a joke teller.
MILF: Carol Burnett!!!
Kevin Hall: Geoffrey Chaucer.
Christine An: Franz Kafka. Hands down. We would collaborate on a tragicomic graphic novel or collection of comic strips. I would also love to spend a day at the beach with Kafka. If, for some reason, we are unable to work on a graphic novel together, I would be happy with performing in an experimental theater piece with Kafka.

What is the perfect sandwich?
Kwasi Mensah: I've always been a sucker for a bacon, egg and cheese on a croissant. It's basically a heart attack for for breakfast, which is the price to pay for perfection.
MILF: Eggplant Parmesan (don't judge me).
Kevin Hall: A perfect sandwich is any sandwich eaten on the beach. Sandwiches taste better on the beach. It's science!
Christine An: Roast beef sandwich au jus on toasted baguette with horseradish and chips.

Who are your top three picks of acts to see at the festival?
Kwasi Mensah: The Allen McRae Show, Tomily and Mrs. Peanut. Although I'm a little biased because I was in Comedy America with people from all of these sketch groups.
MILF: North Coast, Junior Varsity and UCB Tour Co.
Kevin Hall: Justin Williams, Dan Perlman, Kevin Seefried.
Christine An: OK Cupid: The Musical, Casual Sex Offenders, and Hey We're Back with Jonathan Katz.

Are we human? Are we dancer?
Kwasi Mensah: Human. Because I'm sure as hell not a dancer no matter how hard I've tried.
MILF: We are not human. Definitely dancer!!!
Kevin Hall: BOTH!
Christine An: Dancer. Very dancer.

Wanna hear more? Catch these artists at the Boston Comedy Arts Festival, only one short week away!

Kwasi Mensah: Thursday, September 11 at 10PM @ ImprovBoston Studio Theater ; Sunday, September 14 at 9PM @ ImprovBoston Main Theater
MILF: Friday, September 12 at 9PM @ ImprovBoston Main Theater ; Saturday, September 13 at 11:30PM @ ImprovBoston Main Theater
Kevin Hall: Friday, September 12 at 8:30 @ ImprovBoston Studio Theater ; Saturday, September 13 at 11:30PM @ ImprovBoston Main Theater
Christine An: Saturday, September 13 at 11:30PM @ ImprovBoston Main Theater