By Diana Lu
(Somerville, MA) When the words “Boston” and “startup” are used in the same sentence, most people think of software or biotech. However, Boston has also been a long-time incubator for some of the best comedy of this generation. Countless internationally famous comedians have cut their teeth at local institutions, such as The Comedy Studio and Comedy Connection. Today, the local comedy community is as welcoming as it is thriving—I recently heard a heartwarming story in which a young man who was interested in comedy visited a newly opened theater, and the theater manager let him in, took him in front of the empty theater, and just lit the spotlight for him, because he had never been onstage before. There are more theaters, shows, and open mics now, and in more areas of the city, than ever before. New performers have every opportunity to try telling jokes for the first time in their lives, while veteran comics march on creating, experimenting, and developing their unique voices, as well as producing independent shows. Audiences only need to Google “comedy Boston” for a slew of high-quality options to choose from on any given night of the week.
The Startup is Boston’s newest independent comedy show. Its self-referential concept pokes fun at tech culture and presents a unique and creative collaboration of culinary and comedic communities. Hosted by Foundation Kitchen, a coworking space for small businesses in the food industry, the show is an intimate and unpretentious experience. The purposely small audience is encouraged to chat with one another and sample drinks, to learn about the business of food and comedy, and the humor in each. There was more dialogue between the performers and the audience than I have ever experienced, and everyone left warmer and more connected to each other than any of us expected. Co-host and co-producer Elisha Siegel spoke to me (Diana Lu) about his business ventures, and Boston comedy in general.
1. What is The Startup’s origin story?
Mariel Cabral approached me with the idea to produce a show where comedians could do longer sets. We don’t have a lot of opportunities in Boston to stretch out and let our material breathe, and we wanted to create a space for that. We tried a couple of venues before landing on Foundation Kitchen. I had a relationship with Ciaran Nagle and Tara Novak, who own the business, and we reached out to them. We presented our idea at one of Foundation’s monthly members meetings. Vishal Thapar, who owns the Boston Chai Party, graciously offered to be the presenting sponsor.
#2. You’ve produced a number of shows in Boston. what are the main challenges you faced or things you learn from these experiences?
The hardest part of producing shows in Boston is getting an audience. I’m not a natural promoter, so that’s a challenge for me. Boston is a small city relative to, say, New York, Chicago, or LA. There are fewer people here and it’s hard to get people to take a chance on something new and sort of underground. I always try to find a hook for every show I produce, with varying degrees of success. That’s why I like working with Vishal, because we offer complimentary chai drinks along with the opportunity to see some of Boston’s more experienced comedians.
#3. What are trends do you expect for the Boston comedy scene in the next few years?
I think there are a lot of amazing shows being produced right now. I love The Gas at Great Scott in Allston. There’s also a brilliant underground show called The Know Show, which takes place in a secret basement. We’re definitely in the midst of a second comedy boom, but unlike the 80s, it’s not club-based. It’s coming from comedians producing shows themselves in bars and basements. I don’t really know where it’s all headed. I’m sure at some point the bubble will burst, but we aren’t dependent on clubs now to do our work. We depend on ourselves and support each other’s growth. My main concern is that we will burn out the desire for comedy among the public, but I don’t see that happening any time soon. One look at Netflix and you can see that stand up is hot right now.
#4. Anything else you’d like to add?
I’m grateful anytime people want to support the creation of art. I feel very lucky that Ciaran, Tara and Vishal believe in us and let us do our thing.
The Startup: Standup Comedy Presented by the Boston Chai Company, is a monthly public offering in Sullivan Square. It is produced by Mariel Cabral and Elisha Siegel, and hosted by Foundation Kitchen, at 3 Washington Street, Somerville, MA.