Promising to pack a punch alongside each laugh, Comedy on Fire returns to downtown Phoenix this Friday for its 28th show. The three-hour evening features musical and stand-up guests from across the state to offer their insights — and punchlines — to a regularly growing audience.
The night of side-splitting stand-up is still held at The Firehouse Gallery, off Roosevelt and First streets, where the show first began in mid-2013. Creator, promoter, and host Matt Micheletti is no stranger to the stand-up scene, and decided to start the shows as an alternative to an arguably traditional, or at least routine, comedy scene.
"I noticed that in my first two years of doing comedy, a lot of shows disappeared either by fault of the venue closing or simply because people stopped showing up to watch," Micheletti says. "[And] I felt like I was ready to take on the ordeal of producing my own show."
Labeling itself as "[downtown's] longest continuously running independent comedy show," the show has since become a fixture for comics, fans, and the gallery, with new performances each month, falling on every fourth Friday.
Known for its long-standing tenure among the Roosevelt Row art scene, the collective art space is expanding its talents beyond just the visual artists that put it on a map. The Firehouse Gallery now hosts an impressive lists of up-and-coming comics during Comedy on Fire — proving it's become a sort of conclave for local comedians as well. It's a move from the faux- and real-brick walls and darkened (sometimes sparsely attended) open mic nights that were once the only options for downtown-based stand-ups and their audiences. By bringing comedy to a mass audience with a similarly massive show, Micheletti and Comedy on Fire have helped breathe new life and excitement into a once underground, and seemingly fledgling scene.
"The Firehouse Gallery is my second home," he says. "It is one of downtown Phoenix's creative hubs and I take great pride in the fact that I have been able to grow this event in organically within the community here. I am honestly shocked [by the response] every month — but in the most fantastic ways. It has become one of the most highly sought after bookings in town, as far as independent shows are concerned, [and] I've had very positive responses from the performers I have had on the show."
The event recently celebrated a two-year milestone with its 24th edition in March and tends to boast between 10 and 20 performers from across Arizona and, lately, the greater Southwest. The comics aren't known for steering clear of topics that might make audiences squirm or blush, as past shows have included use of a KKK-style hood as prop comedy and a set that reportedly riled the Valley's transgender community — and noted activist Ira Bohm-Sanchez in particular. Neither the comedy scene nor this host venue are strangers to controversy and art that pushes boundaries, and the combination of the two seems to incite more interest in group shows like these than a standard club night.
The show began as what Micheletti describes as "a typical poetry and comedy night," that has since become a comedy-heavy refuge. Each installment now follows a similar format, with nearly two hours of stand-up and a musical guest to either lead the show or play halfway through. And though comedians are occasionally recycled for different events, the continuous influx of new talent and names proves that Phoenix is not lacking when it comes to comedic chops — it was just waiting for the right vehicle.
Friday's performance features both unknown and recognizable artists. Musical guest Page the Village Idiot, who hails from Tempe, gets things going with a musical set starting at 8 p.m. Known for comedic rhymes and topical tunes about Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Page the Village Idiot, who has also played at previous editions, is the kind of pop-parody that fits right in with Comedy on Fire's former themes. Past guests have also included Kevin Gassman, a radio personality from independent station KWSS 93.9 FM, and HotRock SupaJoint, a weed-comedy rapper with a cult following.
From there, the show launches into rapid fire sets. This week's includes special guests Danielle Arce, a Phoenix-born funny gal and actress now living in San Diego and known for her YouTube series, "Danielleland," and Robbie Pfeffer of Playboy Manbaby, a hybrid art-punk and funk indie band with an dedicated following. Pfeffer, former head of the art magazine The Tempe Starving Artist, regularly took to the stage during open mics and spoken words before embracing his musical talents.
Rounding out the show are featured performer Amy Blackwell and New York-based headliner Mike Gillerman. Blackwell has been a regular at The Taffy Room at Stand Up, Scottsdale and recently took the stage at Tempe Center for the Arts.
Born in Scottsdale and a recent transplant to the Big Apple, Gillerman has been seen at the San Diego Comedy Festival and, more recently, as part of the Laughing Skull Comedy Festival in Atlanta, Ga. He is both the creator of "The Gay for Pay Comedy Tour," and co-creator of "The Something's Off Campus Comedy Tour," and is known for his envelope-pushing sets about gay rights and racial tensions. Following Friday's set, he'll perform his one-man show, "Storyline: Cautionary Tales," about making it — or not — at Space 55 off Seventh and Pierce streets on Saturday night, August 1. Blackwell will be that night's host.
Ten other comics — Kapono Rowe, Kristin Humphrey, Adam Hardin, Derek McFarland, Matt Storrs, Miguel Brambila, Justin Tietjen, Roman Erik Grisby, Durrell Johnson, and Ronnie D. — will also take the stage, rounding out Comedy on Fire's 28th installment.
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For Micheletti, these performers represent not only what Comedy on Fire is about, but how the local stand-up scene has grown and become recognized. Though they may have moved away from the desert (something Micheletti encourages because, "the scene can benefit from removing [itself] from Phoenix. You can't tell jokes about the light rail forever.") they gained their footing and established their own brands here — and that's what's important.
"You can do all the mics in the world, but if you don't push yourself and your audiences to remember you and your talent, then you're never going to grow and take that next step," he says. "Phoenix's comedy scene is kind of climaxing, so to say, right now. We have had an explosion of top tier venues in the last year, so it's really booming for those who want to put their noses down, do the work, and focus on getting better with every performance."
The gallery setup is outdoors and with the temperature expected to still be hovering around 100 degrees when things start up at 8 p.m. those in attendance are encouraged to dress coolly and comfortably. (Micheletti has said that the misters will be on.) The venue is bring your own booze, so coolers and containers are allowed, and Rezbot, an urban eatery, will be on hand to feed the masses with frybread, Navajo tacos, and both vegan and gluten-free options.
The Firehouse Gallery opens at 6 p.m. and Comedy on Fire 28 starts with a live musical performance at 8 p.m. on Friday, July 31, at 1015 North First Street. Two hours of local stand-up follow starting at 9 p.m. with headliners Blackwell and Gillerman rounding out the set. Tickets to the show are $5 at the door. For full line-up details and more, head to the event page at www.facebook.com/events/637957793006224. Contact The Firehouse Gallery directly by calling 602-300-7575 or clicking www.facebook.com/firehousephoenix.