The ushers at Bloomers and SPEC Film’s annual LaughtHERfest’s performance wear light blue T–shirts emblazoned with the slogan “Crack Jokes. Break Ceilings.” LaughtHERfest, in a word, is funny. It’s female–oriented, and organizers make a point to say that the “her” is for any woman or non–cisgender person. The Saturday night performance on September 15 featured some smaller groups and acts leading up to the headliner, Saturday Night Live’s Melissa Villaseñor.
Katie Marshall (C’19), director of Bloomers Comedy and executive producer of LaughtHERfest, emphasized that it's a full–day event, and the evening performance is “just one component.” Earlier in the day, LaughtHERfest hosted workshops, starting at 2:00 p.m. in Houston Hall. The first workshop featured Philadelphia troupe Comedy Sportz, and the second had comic Sydnee Washington, who also performed in the evening.
Around 7:45 p.m., the lights in Annenberg’s Zellerbach Theater dimmed then swelled to reveal Bloomers Chair and Talent Coordinator for LaughtHERfest Lauren Sorantino (C’19) and Katie, clad in black blazers, for the event’s introduction and acknowledgements. Laura Petro (C'16), the former Bloomers director who founded LaughtHERFest in 2016, sat in the audience.
Seyoung Kim (E’20), a member of stand–up comedy group Simply Chaos and /satire blog Under the Button, performed first. Katie explained that Seyoung had come “highly recommended,” saying “we rarely hear glowing rec[comendations] like that, so she was an easy choice. “90% of the people in the world are right–handed,” Seyoung deadpanned during her act. “10% are gay.” There was also a good bit about un–flushed shit in the Macy’s NYC flagship toilets. But maybe you had to be there.
Then Skorts, a musical and sketch comedy group for non–cis men from Brown University, took the stage. They performed a sketch about middle school sex ed. It fell a little flat, but was a nice study in character, and elicited some genuine laughter from the audience.
Bloomers’ Comedy cast performed its sketches next, a few quick shots, closing with one memorable sketch about a vampire going home with a girl on her period. “For LaughtHERfest,” Katie explained, “I wanted to pick some of our more female–oriented bits.”
Then Sydnee Washington, a NYC–based stand–up comic, took the stage in a yellow coat and heeled black boots. She reminisced on her “twelve years a straight” when she dated men and included jokes about black womanhood. Lauren scouted Sydnee for the event after seeing her perform at Joe's Pub in New York City because "she was extremely composed and had a really unique energy."
Washington’s stage presence was undeniable, and even the jokes that didn’t hit home landed gracefully. She also riffed on the crowd, particularly after one joke about “Boyz N Da Hood.” When few people noticeably got it, she responded “this might not be my demo.”
Then came the main event, SNL’s Melissa Villaseñor, who walked on stage and anticipated the audience’s first question, saying “I hope you know this is my voice.” She soon launched into her famous impressions, including one of a Sim that incorporated a nice bit of body comedy. The impressions formed the backbone of her set, with some Nickleback bars sprinkled in.
She also did a very long and slightly sexual impression of her own grandmother, weaving Spanish with English. Even audience members who didn’t speak the language could appreciate the humor.
Neither featured comic stayed away from discussing being a woman, or dating, but what was said wasn't exactly new. Still, it was funny if well–worn, and jokes about women throughout all the performances almost always landed.
Ariana McGinn (C’19), the head writer for Bloomers, led a question–and–answer with Villaseñor shortly after the end of the performance. Villaseñor talked through her experience booking SNL, what it was like to compete against children on America’s Got Talent, and how she honed her Owen Wilson impression. She explained, laughing at herself, “I just feel, in my head, their face on my face,” a skill she later exhibited with an uncanny expression of fellow SNL cast member Kate McKinnon.
After a few audience questions, the performance portion of the night ended, and the near–full theater emptied out. Some audience members pushing towards the double doors weighed Washington’s performance against Villaseñor's, but most just chatted about their plans for the night, or their favorite jokes. While no ceilings were shattered in the making of this event, it was a good start.