In the comedy world, “going blue” refers to a certain style of off–color, risqué humor. Thus “Blue Heaven,” according to artistic director Zach Blackwood, “is a kind of turn of phrase that means a place for us, a carved out space for me, a personal place. Blue Heaven is a place for all of us to feel safe and nasty."
The Blue Heaven Comedy Festival returned for its second year from Philadelphia's FringeArts and featured new and exciting voices in comedy, art, and performance. The festival took place this past weekend over February 7th and 8th, and featured artists like Patti Harrison of Hulu’s Shrill, Max Wittert of HBO’s High Maintenance, and Lorelei Ramirez who starred in Comedy Central’s Broad City.
“Blue Heaven is a comedy marathon... and it’s such a breadth of ideas. It really is the most vital, most responsive comedy festival I know of in Philadelphia,” says Blackwood. After visiting fringe festivals in Australia and Edinburgh and taking in performances that addressed deeper issues like mental health and identity on what he calls a “comedy safari,” he returned to Philadelphia, inspired to start something similar.
While Blackwood acknowledges the value of many different types of comedy, he clarifies Blue Heaven is a space for deeply progressive, socially relevant performances. For Blackwood, comedy that “punches down, or that makes identities that are not the comedian’s own the butt of the joke... really challenged me a lot. So one kind of parameter we put on our own curatorial vision for this festival was not including work like that.” Blackwood made it his mission when organizing Blue Heaven to ensure “a diversity of voices, diversity of subject matters represented, as well as a diversity of forms."
If the comedy itself wasn't enough, there were other activities and opportunities at the festival. Planned in the spirit of “fun, play, and discovery,” attendees could eat snacks, get their faces painted, or receive a temporary tattoo designed by a performer. They even featured a custom Blue Heaven cocktail for the event, made of Stateside Vodka, blackberries, ginger beer, and lemon juice.
Blackwood emphasizes “even if you don’t think you know all of these comics, you’ve heard their voices… and so many of our artists go on to do amazing, amazing things.”
Check out Street's highlights of the festival below:
Megan Stalter and Sarah Squirm
Entering with high energy to kick off the second block of night one, Megan Stalter and Sarah Squirm began by running about the audience in sparkly outfits while singing about each other's best traits. Stalter then left the stage for Squirm to give her stand–up set, which primarily discussed the horrors of the human body and Los Angeles. She ended with a video presentation about how to survive in LA, depicting the many lengths Squirm has gone to fit in, like popping pimples to rub the pus around the rest of her face and removing her organs to lose weight. Stalter then took the stage, her set high on audience engagement. She performed a scene from her newly–written play and sang for everyone. Between the two of them, it's hard to say whose performance was more discomforting.
Little stand–up could be found in Harrison's comedic music performance, which featured tributes to performers like Joanna Newsom and Dua Lipa in impossible registers and inflections. Her songs offered a vision into Harrison's warped mind, often touching on taboo topics that I won't even address in this article (instead, click here for an example.) Harrison's bizarre, psycho–sexual delivery is clearly the impetus behind her character Ruthie on Hulu's Shrill. Each punchline is as unexpected as the last, often leaving a bad taste in your mouth after laughing your ass off. And despite many claims that a cold affected her ability to perform, Harrison proved many of the songs actually could stand alone, even if they would never get radio time. With prime roles in television and in movies, on–and off–screen, Patti Harrison is surely a name to know in the comedy sphere.
Presenting Boss Whom Is Girl, Loftus performed her set as #Girlboss Shell Gasoline–Sandwich, the self–made woman with a noticeably lower register than Loftus and absolutely no outstanding warrants for her arrest. Upon entrance into the theater, attendees were given a non–disclosure agreement, which simply stated that any mention of the hundreds of DJs who went missing on an island off the coast of Europe may result in an assassination attempt. Throughout her extended performance as Gasoline–Sandwich, Loftus spoofed on the modern #woke capitalist. She outlined her patented philosophy for all queens, the Inverted Pussy Pyramid of Girlboss Needs, and introduced everyone to her company's key product, Patricia, a personal companion perfect for playing The Killer's "Mr. Brightside" and nothing else.
Joel Kim Booster
Patti Harrison returned to the stage for the second night to briefly open for Kim Booster, elaborating on the times they had previously met and worked together, some of which may or may not have involved physical attacks, Harrison joked. Kim Booster entered, stopping momentarily to faux–assault Harrison once again, and led with bouncy energy to warm up the late crowd. His set covered topics from the struggles faced by Asian–Americans who grew up with white parents to the plight of male gays who end up with a fleshlight of a woman's anus ("so, in conclusion... I'm bi!"). Early in the set, Kim Booster singled out a straight white male to give feedback throughout the performance, asking for the most relatable bits, which, like all feedback from a straight white male, proved irrelevant. Despite the set running into the next day, Kim Booster managed to bring a sunny mood that kept the audience rapt and lightened until the end of the festival.