A barrel of laughs and a barrel of beer: WICA hosts comedy competition, workshop, open mic

Comedians pose after their sets at the Seattle International Comedy Competition in 2014 at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts. The series returns next Saturday

Making people laugh is a matter of truth for Ron Reid.

At least, that’s where a great joke should begin. From there, a solid setup can go anywhere it needs to as long as it ends up being unexpected.

“There are two sorts of laughter: laughter of surprise and laughter of recognition,” said Reid in a phone interview Thursday. The former is preferred after setting up the latter; get the audience to nod in agreement a couple of times, then pull the rug out.

An example of laughter of surprise is one of the competition’s comedian’s tweets: “Who do you think would win in a fight between 100 duck-sized horses and my crippling fear of emotional intimacy?”

Reid is hosting 16 stand-up comedians at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts next Saturday, Nov. 14 as part of the 36th Seattle International Comedy Competition. As the producer of the event, which started Nov. 4 and runs through Nov. 22, spanning 22 shows at 19 venues, he implored people to attend the Whidbey Island tour stop before the comedians became “too expensive.”

South Whidbey is one of those venues, which include Portland, Seattle, Spokane, and Vancouver, B.C. The competition has rented the Langley theater as part of its month-long contest for the past five years straight. Crowds hover between 100 and 200 for the full competition show, said WICA production director Deana Duncan. Other people arrive only for the free Brew HaHa! before.

“We’re lucky enough that the Seattle International Comedy Competition considers us a strong enough venue and South Whidbey a strong enough audience to call us,” Duncan said.

“That little South Whidbey is on that list is pretty cool,” she added.

The comedy show is part of a night filled with laughter at WICA. Prior to the competition, Diamond Knot Brewery is releasing its Storm Surge Winter Ale during an open mic.

Reid will impart wisdom to a dozen or so stand-up hopefuls, prior to the evening show, with a 90-minute workshop. As a professional comedian with more than two decades of stand-up experience, Reid knows well both a room of roaring laughter and of deafening silence.

Comedy is an art form, he said. That means, like any art, people like it, people loathe it and people love it. It also means people may not understand it. Like any artist, stand-up comedians can only control themselves.

“You have to settle for as good as you can be,” Reid said.

“Comedy is like any art form,” he added. “It takes a while, it takes time.”

Where comedy differs is in its preparation and delivery. Standing on a stage and telling jokes is an inherently lonely performance. There may be thousands of smiling, staring faces, but there’s only one comedian.

“The difference between being a painter or a fine artist is when you are a performing artist, you are part of what you do,” Reid said. “You have to be judged by what the audience does. That does not mean your sole reason for doing it is to get a reaction.”

His hope, in addition to seeing a sold out crowd, is to have some of the workshop students get up during the open mic. The first step is doing it, he said.

Those willing to try their hand at stand-up should do so with Reid’s advice.

Have fun. If the performer is not enjoying their material or their time on the stage, the crowd will follow. Likewise, if the performer smiles and engages the crowd, the audience will respond in kind.

Be honest. Start with a truth before moving to something made up or fantastical.

“At some point, people know when it’s fake,” Reid said.