Brian Herberger, a 32-year-old schoolteacher, has a lot of experience performing in front of a room filled with people. It came in handy Wednesday night, as he won the third annual “Buffalo’s Funniest Person” contest and $1,200 at Helium Comedy Club in downtown Buffalo.
A laid-back, self-deprecating comic on stage, Herberger won the crowd over with hometown pride humor, joking about standing up for Buffalo but not his country, the late closing hours of area bars and his annoyance with Canadians. Ultimately, he won over a team of judges, too.
“It felt great,” Herberger said of his set after the show. “I just wanted to hit everything and leave it all out there. Even if I didn’t win, I wanted to feel good about my set. I felt good about it.”
Herberger got his start in comedy at the old Comix Café in Tonawanda in 2001. After that club shut down, he performed on and off over the next few years at area open mics and independent shows. Like many local comics, Herberger was very excited when Helium opened a few years ago, giving amateurs a stage to become legitimate.
“It’s great to have this,” he said. “Helium’s been one of the best things in Buffalo and it got me and everybody back into it.”
Buffalo resident Kyle Turner turned in a confident performance to earn second place in the contest, while Jameel Key, 36, placed third. The finals also featured Zack Johnson from Rochester and Buffalo comics Phil Machemer and Tyrone Maclin.
Andrew Kulaszewski, general manager of Helium, said this year’s “Buffalo’s Funniest Person” contest had about 68 people enter. The previous two winners, Josh Potter and Rick Matthews, hosted the finals Wednesday.
“While we didn’t really see an explosion in numbers of people signing up, there’s more legitimate competition this year,” Kulaszewski said. “There’s always been about a dozen or so really strong comics, and now that number’s growing to the 20s and 30s. The field itself is much deeper this year.
Some of those “strong comics” from years past have moved to large comedy scenes in New York City, Los Angeles and Portland, opening up opportunities for people coming up in Buffalo.
“The scene is still growing,” Kulaszewski said. “Guys like Mark Walton, Shaun Murphy and Dan Fisher leave, and they leave a hole here. But there’s other guys coming up, and we’ll even see a few guys tonight that either exceeded their expectations or our expectations. The guys who are performing tonight are doing an 8 to 10 minute set, which is what we would have them do when they host a weekend here, so it’s a great opportunity to maybe get a new face up on stage.”
Herberger is next on the list to move. He’s taking time off of his job to head to New York City next month.
“I’m moving down to there and give this a shot to see where I go with it,” he said.
Story topics: Andrew Kulaszewski/ Brian Herberger/ Buffalo's Funniest Person/ comedians/ comedy/ Helium Comedy Club/ Jameel Key/ Kyle Turner/ Mark Ciemcioch/ Phil Machemer/ Tyrone Maclin/ Zack Johnson