It’s been a pretty great and fascinating year for comedy in America: Amy Schumer completed her breakout year with her outstanding sketch show “Inside Amy Schumer” and hit movie “Trainwreck”; late-night hosts David Letterman and Jon Stewart said adieu while Stephen Colbert jumped to CBS; and the endless joke material generated by the craziest presidential primary season of modern times.
In Buffalo, the comedy scene had a transitional year. Terrific headliners continue to come to Helium and other venues, but many of the experienced area comedians moved elsewhere to take the next step in their careers. However, several local comics who started when Helium opened will likely spend more time working weekends in professional rooms in 2016.
Here are five of my favorite moments from the local comedy scene this year:
• Buffalo’s Funniest Person Finals. If you want to see how far many of our local comics have come in the past few years, make sure you attend the finals of the Helium Buffalo’s Funniest Person contest every year. This year’s show featured strong sets from contestants like Kyle Turner and eventual winner Brian Herberger, but my favorite set of the night was by co-host Rick Matthews. A combination of personal life changes and his hard work to perfect his routine has made him the region’s best comedian at the moment. Matthews brings dimension to the stage that can appeal to almost any audience, so be sure to catch him if you can.
• For nationally touring acts, it’s easy to roll into Buffalo, make one or two references to wings or the Bills to win the crowd over, and jump right into their regular set. The Sklar Brothers went several extra miles (literally), as they toured the region throughout their summer weekend at Helium. Their trips to Gabriel’s Gate, Niagara Falls, Forest Lawn and elsewhere inspired them to create a killer 10-minute set about the City of Good Neighbors over the course of their five shows. The rest of their show was hilarious too, making them one of my favorite acts this year.
• I like to consider myself reasonably well informed about comedy, but even I walk into comedy rooms without any knowledge of the headliner. Fortunately, my ignorance of Big Jay Oakerson created a true-believer 45 minutes later, as it was thrilling to watch him take complete command of the Helium room in October. He also busted many guts, a key attribute in the joke-slinging business.
• As the Nietzsche’s comedy night transitioned from an open mic to showcase show, Wednesdays at Milkie’s has become the hot room in Buffalo. Produced by Kristy Rock and Tyrone Maclin (who also hosts), there’s an aura of unpredictability to Milkie’s. The jokes are not always well-formed (or a good idea), but even during the bad sets, it’s interesting to see if the comic can dig him or herself out of the hole. These small nuances and discoveries are essential for a comedian’s development, as even the uncomfortable silence of a joke bombing can inspire someone to greater heights.
• With the local stand-up comedy scene thriving, it’s important to remember there are other forms of comedy being performed locally. Improv groups like the Eclectic Company and ComedySportz are keeping the torches burning on their end, but it was encouraging to see the relatively young Buffalo Sketch Comedy group put together their “Star Wars”-themed revue, “The Farce Awakens,” in early December. It wasn’t perfect, but there was enough interesting material and funny performances (Shakora HP was a highlight) that make me look forward to seeing how the troupe will evolve. With growing talent, support and a little bit of luck, maybe Buffalo will join cities like Toronto and Chicago in turning out world-class sketch performers who end up on “Saturday Night Live.”