There’s never been a better time to be funny in Wichita.
Nineteen local comics have qualified for the semi-finals of the annual Wichita’s Funniest Person Contest at the Loony Bin, 215 N. St. Francis.
The competition, which is in its 14th year, can be a stepping stone for up-and-coming stand-up comics in Wichita – past winners have gone on to careers in Los Angeles and Seattle, according to Ron Shively, who is best known by his stage name, Mr. Biggs.
Shively was the competition’s first winner, and he has come back to organize it this year.
“If you want to see the best that Wichita comedy has to offer, you can’t beat the finals,” Shively said. “I don’t know if Wichita sees it as a big thing, but these guys see it that way.”
Here’s how it works:
The club hosted eight weeks of qualifying rounds on Wednesday nights. The top three comedians from every night (judged by audience applause/laughter) advanced to the semi-final round.
The semifinals, which will be Wednesday at the club, are partially run by judges. Eight comedians will advance at the judges’ discretion. Four others (“wild cards,” as Shively calls them) will advance based on audience response.
One winner will be selected (by judges) from the 12 comedians in the finals, traditionally held the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
The winner gets a cash prize, a booking at the Loony Bin, a photoshoot with Kacy Meinecke Photography, and a “Wichita’s Funniest Person” bracelet.
So what’s it like at the top?
Lonely, said Elijah Graves, who was crowned Wichita’s Funniest Person in 2014.
“The weird thing about it is everybody is so supportive that, when you win, I wanted to be really happy, but I didn’t know how happy I could be without seeming like a jerk,” Graves said. “Only one person wins, so if you’re in the group of people that lost, you have way more people to drink with. If you win, you’re all alone. Being a loser – that’s the way to go.”
Only one person wins, so if you’re in the group of people that lost, you have way more people to drink with.
Elijah Graves, 2014 winner of Wichita’s Funniest Person Contest
Every year, the competition is populated both by longtime Wichita comedians and newbies to the scene.
Some of the newbies are a little hit and miss – a couple of comedians’ lame sex jokes fell on a quiet Wednesday audience recently.
Regardless, longtime comedians say they welcome any newcomers, and they say the Wichita comedy scene is growing.
“Everybody here is really excited about this thing growing,” Graves said. “Nobody’s trying to close the door behind them.”
Shively said he has seen an uptick in female comedians in this year’s competition – more so than in any year prior. A female comic won the competition for the first time in 2015.
“We’re still trying to get some more female comics,” said Helen Reicher, one of the comics competing in this year’s contest. “There’s a couple of newer females that are coming up in the scene, but it’d be nice to get more.”
What is it like being on the stage of the Loony Bin, making the crowd laugh one minute, but worrying your next joke may fall flat?
“It’s a huge rush,” said a local comedian who goes by Dan the Man. “Usually when you do comedy, you go up there just to make people laugh, and at the end of the day you feel good, but in a competition, there’s going to be one winner and 11 losers. No one wants to be a loser at the end.”
Derek Aalders, a three-time finalist in the competition – and hopeful finalist this year – said he does the competition to give people a temporary escape from reality.
“Especially with everything that’s going on right now – half the country’s terrified at what just happened and half the country’s elated,” he said. “If people are in that 50 percent, or have a job that’s got them stressed out, or it’s something at home ... they come in here and for 90 minutes they can forget about everything and laugh. That’s what’s most rewarding for me.”
Wichita’s Funniest Person 2016
When: Semi-finals 8 p.m. Wed., finals 8 p.m. Nov. 23
Where: Loony Bin Comedy Club, 215 N. St. Francis
What: Competition to determine the funniest person in Wichita, as judged by crowd reaction and, in later rounds, by judges
Admission: $9 for semi-finals, $12 for finals
More information: www.wichita.loonybincomedy.com