Comedy Festival Adds Dimensions To Stand-Up

Mar 19, 2019

Standup comedy can involve more than just standing up to tell jokes or stories. 

If this year’s Burning Bridges Comedy Festival is any indication, it can also get into hot-dog-eating contests and optional levels of clothedness.

The fourth annual festival features 15 shows over five days, with 60 comedians from Pittsburgh and around the country. The headliner shows – by The Boogie Monster Podcast Live and nationally known comic Todd Barry – are already sold out. But comedian and festival founder John Dick Winters says there are plenty more highlights.

One of them is Strip Joker (March 22). The body-positive show, devised by queer comedians in Chicago, encourages comics to perform in their underwear (or as little clothing as they are comfortable with). It’s the show’s first time in Pittsburgh, though Winters says he did a Strip Joker in Memphis last year for which he got down to Saran-wrap underpants he created for the occasion.

“It’s about being safe and comfortable in your body, and not having it be a thing,” says Winters, who co-organizes the festival with fellow comic Derek Minto.

On March 22 and 23 come two iterations of Hot Dog!, a show originating in Columbus, Ohio, that debuted locally at last year’s Burning Bridges. The contest involves the host secretly identifying a “trigger” that’s a quirk or tendency of the comedian’s work – say, that he or she tends to ask questions. Whenever the trigger is (unwittingly) activated, another hot dog is delivered to the stage, and the comic can’t leave the stage until all the wieners are gone.

“By the end of the show, there’s like eight or ten comics on the stage eating hot dogs while there’s a comedian performing, also eating hot dogs,” says Winters. “It’s absurd, completely fun, it’s like a show you’ve never seen before.”

The festival includes no improv or sketch comedy. But another twist on stand-up is One Liner Madness, from Brooklyn (March 22). “It’s just a bracket-style March Madness kind of contest where each comedian goes up and tells a one-line joke, and then the audience votes on who the best joke was,” says Winters. “And then that continues until there’s one comic standing.”

Most Burning Bridges events take place at Burning Bridges’ own year-round venue, the Burning Bridges Comedy Club, inside Hambone’s tavern, in Lawrenceville. Other venues include Club Café, on the South Side; Arcade Comedy Theatre, Downtown; and Bella Notte, in the Strip District.