Cake & Comedy
The conventions of the comedy club differ significantly from those of the cabaret room. Cabaret, understandably, tends to be more on the polished, formal, and polite side, while the world of stand-up and sketch comedy seems looser and more freewheeling. Female performers have traditionally had a strong voice in cabaret, but not so much in comedy venues. Many more women now perform stand-up than in decades past, but the tradition can still seem testosterone driven. The cologne-scented sweat of all those Lennys, Jackies, and Sheckys seems to have seeped into the floorboards of comedy club stages across the continent.
What happens, though, when the worlds of cabaret and stand-up collide? That’s happening with an ongoing series at Don’t Tell Mama called “Cake & Comedy,” hosted by a comedian (and caterer) named Vicki Ferentinos. Like standard comedy shows, this one features several short sets, finishing with the performance of a headliner of some renown. But at the show I saw, three of the four guest performers were female and the fourth was a gay man. Ferentinos had the nurturing presence of a good-natured den mother. She checked in with the audience before the show, ensuring that they had drinks and everything else necessary for their enjoyment of the evening. And she furnished the attendees with the titular baked goods: enough for everybody to have a slice during the show, plus a cupcake to take home for later. Who’d even think about heckling or otherwise causing trouble in an atmosphere like this?
As in a standard comedy show, the emcee performed mini-sets between other performers’ acts. Ferentinos’s opening bits had largely to do with her recent coming out (she has only lately come to identify as lesbian). Another dealt with the presidential race and introduced a special guest: a cardboard cutout of Hillary Clinton, which remained onstage for the last half of the show. Ferentinos is a likable moderator, not to mention an accomplished baker (she noted that she had herself just given up sugar for health reasons, observing that that probably marked her cake giveaway as a passive-aggressive act).
The first guest comic (and the only one I’d previously seen perform) was Adam Sank—who’s known for his sly smile and incorrigible potty mouth. He explained that part of his set was being recorded during the show as an audition tape that required squeaky-clean material only. This non-blue routine covered such things as coming out as a comedian to his parents and being old enough to remember a world before the advent of cell phones and answering machines. It was passably amusing. But a squeaky-clean Adam Sank doesn’t seem to be an Adam Sank at full throttle. Fortunately, there was room left in his allotted time for some smuttier bits.
Up next was Jacquetta Szathmari, a performer with a plain-dealing style and a down-to-earth delivery. Much of her set had to do with her feelings about children—specifically, that she has (and wants) none. She advanced the theory that some toddlers are born “assholes,” bent on a lifelong course of despicability. She also discussed her experience with clinical depression, which she described as being like an eternal 2016 presidential election cycle.
The third performer, Rachel Parenta, came across as smart, a bit buttoned down, and highly self-deprecatory (one of her funniest self-put-downs concerned how she and her husband needed to take on a roommate to pay the bills). There were some halting moments that got in the way of Parenta’s effectiveness, but she clearly has a talent for ad-libbing. At one point, she spoke about how she is often mistaken for a lesbian. In a slip of a tongue, she began the very next sentence with the words, “I want to find a woman….” She turned that gaffe into one of the best riffs of her set.
Finally, came the headliner, Karith Foster, who delivered an enjoyable turn. She alluded at one point to a paradox about herself that may partially explain her appeal as a performer: her robust and imposing physicality is at odds with her pleasantly demure and somewhat squeaky voice. Referencing Ferentinos’s earlier remarks about having been unaware of her true sexuality, Foster explained that for much of her life she was clueless about her African-American heritage—something that became evident to her when she counted the number of other black people at a Barry Manilow concert. The content of her set was mostly about her domestic life with her “filter-free” Australian-born husband and her young daughters, who added a verboten word to the lyrics of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” to get a rise out of their grandparents. Foster works fairly clean, so it seems ironic—yet appropriate—that her most laugh-earning bit concerned having received a certificate for a colonic as a birthday gift.
The slate of guest performers changes with each Cake & Comedy installment. Shows are currently scheduled monthly at Don’t Tell Mama.
Don’t Tell Mama – April 16, May 28, July 2, September 17, October 22
About the Author
Mark Dundas Wood is an arts/entertainment journalist and dramaturg. He began writing reviews for BistroAwards.com in 2011. More recently he has contributed "Cabaret Setlist" articles about cabaret repertoire. Other reviews and articles have appeared in theaterscene.net and clydefitchreport.com, as well as in American Theatre and Back Stage. As a dramaturg, he has worked with New Professional Theatre and the New York Musical Theatre Festival. He is currently literary manager for Broad Horizons Theatre Company.