Big Island comedy scene growing

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KAILUA-KONA — Considering today’s news cycle, who couldn’t use a good laugh? As luck would have it, plenty of laughs are out there.


KAILUA-KONA — Considering today’s news cycle, who couldn’t use a good laugh? As luck would have it, plenty of laughs are out there.

During the past several years, a number of stand-up comedians, improvisers and everyone else with a good joke have been a part of an emerging comedy scene on the Big Island, with open mic nights and improv events popping up at popular venues.

“Comedy is an escape and it’s an opportunity for people to sort of laugh at all of the insanity that goes on in our world,” said Rich Mears, a Kona podcaster and founding member of improvisational comedy group The Alohahas. “And whatever your political leanings or otherwise, it’s an opportunity to really just kind of escape or just laugh at it all.”

Even in just the past year, the island’s comedy scene has “really started to boom,” with comedians such as Tom Campbell, Bryan Rupp, Tony Ridenour, Justine Smith and Kevin Hobbs, said Jose “Dynamite” Figueras, an Oahu-based comedian, promoter and owner of KMA Productions.

“It went from about two and a half years ago where there was just two guys doing comedy to 12 people that are getting on stage and telling jokes,” Figueras said.

And among the crowd of comics on the island, Figueras said there’s a great diversity of voices, meaning audiences at a show will get a range of viewpoints and comedic styles.

“That’s kind of a reflection upon the demographic of Hawaii being a melting point of different cultures, different backgrounds,” he said.

Take Campbell, who in addition to being command sergeant major at Pohakuloa Training Area, has performed stand-up around the island for the past several months as “Campbell Shah of Comedy.”

Although many might try out comedy at open mic night, Campbell’s first go at stand-up in 2007 was a little different.

It was in Iraq, when a USO show’s aircraft got weathered out, keeping them from putting on their entertainment gig.

“Everybody’s expecting a comedy show, so I got up in front of everybody and started telling jokes,” he said.

Campbell came to Hawaii in 2015 and got back into stand-up this past February. Since then, he’s performed dozens of shows and has worked to build the Big Island comedy scene.

Stand-up isn’t the only game in town.

Improvisational comedians also are building a scene of their own.

“It’s kinda like jumping off a cliff because there’s no going back and you just know you’re gonna land, and you’re pretty sure you’re not gonna die, y’know?” said Kerry Matsumoto, comedian and another founding member of The Alohahas. “Which I guess is easier than jumping off a cliff, actually. I would pick it.”

The Alohahas was started about five years ago by a handful of people who met during an improv class at the Aloha Theatre in Kainaliu.

Their first show was a hit, Matsumoto said, with more than 100 people in the audience.

Improv, where all or nearly all of a performance is unscripted, also has the draw of audience participation, with those in attendance giving performers a suggestion for the next scene, such as the location of where it is set.

“And because we use their location, they’re now invested in this sketch or this little bit,” Matsumoto said.

The Aloha Theatre also is the spot for regular “LOL Friday Improv Party Playtime” nights, which evolved from an improv workshop started by Nicole Gour in 2015. LOL Friday gives community members the chance to try their hand at improvisation games in the vein of “Whose Line is it Anyway?”

“It allows a safe place where people can come and just be their weird selves, be their outlandish selves, be outspoken about something all in the name of just having a good time and making yourself laugh, making other people laugh,” Gour said. “And it’s OK to fail. It’s a safe place that you can go and try and fail, and then you just brush yourself off and you try again.”

Matsumoto said events such as LOL Friday show that there’s a demand, saying she’s seen crowds of 40 people come out for an evening.

“And what I see then is talent in the rough, just waiting,” she said.

And those in the business say the island’s comedy scene is only likely to grow from here.

“If there’s one thing I do know about local people, it’s there are a lot of people that have a really good sense of humor,” Figueras said. “People got funny stories; they got funny uncles or aunties or nephews or whatever and people like to share their stories.”

That’s a sentiment Mears shares.

“There are some hilarious people on this island, whether they’re on stage or not,” he said. “You know, you see it at the Aloha Theatre sometimes with some of the characters that are up there and, yeah, I think anywhere you go, there are — hidden in the nooks and crannies — there are some exceptionally funny people out there.”

To keep the scene growing, the island’s talent says it’ll require collaboration and a reliable schedule and venue where audiences can regularly expect to see comedy performances.

A big step, Gour said, would be to bring together those on the Big Island who are passionate about comedy — whether stand-up, improv or sketch comedy — to collaborate, set some dates and make it happen.


“If you pick the dates and you have a couple of core people that are dedicated to making it happen, it will happen,” she said.“But if you don’t have that, it starts to fall through the cracks.”

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