To a comic, image and projection is everything. The vibe that the crowd gets from the person on stage can make or break an entire performance. Karen Rontowski brought enough energy and good spirits for everyone in the place—and then some.
Not being very familiar with her at all, I didn’t know what to expect. Most of the female stand-up comedians I’ve seen or heard usually feel they have to be crass and edgy to stay relevant and survive in what’s a male-dominated profession. Rontowski is the exact opposite of what I expected, and it was a treat to find out how wrong I was.
She was full of confidence and immediately brightened the Wiseguys Trolley Square room once she started. Happiness was a recurring theme of most of her routine and it worked perfectly to create a fun, lively and hilarious atmosphere. She has a wide range of material, careful to avoid getting pigeonholed into one specific ‘type’ of comedy. She switches between the easy, light-hearted stuff that your mom would laugh at and the more offbeat material that some male comics probably kick themselves for not coming up with. Rontowski genuinely loves the thrill of being on stage and making people laugh. It didn’t matter that the room wasn’t anywhere close to capacity; she still made the most of what was there and everyone in the audience appreciated her for it.
Rontowski had a little help beforehand, too. The house MC took on the difficult job of warming up the still-arriving crowd, mostly sticking to quick bits on the state of comedy and the future of rap music. Short and sweet, but he helped set the tone for the evening. Local comic Jacob Leigh was first at bat, and he has a slightly awkward and quiet style. I’d seen his set before, but this time it played a little better, and he had a little more confidence—still working out some kinks, but the guy definitely has promise.
Jeff (not sure what his last name was) took the mic after Jacob and kept the show moving along. He had some decent jokes about restaurants and fast food, but his set really hit its stride when he got to the relationship portion. There was an undercurrent of bitterness running through girlfriend jokes that made them (and him) funnier. It felt like he was trying to hold back a little and that restraint helped both the delivery and the punch lines. Both openers (as well as the MC) had such different approaches to comedy that all the acts had a nice contrast to each other.
Rontowski and her new age hippie style was by far the most refined, but that’s the kind of thing that happens when you’ve spent most of your life on stage trying to make people laugh. Rontowski has been doing it—and doing it well—for years. And she’ll be doing it in Salt Lake City all weekend.