But despite the chaos of Chris Farley impersonators, hacks and self-indulgent stage hogs, plenty of talented comedians have emerged. Christopher Stephenson, Bob Montana and Levi Rounds are hitting the local comedy scene with a raw, realistic humor. They’re the kind of comedians who are devoted to fine-tuning their craft and not trying to create or latch on to a “movement.”
Every week the three get together at Twilite Lounge to write and bounce material off one another. It isn’t unusual to find them sitting in a dark corner of Twilite, hard at work with pens and pints of beer in hand, prepping for gigs at venues like Club Vegas, Urban Lounge and Burt’s Tiki Lounge.
Onstage, Montana has the habit of holding onto the mic with both fists as if it were his lifeline, and his quiet voice makes for an odd, yet appealing, stage presence. His comedy takes issue with the everyday ridiculousness of our vernacular, and people’s tendency to project onto others what they fear in themselves. One of his jokes aims directly at homophobes’ use of derogatory terms: “Where does the term fruit come from? Let’s say I’m a drunk at a bar and I want to insult some guy, so I approach him.”
Taking the voice of a drunk in a bar, complete with slur, Montana proceeds, “You know what you are? You are a fruit! Just like a delicious fuzzy peach of a 12-year old boy. Now get in my mouth!”
Stephenson’s dark comedy, much like that of Rounds and Montana, is inspired by real-life events. He tells a joke about a recent experience of being asked for a cigarette by a homeless man. “I told the guy I was sorry, but I didn’t have any more on me. The guy proceeded to yell at me at the top of his lungs. I was pretty shocked, which was apparent to the guy, who then apologized and asked if I could help him by telling him how to get things from people without being rude.
“So, I got to thinking,” Stephenson continues, “what if I one day woke up after weeks of no sex and decided to become a rapist? But not just any rapist—a polite rapist. I go up to some unsuspecting individual and inform them ever-so-politely that I’m gonna go ahead and rape them now, but it's OK because I’m not being rude about it.”
Rounds is not exactly an intimidating guy—slender frame and awkward style, and usually donning a Cubs baseball cap. But his sets are particularly biting. He covers topics from religion to relationships, to the media and politics. He isn’t afraid to cross the line with his jokes—and once he’s over that line, he practically spits on it.
Rounds tells a joke about how the media doesn’t bother to cover stories about kidnapped kids from marginalized groups but cover the JonBenet Ramsey case to the point of obsession, simply because she was white with a rich family. If you assume he’s telling some perverted joke about the case, you would be mistaken—but he will stoop to your level and aim a low blow. When one seemingly intoxicated customer heckled him for daring to make jokes about Ramsey, Rounds told him “Relax, that was years ago … she’s legal now.” The guy promptly got onstage and punched Rounds in the face.
Rounds says the violent hecklers are rare, but he has been attacked more than once. He has no issue talking about the time he responded to a heckler, whose boyfriend later cornered him the parking lot with a knife. Before he can finish this story, Montana jumps in. “If we had known the guy was out there pulling a knife, there would have been a pool cue broken over his head, no questions asked.”
Despite having one another’s back like that, these guys are not officially a “team” of comedians. “We are all on our own team, but we look at it this way,” says Stephenson. “If one of us succeeds, we are in a position to help each other out. We have mutual respect for each other’s comedy and would be happy as hell to open or be the opener for one another.”
It won’t be much of a surprise if these guys make it on the national stage in coming years. Other local comedians, including Brook Connelly and Arthur Carter, are also beginning to stand out in the comedy scene. So now is the time to get out there and see what these local comedians are all about before they no longer have as much time to grace Salt Lake City with their presence—and hecklers have to look for someone else to punch in the face.