The commerce of comedy

Photo by Sanford Biggers

Photo by Sanford Biggers

Someone’s about to air UPAC’s dirty laundry – a larger-than-life leopard-print brassiere suspended from giant clothesline by gargantuan clothespins – and it signals something significant, something serious. What’s going on may be the most expansive event that the Ulster Performing Arts Center (UPAC) has ever seen. There will be big names, big spaces, big cups to fill – all in the name of comedy, community and art. And that’s just the beginning.

Serious Laughs: Art | Politics | Humor, a six-week celebration featuring comedians, visual art exhibitions and workshops, unfolds in Kingston from April 1 to May 12. Headlining at UPAC are Kathy Griffin on Sunday, April 21, and Lewis Black on Sunday, April 28. In a UPAC first, the theater will become an art gallery overflowing with works from Alison Bechdel, Sanford Biggers, Olaf Breuning, John Cage, Tim Davis, Kevin Frank, Mark Hogancamp, Nina Katchadourian, Ken Landauer, Young Jean Lee, Kalup Linzy, Lois Long, Myra Mimlitsch-Gray, Pat Oleszko, William Pachner, Liliana Porter, Lisa Sanditz, Ariel Schrag, Dana Schutz, Josh Shaddock, Ward Shelley, Cindy Sherman, Bob Snead, the Wooster Group and William Wegman.

“We’re transforming UPAC essentially into a gallery space all over – all the lobbies, even the bathroom, onstage,” said Bardavon executive director Chris Silva. “There’s going to be art outside, inside, everywhere you turn.”


Every work in the show, curated by Daniel Mason, packs potential comic punch. “It’s a lot of space to spread out and play with perceptions, and that’s kind of what Serious Laughs is about: Is this serious? Is this funny? What does this mean? – all those questions art prompts when you experience it,” said Silva.

The comic art will spill over into the Kingston Public Library during the entire month of April. Highlights include a series of dog-made letter photos by William Wegman, a screening of his film Alphabet Soup and a serial exhibition by graphic novelist Ariel Schrag, with panels changing weekly. Alex Kahn and Sophia Michahelles of Processional Arts Workshop will lead free comedic maskmaking sessions in collaboration with Emmy-nominated screenwriter Casey Kurtti, who will give lessons in verbal and visual techniques, culminating in an improvised absurdist performance. Workshops will be held at UPAC, and are open to all ages but geared toward adults and teens (registration is required).

Sixteen additional stand-out standup comedians will play in nightclubs and restaurants across Kingston, including BSP, Keegan Ales, Frank Guido’s Little Italy, the Rondout Music Lounge, Savona’s Trattoria and Mariner’s Harbor. This is the first time that UPAC will coordinate such an extensive offsite performance series. “We’re expanding our role in a sense, booking comics outside of our own venue and bringing very diverse and eclectic artists into our space. All those things are things we’ve never done before,” said Silva.