Comedy competition at the El Rey Theatre


Myles Weber, the competition host, counts down 10 seconds for applause, which awards each comedian one bonus point Photo credit: Matthew Manfredi

On Saturday night, a line outside the El Rey Theatre formed well before doors opened for the 8 p.m. show. Inside the theatre, 16 comedians from all over the U.S., Canada and even as far as China, prepared for the 41st annual San Francisco Comedy Competition, a multi-week event that took place in venues all over Northern California.

The legendary competition once featured comedians such as Robin Williams, Louie CK, Marc Maron and Patton Oswald.

The notoriety among upcoming comedians’ participation makes a piece of the $15,000 grand prize secondary, as their names are added to the list of alumni that went on to have successful—sometimes monumental—careers in show business.

Stand-up comedy wasn’t really a Saturday night happening compared to the usual night of beers at the Bear, going to some other sort of performance art or just binge watching the latest Netflix series at home.

However, among the crowded seats at the El Rey Theatre, the loud applauding, the laughs and the “fan girling,” stand-up comedy looks like it may be taking residence in venues all across Chico.

Open mics on Mondays at the Maltese and Wednesdays at the Studio Inn Lounge on the Esplanade have been consistently getting the attention of local comedy enthusiast and aspiring stand-up comics.

“The pendulum is swinging upward. There’s more stand-up comedy than ever before,” said comedy promoter and Chico Comedy Festival impresario, DNA.

outside el rey
Crowd eagerly waiting outside El Rey Theatre before the show. Photo credit: Matthew Manfredi

Myles Weber, 2015 champion of the competition who has been seen on Portico TV and Popular Science, hosted this year’s event and called out the five finalists that would move onto the next round in the Bay Area at the end of the month.

Mark Smalls and Alex Hooper from Los Angeles, Emily Van Dyke from San Francisco, and Ehsan Ahmad from Cupertino were among the top four finalists. Heath Harmison from Las Vegas came in first place.

“With a competition like this, 41 years running, it shows venues, bookers and television (producers) that you are funny. And the process of winning this competition is not easy,” Harmison said. “It’s definitely something that will move your career forward.”

Finalists from the El Rey went on to compete against other preliminary finalists on Sept. 11 in Santa Cruz before moving onto the finals starting on Sept. 19 in select venues around the Bay Area.

Matt Manfredi can be reached at [email protected] or @matthewmanfredi on Twitter.