Jewish Jokers: Baltimore Comedians on Their Lives in Stand-Up

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“This has been kind of a big week for me. I did recently have to buy a pregnancy test,” said Baltimore resident and comedian Mariel Farhi while performing at Washington, D.C.’s Dew Drop Inn, June 1, 2019. “What can I say? I love shopping. Can’t get enough. Plus, in school, I was always that kid that tested well.”

Of the things that Washington, D.C., and Baltimore are known for, comedy may not be what first that comes to mind. But while the nation’s capital may not have New York’s Apollo Theater, or Charm City Hollywood’s Laugh Factory, that doesn’t mean the metropolitan area isn’t a welcoming place for young aspiring Jewish comedians.


“I have loved stand-up comedy since I was, like, a little kid,” Fahri said during an interview on the second floor of Zissimos Bar in the Hampden neighborhood of Baltimore. It was once owned by the family of Lou Costello (of Abbott and Costello) and today is the home of the Charm City Comedy Project, which regularly organizes performances for local comedians.

“I was particularly enamored with Lewis Black, who my parents took me to see when I was 12,” Farhi said. “And I just continued to love and consume a lot of comedy.”
As time passed, people around her noticed her “sparkling wit,” encouraging her to try comedy herself.

“Especially my mom,” Farhi said. “Classic Jewish mother fashion.”

She went to her first open-mic in May of 2018, after receiving encouragement from a group of women comedians called the “Clitorati.” Fahri described the group as a great resource for women comedians, while Megan Wills, the owner of Charm City Comedy Project, noted the group gives “a heads-up about any dangers at the scene. … It’s a huge thing that women are kind of binding together in these groups and watching out for each other.”

Since her initial outing, Fahri has performed her brand of comedy in venues as far flung as Wilmington, N.C., and Chicago.

Mariel Farhi. Photo by Jesse Berman.

Some, like Sam Rubin, a resident of Baltimore’s Federal Hill neighborhood who has also performed in D.C., Pennsylvania, and other towns in Maryland, gravitated to comedy out of a need for a creative outlet. “I had been interested in comedy for a long time,” Rubin said. “And then a friend of mine did stand-up, and I started getting into that. And for the last two years, I’ve been trying to do stand-up as much as possible since.”

As for Lilly Sparks, who hangs her hat in Baltimore’s Station North area while also performing elsewhere in the DMV area, stand-up comedy was an avenue to another calling. “The reason I started stand-up is because I wanted to write for TV shows,” Sparks said. “I decided to go out of my school’s resources and decided to try stand-up, and I got really into it.

“Also,” she said, “humor is how I communicate with people.”

Concerned with being recognized on her first foray, Sparks “kind of made sure there was no one I knew there, and did it sneakily in the night.” While nervous, she recalled that “it wasn’t too bad because it was a safe and friendly environment.”

Today, Sparks describes having a good performance at a club as an all but intoxicating experience. “Having 300 people listening to my voice feels really insane,” she said. “There’s a feeling when you’re performing that’s really unique and special. … It’s almost like a high when you’re doing well.”

Still, the comedy business does have its ups and downs. “When you’re about to go on, and you’re like, ‘I got this, I got this,’ and then the crowd isn’t feeling you, and then you’re just kind of stuck on stage,” Sparks said. In particular, she noted one performance, while on crutches from a broken ankle, where she “bombed” in front of adult film actress Stormy Daniels.

When asked how she comes up with her material, Sparks recalled the advice she got from her friend “King Tink”: “Think of what kind of bothers you or annoys you in writing jokes, rather than thinking what you think is funny, and find humor from that.”

Regarding subject matter, Sparks noted that a “lot of the subjects I talk about involve growing femininity in a coming-of-age perspective, and seeing the world through that lens.”

Fahri offered a similar answer. “I put stuff about my body, and my sexuality, and my experience as a woman on stage,” she said. “It’s stuff that I find often makes men uncomfortable or that sometimes women are afraid to laugh at. But when it hits with an audience, it’s very exciting.”

While Fahri expects her future career in marriage and family therapy to become her principal profession, Sparks is hoping to stay with comedy, though in the form of writing or editing for television and film. “I don’t know where I am on this journey,” Sparks said. “But that’s what makes it a journey.”

Fahri, Sparks, and Rubin are all slated to perform at the seventh Charm City Comedy Festival from April 29 – May 10 at Zissimos Bar.

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