Beth Brandon safe at home on stand-up stage
December 1, 2006
Beth Brandon had long been able to entertain friends with stories and impersonations of “Saturday Night Live” characters. But her time onstage was limited to a few theater productions, and a silly thing during an MTV event while she attended Depauw University. For several years, Brandon’s mind was occupied with charting a path to a stage career.”I knew I wanted to make people laugh,” said the 27-year-old Aspenite. “I thought maybe there was a book that would tell me how. I kept searching, thinking something would point me in the right direction – how to make people laugh, how to get on ‘Saturday Night Live.’ But I learned there isn’t. There’s just a lot of different experiences.”In the last few years, Brandon has found her way to a variety of local stages. She played oldest daughter Tzeitel in Aspen Community Theatre’s recent production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” Last year she appeared in a Basalt production of “The Vagina Monologues.” On Saturday, Dec. 9, Brandon will be the lone female among the 10 local comedians in the stand-up showcase, Laugh Your Aspen Off, at Steve’s Guitars in Carbondale.
It wasn’t a book or a success guru that pushed Brandon finally to pursue stage opportunities. Instead, it was the very serious experience of being the victim of a sexual assault several months after moving to the valley.”It was a marker: ‘OK, I’m going to do things that scare me. I’m going to start venturing out a little more,'” said Brandon. “When I look back at that, it was a turning point. Since then, I’m living the life I want to live.”Brandon jumped at virtually every opportunity there was to learn stagecraft, taking classes at CMC, with Theatre Aspen and the improv group Mile Hi-Larity. She auditioned for ACT’s “The Sound of Music,” and earned a place in the chorus. (Her dual roles were a nun and an SS officer.) She took an on-camera job with Plum TV, but ended that when she was pushed into the role of fashion host. “I couldn’t talk about mittens every week. Just couldn’t,” she said.Brandon, who works as a legal assistant at an Aspen law firm, has focused on stand-up comedy. She got advice at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival from comedian David Alan Grier, who told her to start small, with a one-minute routine, and build on that. She could have used more lessons; her first stand-up shot, at the 2004 Gongsköl show at the Wheeler Opera House, didn’t go over well.
“I probably shouldn’t have done my introduction to stand-up about a visit to a gynecologist, with a crowd I didn’t know, a crowd who’s looking at jugglers,” she said. “And saying f*** did not go over well with a mother sitting in the audience – especially two lines into my performance.”Two summers ago, Brandon polished herself up with weeklong classes at Chicago’s SCTV. She came home and passed the audition for Laugh Your Aspen Off, which premiered in October at the Aspen Eagles Club. Clifford Fewel, who organized the event, persuaded Brandon to drop the gynecology jokes – for now.”He said, ‘I haven’t heard the gynecologist bit – but,'” she admitted.Brandon turned to jokes about Aspen. They have flowed out of her, thanks to a working-class upbringing in Michigan City, Ind., that couldn’t have been more different than her Aspen life. When she tried out the material at the Eagles Club, she hit the stage as a bundle of nerves. But from the first audience response, Brandon found her stand-up legs.
“Something clicked,” she said. “Something happened; it was like a dream come true. I knew the material well enough – but with that live audience, there was a connection. I threw in things I hadn’t rehearsed. I just felt I could go for things. I got offstage and told Clifford, ‘That just felt like home.’ And then I went home and drank a bunch.”I went home thinking, OK, that’s what I want to do. Of course, I had two nights of audiences laughing at what I said. I still have to go through the experience of doing my routine, and people not laughing.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org