Standing Up for Themselves

A group of young stand-up comics is trying to revitalize the local comedy scene by cracking up a tough crowd — each other.

As she one-gulps a last-minute gin and tonic to calm her nerves, Carly Albert hears her name called. This is her chance. After months of pursuing her newly discovered passion for stand-up comedy in front of small handfuls of people at local open-mic nights, she now has three minutes to make 40 paying customers laugh.

Three minutes of her most finely tuned jokes later, there's not a single chuckle.

"It was awful," says Albert of her debut performance at the Royal Comedy Club in Castle Shannon. "My material was completely out of place. It was an older crowd, and older crowds generally look for what's familiar."

Albert, who has been performing on the local stand-up scene for the past nine months, calls her brand of comedy dark, surreal and self-deprecating. Anything but familiar. But that unfamiliarity, the desire to bring the audience out of its comfort zone, is exactly what the 28-year-old Munhall native strives for.

comic

Photo by Becky Thurner Braddock

Carly Albert, 28, works a small audience during a local open-mic night.

"I grew up feeling like George Carlin was my father," Albert says of her idol. "But I was a shy kid, so being up on stage was a really big step."

Like many of her fellow Pittsburgh comics, Albert works various service-industry jobs to make ends meet and spends hours a night at coffee shops huddled over a steaming cup and a yellow notepad scribbling potential jokes. It wasn't until last year that she worked up the courage to take the stage at an open mic at St. James Place Tavern on the South Side.

"The first time was terrifying, and I was horrible," recalls Albert. "I didn't look at the audience. The mic didn't really work. I don't think people laughed. But I did it, and when it was over, I had so much relief and pride and self-satisfaction."

Now, Albert says she is addicted to performing. She frequents the region's burgeoning open-mic circuit-Duke's Station in Bethel Park on Mondays, Papa J's downtown and the Smiling Moose on the South Side on Tuesdays and the Royal Place on Thursdays. With each performance comes confidence. With confidence, ambition.

"I hope to just keep getting better," says Albert. "Get some more opening gigs for more established comics, start hosting some open-mic nights and eventually move to a place like New York or San Francisco with a bigger market for stand-up."

Chris Ciardi, Albert's uncle and fellow comic, manages the Royal Comedy Club and serves as a pillar of support for Albert's aspirations.

"This is a classroom," Ciardi says of the open-mic night there. "Everyone needs a place to 'hone their funny' and decide whether they can be a comic or should go into cement working," he says, quickly quipping, "and a lot of these fine young people would make excellent contractors."

Albert and few dozen other young local comics craft their routines at such sparsely attended open-mic nights where they often find themselves performing only for each other.

"It's a process," says three-year veteran Ron Placone, 25. "You think something's funny, and you come to these open mics and try it out in front of all these comics. Then you realize it's not that funny. But we all grow and get better from it."

Back on the silent Royal Place stage, Albert reaches deep into her yellow notepad for a one-liner to salvage the night: "Somewhere in the world," she ponders, "there must be a male escort service called Peter Sellers."

Finally, laughter. Albert gets woozy with adrenaline.

"It lasts long enough to get you to the next gig," she says.

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in December

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in December

This month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
50+ Things That Will Make You Enjoy Winter in Pittsburgh

50+ Things That Will Make You Enjoy Winter in Pittsburgh

Love it or hate it, winter is upon us. Because some of us may think there's a lot not to like, we bring you 50+ things to eat, drink and do –– and some helpful tips –– that'll keep the blues at bay.
Excellence in Nursing: Meet Our 2016 Honorees

Excellence in Nursing: Meet Our 2016 Honorees

Pittsburgh Magazine presents the honorees from its inaugural Excellence in Nursing awards. Meet our judges' choices and learn what makes them remarkable in their field.
Choreographed Style: Winter Fashion with The Pittsburgh Ballet

Choreographed Style: Winter Fashion with The Pittsburgh Ballet

A regal ruggedness characterizes the season's menswear looks.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Welcome New Year With New Things At Pittsburgh's First Night

Welcome New Year With New Things At Pittsburgh's First Night

The annual New Year’s Eve event features food, fireworks, music and more.
Antonio Brown Makes Catch on the Field but Loses the Pizza

Antonio Brown Makes Catch on the Field but Loses the Pizza

The Steelers wide receiver stars in a new commercial where he first loses out to a Patriots' cornerback, but gets his revenge when it counts the most.
Never Wait in a Long Line For a Drink in a Crowded Bar Again

Never Wait in a Long Line For a Drink in a Crowded Bar Again

A new app developed in Pittsburgh, is designed to get more customers served more quickly when the bartender is swamped.
Sweet Surprise: Kelly Frey Awarded for ‘Sharing Her Heart‘

Sweet Surprise: Kelly Frey Awarded for ‘Sharing Her Heart‘

The mother of a child with special needs, Frey tirelessly shares what she has learned with other families in similar situations.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in December

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in December

This month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
50+ Things That Will Make You Enjoy Winter in Pittsburgh

50+ Things That Will Make You Enjoy Winter in Pittsburgh

Love it or hate it, winter is upon us. Because some of us may think there's a lot not to like, we bring you 50+ things to eat, drink and do –– and some helpful tips –– that'll keep the blues at bay.
Excellence in Nursing: Meet Our 2016 Honorees

Excellence in Nursing: Meet Our 2016 Honorees

Pittsburgh Magazine presents the honorees from its inaugural Excellence in Nursing awards. Meet our judges' choices and learn what makes them remarkable in their field.
Choreographed Style: Winter Fashion with The Pittsburgh Ballet

Choreographed Style: Winter Fashion with The Pittsburgh Ballet

A regal ruggedness characterizes the season's menswear looks.
Restaurant Review: B52 in Lawrenceville is a Levantine Lifter

Restaurant Review: B52 in Lawrenceville is a Levantine Lifter

Omar Abuhejleh taps deep into his roots at his vegan cafe that's focused on Levantine cuisine.
Why You Can't Beat The Weather in Pittsburgh in The Winter

Why You Can't Beat The Weather in Pittsburgh in The Winter

I’ve traveled a lot of miles, and I still stare in bewilderment at people who tell me they’ve moved to a place because “You can’t beat the weather.”
Edit Module
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Welcome New Year With New Things At Pittsburgh's First Night

Welcome New Year With New Things At Pittsburgh's First Night

The annual New Year’s Eve event features food, fireworks, music and more.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Miracle on Liberty Pops Up in Pittsburgh

Miracle on Liberty Pops Up in Pittsburgh

The holiday themed cocktail bar is one of around 20 international Miracle popups.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Best of the Burgh: Pumpkin Patches in the Pittsburgh Area

Best of the Burgh: Pumpkin Patches in the Pittsburgh Area

We’ve compiled the best pumpkin patches for fall family fun.

Comments


Why Wait For Summer? Head to Kennywood's Holiday Lights

Why Wait For Summer? Head to Kennywood's Holiday Lights

The park's winter celebration is great for families and a fine choice for anyone who loves Christmas (and/or funnel cake).

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Pittsburgh The Heart of the NFL? Yinz Got that Right

Pittsburgh The Heart of the NFL? Yinz Got that Right

At the NFL Scouting Combine, at the NFL Draft and wherever NFL games are played, there’s often something of a Western Pennsylvania reunion taking place.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Locket Full of Joy

Locket Full of Joy

The handcrafted piece opens to hidden treasures.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Ten Upcoming Flicks Every Oscar-Watcher Should See

Ten Upcoming Flicks Every Oscar-Watcher Should See

PM film critic Sean Collier picks ten forthcoming flicks likely to rake in nominations for the 89th Academy Awards.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Real-Pittsburgh Weddings: It was Not Love at First Sight

Real-Pittsburgh Weddings: It was Not Love at First Sight

These romances were years in the making.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Seasonal Shopping: CMOA Store Holiday House, J.Crew Mercantile Opens Doors

Seasonal Shopping: CMOA Store Holiday House, J.Crew Mercantile Opens Doors

The Carnegie Museum of Art is full of Christmas cheer — and great deals. Plus, get the scoop on The Block Northway’s latest retail offering.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Tuba and Euphonium Players Invited to Join in Christmas Concert

Tuba and Euphonium Players Invited to Join in Christmas Concert

Waynesburg University will present a TUBACHRISTMAS concert on Dec. 9.

Comments