Comedy showcase features Francis Birch
In standup comedy, a weekend booking represents validation. Francis Birch’s first was at Veronica Laffs in Strikers East, a Raymond bowling alley. The pop-up club closed mid-decade, when comic and entrepreneur Jay Grove opened a dedicated venue, Curlie’s Comedy Club in Rochester.
The laughs are returning to Strikers East — as is Birch, who’ll share the stage with headliner Graig Murphy on Feb. 13.
The upcoming show is presented by Laugh Riot Productions and will be hosted by its CEO, Michael Smith.
“It’s kind of cool to go back,” Birch said recently by phone. “To work there as a more polished comic who has a little bit of a reputation now.”
Birch began doing comedy in 2011, egged on by friends who said he was funny. However, his first attempt at an open mic night wasn’t a triumph.
“I did not know what I was getting myself into,” he said, ruefully noting that a friend taped his 11-minute, laugh-free set and posted it on YouTube. “Sometimes when I need to humble myself, I’ll watch that.”
Unbowed, Birch persisted, finding a home at a Monday night gathering called Punchlines, hosted by Grove at Penuche’s Ale House in Concord. While there, he worked the same five minutes repeatedly, “to just see if I could nail my timing” in front of a tough, sometimes unforgiving crowd.
One night, the antipathy in the room broke his rhythm — and led to a breakthrough.
“Some drunk guy was yelling at me,” Birch said. “I just had a conversation with him, and it really went well. Jay said to me, ‘Any time you can engage and shut down a heckler, and he comes up to shake your hand afterward, is a good thing.’”
Birch is married with three boys of his own, and he’s a stepfather to one more. The big family is a major source of material, but it was also parenthood that caused him to step away from comedy, from 2015 to 2018. The decision came after he’d received one too many videos of his son, now 8, “doing awesome stuff, and I wasn’t there,” he said. “I missed my other boys I was raising because I was in my 20s and being an idiot. Now I was missing this one growing up because I was doing comedy.”
Along with his children, Birch’s mother was a big part of his act. It was her death in 2018 that helped spur him back into the game.
“I had the itch,” he said. “I wanted to go out and tell some jokes, make fun of her a little bit. Because she helped me write those jokes.”
He did a midweek open mic, then a Saturday night guest slot at Curlie’s.
“Maybe if I got 10 minutes on a weekend that’ll be scratchy enough to satisfy,” he reasoned, but “that did nothing. It made it more itchy. Since then, I’ve been working full steam ahead, just growing my act and incorporating some of the things that happened since.”
Birch said he came back more confident, and more honest — “I started to speak to my stories, being them instead of reciting it.”
He also quit smoking and gave up drinking in the months after returning to standup; again, he was guided by his mom.
“She got pneumonia and her body wasn’t strong enough to fight it, because she had COPD,” Birch said. “[I realized that] if I don’t make changes in my life, that’s gonna be me. My kids are gonna have to watch me die.”
A fitness regimen “to make my body as strong as it can be to fight off any infection” soon began, an effort that grew into a coaching business.
“I help people create habits and become better versions of themselves,” Birch said. He believes telling jokes is not dissimilar. “When I do comedy, I feel like I’m helping people escape their reality and laugh a little bit.”
Asked if the health focus had an effect on his act, Birch replied with a laugh, “I got a lot of fat jokes I can’t use anymore! That’s something Jay taught me when we first started … don’t write jokes about your beard or being fat because you might not always have that beard, you might not always be fat.”
One subject remains, though: Birch’s beloved mother.
“I make fun of her like never before,” he said. “I’ve actually written more material about her, and I like to deliver it with a smile. Because I know that’s what she’s doing — she’s smiling. She’s my rock, my heart and soul, and she’s with me every performance.”
Graig Murphy, Francis Birch & Mike Smith
When: Saturday, Feb. 13, 8 p.m.
Where: Strikers East, 4 Essex Dr., Raymond
Tickets: $20 at laughriotproductions.com or call 895-9501
Featured photo: Francis Birch. Courtesy photo.