Fort Worth — The comedy residency program at Amphibian Stage Productions in Fort Worth—in which notable comics from all over come to do several nights in a row to experiment, tweak, and hone—has quite a few graduates now. Baron Vaughn. Jacqueline Novak. Sasheer Zamata.
None of these cats, however, has embraced the experimental and workshop-y element of the show quite like Rhea Butcher has, who will be doing shows now through Saturday, March 23, as part of the program. They laid down on the stage for a couple of their jokes. They consulted their notebook and mused aloud which jokes to tell, which ones to amend, and which ones to skip. Above all, they commented about each and every joke went over.
Normally, I consider it hacky when a comedian says things like, “Oh, you didn’t like that one, huh?” I think there are more surefire ways to build a connection with the audience and demonstrate your vulnerability than to pull the current back on your stream of consciousness.
Butcher gets away with it, however, in part because the format encourages it and partly because Butcher is one of those comedians who’s so damn funny that it doesn’t matter what rules they break.
Butcher has an unpretentiousness that’s irresistible. Much of their act dealt with airplanes, airports, and the things that happen on them. That sounds like page one of the comedian’s trope handbook, but it’s not in Butcher’s hands. They talk about those things a lot because, well, they spend a lot of time in airports and on airplanes.
Versatility is also one of Butcher’s strengths. They can get onto hyperspecific topics, with a couple of jokes about fantasy baseball, to universal experiences like anxiety, small talk, and periods (their best joke was about their uterus regularly being furious at them, building up a nice nursery every month only having to tear it all down because Butcher is STILL a lesbian). There was wordplay, with their suggested new term for cunnilingus, which I won’t spoil here.
There was also discovering what sort of Google searches their Dad has been up to, and whatever you imagine the punchline to that joke is, I promise you it’s not as funny as the actual punchline, which is worth the price of admission alone. Butcher knows it, too, and perfectly let it build. It was here that they were the most confident, most at the top of their game, and where it’s most plain that there’s a virtuoso at work.