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Autumn Horvat wants to change the world with laughter.
Llocal comedian Autumn Horvat has a dream.
“My biggest dream in comedy is to go up, perform and then have a bunch of people just follow me out and start a revolution,” Horvat said.
Just the night before, she had walked out of a Tucson open mic where comedians regularly abuse the notion that anything a comic thinks is funny deserves an audience. “Since I have been back at mics, I have seen a lot of high key misogyny,” she said, “and I know you cannot control what people write about, but you do not have to give it a platform. I will not listen to young men bash women or marginalized groups.”
Horvat’s been dropping in, and getting up at all the open mics in town to get reacquainted with Tucson’s comedy scene. She’s featuring in a showcase at Harambe on Friday, Jan. 20, and she’s promoting a new open mic she’s starting on Wednesday, Jan. 26, at Mr. Head’s Art Gallery and Bar, 513 N. Fourth Avenue.
So far, the open mic that’s impressed Horvat most is one that’s sprung up since she left town almost three years ago. It’s the very specifically named “Lady Ha Ha Comedy Open Mic 4 Women/LGBTQ/Allies” run by Mo Urban and Priscilla Fernandez every Tuesday night at Bumsted’s, 1003 N. Stone Avenue.
“My mic is going to be a safe-space mic,” she said, and in that she’s picking up where she left off when she left Tucson for a job consulting for ranchers in Sierra Vista.
At that time, the “Me Too” movement had riveted national attention and stirred up lots of negative energy in Tucson’s male-dominated comedy scene. Tucson comedy doyenne Urban started a women-only comedy showcase, and Horvat started a writers’ group for female comedians. Then she began hosting benefit shows she called “Comedians Who Aren’t Men.”
While in Tucson, Horvat had earned a degree in environmental science and range management from the University of Arizona. She left her shows, if not her feminist commitment, for the Sierra Vista job because it served another of her passions, environmentalism. She returned to Tucson to pursue a master’s in geographic information system technology.
“I’ve always used (humor) to offset my awkwardness,” she said. “That was my first interest, but what actually got me started in standup was meeting Roxy (Merrari) at the Surly Wench.”
She and a friend had dropped into The Wench unaware that it was the night of Merrari’s weekly open mic. Merrari persuaded her to give standup a try.
People laughed and she was hooked. Within a year she had her first showcase in a series that Chad Lehrman used to run at Hotel McCoy.
Merrari also introduced Horvat to Matt Ziemak at the open mi he was then running at Borderlands Brewery. Horvat found a simpatico community within the Tucson comedy crowd, and last year, she and Ziemak were married.
She said the pair had talked about starting a touring comedy show called “Something to do in…”, an idea inspired by a show they performed in Horvat’s sleepy hometown, Farmington, New Mexico. The tour would include small towns that have few options for live entertainment.
The notion of that project, and her comedy life as a whole, then fell victim to a funk. In the midst of pandemic, environmental crises, political divisiveness, gender-based persecution and the erosion of women’s rights, Horvat said, “I got to a point where I was just so frustrated with everything that’s been going on, I was stuck in a negative head space for probably about two years.
“Now I’m feeling completely renewed with my creativity,” she said. “I feel like this past year I’m finally starting to find my voice, and I’m more comfortable not doing the same old ‘setup, punchline, tag type of comedy’.
“I see a lot of things that are messed up, and I want to make them funny. That’s how I’ve always dealt with any negativity or bad feelings by asking, ‘Where’s the funny part of that?’”
“This is a really dark period and if I can get people to laugh they might be able to look at things in a new way. There have been studies showing that people learn better when they’re relaxed.
“So I’m working on comedy and my woman manifesto.”
Unscrewed Theater opens up its Backyard
“The best way to think of The Backyard is as an incubator for new talent and a play space for seasoned talent,” said Unscrewed Theater’s Michael Vietinghoff. The Backyard is a new play space the theater will debut at 9 pm Saturday, Jan. 21. It will continue on the first and third Saturday of every month thereafter.
“It can be tough to make the leap from student to player and this show will help bridge the gap,” Vietinghoff said. “New players can improve to audition for current house teams or even form their own team. It’s also a place where seasoned improvisors can try out new forms and different iterations of players.”
Improvisers can apply to perform as a team, or to include their name for an on-site drawing of ad hoc team members. Applications must be submitted via unsscrewedtheater.org/backyard/ by Thursday of show week. Teams will be chosen randomly.
Spectators are welcome and admission is by donation.
Other Shows This Week
Laff’s Comedy Caffe, 2900 E. Broadway Boulevard, 8 pm and 10:30 pm Friday, Jan. 13, and 7 pm and 9:30 pm Saturday, Jan. 14, laffstucson.com, $15, $20 preferred seating, featuring the “ high-energy, intelligent, physical, and silly” Tyler Boeh.
Unscrewed Theater, 4500 E. Speedway Boulevard, unscrewedtheatre.org, $8, live or remote, $5 kids. 7:30 pm Friday, Jan 13, Family-Friendly Improv, 9 pm Unscrewed Fridays After Dark (pay what you will admission); 7:30 pm Saturday, Jan. 14, Family Friendly Improv, 9 pm Uncensored Improv Comedy with Not Burnt Out Just Unscrewed and The Big Daddies; Monday, Jan 16, 6:30 pm Improv Drop-ins, in person and online, free.