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Familiar laugh

For five local comics, the Boston Comedy Festival is a chance to break out, or come home

By Nick A. Zaino III
Globe Correspondent / August 28, 2009

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Sure there are national names at the Boston Comedy Festival, including Lewis Black, who plays the Wang Theatre tomorrow, and Bobcat Goldthwait, who arrives next week.

For the past 10 years, though, the festival has been an annual marker for members of the local scene - a way to measure where they’ve come from, what they’ve accomplished, and where they’re headed. Up-and-comers learn from the veterans, and every career stage is represented on the festival roster. With a contest touting best of the fest, and talent scouts in the audiences, there’s a chance for real career boosts, too. Joe Wong, who made his network television debut in April on “The Late Show With David Letterman,’’ first caught the notice of the show’s bookers here.

Listen in as five players on this year’s roster reflect on comedy in Boston circa 2009. They range from Tom Dustin, host of the profane “Dark Blue’’ show, who remains based here while starting to tour nationally; to Erin Judge, who will move on to New York to further her career after hosting the style-conscious “Dress Up Show’’; to Jim McCue, who organizes the whole event.

THE BREAKOUT

Joe Wong

First played Boston: Hannah’s open mike, 2002

Memory of the show: It was a pretty rough night. It was basically a bar. The TV was playing sports and people [were] drinking. I remember there was a pool table, even some bowling alleys back there.

What’s special about coming up here: I see a lot of support from my fellow comedians when I’m trying to do auditions and stuff.

What this festival means to his career: I just want to have a good time. Twice a year, you can meet other comics in Boston. One is the Boston Comedy Festival and the other one is maybe Christmas parties.

Where to see him: Contest Prelim, Hard Rock Cafe, Aug. 30, 9 p.m. Best of the Fest, Tommy’s Comedy Lounge, Sept. 4, 8:30 p.m.

THE GRADUATE

Erin Judge

First played Boston: All-Asia open mike, 2002

Memory of the show: Gregg Thibodeau told a joke about Stalin playing cards that I really thought was funny.

What’s special about coming up here: Not only [is there] a lot of camaraderie among comedians, but also we have so much support and respect from the veterans. They make us feel very welcome and they help us out a lot along the way.

What this festival means to her career: I’m excited to show off “The Dress Up Show,’’ which is a really fun concept that audiences like a lot and comedians love. I’m also excited to be part of the contest and to see what happens.

Where to see her: Contest Prelim, Hard Rock Cafe, Aug. 31, 9 p.m. “The Dress Up Show,’’ where the comedians (and the audience) are invited to wear their most stylish duds, Mottley’s Comedy Club, Sept. 2, 8 p.m.

THE ORGANIZER

Jim McCue

First played Boston: Catch a Rising Star, 1990

Memory of the show: Cross Comedy was on Sunday nights, and you could get on afterwards. David Cross and those folks were still doing their sketch comedy at Catch, so that was pretty neat.

What’s special about coming up here: There are a lot of very well-educated people that are pretty hip and sports-minded. They want good comedy, and they’re not going to reward bad comedy. In other places in the country you might not be able to aim as high.

What this festival means to his career: It’s just amazing how fast 10 years goes by. And now we’ve got a reputation. We have a ton of industry coming, and they’re coming to see new talent. We don’t have a lot of big stars like they have in Montreal or the Las Vegas festival. We have new talent. That’s our niche.

Where to see him: Jim McCue’s Festival Pre Show, Nick’s Comedy Stop, Aug. 28 and 29, 8 p.m. Roast of Tony V, Hard Rock Cafe, Sept. 4, 8 p.m. Contest Finals, Hard Rock Cafe, Sept. 5, 8 p.m.

THE VETERAN

Tony V

First played Boston: The original Comedy Connection, 1982

Memory of the show: I was petrified and I think I was doing some sort of bastardized Gallagher act, smacking stuff. I had props and balloons and all of that.

What’s special about coming up here: For me, it’s home. I’ve wandered in New York and LA but I’ve never felt more at home anywhere than here. I always wanted my quality of life to be as important to me as anything else I did.

What this festival means to his career: It reminds people that we’re still here, that there is a vibrant scene, still. That although it’s gone through changes and it’s certainly not what it was, it’s still a good place.

Where to see him: Roast of Tony V, Hard Rock Cafe, Sept. 4, 8 p.m.

THE UP-AND-COMER

Tom Dustin

First played Boston: Chops Lounge open mike, 2002

Memory of the show: I killed my very first time onstage. I thought I had made it in show business on that first night. So I went back the following week, and what no one told me was, you can do the same jokes again. I went back with a brand new five minutes, and I [expletive] bombed. I took the worst beating of my life, so bad that I quit right then and there for a year.

What’s special about coming up here: Boston comedy is a real thing, whereas other places, the scene seems fragmented.

What this festival means to his career: Every year, since I started doing comedy, [this has been] my favorite time of year because we get all those people in from out of town. To me, it’s always been about meeting comics from other places and networking and making friends, getting couches to sleep on when I go to Akron or wherever.

Where to see him: “Dark Blue,’’ where normally clean(ish) comics work a bit dirty, Mottley’s Comedy Club, Sept. 1, 8 p.m.

Boston Comedy Festival

Runs tonight through Sept. 5. For details visit www.bostoncomedyfestival.com.