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Upper Left Comedy Festival showcases a more diverse Northwest comedy scene

Dewas Dorje holds a mic while on stage wearing a bright color block shirt.
Courtesy Dewas Dorje
Tibetan American Dewas Dorje is part of the Upper Left Comedy Fesitval line up. In her comedy, she talks a lot about growing up the daughter of Tibetan immigrants, growing up a first generation kid and also being a single mother of two.

Running through Saturday, the inaugural Upper Left Comedy Festivalwill feature over 40 stand-up comics across three nights — and the majority of them are local.

One of the festival co-founders, CB Shamah is a filmmaker and involved with the local arts community. He noticed that Seattle lacked a major comedy festival showcasing local talent.

Which is exactly what Shamah hopes Upper Left does.

"There's so many funny people out there and you just never hear about them and and we're a big enough city that we deserve to have a comedy festival," Shamah said.

There is the Seattle International Comedy Competition, but the touring comedy festival features contestants from all across the country. Held since 1980, past winners include Mitch Hedberg, Aisha Tyler and KUOW host Bill Radke.

Shamah pointed out how many locally-focused film festivals, music festivals, and art shows are out there. To him, comedy is the sort of last missing piece of the puzzle in rounding out Seattle's rich arts scene.

"For some reason stand up comedy kind of falls to the cracks," Shamah said. But that's not because there aren't funny people here.

Shamah points to the local sketch comedy show "Almost Live" that ran for 15 seasons and comedians Reggie Watts and Hari Kondabolu who both made a mark in Seattle's comedy scene.

Dewa Dorje
Courtesy Dewa Dorje
Dewa Dorje has watched more Asian Pacific Islanders join the Seattle comedy scene. In her experience, there's not the much gatekeeping and a DIY attitude.

Besides providing a new opportunity for Seattle's comics to be seen, the festival's creators also wanted to curate a lineup that reflected the diversity of the local comedy scene. Shamah said their ultimate goal is to be "as diverse and funny as possible."

One of the comics performing is Dewa Dorje. As a Tibetan American and daughter of immigrants she can attest to how special Seattle's comedy scene and how diverse it is.

"There's other festivals that are around but not like this — this feels inclusive," Dorje said.

Dorje got hooked on comedy back in school when she was known as the class clown. She’s been chasing the high of getting a room full of laughs ever since.

Dorje’s material is personal. She talks a lot about growing up the daughter of Tibetan immigrants, growing up a first generation kid and also being a single mother of two.

She's witnessed the scene change over the years, saying some shows are almost all Asian Pacific Islander comics, when that's not the focus of the show itself.

"When I first started, it was like one or two other Asian folks really doing comedy in Seattle," Dorje said.

Dorje also noticed the DIY spirit in Seattle has carried over to comedy. She says in her experience there's not that much gatekeeping.

If you want to put on a show, you make it happen. Dorje has put on shows in houses, in someone's living room, or even under a tent. There's no need to wait for someone to invite you on stage.

"It's possible to create what kind of what you want to see, what kind of art you want to see in the world," she said.

Grace Madigan is KNKX's former Arts & Culture reporter. Her stories focused on how people express themselves and connect to their communities through art, music, media, food, and sport.