Kicking off a new comedy series in Missoula, Twin Cities rising performer Rana May is expected to fill the Zootown Arts Community Center with loads of laughter this weekend and bring much needed diversity to the local scene.
May is the first comedian booked in town by the Revival Visiting Comedian Series, a new effort spearheaded by Sarah Aswell, Nick Ryan and Ryan Cole in partnership with the ZACC to bring in bigger, mid-level comedy acts to the Garden City with a focus on representation.
“We get really big names at the Wilma and we get really small names when people just drive through on their own, but we really don’t get these indie comedians who are rising, who are diverse, who are doing new and exciting things in the scene,” said Aswell, a standup comic in town who also runs a monthly women and nonbinary comedy workshop at the Badlander.
The local comedy scene in Missoula has grown in recent years, but the city struggles to attract comedians from out of town, Aswell said.
“We have such a great community of local comics here, but we’re really never inspired by the most innovative things that are happening outside of our bubble, because it’s hard to get here.”
When the new ZACC opened, Aswell, Ryan and Cole saw an opportunity to create a partnership.
“I talked to them and they were completely on board with helping us, especially figuring out some of the costs, because we have to pay for flight, room and board, food, everything, for one show.”
The trio plans to book mainly women, people of color, queer and trans comics, and indie label performers on a quarterly basis and said the series is an opportunity to bring more diversity and representation to Missoula, which will trickle down to the local scene.
“When you see a woman on stage doing something that’s really innovative and original and she’s coming up in the world of comedy, that’s meaningful.”
May is one of the top comics in the Twin Cities, winning the reader’s choice award for best comedian last year in City Pages, the local alt-weekly.
“She’s extremely experienced, she has so much to teach us and she’s super funny and talks about subject matter that you’re just not going to hear from comedians that usually come through town,” Aswell said.
May got her start giving comedic “informational speeches” at backyard parties and barbecues. She rose up through the standup scene attending open mics and has created her own brand of deadpan delivery and absurdism.
Her “informational speeches” are her signature and range in subject matter. Some of the topics have included, “Space is the only place where we can ever truly be free,” and, “Why people should stop being in bands because it wastes gas when they go on tour.”
May said she doesn’t think she’s been to Missoula before, but was up for the gig because she herself has noticed a lack of representation in comedy. She and two fellow comics started a show called Pussy Ctrl for the same reason in the Twin Cities.
“Our show has only booked comics who are people of color, indigenous, multi-racial, women and LGBTQ folks, because those groups made up about 10% of the comedians in town, but they definitely didn’t get 10% of the stage time,” May said.
Aswell said May was the perfect comic to bring to open the series because she has a bold voice and confidence necessary to own the stage.
“I’m really confident that she’s going to put on a great show and that she will stand for the brand that we’re going for.”
Despite the costs involved with bringing comedians to Missoula, tickets to see comics brought through the Revival Visiting Comedian Series will always be $10, something Aswell said is part of their goal to keep the shows as inclusive as possible.
The trio of comics hopes to change how people think about what standup comedy is, adding people who attend can rest assured that the performers have been vetted.
“These are people who, they might have a supporting role in an HBO show or they might have a popular podcast, or they might be doing some indie comedy that’s shaking up the comedy world,” she said. “It’s not a household name, but it’s names that I think should be household names.”