Something funny is going on in Birmingham

Rebecca Rothman
Rebecca Rothman (Photo by Harry Long)

Today’s guest columnist is Rebecca Rothman.

Some things are so far-fetched you can’t make them up.

I’m a happily married mom of two well-adjusted teenagers. I work in finance. I volunteer at my temple, host Shabbat dinners, and drive carpool to Girl Scouts. I am a practical person!

And yet here I am at the age of 48, performing stand-up comedy.

No one expected this – least of all me.

It all started a few years ago after I gave a toast at a synagogue gala. I thought it was moderately amusing (at best) yet my friend Sue pulled me aside. Something about me reminded her of the title character on the then-new show about a housewife-turned-comedienne in 1950s New York. “You’re like our very own Mrs. Maisel!”

I had never once considered comedy as a path, but I was flattered – was it just my vintage dress and red lipstick, or did Sue see some spark in me? The wheels in my head started turning. I am a notoriously bad singer, yet I always enjoyed being onstage – maybe I should find… a comedy class?

In Birmingham, Alabama?

Don’t laugh! Well, actually, DO laugh. Please! Because in Birmingham, I’ve found the opportunities for comedy are everywhere.

Here in the Iron City you can take courses for fun on just about any topic, so I enrolled in Comedy 101 at UAB Artplay. Our instructor, local comedian Carla Youngblood, taught us the basics, and then we practiced writing and performing five-minute sets in preparation for our class showcase.

Did I mention this was in March 2020?

Our showcase – and everything else – went on hiatus. We resumed in April with a virtual show online. It was no Netflix special, but it was definitely the liveliest Zoom that anyone attended that week.

I held a spatula to remind the audience that, were I not in my kitchen, there would be a microphone. I was especially proud of my last line: “I’ll be here all week! …all month… maybe… forever!”

Everyone loved the show and then I proceeded to do….nothing. Nothing fun for the next two years.

After emerging from hibernation in 2022, I refreshed my performing skills in an improv class at Red Mountain Theater, taught by comedian/artist Chris Davis. (Red Mountain offers a terrific lineup of classes, as does Faraway Theater. The booming improv scene here is enough for a whole other column!)

Improbably, this led to an invitation to be the opening comic at a night of Jewish comedy. The headliner came from Los Angeles, where it’s a coveted gig to be the 5-minute opening act for any show, even one in a synagogue. He was very confused when I took the stage (in a Mrs. Maisel-inspired dress, and absolutely zero experience) for a ridiculously long seventeen minutes. With no jokes.

No one laughed. But despite (very) poor reviews, that night I felt the spark that Sue had seen in me. I want to keep doing this! It was time to actually go to an open mic night.

Open mic nights are where new comics practice getting stage time, and more experienced comics workshop new material, and it was insane that I had performed in front of 100 people without ever having been to one. Insane, and also very obvious. But the only way to get better in comedy is to go onstage – a lot.

I quickly discovered the Birmingham open mic scene and it is thriving. It’s fun both for the performers and the audience– as long as you don’t have sensitive ears! There are some “clean” comics – that means no cursing – but if it was rated like a movie, most live comedy would be rated R.

When I started last year, there were two weekly open mics (or just “mics”), at Cahaba Brewing and True Story Brewing, but after some recent growth, there are now more opportunities than anyone can easily keep track of.

My friend, former drummer and Trussville local David Lynam, recently started not one but three new mics with his new venture “Comedy Break-In”; at Velma’s,  Trim Tab, and a touring show, “Hack and Forth.” There are also weekly mics at Gray Bar and Plum Bar, as well as monthly shows, including a storytelling mic that I host at the Lumbar in Pepper Place.* (Click here for a complete list of open mics and shows).

This is still only scratching the surface of the comedy scene in the Iron City. Nationally-known stars frequently perform at the BJCC, and no story about comedy in Birmingham would be complete without mention of our comedy club in Hoover. The Stardome features touring comedians and is home to the X5 Rising Star Showcase and a monthly open mic. And since everyone likes being in on a secret… there’s Don’t Tell, in an unconventional venue and with a surprise lineup each time.

So how is Birmingham’s very own Mrs. Maisel progressing?

Rebecca Rothman performing at open mics around Birmingham
Rebecca Rothman performing at open mics around Birmingham (Photo by Loretta Lynn)

Well, I’ve been at this for over a year and have appeared onstage over 100 times. I attend mics weekly and have performed on a handful of showcases. I’ve also produced my own shows and love getting to see my new comedy friends on a regular basis – sometimes more than I see my own family!

It’s a long road. Comics are considered “new” for the first seven to ten years of performing. But it’s also an incredibly creative and eye-opening journey, and as entertaining for the spectators as it is exciting for the performers.

Any day that you want to watch comedy in Birmingham, or perhaps even try out a few jokes yourself, the comedy scene is ready for you to jump in.

Yes, there is something funny going on in Birmingham…hopefully it’s me.

Rebecca Rothman (or Becca, when she’s onstage) is a Baltimore born, Alabama based mom of two teenagers, has had more professions than she can count – including in architecture, finance, real estate, politics, and now comedy. Follow her on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/beccarothman/ or beccarothman.com. You can see her perform in the next few weeks at:

  • Hosting the “Sunday Story Seven” storytelling Open Mic –  May 19 and June 23 The Lumbar (Pepper Place) 
  • Featured Comedian at “Funny Business” comedy showcase at Carrigans (Downtown) May 23
  • Guest Co-host of Comedy Open Mic at Velma’s (Trussville) May 26

David Sher is the founder and publisher of ComebackTown.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

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Invite David to speak for free to your group about how we can have a more prosperous metro Birmingham. dsher@amsher.com

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2 thoughts on “Something funny is going on in Birmingham”

  1. Tues., May 14, 2024

    Rebecca Rothman…

    I’ve always said :

    “Brevity is the elixir of power”.

    …And you can add to this alchemist mix :

    “Humor is the elixir of power”, and (usually) get away with it.

    Luck to you and may you climb high. The old adage “courage in the face of adversity” may apply here, but I’m glad to see some folks are finding little pockets of enlightenment in the BIG town of Birmingham !…

    No fee this round…

    ~ Ballard from Huntsville

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