By Matt Hickman
On the verge of making it big as a national touring and televised comic, Anchorage’s own Jessica Michelle Singleton returns home this weekend to be part of the first B4UDie comedy festival.
She headlines the mainstage Friday night at Koot’s for Jessica Michelle Singleton & Friends and is back at it on Saturday to be part of the festival’s Live Podcasts at Alaska Experience Theater.
“I was really excited when I heard about it,” Singleton said of the festival, which was the brainchild of Anchorage comic Kass Smiley. “I’ve been doing comedy for almost nine years now. I got my start doing open mics and started picking up gigs applying for festivals, especially in smaller urban areas and showcase shows all over the country and in Switzerland, too. When Kass contacted me and said I’d be the headliner, I thought, ‘cool, it’s come full circle,’ because I started out being a small-time comedian opening at festivals, so getting asked to headline at my hometown is great.”
It’s a path Smiley has been on for some time, so when the opportunity to put a festival on in Anchorage, Singleton’s was one of the first names that came to mind.
“Jessica Michelle Singleton is a hometown girl made good, went to Service High; she’s been doing comedy a long time time now and crushing it — a regular at the Comedy Store. Eventually she’s going to pop and be on TV,” Smiley said.
Singleton only began her comedy career after graduating from Service High and moving to Tampa, Fla. for college. Though she only comes back for annual shows and to visit friends and family, she’s seen the Anchorage comedy scene grow from afar over the last five or six years.
“When I first started going up there I only knew of one or two local comedians, but now it seems like they have more open mics,” Singleton said. “This is a big stepping stone for the growth and Kass is putting so much energy into this. It’s funny to see her go beyond and take on a producer role — those are such separate skills, but it’s really going to put Alaska on the map for a good scene.”
Singleton, who is based in Los Angeles, said there’s plenty of appetite among the comics she sees regularly to play destinations like Anchorage.
“Comics in bigger markets always talk about, ‘where are the good smaller scenes?’” Singleton said. “There’s always a good scene in Alaska… this is going to be cool to have comics from all over the country see it. It’s almost like I’ll be having two separate groups of friends when I get there.”
Her album, ‘Please Don’t. Leave. Me.’, recorded at Chilkoot Charlie’s, climbed to No. 1 iTunes in 2016, and she’s been ‘made’, as it were, on the walls of The Comedy Store in Hollywood.
“I always said I wanted to be a comedian, but it was always sort of a distant dream when I was living up (in Alaska),” Singleton said in a 2017 interview with the Anchorage Press. “I thought I wanted to be a sketch actor on SNL; I was the funny girl in my sorority with little competitions did stuff on variety show competitions. But I didn’t know how to get into sketch acting, so in Florida, I just decided to try standup comedy, and as soon as I got my first laugh on stage — as corny as it sounds, I was just, ‘oh, I’m supposed to do this,’ and I realized standup was what I wanted to do.”
Singleton moved to Anchorage in sixth grade and attended Service High School where she was every bit of the ‘it girl.’
“I was a really active student… I was homecoming queen,” she said. “I was always the funny kid in class. In high school I ran the assemblies and I hosted the talent show and did lots of funny stuff, but it wasn’t until I went off to high school that I started stand-up.”
Nevermind comparisons to the style of other acts, Singleton was flat-out aping in her first few runs on stage.
“Early on, I think my very first set I was a little like Chelsea Handler meets Dave Attell,” Singleton said. “The idea I had as a female comedian was that I had to have sex when I get drunk, because that’s what people at the time were laughing at. I overplayed into that, more than being true to who I am. I’ve always been a fan of actual jokes, and always rapid-fire squeezing in as many punchlines as I can.”
Singleton is beginning to feel her feet firmly in the ground in the L.A. comedy scene.
“Things are going well. I’ve been doing this for almost three years and I’m finally starting to feel secure in that,” she said. “It’s scary to do art as a full-time income, but it’s going well enough that I’m going to be fine. I don’t know how high I’ll go as far as fame and money, but I know my work ethic… I really enjoy doing standup and I’m in a position where I’m doing well enough to where I don’t feel pressured; I’ll wait till I’m ready.”
Singleton is also looking forward to talking about addiction and recovery as part of the Saturday afternoon podcast. Without a stage or scripted material, it allows comics to be spontaneously funny without necessarily having to be funny at all.
“We’ll ask arguably stupid questions… It’s sort of this bridge, trying to learn things that maybe people don’t know about or don’t understand — it’s a cool format,” she said. “Usually it still ends up being funny; these are organically funny people. It takes the pressure off if you’re not joke-joke-joke.”
Friday’s show starts at 9 on Friday with opening acts by Lower 48 touring pros Anna Valenzuela, Julia Prescott and Joe Praino.
“Everytime I come home it’s cool — a mini-reunion,” Singleton said. “It’s gonna be a bad-ass time. If you enjoy laughing — as I hope everyone does — it’s going to be a loud and awesome time.”
Alaska B4UDie Festival Week Schedule April 2nd-7th
Schedule to change
Sightseeing Koot’s Hard Rock Cafe Captn Cook Alaska Experience Theater49Th State Brewing
donation doors support and solicit needed items for homeless teens.
Tu-Sat 1pm-5pm- B4UDie Homebase/Box Office Table at Koot’s
2 Tues- 7-9pm- Koot’s Northside- AKComics907 Local Legends Contest- $10 donation door(door goes to Covenant House Alaska-encourage gifting)
2 Tues- 9-11pm-Koots Northside- B4UDie Lower 48 Invasion Showcase $10 donation door
3 Wed- 7-9pm- Northside- B4UDie Laugh Frontier National Showcase 15 comics for just $10
3 Wed- 9-11pm-Northside- Unbookables Showcase w/ Brett and Andrist $20 door
4 Thur- 10am-3pm B4UDie Artist Portage/Sightseeing- meet in Koot’s parking lot
4 Thur- 7-9pm- Captn Cook- Black Sheep Clean Comedy Showcase $10 Coventant House Alaska donation @ the door
4 Thur- 9:30-11pm Koot’s Northside- Derek Sheen & Friends $15 $20 @ door
4 Thur-11:30pm-1am -Koot’s Birdhouse- Late Nite Dirty Bird Show w/ Erickson or Andrist?-$5 door-SEATING VERY LIMITED
5 Fri- 7-9pm- Hard Rock- B4UDie First Friday Showcase-$10 door
5 Fri- 9:30-11pm- Koot’s Northside- Jessica Michelle Singleton & Friends- $20 door
5 Fri- 11:30-1am- Koot’s Birdhouse-Late Nite Dirty Birds 2 Show w/ Brett Erickson or Andrist-$5 door
6 Sat- 1-4pm- Alaska Experience Theater- Live Podcasts- $5 door(split)
6 Sat- 4:30-6pm- Alaska Experience Theater-Film Fest- $5 door(split)
6 Sat- 7-8:30- 49th State Brewing Co- Kyle Kinane 2 Shows-$20 Door
9:30pm- 49th State Brewing Co- Kyle Kinane 2 Shows
6 Sat- 8-10:30pm- Koot’s Northside- The Gateway Show- 420 Friendly-$10 door?
7 Sun- 1-4pm- Koot’s Ice Bar- B4UDie Bloody Mary Brunch
7 Sun- 4-6pm- Koot’s Ice Bar- Scared Scriptless Improv-$10 door
7 Sun- 8pm-11pm- Koot’s Northside- Last Gasp National Stand Up Showcase- Free Show
All other Show and ticket information can be found at https://www.alaskab4udiefest.com/events