The Joke Genies' tagline is: "For those who wish to laugh."
"It is corny, but I love it," said comedian and show host Blake Marduk, and so do the stand-up comedians he has branded in the network with that name.
For a handful of years, Marduk traveled with a college group, the UpChuckles, out of Truman State University in Kirksville and performed stand-up regularly throughout the state and while studying abroad in Australia. He grew his network of fellow comedians — dubbed The Joke Genies — now utilizing and showcasing their talents to build a comedy scene in his current stomping grounds, Jefferson City.
"After I moved to Jefferson City, I noticed there wasn't a comedy scene here," he said, "so I decided to start my own."
Marduk and the Joke Genies put on the first Laughayette Showcase Feb. 8 to a crowd of 50-plus attendees. After its initial success, Marduk has made the event monthly, bringing double the comedians back to the next Laughayette Showcase at 8 p.m. Saturday at The Bridge.
"My passion is bringing people together and building a comedy culture in our community," he said. "I want people to have chances to express themselves in that type of artistic fashion."
Having performed in Kirksville, St. Louis and Columbia frequently, Marduk has met a number of up-and-coming, and more well-known comedians including Columbia's Spencer Vyrostek, Kansas City's Evan Jeffrey and St. Louis' Brian McDowell. All three of these notable stand-up comedians helped launch a successful Feb. 8 debut of the monthly Laughayette Showcase, which Marduk said was named playing on the location of The Bridge near the corner of Capitol and Lafayette in Jefferson City.
"We had more than 50 people show up for the debut show. I was blown away and only expected 20 people. It was amazing," he said. "I had a few people come up to me after the show wanting me to continue to put it on. It was very endearing, heartwarming and encouraging. I think a lot of people want to see more variety around here, and as soon as I gave it to them they jumped at it. I think it will be successful if I keep working at it."
To celebrate his birthday, Spencer Vyrostek is the only non-Jefferson City area comedian returning to the March Laughayette Showcase, alongside Jefferson City resident comedians Marduk, Suzanne Luther and Aaron Nickens. A new crop of stand-up comedians from around the state will deliver their style of hilarity, including St. Louis' Rich Braun, Kansas City's Lisa Pockets known for her show "Pomp and Hercumstance," and Katie Still, well-known in the Springfield area comedy scene, Marduk said. Daniel Miller, Bobby Meyer, Charles Mahood, Kovoski George and Clayton Mistler will round out the line-up Saturday.
Marduk said the variety and new lineups of comedians each month are what he believes will keep the Laughayette Showcase growing in popularity and success. He said he has had impressionists and those that do more storytelling style jokes, where his personal brand of comedy is quick one-liners.
"For those who have short-attention spans — myself for one — I like to fire my jokes off real quick and then there will be another comedian who has a joke that lasts for 15 minutes. It really depends on how you like it. I try to have as much variety as I can," he said, noting all comedians do not use excessive vulgar or derogatory language. "Stand-up comedy is something I love because anyone can do it. That is not to say everyone should do it, but everyone can do it. You don't have to have a good voice or know how to play an instrument or be good with your hands to paint. It is just your thoughts that every person has, and you fine-tune it. The process is easier and the delivery is hard. It changes it every time. Each joke is like its own piece of art. Every time you deliver, you can change it. I find that exhilarating."
Being able to hone those skills is as equally important to Marduk. Aside from bringing quality stand-up comedy shows to Jefferson City, he also wants to encourage comedians to build their confidence on stage. On Feb. 28, Marduk held the first Amateur Stand-up Comedy Night at The Bridge, with the next taking place at 7 p.m. March 28 at the same location.
"Jefferson City is huge with music, and there are people who perform all the time here. I want to break the mold and give someone the chance who may not have an interest in music but wanted to try stand-up comedy. They don't have to travel to Columbia, St. Louis or Kansas City; they can hone their skills and perform right here in Jefferson City," he said. "That is why I'm also doing the local interest show."
The free "workshop/confidence building show" as Marduk describes it will allow comedians to tell a joke and come sit will fellow comedians to go over their short set.
"They can say, 'Hey I think you can improve that joke by saying this or doing this play on words or referencing this joke that you have already done helping them calibrate their joke. It is not so much for an audience to come see but more for those interested in performing can practice," he said, adding, "but if people want to come watch that is fine. They can see the creative process of how comedians work."
Marduk said the Joke Genies will present a collaborative stand-up comedy and music production, featuring FOSS, at 8 p.m. April 18. However, the regular Laughayette Showcase stand-up comedy events will be the first or second Saturday of each month, starting back up again in May at The Bridge.
The next Laughayette Showcase begins at 8 p.m. Saturday at The Bridge, and there is a $5 cover charge for guests.
For more information, contact The Bridge at 573-635-8600 or Marduk on Facebook through his handle, @MardukComedy.