The six guys who make up the Baltimore-based comedy troupe Color Me Funny have a pretty simple goal in life. They never want to hear the following crack ever again:
"The best and worst compliment you can get is that you're the funniest person In Baltimore."
"Yeah, I've heard that before," says Joe Greenway, who along with his five buds is striving to make such put-downs obsolete. "But what we're doing proves that Baltimore can be a thriving comedy scene."
And just how are they trying to prove that? Mainly, it seems, through the tireless promotion of comedy showcases and open mic nights, usually hosted by members of the group, at venues throughout the Baltimore area, including Delia Foley's in Federal Hill, Sean Bolan's and Main Street Oyster House in Bel Air and the Charles Village Pub in Towson. Although they rarely appear as a group — for the most part, such collective comedy is reserved for their website, colormefunnycomedy.com — the members are all over these quick-hit comedy nights, hosting, doing a few minutes themselves and encouraging others to come up onstage and do the same.
"We didn't start running the rooms to make money," says Greenway, 26, a Baltimore County native who works as a teller at a Towson bank and an assistant manager at a Rosedale pizza shop. "We wanted to give comedians a stage to shine. We wanted everyone to be happy on the scene."
A recent show on the second floor of Delia Foley's provided a glimpse at Color Me Funny's M.O. Group member Justin Hancock served as the evening's host (entering to the tune of the theme from TV's "Sanford & Son") and introduced Greenway to get things started. He did about eight minutes, riffing on such subjects as "I'm so white," Harry Chapin's "Cat's in the Cradle" and just how sexy Frankenstein's monster is.
A procession of other local comics followed, some clearly nervous (one had all his jokes written on a piece of paper, which he consulted frequently), some so potty-mouthed that even their cleanest jokes couldn't be printed in a newspaper designed for mass consumption, most clearly floating new material as trial balloons before incorporating any of it into their acts.
Nights like this are very much training grounds, says Greenway — a chance for newcomers to see if they have what it takes to stand in front of an audience and make people laugh, as well as for more established comics (like the guys of Color Me Funny) to work on their material.
"You have to practice, practice, practice," he says. "And then when you get to a big club, you can go in there and be really sharp."
The name Color Me Funny is a play on the band Color Me Badd, and has its source in a crack made by a bartender who referred to the guys as "the boy band of comedy," Greenway says. Now, they've been together for about two years. The atmosphere and camaraderie of nights like this — loose, supportive, where anything is possible and not everything works — is one of their main goals. That, and making names for themselves, of course.
"I figured we would get a lot more accomplished if we worked together than being just six schmucks working on our own," says Brandon Lescure, a 30-year-old Bel Air mail carrier who admits that Color Me Funny "is kinda one of my brainchilds."
"I'm from a music background," he explains, "so I've always been kind of group-focused when it came to projects."
The group came together in 2012, five guys from Harford County (in addition to Lescure, there's Hancock, Matt Mahaffey, Thezz Grimes and Mike Turpin) and one outlier (that would be Greenway), all in their mid-to-late 20s at the time, determined to make their mark in the business of funny — and maybe save a little gas on the way. Yes, admits Lescure, Color Me Funny started out as a carpool.
And while the group may seem an all-male bastion, that was never the idea, he adds. "It's absolutely not purposeful," Lescure says. "The truth is, there aren't a lot of female comedians in Baltimore."
In addition to their regular gigs as a group, each group member has made his mark locally. Lescure shows up every other month or so at Magooby's in Timonium and the Baltimore Comedy Factory, while Hancock has opened locally for Mickey Cucchiella, Greenway for Timmy Hall. Grimes' first stand-up performance made him the winner of a new-talent showcase at Magooby's, while Turpin has been a guest on the 98 Rock Morning Show.
It's all part of putting Baltimore on the comedy map, says Mahaffey. Not to mention themselves.
"It's a growing scene here," he says. "And we want to do that. We want to make this someplace to actually stop at; we don't want to turn [Color Me Funny] into a factory where we're just sending people out."
Agrees Greenway, "It's becoming a scene where you can come to Baltimore and you can find an open mic night pretty much every night of the week. … You used to have to go to D.C. to get that — that was the closest place."
What's next? Color Me Funny is just getting started, Greenway says. Although members have individual plans — Mahaffey, for instance, would like to get more into acting, maybe moving to Chicago in the next six months — they envision staying together for a while, perhaps starting to act more like a group, less like six comics doing their own thing.
A taste of where they could be headed can be found on the group's website, where filmed skits in which they work together include riffs on "Game of Thrones," a desperate Santa's search for toys and the difficulty of breaking up when you can't get a word in edgewise.
But increasingly, they're looking like a group, posting skits on their website and trying to become Baltimore's answer to such famed troupes as Chicago's Second City and Los Angeles' Groundlings. They'll be opening for comedian Mike E. Winfield at Towson University on Feb. 26, in a free show set for 8:30 p.m. on the PAWS stage at the campus' University Union.
"We'd like to do sketch comedy, kind of a 'Saturday Night Live' thing, but our own brand," says Greenway. "As a group, I totally see us staying together for a long, long time."
If you go
Upcoming appearances by Color Me Funny include:
Charles Village Pub Towson: Open mic nights every Sunday at 19 W. Pennsylvania Ave. Signup at 8:30 p.m., showtime at 9 p.m.
Main Street Oyster House: Comedy showcases at 119 S. Main St., Bel Air. 9 p.m. Jan. 15 (headliner Eric Frost), 24 (Timmy Hall) and 29 (Mike Finazzo).
Delia Foley's Pub: Comedy showcase at 1439 S. Charles St. 8:30 p.m. Jan. 16 (Sonny Fuller).