CAMBRIDGE - Wendy Liebman and Carol Leifer faced the challenge Saturday night of living up to top billing at the fourth annual Women in Comedy Festival, a five-day event that featured an impressive 225 performers, covering stand-up, sketch, improv, storytelling, and musical comedy. They are veterans with mainstream recognition - Liebman’s one-hour Showtime special “Taller on TV’’ aired in January and ex-“Seinfeld’’ writer Leifer won a Writers Guild Award in February for an episode of “Modern Family.’’ But supporting comics Kelly MacFarland, Erin Jackson, and Erin Judge almost matched them laugh for laugh.
Liebman and Leifer delivered, but on a different scale. Leifer headlined the early show with Jackson hosting and MacFarland featuring. Her material was solid, but she didn’t really start to fire until the second half of her set. She talked about the dumb questions at airport security, how she was bad at her day jobs, and how unappealing her first visit to a nude beach was. All amusing bits, but a bit too safe and familiar. She scored with a routine about jazz singers and absurd lyrics, performing a short number possibly titled “Donkeys in Your Wallet,’’ and got more personal, talking about coming out, her partner of 15 years, and raising a young son, Bruno. Bruno is catching “the funny bug,’’ she said. He walked in on her weighing herself, looked down at the scale and tried to reassure her with a shrugging, “Not too bad.’’
MacFarland, one of Boston’s strongest acts, had the funniest set of the early show. Her bubbly stage demeanor belies a more earthy personality, someone who isn’t afraid to sneeze in public or spray a misbehaving child with Windex. Jackson, a Washington, D.C., comic, was also a find, hosting the first show and featuring the second. Judge, formerly of Boston, turned in a sharp performance hosting the second show.
Liebman was in perfect form headlining the second show. Like Leifer, she is a Long Island native, and both comics had fun with some hometown transplants in the crowd. Liebman went to Wellesley and started her comedy career in Boston, and several acquaintances spoke up during the show. No interruption could throw off Liebman’s timing, and she effortlessly incorporated every remark into the flow of the show. One audience member’s mother had been Liebman’s nursery school teacher. “That was my favorite year!’’ said Liebman. “I was voted playmate of the year.’’
Liebman’s delivery is precise and clean, leaving little time to reflect on one joke before the next one arrives. It’s a misnomer to call them one-liners, because sometimes the tags for a single line come in waves. She said her brother “went to BU in the ’80s, now he’s a senior. He’s in gradual school. He’s a philosophy major. He doesn’t know why.’’ Liebman provided a fitting peak to a festival packed with funny people.