One of the comedians matched black socks with Pumas. Another wore patterned dress socks.
And that was about it.
Welcome to Naked Comedy, the monthly stand-up showcase at ImprovBoston in Cambridge that is exactly what it sounds like — no more, and no less.
At this month’s show Andy Ofiesh, your underdressed master of ceremonies, bounded onstage to instant laughter, wearing only his glasses and an impish grin. He grabbed the microphone, planted his bare feet and asked his audience how many were surprised to see him actually appearing in the buff.
“I thought it was a metaphor!” blurted one giggling voice from the dark.
In fact, Ofiesh’s long-running showcase makes literal interpretation of some of stand-up comedy’s most threadbare tropes. Alone and under the spotlight, of course, a stand-up comedian has always been stripped down and exposed.
At Naked Comedy, Ofiesh’s stable of comics just lay those analogies bare.
Word of mouth and a consistently funny roster of regulars and newbies has made Naked Comedy a continuing success in the sometimes unforgiving skin trade of aspiring comedians. For nearly a decade — the showcase will mark its 10th year next summer — Ofiesh has been trying to explain why the show has drawn so well. (After years on Wednesdays, attendance has been down slightly following a recent move to join ImprovBoston’s rotating Thursday schedule.)
“Best I can guess, when you come out naked, you’re vulnerable, and audiences feel a connection to that,” says Ofiesh, who launched the show after trying stand-up in a talent show at a clothing-optional retreat. (Following that first experiment, a woman “my mom’s age came up and told me she’d laughed so hard that her cataract disappeared,” he recalls.)
“You’re doing something most people feel they could never do, and they’re sometimes impressed by that. Also, there’s a kind of social transformation that happens. It’s a shared, unique experience. All those things together are like a cultural hodgepodge of stuff that tends to make the audiences amazing.”
Which is not, he’s quick to note, always the norm in the world of small-stage, low-stakes stand-up comedy. A supportive crowd is one reason he’s been able to book a fresh bill of six or eight comedians month in and month out.
“I took to it,” says Dan Martin, a Providence-based comedian who has performed on the Naked Comedy showcase about 10 times. Having struggled with weight problems, he appreciates that the show is about “body acceptance.”
“It seemed like a good platform for an open-minded show. I figured if I could do that show, I could do any show.”
On New Year’s Eve, Ofiesh will travel south to take part in Naked Comedy’s New York offshoot. He’s also hosted the show at Burning Man, the radical pop-up art and performance campground event in the Nevada desert. (For once, he says, Naked Comedy was “by far not the weirdest thing anybody had seen that day.”)
By now, Ofiesh has his opening routine down pat. “If you’re uncomfortable,” he instructed the October crowd of about 40, “blur your eyes and pretend I’m wearing beige.”
Ranging from jokes involving acorns and pool toys to a bit for which he performs a well-practiced headstand, he knows how to warm up the room for his featured performers.
“I’ve dialed it in,” he says. “By the time the first comic comes out, the audience is hot.”
To be clear, by that he just means they’re ready to go along for the ride.
When Ofiesh started the 18-and-over show, he did his due diligence. In Cambridge, the law permits nudity onstage as long as it’s not a strip show.
“It turned out all we had to do was abide by three guidelines,” he says. “No tipping, no sex, and no touching the audience. None of these things are necessary for a comedy show.”
Comedian Kayla Avery agreed to do the show for the first time in October after watching a friend perform in it a while back. “If she has no body issues,” she remembers thinking, “there’s no reason for anybody else to.”
She opened her set by explaining that her father once suggested she try out for the TV survival show “Naked and Afraid,” which she thought was weird. So they compromised, and she signed up for Naked Comedy.
“And by compromise, I mean he has no idea,” she joked.
Avery has done theater and modeling, so she’s no stranger to the stage and the voyeurism of the camera. For her, nudity is no big deal.
“I encourage my friends to get naked all the time,” she says.