Arts & Entertainment

Hanford High graduate back home to stir up some laughs

A former Tri-Citian is coming home with dreams of wowing a hometown crowd again.

Toby Roberts is one of 18 featured comedians at the annual Atomic Comedy Festival starting Oct. 21 at Joker's Comedy Club in Richland.

"I'm really excited to be performing in this festival," said Roberts, a 1988 Hanford High grad.

Roberts competed in last year's TribbleRun festival at Joker's and tied with Mike Wally Walter from Centralia for the top prize.

That win has kept Roberts on the comedy fast track all year.

"Winning last year's festival really helped springboard me into better gigs at bigger clubs," said Roberts. "I owe a lot of that to the local fans. I feel extremely comfortable performing in my hometown. I just wish I could do it more often."

The Atomic Comedy Festival is a new competition at Joker's Comedy Club, said club manager Bobby Quirring.

The comedy fest includes 18 nationally touring comics performing in eight shows during the four-day event, Oct. 21-24 at Joker's, 624 Wellsian Way in Richland. Admission is $10 at the door.

Comedians scheduled to compete are Roberts, Michael Jenkins, Fox Klein, Steven Alan Green, Daniel Dugar, Susan Jones, Jimmy Turner, Rick Pulido, Mike Wally Walter, Fia Perera, BJ Johnson, Keith Barany, Chad & Cory Baumgartner, Michael Agostini, Leif Skyving, Jim Summers and Justin McClure.

Many of the competing comics have appeared on TV shows such as Late Night with David Letterman, the Late Show with Jay Leno, The Late, Late Show with Craig Fergusson, Comedy Central's Live at Gotham and Last Comic Standing.

Roberts feels the pressure of competing with some serious comics.

"As far as my nerves go, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous," he said. "Comedy is such a subjective art form. That's why there are so many different styles."

He credits Quirring with keeping the Tri-Cities as a hot spot for comedy by bringing in nationally known comedians on a regular basis.

"He's managed to put Joker's on the map on the West Coast as a comics favorite," Roberts said. "It truly is one of the best clubs from a comedian's perspective. The room is always packed, the crowd is always attentive and they seem to get the comedy."

Roberts doesn't see himself so much as a jokester but more a storyteller. He hopes to make his living on the comedy circuit one day, but for now his day job is as a car salesman in Fife near Tacoma.

He fell into comedy quite by accident while visiting a Seattle club about five years ago, he said.

He got up on the stage and told a story from his childhood and got a good laugh from the audience. It was all the encouragement he needed to keep telling those funny stories.

◗ Dori O'Neal: 582-1514;