Cooking Meets Comedy in Astoria
As a New Yorker, you understand theatre and good food, but you probably wouldn’t expect to be entertained by chefs or fed by comedians. That, however, is the premise of The Food Funny, a live event that pits comedians against each other in a (very modified) Iron Chef-esque competition, while their professional chef counterparts hit the stage and battle it out for belly laughs. The cooking competitors aren’t chefs—they’re comedians. And the actual professional chefs? It’s up to them to provide the comedy.
Adrienne Cooper, NYC food tour guide and owner of Fun Foodie NYC, is the creator and host of the event, which came to fruition two-and-a-half years ago as a way for her to combine her two passions: comedy and cuisine.
“Chefs are so funny,” said Cooper, who has acquired industry connections across the city over the years through her role as a tour guide. “[I thought], let me give them the opportunity to take their comedy from the kitchen to the stage.”
With that, The Food Funny was born, and the second Wednesday of each month at Astoria’s Q.E.D.—“A place to show and tell”—chefs take to the stage to show off the comedy skills they’ve honed back-of-house while comedians flex their improv muscles in a less conventional, more food-focused format.
This particular evening, Chef Jackie Mazza of Knead Baked Goods kicked things off with a funny story about her mother brandishing kitchen knives, like John Wayne would guns, to gallantly defend her when the alarm went off in the kitchen space late one night. A small, Brooklyn-born and Jersey-bred fireball, Mazza was hilarious, and easily demonstrated why she has been cast on shows like “Cutthroat Kitchen,” “Restaurant Startup,” and “Dr. Oz.” But while she’s clearly comfortable cracking jokes in the kitchen and on TV, she was quick to explain that the stage is a different story.
“You can’t survive in the kitchen if you can’t talk shit,” she explained. “It’s different when it’s just you and you’re trying to relate your crazy-ass mother to a sea of people you can’t see.”
After Mazza’s standup, Timothy Dunn and Thalia Robinson, comics turned guinea-pig chefs, were confronted with a Whole Foods haul featuring slightly healthier takes on junk foods provided by Mazza: kale-topped flatbread pizza, peach beef jerky, raspberry gummies, lime tortilla chips and a chocolate-caramel pastry from the store’s bakery. (All of which, unless you’ve been partaking in certain substances, do not a decent meal make.)
Armed with a simple, stage-friendly griddle, small pans, and cooking utensils about as professional as the chefs using them (a plastic toy bucket served as a mixing bowl, for instance), Dunn and Robinson got cookin’.
Dunn–a company member at UCB Theatre and the host and producer of Queerball–was hysterical on a Bravo TV-worthy level throughout the allotted 10 minutes, but despite being flustered, still managed to pull together something sort of resembling a dish by the time the buzzer sounded.
Dunn’s “Santa Barbara Nachos, Two Ways” (originally dubbed “Sad Nachos” but wisely rebranded) consisted of crumbled flatbread and chips topped with melted cheese and diced jerky, with a “Mexican-inspired mole” created using the chocolate pastry.
After hesitantly tasting the creative concoction, the volunteer judge had a verdict: “Looks substantially worse than it tastes.”
Meanwhile Robinson, an NYC Upright Citizens Brigade-trained improviser, sketch writer and performer, had a slight competitive advantage in the sense that she claimed to actually enjoy cooking. Her finished product was a southwestern hash featuring a “raspberry-chocolate compote” that was expertly plated—at least by comedian-using-a-paper-plate standards.
After tasting Robinson’s dish, the judge deemed it superior, and the comic used her prize– performance time to sing funny, food-themed musical parodies that concluded on a sweet note with an ode to the cronut.
The audience—a small, boisterous group of spectators, most of whom knew Cooper and joked with her and the competitors throughout the event—then headed to the lobby for (more) drinks and concessions.
When speaking with the comedians and chefs after the show, it was clear that they enjoyed the experience and being out of their element. Cooper noted that since the show began, there have been participating comics who have ended up in culinary school and, on the flip side, chefs who have gone on to perform onstage again.
But more than a performance, The Food Funny could, according to Dunn, practically be considered a dress rehearsal for an average night’s dinner.
“I get home, I’m broke—what do I have in my kitchen? Wasabi peas, a can of black beans, old pad thai—I’ll make it into a dish! For New Yorkers, who have tiny little kitchens, it’s a fun challenge. I think people would get into this because it’s a real thing we have to do in New York.”
Catch the next show April 12thth at Q.E.D., and check out The Food Funny at thefoodfunny.tumblr.com.