Good for a laugh

  • Case study: New Yorker Rachel Feinstein is performing in Just for Laughs Bermuda (Photograph supplied)

As a comedian, Rachel Feinstein has been on television specials and talk shows and has toured internationally.

But her beginning in comedy was anything but auspicious.

The New Yorker completely bombed her first time on stage.

“I must have been about 21,” said Ms Feinstein, who is on the island for comedy show Just for Laughs Bermuda.

“I’d dreamt of stand-up comedy for years, but was too scared to try it.”

Then one day she got ahead of herself and told a friend she did stand-up.

“Then I had to catch up on my own lies,” she said.

The two went to a bar in New York for an open mic night. Ms Feinstein was so nervous that she downed four Rum ‘n’ Cokes before the show started.

By the time she got up on stage, she was drunk and held the microphone the wrong way.

“I thought I did great,” she said, “but I was told afterwards that I was rambling aimlessly.

“There was very little laughter because I don’t think anyone could hear what I was saying. I was a real problem for everyone in the place.

“They were waving me offstage because I had gone on for too long.”

But she did not let it stop her. Buoyed by the adrenalin rush she got from performing, she accepted an offer of five minutes on stage at another bar, if she brought three friends.

“I saw it as an opportunity,” she said.

There was only one problem. She did not really know anyone in New York, because she had recently moved from Bethesda, Maryland.

“I hung out at this bar,” she said. “I went up to some guys playing pool and begged them to come to this show.

“Three of them came. I was so thankful for that.”

From there, she went from “bringer” bar to bringer bar, snatching up minutes on stage in exchange for bringing in patrons.

She figured out how to work the mic and got better at making people laugh.

Ms Feinstein said today there were a lot of female comics in the industry, but when she started, things were different.

“Early on in my career, I encountered a lot of sexism,” she said. “There are a lot more female comics now.

“People have fought to get more time. When I started, nobody wanted to even listen to a woman. A lot of shows would only have one woman.”

Ms Feinstein got her first break at Caroline’s on Broadway, a comedy club in Midtown Manhattan. She had to bring 25 people to get on stage there.

Jeff Ross, a comedian known for roasting celebrities, saw her act and urged her to audition at the Boston Comedy Club in New York.

“That was my first paid gig,” she said. “I don’t remember how much I got. Maybe it was $20, but so many things happened after that.”

She tried out for NBC’s Last Comic Standing twice, before getting on the show in 2010.

“I was eliminated in seventh place,” she said.

But it brought her enough national exposure that she could finally leave her day job, and tour full-time.

Later that year, she knew she had arrived when she found herself standing on the stage for Comedy Central Presents Rachel Feinstein, her first television special.

“At one point I was just looking behind me and I saw my name in these big blue lights,” she said. “There was crew back there working on it.

“I thought ‘oh my God, people have to work on my name’.

“I have a half an hour on stage to talk about friends and family, and people have jobs around this. They have call times. They have to get up early to blow my hair out for the show. There was a meeting where they decided how my name was going to go. That was crazy.”

It was awe inspiring for her, because when she first moved to New York when she was 17, she was fired from menial job after job.

“For my first job at a clothing store on Broadway I was fired in less than four hours,” she said.

While she talks about love and dating, and even exercise class, in her skits, a lot of her inspiration comes from her parents Howard and Karen Feinstein. Her father is a civil rights lawyer, author and blues musician. Her mother is a social worker.

“My mother is aggressively liberal,” she said.

In one of her sets she joked that her mother would love it if she married a Nigerian lesbian.

Her parents are very supportive of her comedy, and complain when they are not mentioned.

The Royal Gazette spoke to Ms Feinstein shortly before she arrived on the island.

She was happy to be visiting.

“Early on in my career, I did a Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal,” she said. “Then I did one in Toronto and now I’m doing one in Bermuda. It’s awesome.”

She is bringing her husband of five months, firefighter Pete Brennan. “He’s already in my comedy,” she said. “I had jokes about him in my last Netflix special, Season 2 of The Standups.”

Ms Feinstein said she had heard from other comedians that Bermuda audiences were very appreciative.

The 13th Annual Just for Laughs Bermuda is on from Wednesday to Saturday.

Host Alonzo Bodden will perform in Just for Laughs “Double Bill” with Finnish comedian Ismo Leikola on Wednesday at the Earl Cameron Theatre at City Hall at 8pm. Tickets are $49.95. The cost of an open bar from 7pm to 8pm is included in the price.

All other shows will be at the Fairmont Southampton in the Mid-Ocean Amphitheatre.

Comedians Bodden, Ismo, Feinstein, Nathan Macintosh and local comic Jonathan Young will perform on Thursday at 8pm. Tickets are $89.95.

On Friday the show is at 9pm and Saturday at 7pm and 10pm (uncensored). Tickets are $79.95, $89.95 and $99.95 (reserved seating) for the Friday and Saturday shows.

Tickets are available at For more information, visit