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Local comedian gains big following on Big Island

Updated: 
October 5, 2017 - 1:05am

The old adage, laughter is the best medicine, proves to be true as Hawaii Island residents line up for their much-needed doses of snorts and belly laughs. The comedy scene is taking off on the Big Island, and one funny lady is making audience’s cheeks hurt over her brutally honest, everyday experiences. Kona resident, Justine Smith recently made her comedic debut on Hawaii Island a couple of years ago, and has since gained a loyal following of fans.

“The first time I got up in front of an audience, it was a group of friends in Maine,” said Smith. “I immediately knew I was going to have diarrhea, because nothing terrified me more in my life. But I did it anyway. It was like a two or three minute set and they loved it. Then again, they were my friends and they liked me, so it’s not like they were going to throw tomatoes at me and yell for me to get off stage. No one was going to be a jerk to my face like they are now (laughing).”

It took her almost 10 years from the first time she stood in front of that audience in Maine, until a friend asked her to perform at a private party in Keauhou. The response she received was so positive, she was inspired to perform a couple of months later at My Bar in Kailua-Kona.

A successful comedian is one who can make an audience laugh over the most negative experiences. The darker times get, the more comedy is needed, and when done well, comedy is a vehicle for truth — something today’s audiences crave. Smith incorporates her truth into her stand-up sets, connecting herself to her audience with embarrassing stories of epic proportions.

“The inspiration for my humor is my life and the thoughts that go through my head when I do something stupid,” she said. “I know there are people who relate, but they won’t talk about it because it’s embarrassing, so I’m going to talk about it and it’s going to resonate with someone. Whether it’s about my job waiting tables, or the fact that I have random, unexpected bodily functions, these are things I talk about when I get on stage — these things no one would ever want to tell another soul. I know others can relate to these experiences and that’s what makes it funny.”

Comedy and satire is often meant to annoy the comfortable and comfort the oppressed. A good joke with a great delivery can influence people who otherwise may be unwilling to listen. Comedians like Smith can making people laugh by being bawdy, disruptive and challenging. By validating shared experiences, she encourages her audience to open up about things that otherwise may be too painful or embarrassing to share.

“When I’m talking about serious issues in my life that are difficult to deal with and can make it funny, it takes the power of the negativity away,” said Smith. “I feel the best way to get from a really dark spot to a really light spot is with laughter.”

Today there are more women in comedy than ever before, yet it still remains a predominately male dominated genre of entertainment. Smith acknowledges some of the challenges of being one of the few working female comics.

“There’s still an underlying sexism in comedy,” she said. “I’m sure I’m the only comic, of all the male comics I work with, that has had my genitalia referenced as I’ve gotten on stage. I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who’s gotten grabbed after a performance. I’ve also heard people say that women can’t be funny, and it’s so not true — Lucille Ball, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, I could go on and on. There are many amazing comedic actresses and the only criticism I hear is usually based on their looks. For example, Amy Schumer gets made fun of for her weight all the time, and she’s beautiful.”

“As a general rule I do very well with a female audience,” said Smith. “It’s not that men don’t think I’m funny — many of them do. But anyone who’s going to find a rape joke funny, is not going to find me funny. I might be able to reach them with a joke, but if I’m talking about having kids or menopause or anything to do with the female anatomy, some men are just not going to laugh. Sometimes I feel the world is out to crush us and bring us down, but you can’t be down when you’re laughing. I just want people to leave my show feeling better than they did when they arrived.”

Smith performs regularly at My Bar and Gertrude’s Jazz Bar in Kailua-Kona.

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