This DIY Comedy Show Feels Like an Episode of ‘Girls’ (Non-Derogatory)

With an in-house art gallery, a set from rock band Washer, and a comedy trio that made a smoothie onstage, ACME Revue was like walking into Hannah Horvath’s Brooklyn…in the best possible way.

This DIY Comedy Show Feels Like an Episode of ‘Girls’ (Non-Derogatory)
Slapstick trio Chicken Big make a smoothie onstage at April’s ACME Revue.
Photo: Michael Gebhardt

Hot Mic is a weekly column by Leah Abrams documenting, spotlighting, and reviewing live comedy in NYC. 

This week marks 12 years of Lena Dunham’s Girls, a national holiday for annoying, dramatic writers everywhere. I was in eighth grade when the show first premiered and I pirated the pilot episode on my iPod Touch, only to be intimidated by Hannah’s first sex scene with Adam and immediately turn it off. People do it like that? No way, I thought. Up until then, I’d imagined New York exclusively as glamorous. This was my first indication that it wasn’t…just that. 

So it was fitting that, this week, I ended up at The Gutter: a bowling alley bar in Williamsburg on the north edge of McCarren Park where the titular Girls celebrate Ray Ploshansky’s election to “community board number eight.” But unlike that episode (“Daddy Issues”), the night I went, there were no surprise engagements or fathers coming out late in life. At least, not that I know of.

Instead, I was there for the ACME Revue, a DIY comedy-variety show hosted monthly by Julia Desmond. With an in-house art gallery from Amy Tidwell, a lineup of performances from some of New York’s best alt-comedians, and a set from the rock band Washer, it felt like walking into an episode of Girls, in the best possible way.

ACME—an acronym for Art, Comedy, Music, End of Show—is a labor of love. Because Desmond is a fellow North Carolina native who moved up here after graduating college during the pandemic, I’ve been hearing about it from friends for years now—and my only regret is taking so long to see it for myself. 


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The show was packed—standing room only in The Gutter’s back bar—and full of Desmond’s fans and friends, many of whom are artists and performers themselves. It was so full of Zoomers that if I’d needed an Elf Bar, I could’ve had fifty thrown at me from every direction. My people. 

My friend Tati and I lucked into bar stools along the back wall and discovered that our seatmate, Billie, was also a comic. Always a good sign, like how you know a restaurant is fab if other chefs spend their off nights there.

Unlike most of the shows I’ve reviewed so far, ACME doesn’t take place at a big venue with institutional support or official ticketing. You pay cover at the front when you walk in; you squeeze in where you can; and you watch some of the best, most creative shit you’ll find on any stage in the city.

Desmond kicked off the show in a sheer, white dress and space buns. She talked about her college Xanax addiction raising her downer tolerance, saying, “Once, I drank the spiked punch at a frat party and finally had the confidence to dance.”

Next, I got to watch a slapstick trio called Chicken Big make a smoothie onstage like a “Human Blender.” First, one guy came out with a tray of fruits. Then the next came on with a Nutribullet taped to his head. Then the third arrived with a glass taped on his. Like a modern three stooges, they worked in complete silence, raising the stakes through a series of visual gags. The entire crowd cheered when they finally took a sip. 

Absurdism, clownery, wordplay—all of these were on display on the ACME stage, bringing the experimental disposition of DIY music and visual arts scenes into the comedy mix. “Reality’s shredding,” stand-up Honey Pluton said, and the art we make of it should match. “Why don’t people assassinate anymore? Oh, you’re too busy freelancing?” Pluton said. “If you’re so free then… lance!” Hopefully, none of the many freelancer-DJ-multi-hyphenates in the audience took this to heart.


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Compare this with the milquetoast observations that pass for mainstream political comedy, and it feels like holding a beating heart right after holding a dead limb. Everyone from SNL writer Dan Licata to Michael Green (he was born in 2002—feel old yet? [Editor’s note: Yes.]) brought something innovative and unique. In February, the writer P.E. Moskowitz wrote that we might be on the edge “of a huge cultural renaissance,” especially as the generation born into the aforementioned shredded reality finally comes of age. And if that’s true, then this lineup is part of its vanguard, both in range and novelty. Lily Armstrong gave a manifesto for “non-religious severe women,” and Whitley Watson, in my favorite joke of the night, said: “Ariana Grande is the pop star that asks: What if Rachel Dolezal were really hot?”

Part of the genius of Girls is its biting satire. There is no one, singular voice of any generation. But as Hannah Horvath’s foremother, Joan Didion, wrote in 1967, “One of the mixed blessings of being twenty and twenty-one and even twenty-three is the conviction that nothing like this, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, has ever happened to anyone before.” 

The performers at ACME aren’t inventing comedy—but they’re breathing new, weird, fun life into it. And even at 25, I’m pretty sure nothing like this has ever happened to anyone before. 

You can catch the next ACME Revue at The Gutter on May 24, 2024.

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