Laughayette: Comedy festival aims to jumpstart local standup scene
The origin story of a weeklong local celebration standup, starting Saturday. Plus, more questions about competence for accused killer in ’22 Purdue dorm room murder
Thanks to the support from Snuggs Pizza and the Spot Tavern, sponsor of today’s edition. The Spot Tavern, housing Snuggs Pizza, is now open at 11 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday. For more details about the hours and upcoming events, visit www.spotspotspot.com or click the flier below.
Opening things this morning is some funny business, courtesy of Based in Lafayette friend and correspondent Tim Brouk.
LAUGHAYETTE: LAFAYETTE’S NEW COMEDY FESTIVAL AIMS TO JUMPSTART LOCAL STANDUP SCENE
By Tim Brouk / For Based in Lafayette
Two transplants as ambitious as they are hilarious wanted to go big to revitalize a mostly dormant, post-pandemic standup comedy scene in Lafayette.
A handful of years ago, T.J. Wharry and Kristin Carnes followed their respective spouses — both faculty at Purdue University — only to find standup opportunities few and far between when they arrived in Lafayette. Both would find more open slots in Indianapolis and Bloomington.
Once Lafayette venues began to reopen after COVID-19’s peak, Wharry and Carnes would jump on for hosting and featured slots for out-of-town comedians at downtown gigs. The shows, especially the attendance and audience enthusiasm, were encouraging. While new to the area, they felt at home on-stage in Lafayette. There was potential for more stand-up shows and even a festival, they thought.
After months of planning, Wharry, Carnes and John Hughey, Long Center for the Performing Arts executive director, collaborated for Lafayette’s first comedy festival — Laughayette. The multi-day, multi-venue event kicks off with a Z-7 Comedy All Star Showcase at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 30, at Knickerbocker Saloon.
“We are trying to jumpstart a comedy scene in Lafayette,” said Wharry, who heads the Z-7 production company. “We figured a comedy festival would be a quick way to do that and it was an easier way to get the venues onboard with live standup comedy. And it was a great opportunity to bring talented comics in.”
In total, Laughayette will welcome dozens of local, regional and national comics at shows through Oct. 7. Headliners include Chelcie Lynn, Jay Jurden and Brian Regan, a superstar talent who’s had specials on Comedy Central and a trio currently on Netflix. Here is the rundown for the rest of the festival:
One Size Fits All Improv, 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 1, Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette, 313 N. Fifth St., Lafayette — One Size Fits All Improv will perform a family-friendly show. The show is free, but seating is limited. Reserve tickets here.
Monster Monster: LIVE RPG Comedy, 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 2, Lafayette Theater, 600 Main St. — Monster Monster is a mix of cooperative storytelling, improv, crowd participation and nerdisms. Live die-cariously through some of the Midwest's best comedians in an adventurous live session of Dungeons & Dragons, fifth edition. DM-ed by Tyson Cox and featuring Luke Severeid, Mo Mitchell, Cavin Eggleston and Tyler Waltz. $10. Tickets.
Ed Hill with T.J. Wharry, 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 3, Digby's Pub and Patio, 133 N. Fourth St, Lafayette — Canadian and Taiwanese comedian Ed Hill’s credits include a critically acclaimed comedy special, "Candy and Smiley," on Amazon Prime, and an off-off Broadway residency in New York. $15. Tickets.
Patrick Murray with Justin Seymour and Devin Glass, 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 5, Knickerbocker Saloon, 113 N. Fifth St., Lafayette. $10. Tickets.
Brian Regan, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 5, Long Center for the Performing Arts, 111 N. Sixth St., Lafayette — $45. Tickets.
Chelcie Lynn, 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 6, Long Center — Lynn is a comedian, actress and internet personality extraordinaire. She started building a fan base in 2014 when her sketches featuring her alter ego, Trailer Trash Tammy, went viral. Her videos have since gained hundreds of millions of views, which put a rocket booster on her career. $34-$59. Tickets.
Jay Jurden, 7 p.m. Oct. 7, Lafayette Theater, 600 Main St., Lafayette — Comedian, actor and Emmy nominated writer Jay Jurden is a staff writer for "The Problem with Jon Stewart" on Apple TV+. His standup has been featured on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" in addition to CBS’ "The Late Late Show with James Corden," "The Drew Barrymore Show" and Comedy Central. In 2019, Jay was selected to be a “New Face” as part of the prestigious Just for Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal, and in 2022, Jurden was asked to return as one of Variety’s 10 Comics to Watch. $20. Tickets.
He jokes, he scores!
Wharry’s path to the standup spotlight is about as atypical as it gets. The Detroit-area native worked as an NHL scout for years. While filing reports for teams, he maintained a Twitter presence that featured humorous quips on the hard-hitting sport and its players. The tweets got him a following and was noticed by Comedy Central’s social media team. Wharry was hired in the network’s bullpen of writers, which produced writing credits on the old series “CC: Social Scene” for him.
Based in Boise, Idaho, at the time, Wharry decided to try some open mics, and his knack for comedic writing translated well to the stage, wherever he could find one.
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“I used to run a club out of my house in Boise just to get stage time,” Wharry chuckled. “It could be a struggle.”
Soon, comedy crosschecked hockey into the boards. Wharry was touring coast to coast and even into Canada and Mexico, gaining experience and confidence. Today, Wharry doesn’t tour as much as he did before COVID, but he regularly performs in Indianapolis and Bloomington, where he showed well in the Indiana’s Funniest competition at Indy’s Helium.
Big box store big
Carnes is newer to comedy. She took her first standup and improv classes in her late-40s, when she was living in Boston. Today, Carnes hosts monthly comedy showcases at The Spot Tavern, where she has developed a following.
“It seems like people do want comedy,” Carnes said. “It’s nice getting recognized at Target.”
The crowds at her shows have grown. Many regulars come, but most comics she introduces come from Indy, Bloomington and Chicago. She hopes that Laughayette will inspire privately funny Lafayette folks to take the leap to the stage. She also hopes more venues will embrace local and regional standup.
“If you get the community to buy-in, that really helps to propel it for year after year,” Carnes said. “We want to show what Lafayette has.
“I think everyone needs standup comedy, personally. Life is tough. Why not laugh?”
Lafayette-West Lafayette was once a bit of a hotspot for standup. The Knickerbocker Saloon hosted the weekly Comedy Caravan series for decades. In the 1980s and ’90s, the comics would also perform the next night at Nick’s, a longtime West Lafayette nightclub. Purdue University also got in on the action with huge performances from the likes of George Carlin, Jim Gaffigan and Robin Williams. It’s been years since the university has booked any top names, but the Purdue Standup Comedy Club has brought in lesser-known national talent while regularly showcasing Boilermaker funny people.
For more on Lafayette comedy events, check out Lafayette Laughs.
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ATTORNEY: SHA STILL MIGHT NOT BE COMPETENT FOR TRIAL IN PURDUE DORM ROOM MURDER
An attorney for Ji Min Sha, a former Purdue student accused of stabbing his McCutcheon Hall roommate to death in October 2022, says his client still might not be competent to stand trial for the murder of Varun Chheda, a Purdue junior from Indianapolis.
Sha sent back to Tippecanoe County Jail on Sept. 14, after a doctor at Logansport State Hospital told the court that he had “attained the ability to understand the proceedings and assist in the preparation of his defense.” Tippecanoe Circuit Court Judge Sean Persin had ordered Sha to the state hospital in April, saying Sha was incompetent to stand trial at that point after doctors determined that Sha showed signs of being schizophrenic, delusional and detached from reality.
On Friday, during a status update, Kyle Cray, Sha’s attorney, told Persin that he’d been able to see Sha twice since he’d arrived back at the Tippecanoe County Jail. Cray said Sha had medication from the state hospital to help with his condition, but it wasn’t clear whether he’d been taking it as prescribed.
“I can tell the court that while there has been improvement in the ability and willingness to communicate with us, there has been no improvement that we have seen in terms of the delusional ideations that have been going on since day one in this case,” Cray told Persin Friday morning.
Sha was not in the courtroom for the short status conference.
Persin asked for an immediate assessment from the jail to know whether Sha was taking medications as prescribed. The judge said he was concerned that if Sha’s condition worsened, he might have to be sent back to Logansport.
Persin set another status update for Oct. 13, telling Cray that if the defense planned to bring up evaluations for competence or insanity that he’d want to see Sha in the courtroom so the judge could see things for himself.
According to court records filed with the murder charge, the Tippecanoe County prosecutor revealed that the then-22-year-old Purdue junior from South Korea told officers in a 911 call on Oct. 5 that he’d just killed his roommate. According the prosecutor’s account, police found Sha shortly after his 12:44 a.m. call to 911 in his first-floor dorm room. Police said he was in blood-covered clothes. Police found Chheda dead in a chair in the room. The day of the killing, Purdue Police Chief Lesley Wiete called the attack “unprovoked and senseless.”
According to court documents, police said they found a folding knife on the floor of room and that Sha told them the knife was his. A report from an autopsy by the Tippecanoe County coroner, Chheda was killed by “multiple sharp force trauma injuries.”
Chheda, 20, was a senior majoring in data science at Purdue. Hundreds of students and others gathered for vigils on campus in the days after his death.
This spring, during competency hearings, doctors and his attorney discussed Sha’s belief he was extensively involved in international espionage and is a former CIA operative. According to the doctors’ reports, Sha told detectives after his arrest that he had been in the CIA since 2020. One wrote that Shaw “spoke of Marvel movies as propaganda for ‘predictive programming.’” The doctors wrote about how Sha told detectives about miscommunications with his roommate “involving being ‘flashed’ from ‘scarlet and gold’ to ‘green and silver,’” and talked about “grandiose delusional beliefs.” One doctors’ report references “bizarre and withdrawn behavior” documented by jail staff, followed by a page-and-a-half of redacted direct quotes.
Thanks, again, to Snuggs Pizza and the Spot Tavern, sponsor of today’s edition. The Spot Tavern, housing Snuggs Pizza, is now open at 11 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday. For more details about the hours and upcoming events, visit www.spotspotspot.com.
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