Bergamot Comedy Fest delivers laughter and lessons on mental health at The Crow

comedian with a stool and a microphone telling jokes to a crowd.
Comedian Byron Bowers performs during the Bergamot Comedy Fest at The Crow on Friday in Los Angeles.
(Michael Blackshire / Los Angeles Times)

The Bergamot Comedy Festival in Santa Monica last week was more than just a comedy festival. Sure, there were lots of funny comedians, but more than just stand-up performances at The Crow, the fest was focused on mental health awareness, and inclusion for all: women, members of the LGBTQ community, and more were welcome for a night of laughs, panels, Q&A sessions, and other creative workshops and special events with professional writers and stand-up comics, as well as chances for professionals and amateurs to network and mingle.

With a week full of diverse panels for creatives, comics, and writers in the entertainment industry, topics such as how to break into the comedy clubs, how to pitch your script/pilot, how to improve your joke-writing skills, and more were offered. Plus, there were tarot readings, a meditation workshop, panels about women in comedy, and even a panel about how to get press coverage for your comedy show, led by The Times’ own Arts and Entertainment Deputy Editor Nate Jackson, and longtime comedy journalist Julie Seabaugh. As if this weren’t enough, each night ended with stand-up comedy shows featuring more than 50 comics throughout the entire festival.

Asian female comedian on stage holding a mic
Comedian Kazu Kusano performs during the Bergamot Comedy Fest at The Crow on Friday.
(Michael Blackshire / Los Angeles Times)

Co-founder Nicole Blaine, who opened the club with her husband Mickey in 2022, was everywhere to be seen on Friday, from running the door, to being part-time emcee, she seemed to be everywhere at once, always smiling and full of energy.

Friday the main focus was on mental health, with a main sponsor of the event, Comedy Gives Back, being highlighted for its giving back literally to the comedy community with medical insurance, mental health referrals, and substance abuse counseling available for working stand-up comedians. The nonprofit is known as the Safety Net for the comedy community.

Comedy crowd watching a show and clapping
Comedians clap after a panel discussion with comedian Mike Lawrence, who gave advice on navigating the comedy world during the Bergamot Comedy Fest at The Crow .
(Michael Blackshire / Los Angeles Times)

The main evening panel Friday featured a full audience in The Crow, where stand-up comedian/writer Mike Lawrence gave a TED Talk-style presentation about his journey from transitioning from a stand-up comic to a comedy writer. Lawrence had done stand-up for years but then landed writing gigs, where he became a successful comedy writer. He has written for Comedy Central Roasts, SNL, and most recently Pete Davidson among others.

Part motivational speech, part autobiography, Lawrence bared his soul to the audience but offered solid and practical advice for any comedians hoping to work as comedy writers.

“The most important thing is that you work on your stand-up set, your careers begin the first time you step on stage. There is no way to avoid hard work, and stand-up comedy is brutal,” Lawrence told the audience members at The Crow. “But the best way to get a job is just to focus on being funny and having a decent 5-minute set. Focus on your comedy, your act. Things will happen if you do this, but it does take a lot of hard work and dedication. This will not happen overnight.”

Bearded man on stage talking into a microphone
Comedian Mike Lawrence gives advice to fellow comedians during the panel discussion portion of the Bergamot Comedy Fest at The Crow.
(Michael Blackshire / Los Angeles Times)

Lawrence said times are extremely difficult in Hollywood in terms of writing jobs, especially for comedy writers, but this doesn’t mean aspiring creatives should give up. “Just keep this in mind, because you will not make a lot of money as a writer if you are just starting. So, just focus on getting better at writing your own jokes, creating your best act, and really entertaining the audience. You have to challenge yourself, whatever level you’re at. A lot of people never really try because they are protecting themselves from failing,” he said.

Lawrence said that it is important to be hard on yourself but it’s also important to be kind to yourself, mental health is very important for anyone in the comedy world. “You will burn out if you push yourself too hard and don’t give yourself time for a life outside of comedy; it will catch up to you. You need to live life and have experiences to write about. You just have to pace yourself with work and have a life, but remember to reward yourself for the little accomplishments you succeed at.”

Lawrence told anecdotes about working with Pete Davidson and gave insights as to when he got hired to be a writer on the Rob Lowe Roast for Comedy Central but did not get hired as a writer for the Justin Bieber Roast. He also talked about at one point, knowing he did not want to be a stand-up living on the road, and preferred writing at home with his family and most importantly, having medical insurance through the Writers Guild. “That s— is amazing, having this great medical insurance changed my life,” he said. “I found out I had autism and Crohn’s disease,” he said to a laughing crowd.

comedian on stage telling jokes
Comedian Cameron Esposito performs during the Bergamot Comedy Fest at The Crow.
(Michael Blackshire / Los Angeles Times)

The main event on Friday at The Crow was beyond packed, with a full crowd that was laughing the entire night to comedians ranging in diversity, which included the introspective hilarity of Byron Bowers; the author of the Liberal Redneck Manifesto, Drew Morgan; the wacky violinist/stand-up Kristen Lundberg; and comedians Kazu Kusano, Diana Hong and Julian Fernandez.


The show also featured coming stand-up comic Thomas Endashaw, who is a USC student/doorman at the Comedy Store; Ainsley Bailey’s odd bizarre yet humorous take on mental issues the autism spectrum; comedian April Boddie’s jokes on veganism; actress/Alaska native comedian Becky Braunstein; the Yemeni- American perspective of Ahmed Al-Kadri; and the self-proclaimed “bad boy” of homeschooling comedian Jeremy Adler.

Wrapping up the evening was a super hilarious set from actress/writer and stand-up comedian Jodi Miller, who has appeared on America’s Got Talent and is regularly featured on the comedy game show Funny You Should Ask. Miller had audience members in the room cracking up at her jokes about beauty, her Botox, sexism, ageism, and her adopted 3-year-old daughter.