Picklesburgh has become a destination for food fans across the country, featuring pickle-flavored beer and desserts, pickle juice drinking contests, and other ways of celebrating the brined delight. After several years, you would think the event would have covered everything you can do with pickles.
But Picklesburgh organizer, the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, has added something completely new and, frankly, unexpected to the festival — a comedy show.
On Thu., July 14, Picklesburgh will present the Pickles and Giggles Comedy Showcase at the Byham Theater, described as spotlighting “four rising-star comedians” who have been featured on Comedy Central, Netflix, and various late-night talk shows. The event will also include three local comedians from Pittsburgh’s Arcade Comedy Theater.
The comedy program adds to a long list of events presented as part of the 2022 festival, taking place from Fri. July 15-Sat., July 17 on the Rachel Carson Bridge. Besides the main weekend, the PDP also launched Taste of Picklesburgh, another new addition that, from July 8-14, features 15 Downtown restaurants serving pickle-themed food and beverages.
The showcase came about through a partnership with The National Comedy Center, a nonprofit cultural institution and museum in Jamestown, N.Y. with the stated mission of “presenting the vital story of comedy and preserving its heritage for future generations, as formally designated by the U.S. Congress.” Opened in 2018, the center also serves as a museum dedicated to the lives and work of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, the so-called “First Couple of Comedy” who rose to fame on the iconic 1950’s TV show I Love Lucy. (As the museum notes, Jamestown is also Ball’s hometown.)
This is the first time the center has worked an event in Pittsburgh, and executive director Journey Gunderson believes the choice to book performers in the Steel City makes a lot of sense.
“Pittsburgh has always seemed, to me, to fight above its weight when it comes to comedy,” says Gunderson. “It seems to be a city with a great appreciation for comedy, with its finger on the pulse of comedy. It produces a lot of great comedic artists. And then, it also has this festival, Picklesburgh, that you can't even say the name without smiling.”
Russell Howard, vice president of special events and development for the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, agrees that, given how rough the last two years have been due to the pandemic, which included Picklesburgh shutting down at one point, festival-goers are in need of a chuckle.
“Pickles are just kinda funny, and we’ve been giggling and groaning with bad pickle puns ever since launching Picklesburgh,” explains Russell Howard, vice president of special events and development for the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. “We could all use a good laugh nowadays, so we wanted to bring Picklesburgh’s lighthearted spirit further into Downtown. And partnering with the nation’s premier institution dedicated to comedy brings some bona fide comic street cred into the mix.”
Included in the Pickles and Giggles lineup is Jackie Fabulous, a semi-finalist on the NBC competition show America’s Got Talent; Sammy Obeid, a Lebanese-Palestinian comedian and current host of the Netflix show 100 Humans; Rojo Perez, the first Puerto Rican comic to debut on the TBS late-night show CONAN; and, Steven Rogers, a podcast host and comedian who has appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and The Late Late Show with James Corden.
Gunderson says the national comedians were selected for the way they all work together. “We try to present a show that is diverse,” she says, “and that has something really for everyone so that everybody leaves the show happy and goes, ‘Oh my gosh, that was a great blend and variety of voices in comedy.’”
Also performing are Samantha Bentley, Collin Chamberlin, and Chrissy Costa, three local comedians recommended for the show by Arcade Comedy Theater. On Fri., July 15 and Sat., July 16, the Downtown venue will contribute more comedy to the festival with two nights of pickled-themed stand-up and improv shows.
When asked if the Pickles & Giggles show humor will be pickled-based, Gunderson lets out a laugh.
“I think what you're going to see is, like any good comedians will, there will be some custom pickle and Pittsburgh humor because it's just too fun to stay away from,” says Gunderson. “But then you're also going to see some jokes and bits that they've honed through a pretty iterative process on stages big and small all over the country. So it's gonna be an awesome mix that way.”
Gunderson sees the partnership with PDP and Picklesburgh as allowing the center, which hosts an annual Lucille Ball Comedy Festival and works with comedians throughout the country, to expand its reach. She also sees it as an opportunity to promote the center, located only two and a half hours north of Pittsburgh. Pickles and Giggles attendees will even receive half-off admission to the center with their tickets.
She adds that the center has been recognized as one of the “World’s Greatest Places” by TIME magazine and as the “Best New Museum” in the country by USA Today, a publication that has also awarded Picklesburgh with the distinction of “Best Specialty Food Festival.”
“What the [Rock and Roll Hall of Fame] is to music and what [Cooperstown, N.Y.] is to baseball, Jamestown is now to comedy,” says Gunderson. “And people who live in Pittsburgh are fortunate to be pretty close to that.”
Pickles and Giggles Comedy Showcase. Thu., July 14. 8 p.m. 101 Sixth St., Downtown. $21.25-61.25. picklesburgh.com