For comedian Joe Pettis, the key to overcoming stage fright is not to picture the audience in their undies. Rather, performing in only tighty whiteys himself is Pettis' chosen strategy and the premise of his traveling show Underwear Comedy Party, where he pushes the limit on what's comfortable for both himself and the audience. "Also, I wanted to see all my friends semi-nude," he says.
When Pettis launched the show in Atlanta back in 2013, he had no clue other comics would want to join in. "But after reaching out to the local comedy community, it seemed like a lot of people were interested," he says. "The first show was such a success that we decided to go monthly with it. Soon, bookers and venues from other cities were reaching out to me asking to bring the show to their town."
And now, Pettis spends the majority of the year half naked on stages across the country with Underwear Comedy Party, which has been named one of the Nine Most Unique Concept Shows in the Nation by Laughbutton. Comics have been known to sport everything from thongs to long johns, however Pettis never asks what a performer will wear before the show. He wants to be equally surprised. "However, I do encourage the mantra of 'less is more,'" he says. "I typically wear whatever boxer briefs are on sale at Target the day of the show."
And although it's not required, Pettis and crew certainly encourage audience members to attend in their underwear, too — because why should the performers have all the fun? "After all, how many opportunities do you get where you can be in public in your undies?" Pettis says. "It makes it feel more like an actual party if both audience and performers are in the same mode."
Of course, weirdness is bound to ensue at an underwear comedy show, and some audience members have been known to get a little unhinged. "There was an elderly woman — seriously like 65 or older — who kept flashing me during my set," Pettis recalls. "I've had hecklers before, but this was worse. Every time I would go into a joke, she would lift her shirt up and flash me. It was ruining my set. I made a joke about her being my mom and she took it to heart and started yelling, 'I love you, son.' I eventually had to have her kicked out of the show."
For the Charleston Comedy Festival, who knows what will unfold, but Pettis will be prepared along with local comics Andy C. Rider, Amanda Colie, and Shannon Baucus as well as Derik Marchel and Steven Mayes from Savannah and Nick Alexander from Charlotte.
As for Pettis, you can't blame the guy for loving his job right now. "I live in a time and place where I have the freedom to get on stage in my underwear and really open myself up to the world," he says. "Also, it forces me to stay in shape."