Comedians assemble in Ann Arbor to tell ‘50 First Jokes’ of 2017

Jan 1, 2017

For three years now, Shelly Smith has been herding cats. She is the Ann Arbor organizer of ‘50 First Jokes,’ which brings 50 fellow comedians onto one stage to tell their first jokes of the new year.

Anybody could kill that night and anybody could bomb because it's all brand new jokes.
- Shelly Smith

“Anything can happen with 50 artists committing to something and they’re individuals. Anything from sickness, to they change their mine, to they have car trouble, to there’s a blizzard!” says Smith. “So, usually, leading up to this event, I either feel like I have 10 comics too many, or five not enough and people are texting me and emailing me. But definitely easier the second two years because the first year I had to explain it over and over again. ‘Yes, you have to drive to Ann Arbor.’ ‘No, it’s not a comedy club. We’re doing it at a neutral location. The Ark is a beautiful place and you only get a minute-and-a-half, or two minutes.’”

50 First Jokes originated with an alum of the University of Michigan, John F. O'Donnell, who started the New Year, New Jokes from 50 comedians concept in Brooklyn about a decade ago. Since then, it has branched out to about 10 different cities. But it took some nudging from John to get Shelly to start her own branch of the show here in Michigan.

“Starting probably about 6 years ago, he was encouraging me to start one in Ann Arbor, and I just wasn’t ready yet. I didn’t understand the process, and just couldn’t take anything on at the moment. And then 3-4 years ago, he actually talked me into doing it, so this’ll be our third year.”

The Ark in Ann Arbor, MI
Credit Creative Commons — Dwight Burdette

With 50 different comedians taking part in Tuesday’s 50 First Jokes at The Ark in Ann Arbor, how does Shelly Smith decide who goes on stage when? “There’s literally a website called ‘list randomizer,’ and I do it that way because you cannot— there’s no way to figure out what’s going to be the best order. There’s no way.  There’s 50 people! So what’s really fun about the show is if you’re in the comedy scene, there’s certain comics that you really expect to do well, because they’re experiences and you like their style, and you know they’re going to do well. And there’s other comics that are new and green, and maybe their jokes don’t always land, but in a minute-and-a-half, you don’t really know what’s going to happen. Some of them are dirty, some of them are clean and anybody could kill that night and anybody could bomb because it’s all brand new jokes.”

In addition to being able to witness 50 First Jokes, attendees to Tuesday night’s “50 First Jokes” also get to view newly completed renovations at The Ark in downtown Ann Arbor, which according to Smith have been going on for a while. “It’s probably been the last six-to-eight months because I just did a show there December 8th, 9th, and 10th, and the whole area was still blocked off. If people are familiar with The Ark, when you come up the stairs and go up to the left, that’s where you get your membership, and buy beer, and you can get artist merchandise over there. All of that has been blocked off and it’s been redone. So, we’re the first show since that’s been complete. It’ll be great. So they’re probably wrapping it up right now and this’ll be the first show since that’s happened.”

Shelly Smith and her 49 friends can be seen Tuesday night, Jan 3rd at the Ark in Ann Arbor for 50 First Jokes, tickets and more information at theark.org