“Thoughts and prayers” — an Everytown benefit at The Bell House

By Former Agent

The motto “laugh so you don’t cry” sometimes feels like an imperative in this era. When we need to turn off but not tune out, comedy comes to the rescue! Last week I attended a comedy show at The Bell
in Gowanus called “Thoughts and Prayers: A Mandatory Assembly,” and had the opportunity to meet the two women behind it all. Proceeds from the show went to Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit that advocates for gun control legislation.

Comedy duo Lacey Jeka and Kristen Buckels (who goes by Buckels) hosted and produced the show with a truly hilarious lineup — themselves, Alison Lieby, Aparna Nancherla, Dan Soder, and Ilana Glazer.

Lacey and Buckels met while working on Colin Quinn’s web series, “Cop Show,” and quickly developed a bond that turned into a sketch and standup pairing. They’re extremely warm, welcoming, and self-aware, often finishing each other’s thoughts with a jokey “and to piggyback off of that.” Their schtick is satirizing “millennial, white feminist speak,” as Lacey phrased it, “Our thing is like, ‘this is a safe space for women, we’re empowered, I love you, thank you for being here,’ and then lobbying for stage time over each other.”

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The creators of “Between Two Bushes” established their standup cred opening for comics at venerated spaces like The Village Underground. From there, they began producing their own shows around Brooklyn at Union Hall, The Knitting Factory, and, their personal favorite, The Bell House (upon mention of which, they simultaneously gestured with exaggerated fingertips kisses).

The Bell House is a gorgeous, enormous performance space in warehouse-filled Gowanus, where you can find some of the best live music, podcast recordings, and comedy sets in the city. They have an open and accommodating in-house team that gives comedians freedom to produce their own shows, particularly if it’s for charity. This gave Buckels and Lacey room to create a lineup in a way that aligns with their values as comedians and feminists.

“We definitely focus on keeping things diverse and giving women more stage time. We are also two white women and it can’t just be like…all of this,” Lacey stated as she motioned toward herself and Buckels. “We also want to give the comedians who do our shows enough time to do a real set, so we keep the lineup relatively small.”

Buckels added, “The shortest time for any of our comedians is 10–15 minutes, so you get to see what they really can do.”

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With those ideals in mind, they’ve put on a variety of benefit shows at The Bell House. “When we started doing shows for charity pre-Trump, it was for dogs. Shoutout to Badass Brooklyn, but we’re in a state of emergency,” Lacey said. “There’s so much that needs attention. People are dying.”

Citing women’s access to healthcare as a chief concern, they’ve put on several shows for Planned Parenthood. But in the aftermath of the Parkland high school shooting and subsequent March for Our Lives — and Buckels hearing about the organization from comedian Amy Schumer — they decided Everytown would be the focus for their most recent effort. For the show’s title, they appropriated the often-satirized “thoughts and prayers” phrase, which typically stifles calls to action in the wake of mass shootings.

After reaching out to their frequent collaborators at The Bell House, Buckels and Lacey called upon their peers to put together “Thoughts and Prayers: A Mandatory Assembly.” “It’s amazing what can happen if you just ask,” Buckels said in reference to securing their venue and putting together the lineup.

“We’re slowly gaining legitimacy and momentum, and people really want to do our show. We’re now able to book bigger acts because of past shows we’ve done; like we always wanted to book Ilana, this is our first time with her. And more people are willing to go out of their way for a cause they care about,” Lacey added.

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In addition to booking a stellar lineup of comedians, they raised extra money for the cause via a Broad City raffle, where dog scarves knitted by Ilana Glazer (which are scarves to be worn by dogs, as it was clarified to me), among other branded swag like a tie-dyed “Feminist Heroes” pillow, were donated. They commissioned artist Pablo Decan to create their posters, and illustrator/graphic artist Lisa Mohar to create a catchy yet informative zine to go with the event. In the zine you can find your senator’s phone number while doing a gun regulation-themed mad lib or word search puzzle.

The show was completely sold out. Fifteen minutes before doors were set to open, there was a line stretching down the deserted Gowanus block. A bearded man in his mid-50s pleaded down the line for anyone to give him an extra ticket (I later saw him inside with a new group of 20s-something friends — success!). DJ Aria Jay blasted the new Cardi B, and the venue filled to the brim as everyone filed into the theater from one of the two Bell House bars. Per The Bell House’s usual arrangement, only those who arrived early enough got to snag a coveted seat.

Gun control didn’t make up much of the content of the evening, but there was a common theme of Trump Era resistance among the comedians’ sets, be it strong reclamations of the female body (including graphic descriptions of laser hair removal and diva cups), the phenomenon of babies at protests, or the gauche reliance on Party City props by American neo-Nazis. Resistance and energy filled the air, and $3,000 were raised for Everytown.

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The night ended victoriously, audience members buzzing about what a consistently great show it was as they exited. Backstage, confetti cannons were blasted and Fireball shots were had all around.

The Bell House’s next benefit event is a Trivia Night hosted by Michael Ian Black, with proceeds going to 826NYC, who provide under-resourced NYC students with creative writing and tutoring programs.

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Buckels and Lacey are looking to expand their political activism to an upcoming tour, where they hope to use their comedy to amplify the voices of congresswomen and other influential women. They’re also hosting a benefit show for Planned Parenthood this summer at Industry City with The Bell House’s summer stage.

You can find additional copies of Thoughts and Prayers: The Zine! for sale at Bulletin stores in Williamsburg and Nolita.

All photos by Jennifer Walkowiak
Zine graphic by Lisa Mohar

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