Comedian Rusty Rutherford has made it through some crazy gigs. Once he and a friend agreed to perform between two sets of a rock band. “It was a semi-biker crowd,” the Albuquerque comic says by phone. “I went onstage and had my 10 minutes, started off slow—the audience just wasn’t feeling it—progressively just started bombing and getting heckled.” Rutherford says one really drunk woman at the bar was interrupting the most.
“And she was this big biker chick,” he says, “and she kept yelling stuff at me.” He went into the crowd, as he often does, to talk more intimately to audience members. The woman got in his face and demanded he leave. “For a split second I thought, Wait, does she actually work here?” he says. “Am I really getting thrown out?”
When he realized the bartender didn’t know the woman, Rutherford asked the rock band’s drummer to play a beat. Rutherford began to freestyle an insulting, silly rap about the drunken woman, making her angrier. “The whole time I was kind of thinking in the back of my head, I hope she punches me,” the small-framed Rutherford says. “It’ll be so funny if she just lays me out. I want it to happen.” When the rap was finished, he says the crowd went wild, and the drunken lady left, embarrassed. “It ended up being the best thing that could happen.”
This is the “anything goes” vibe of the Third Thursdays Comedy Contest, a stand-up comedy night Rutherford has hosted monthly, in venues around Albuquerque, since 2007. At each event, he does a short set to kick off the night and then 10 other comics take turns performing. The audience votes to determine the night’s best three, and Rutherford invites these comics back the following month. He also schedules seven new performers. “That way it keeps it fresh,” he says, “but we still get at least those three strong comics.”
“The whole time I was kind of thinking in the back of my head, I hope she punches me.”
Rutherford says that the stand-up scene in Albuquerque is taking off. “We have a really tight community that people like myself and Sarah Kennedy and Matt Peterson have all worked on making happen.” Instead of being judgmental or jealous of each other, local comedians support each other. They get together outside of performances and brainstorm about increasing audiences. “We all have different viewpoints, different takes,” Rutherford says. “We all have different strengths and weaknesses, you know, that’s why it’s awesome.”
The reason he performs stand-up keeps changing, he says. He started to make people laugh. He didn’t do political or social jokes. “Since then I’ve kind of evolved into trying to make people think as well,” he says, “or trying to take stuff that pisses me off about society, or stuff I think needs to be changed or talked about or discussed that isn’t, and using comedy as a vein for it.” He says he still tells stupid jokes and isn’t preachy, but now comedy for him is much more than just making the audience giggle.
Next up, Rutherford hosts the Third Thursdays Comedy Contest Anniversary Show, celebrating more than 30 previous bouts. The goal of the night is to stir up laughter and be provocative, and the performers have already been vetted for maximum audience enjoyment. They are the winners of all the Third Thursdays of the past year, so they’re guaranteed to have chops. Sarah Kennedy, Matt Peterson, Curt Fletcher and Mike Long are a few of the featured acts. Regular followers of the city’s stand-up scene or newbies who want to see what’s so funny would be wise to check out Rutherford and gang. But fair warning: Only heckle if you’re willing to get rapped about.