Local comic returns to stage after bringing big names to Buffalo


Courtesy of Kristy Mangel

Kristen Becker, former general manager of Helium Comedy Club, helped blow up Buffalo’s comedy scene — and then she realized she much preferred being onstage to setting it.

To say that Kristen Becker revolutionized the comedy scene in Buffalo is no overstatement. While the occasional Seinfeld or Chappelle would grace the stage at Shea’s every few years, it wasn’t until Becker planted the seed in downtown Buffalo that is Helium Comedy Club that national acts made weekly stops in the Queen City.

For years, Becker has been Buffalo’s queen of comedy. She was raised here until the age of 9, when she moved to Shreveport, La.

Upon reaching adulthood, she moved to New Orleans and began doing standup at age 24.

In 2001, after years of producing and performing shows in New Orleans, Becker moved to Toronto and auditioned for a two-year comedy program at Humber College. Luckily for her, she had plenty of material to work with — she had been stabbed in the chest just days earlier.

“They were taking maybe 10 percent of the thousand-plus applicants,” she said. “I literally just went in and told the story about being stabbed, and they’re like, ‘you’re in.’”

Becker left the school after being offered a touring gig down south. In the summer of 2004, she moved back to Buffalo.

In 2006, she formed and began touring with the comedy troupe Dykes of Hazard. She also regularly hosted local open mic events and brought respected comedians like Doug Stanhope to the city.

When she got engaged, Becker realized that she had to change her lifestyle.

“I was going to marry somebody, so it was time to man up,” she said. “[Helium] came about because I had 5 years of hosting open mics under my belt, I brought Stanhope in once or twice, and my fiancée got sick and lost her medical insurance. I had to find a way to still keep doing what I love to do, but find a salary and benefits. To me, that meant [opening] a comedy club.”

After convincing the owners of the Helium franchise to invest in a Buffalo location, Becker became the general manager of the club. Becker experienced mixed emotions on the club’s opening night.

“I couldn’t perform on that stage,” she said. “I needed to be the manager, not a performer. [Performing] would have been a conflict of interest. I thought, ‘I just built this beautiful stadium, and I’m the towel girl.’”

Although she was able to perform at other venues, running a business stifled Becker’s creative side.

“I had some roadshows,” she said. “I went to Provincetown, I did some other gigs — it took a lot of time and energy, and my creative muscle wasn’t being used at all. So I was just a f—— miserable drone of a grumbly human being, really.”

During her time as general manager, Becker endured a breakup with her fiancée and the strain that comes with the responsibilities of running a club.

“I couldn’t fix everything about it,” she said. “Everywhere I went, people were talking about it! And they said a lot of great things, but there were also things like ‘Oh, I had to wait, the line was so long.’ And then you remember, f—, people from Buffalo forgot how to wait in lines! Like, holy s—, you’re about to see Jim Norton from 50 feet away! You might have to stand for 10 minutes! Shut up!

“And that would be the stuff I would say, which is not what a manager should say.”

Becker stepped down as the general manager in October 2013 to continue doing what she loves most – performing – and avoiding the mainstream, claiming what she created was never really for her.

“I don’t play clubs,” she said. “I’ve always been underground. I’ve always done bar shows, I’ve always produced my own shows, I’ve always played gay — I am gay, I mean why wouldn’t I? I always have a market. I could be wonderfully successful and never have to enter into that mainstream comedy world.”

While Becker’s time at Helium was short, it was well spent. Helium birthed an official “comedy scene” in Buffalo, putting our city on the circuits of big names like Charlie Murphy, Jim Breuer, and Gilbert Gottfried. It also brings attention to talented local comedians — and if you’ve seen any of the openers at a Helium show, you know that Buffalo does have its share of comedic talent.

As for leaving the management business to pursue her first passion, Becker is optimistic.

“I wasn’t spending time on me. It’s a new concept to me! Prior to the club, my fiancée was really sick, so it’s been four or five years since I’ve been able to spend time on me.”

She looks forward to what being on stage again will do for her.  Said Becker, “[Performing] makes me a nicer person, because if I don’t get it out on stage — oh, the poor people that had to live with me.”