Wilmington has witnessed a series of creative explosions since the pandemic lockdown was lifted last year. One of the most gloriously gritty of those flurries has been The Acme Revue, a DIY variety show that’s been filling up downtown bar The Opera Room on a near-monthly basis since March.
Encompassing a social hour and art exhibit, a few stand-up comedy series, and culminating with a musical performance or two, the Revue is the brainchild of Wilmington comedian Julia Desmond, who also serves as host and promoter. chief of the event, primarily via its robust and irreverent Instagram Feed. (A recent Instagram story proclaimed that “The Acme Revue is built on panic disorder.”)
The next show is scheduled for Saturday July 23 and features comedy by Brian Granger, Tareq Salameh, Trish Smart and Lew Morgante; music from the group Exercise; and art and clothing by Liminal Relief and Chris Ponds.
Desmond is moving to New York to pursue a career in comedy later this year, and although the July 23 edition of the Acme Revue is the only one on the schedule at the moment, she said she would give it a try. to sneak in one last show before she leaves.
A 23-year-old recent graduate of the film studies program at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Desmond is one of the stars of Wilmington’s comedy scene and performs regularly both locally and regionally.. With an on-stage persona that’s a mix of laid-back confidence and suppressed anxiety, she extracts comedic moments from her job at the grocery store and coffee shop, as well as the sometimes awkward interactions with her family.
Desmond is also a big fan of music and visual art, and she makes her own punk-rock-inspired clothes (T-shirts and jackets pasted with statements like “I’m Rude” and “Just Die: Nothing is Forever”). So when a friend asked her to host a comedy show — a show that ultimately didn’t happen — the request turned into an idea that she ran with, then took it to the next level. .
“I guess I was just given permission — like, ‘You could conceptualize a show’ — I just went over the top with it,” Desmond said during a June interview from the shady patio of the back aisle of the Opera Room. “I kind of tend to go very far with ideas.”
She likes to joke that she is “paralyzed by ambition”.
Thus, the Acme Revue was born from an acronym of elements: Art, Music, Comedy, End of show.
“A variety show! Yeah, that’s not a revolutionary idea,” she said. “But I think I tried to curate it very specifically to (bring in) this musical and artistic community that I always wanted to be part of, but didn’t really know how to do as a comedian.”
The result is a gathering like no other in Wilmington, a sweaty, exuberant crowd of creatives bathed in the light of the projected video and cheering on some of the port city’s best comedians, bands and artists (with a comedian or two on tour to do good measure).
Past shows have featured musical acts such as Nice Derek (catchy, pop-rock gems) and Billy Heathen (incendiary post-punk jams), as well as comics that cover a range of styles too numerous to list here.
“I feel like I’m introducing these great comedians to people who wouldn’t have seen them otherwise,” she said. “And then, the same for the comics with the musicians.”
Wilmington comedian Jack Nelson performed at the first Acme Revue in March and held the bar at the Opera House for subsequent shows.
“I’ve never had busier nights than an Acme show,” Nelson said. “It’s always full of people who are really excited and interested in everything.”
Nelson said that, thanks to the Acme Revue and shows like Public Access at The Barzarre, “The creative community is more unified than it has been in a long time.”
Wilmington artist Mak Molina, who creates under the name Liminal Relief and whose work – custom-designed cards, cool clothes and more – will be featured in the gallery portion of Saturday’s show, said Desmond had created “a sense of community between different realms of creatives in town. As corny as it sounds, I’m honored to be a part of it.
In some ways, the Revue has been not only a source of entertainment, but an incubator of ideas and collaborations that strengthen the scene.
“Everyone is here to support creative endeavors on so many fronts,” Desmond said. “There are so many people with ideas in the same room. And it’s not even limited to artists.”
And it couldn’t have happened anywhere like The Opera Room, the long-running and eerily cool downtown spot, with its small stage, intimate balcony, and impossible sight lines that make the viewing a crowded spectacle that is both stimulating and rewarding.
Desmond went to high school in Winston-Salem before moving to Wilmington to attend UNCW in 2017, despite being dismissive of her film studies degree.
“I’m not going to use it,” she said. “I hope not. I just want to be a funny barista.”
Acting helped her find her footing in Wilmington, although “I didn’t grow up thinking, ‘I want to be a stand-up comedian,'” she said. “Thank goodness what an odious child (that would be).”
She said she felt lucky to have started acting in Wilmington “because it’s such a good supporting scene. It’s also quality, enough to make you want to improve to be at the same level.”
And although she has been noted for her work on stage, finishing runner-up in Port City’s Top Comic competition earlier this year, creating the Acme Revue “has been the most rewarding thing ever.” , she said.
Show nights are “an insane level of adrenaline. I’m focused and trying to make sure everything goes well, but everyone I love and support and care about is all in one piece and it’s like I’m gonna explode. I’m gonna puke in the face of all these people I care about in pure joy. So that’s kind of the best feeling in the world.”
Contact John Staton at 910-343-2343 or [email protected]
WANT TO GO?
What: Acme Review
When: Doors at 6:30 p.m., show at 8 p.m., Saturday July 23
Where: The Opera House, 119 Grace St., Wilmington
Information: Tickets are $7 at the door.
Details: Comedy by Brian Granger, Tareq Salameh, Trish Smart and Lew Morgante. Music by exercise. Art by Liminal Relief and Chris Ponds.