News & Politics

Fun Photos of Jonathan Van Ness, Tig Notaro, and Other Comedy Stars From 10 Years of DC’s Bentzen Ball Festival

Yes, there's a pic of the "Queer Eye" star fixing Nancy Pelosi's bangs

Bentzen Ball will take over venues around DC this weekend, and the local comedy festival is currently celebrating its 10th anniversary. Curated and hosted by Tig Notaro and co-produced by Brightest Young Things, it has become a crucial annual gathering for humor-loving Washingtonians. This year’s fest—which benefits José Andrés’s World Central Kitchen—includes Maria Bamford, Roxane Gay, Jaboukie Young-White, and lots more. One highlight will be a homecoming for comedians born, raised, or educated in the Washington area, including Saturday Night Live alum Jay Pharaoh.

Before the festivities kick off, here’s a look back at some fun moments with people who’ve participated in past years, captured by Brightest Young Things’s photo team as the comedians wandered around DC in the days around their performances.


Tig Notaro, host and co-founder of the festival, mimics President Obama at the White House’s bowling lane in 2014. Notaro holds day-camp-like bonding events for performers, and the Obama White House was a frequent stop. The last bowling trip was just before the 2016 election.


Dripping in fake blood, Annapolis native Brandie Posey, er, poses outside a 2016 Bentzen Ball afterparty hosted at the 9:30 Club. The red splatter came courtesy of Richmond metal greats GWAR, who performed—what a lineup!—after Weird Al Yankovich rocked out on the same stage.

Michelle Buteau and Jordan Carlos may be known as the comedians trying to figure out how exactly to “adult” on NPR’s Adulting podcast, but BYT named them the Nicest People at 2018’s Bentzen Ball. The festival typically gives out a Miss Congeniality-type award each year in the form of a t-shirt.

Ben’s Chili Bowl is next to the Bentzen Ball’s usual venue, Lincoln Theatre. On the festival’s first year, the restaurant hosted an open mic night in a back room with surprise acts like Nick Offerman. This photo is from 2013, when two comedic duos, Garfunkel and Oates’s Riki Lindhome and Kate Micucci, and the Lampshades’s Kate Flannery and Scott Robinson, were clearly very excited to try a half-smoke.

John Hodgman semi-adopted this dog at a 2014 pizza party in Brightest Young Thing’s WeWork space at the Wonder Bread Factory. No one seemed to know where the dog came from, but everyone remembers that Hodgman doted on it for the whole night. Hodgman has performed at Bentzen Ball twice–once dressed as Ayn Rand.

Segway tours of the Mall were often popular with visiting comedians. Organizers hosted the tour at the first festival in 2009, and through the grapevine, performers in other years demanded their own turn. Notaro, Kate Berlant, and improv group Wild Horses are among the Segway-ers seen here.

DC was buzzing when the Queer Eye stars visited Nancy Pelosi on the Hill in April. Jonathan Van Ness and Pelosi go back: In 2018, Van Ness hosted Pelosi for a live taping of his podcast, Getting Curious. Here, Antoni Porowski joined them for a group photo.

Pelosi treated her event with Van Ness in 2018 as a fun afternoon, asking if she could bring her grandkids along. Van Ness used his famed grooming skills to fix Pelosi’s bangs during a photo shoot.

Improv group Wild Horses is made of four best friends: Stephanie Allynne, Mary Holland, Lauren Lapkus, and Erin Whitehead. In 2014, before they performed at the Kennedy Center, they bowled at the White House (and couldn’t help doing their own Obama-with-a-ball pose).

Seaton Smith—who is returning to DC this year as part of the Homecoming lineup—learned how to craft (and drink) the perfect cocktail at Columbia Room last year. The comedian has performed in the festival many times over the years.

The Library of Congress opened its doors in 2014 for a tour of its comedy archives for the festival performers. The archive contains recordings of classic acts, like Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s On First.” Notaro arranged the tour as part of her vision of the festival: comedians bonding and celebrating comedy.

In 2014, organizers took participants out for a boat trip on the Potomac. The Puterbaugh Sisters, Liza Treyger, Katie McVay, and Stephanie Hass rushed to get a photo with the Washington monument at just the right moment.

Editorial Fellow

Emily Martin is an editorial fellow for Washingtonian. She previously participated in the POLITICO Journalism Institute and covered Capitol Hill for The Durango Herald.