Kim Levone understands the importance of laughter. A licensed social worker, Levone has spent more than two decades working one-on-one with individuals who have anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and other mental health issues. “Feeling joy is often a therapeutic goal, and laughter is a great way to connect,” she says. “Many clients and therapists use humor in therapy. I did.”
Although her current job is decidedly serious — Levone, 49, is the director of an outpatient behavioral health clinic in Silver Spring that serves refugees, disabled persons, non-native English speakers and individuals impacted by poverty — she still works hard to make people laugh.
As founder of Improbable Comedy, Levone produces stand-up comedy shows across the Washington metro area that showcase homegrown talent, plus the occasional out-of-towner. Since its first show at Vicino’s in Silver Spring nearly a decade ago — the manager didn’t think anyone would come, so the restaurant ran out of food — Improbable Comedy has hosted more than 100 live shows, most of them in Montgomery County. Even during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, it kept the laughs coming with virtual comedy club-style shows; audience members were encourage to keep their microphones on so the comics could hear their responses to jokes.
“Doing the shows feeds a different part of me but still comes from a focus on people connecting,” she says. “People need to laugh, and they need to be with other people; that came into sharp clarity this past 18 months. It just feels good to be with other people, laughing together.”
As a producer, Levone seeks out underrepresented comedians — women, minorities, immigrants, LGBTQ-plus people and individuals with disabilities — in an effort to amplify voices not typically heard at the mic. She is also working to support the next generation of female producers who will be booking the next generation of comics. Levone explains that women comics are often bullied by male producers, but if they complain about it, they risk losing gigs.
While stand-up comic Natalie McGill has not personally been shut out of a show, she does feel like she has to prove herself faster than her male counterparts. “There’s already a lot of pressure on women [comics] to be funny right out of the gate,” she says. “I don’t know why that’s accepted, but you feel more pressure to perform well if you’re the only woman or only Black woman on the show.”
A large part of Improbable Comedy’s growth and success — aside from booking very funny people such as McGill — is the way that Levone engages with her audiences. She always welcomes them at the beginning of each show and thanks them for coming at the end. “I try to talk to everybody,” she says. “I want to make sure everyone’s taken care of.”
“Kim has been a breath of fresh air in the scene,” says McGill. “I was excited to see somebody bring stand-up comedy to Montgomery County.” Performing close to home has even allowed McGill to connect with neighbors. “I open [my shows] with where I live, and I’ve had people shout out that they live in the same building,” says the Silver Spring-based comedian.
While she’s committed to presenting comedy that looks like the diverse demographics of the county, Levone is quick to note that her comedy shows are not public service announcements. “I’m not trying to please anyone or make them feel guilty. I just want to open people’s eyes to new things,” she says. “When people come to a comedy show, of course, it’s a relief and a release. But if they walk away having discovered something that feeds their curiosity, they feel smart because they learned something.”
Improbable Comedy puts on monthly “Stand Up Silver Spring” shows as well as special themed shows. “The Mother of All Comedy Shows,” for example, features only female and non-binary performers while “Comedy as a Second Language” shines a spotlight on immigrant and first-generation performers. In a new one-woman show, “Blaire Postman: Struggling Chartist,” local comedian Postman explores her adult-diagnosed ADHD using her signature flip-chart comedy.
As for expanding beyond the D.C. area, Levone says she’s happy producing shows in and around Montgomery County. “I’m fine with being the queen of comedy for Silver Spring.”