Barnard comic is ‘never afraid to try new things’

Comedian Vicki Ferentinos, of Woodstock, Vt., will be performing in the sold-out show “F Words: Funny. Females” at Artistree’s Grange Theater in Pomfret, Vt., on March 23, 2024. (Mindy Tucker photograph)

Comedian Vicki Ferentinos, of Woodstock, Vt., will be performing in the sold-out show “F Words: Funny. Females” at Artistree’s Grange Theater in Pomfret, Vt., on March 23, 2024. (Mindy Tucker photograph) —

Comedian Vicki Ferentinos performs in an undated photograph. Ferentinos, of Woodstock, Vt., will be performing in the sold-out show “F Words: Funny. Females” at Artistree’s Grange Theater in Pomfret, Vt., on March 23, 2024. (Courtesy photograph)

Comedian Vicki Ferentinos performs in an undated photograph. Ferentinos, of Woodstock, Vt., will be performing in the sold-out show “F Words: Funny. Females” at Artistree’s Grange Theater in Pomfret, Vt., on March 23, 2024. (Courtesy photograph) —

By MARION UMPLEBY

For the Valley News

Published: 03-20-2024 3:45 PM

The first time Vicki Ferentinos pictured herself telling jokes on stage, she didn’t get too far.

“I remember saying to a boyfriend when I was 17, ‘I want to be a stand-up.’ And he said, ‘I’m funnier than you.’ Then I didn’t think about it again.”

Luckily, that boyfriend didn’t squash Ferentinos’ comedic aspirations for good. These days, the Vermont resident splits her time between performing, running a stand-up workshop at Artistree Community Arts Center, and writing her first TV pilot. On Saturday, she’ll be performing in the sold-out show “F Words: Funny.Females” at Artistree’s Grange Theater alongside fellow Vermont comic Maddie Cross and Sharon Spell, a New York-based writer and comedian. Ferentinos now lives and breathes comedy. It just took her a little while to get there.

Back in high school, with comedy decidedly off the table, the New Jersey native threw herself into making art. “When I discovered metal and welding, I loved it.” She studied fine art at Rutgers University. By 22, Ferentinos had opened her own gallery in southern New Jersey.

Over the years, the gallery would slowly morph into Ferentinos’ catering company, Soulfully Good. In her early 30s, she relocated Soulfully Good to Manhattan, where she “became the celebrity assistants’ preferred caterer,” serving clients such as Julianne Moore.

When Ferentinos first arrived in New York, she made a list of things she’d like to try: play guitar, learn to blow glass, perform something. “I literally Googled ‘Perform something New York City’ and up came the Upright Citizens Brigade improv theater.” Curious, she enrolled in a class. While at UCB, Ferentinos befriended Sharon Spell, whose stand-up traverses themes of grief, mental health and life in New York City.

Soon a fellow student recognized Ferentinos’ aptitude for comedy and suggested she try stand-up. “From the first second, I loved it.”

Ferentinos booked a regular spot at Time Out New York Lounge and started performing at clubs such as the Gotham Comedy Club and Laugh Factory.

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Onstage, Ferentinos is a boisterous storyteller. “I find I write everything from real life.” Her comedy in New York sprouted from anecdotes about city living. Since moving to the woods of Barnard, she often pokes fun at Vermont’s quirks. “Everyone here is like ‘my partner, my partner, my partner.’ How many lesbian law firms are there in this state?” she demanded of a crowd at the Radio Bean in Burlington last year. Her enthusiasm onstage is infectious, pulling the audience in from the get-go.

Though she gained some traction as a comedian in New York, Ferentinos faced some challenges. Running Soulfully Good monopolized her time.

“I had my dual life because I had to support myself,” she said in an interview.

And she didn’t always feel deserving of her successes. She recounted one night when she performed with Darrell Hammond of “Saturday Night Live.” When he approached Ferentinos to voice interest in her work, she made an excuse to flee. “I didn’t know how to say yes to that opportunity,” she said.

Nonetheless, she continued to hone her craft and in August 2009 she performed “Lady Bug Warrior,” a one-woman show about her inner superhero, at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. By the month’s end, she was performing to sold out rooms.

Soon though, the momentum from the Fringe came to an unexpected halt. Within 12 months, Ferentinos came out as gay, met her future wife and lost her mother to early onset Alzheimer’s.

“I had a lot of life happen at one time…. I couldn’t be funny in that moment,” she said.

For the next six years, Ferentinos rarely performed, choosing instead to focus on developing her catering business. “I hadn’t figured out the stand-up part of life yet,” she said.

By 2016, Ferentinos and her wife, Shannon Parker, were ready for a change of pace. “I’d always thought I wanted to own a little place,” she said. She took another leap of faith, this time Googling “Gay friendly Vermont.” The couple began searching for the perfect location. The next year, they opened Soulfully Good Cafe in Woodstock.

But all those years after the Fringe Festival, comedy still wouldn’t let Ferentinos walk away. Collen Doyle, of Bridgewater’s Woolen Mill Comedy Club, would often come into the café and encourage Ferentinos to perform. She agreed to a show or two, but running a new business didn’t leave much mental space for stand-up. “It was like work camp,” she said. “I didn’t leave the café at all.”

Three years later, Ferentinos was ready to part ways with the stress of owning a small business. She sold the cafe in 2019 and started performing again after her almost -nine-year hiatus.

When the pandemic forced clubs to shut their doors, Ferentinos was undeterred. She started broadcasting trivia and bingo nights on Facebook Live. “She’s never afraid to try new things,” said Parker.

Indeed, her adventurous spirit has been one of Ferentinos’ greatest strengths in her career as a businesswoman and comedian. It propelled her to start a weekly column “From the Mixing Bowl” for the Vermont Standard in 2022, and to compete in the Vermont Comedy Festival’s “Vermont’s Funniest Comedian” competition the same year, where she placed third.

As the comedian’s career has blossomed in Vermont, so has her confidence.

“Up until this point in my life I didn’t feel like I could handle the schmoozy part of (stand-up),” she said. But these days, Ferentinos is embracing the opportunities that come her way. If Darrell Hammond wants to talk, Ferentinos is ready.

Ferentinos credits some of her newfound confidence to the support she’s received from the Vermont circuit. “It doesn’t feel like people are intimidated by each other,” rather, comedians are invested in each other’s successes. For instance, Maddie Cross, who’s based in Burlington and hosts a monthly comedy night at the Phoenix in Waterbury, looks up to her peer.

“There aren’t a lot of people in their 40s who are doing stand-up,” Cross said. “I think a lot of us, especially us young women, were really grateful to people like Vicki who are great mentors to us…” (Ferentinos celebrated her 50th birthday in January.)

This year, Ferentinos’ stand-up class is having a similar effect by challenging participants to try their hand at comedy. “People felt like the class was really powerful in terms of them creating their own routine … and (doing) something that requires a different sort of bravery,” Sheena Solitaire, Artistree’s associate director of programming, said.

In turn, performing in Vermont has empowered Ferentinos to seek new opportunities in comedy farther afield. She and her wife are even thinking about returning to the tri-state area to be closer to family and the buzz of the New York comedy scene. “I want to take this gift … and I want to bring it out into the world. And I think I need more connections to do that.”

Marion Umpleby is a freelance writer. She lives in Tunbridge.