Two of that night's comedians, Diante Neagle and Jill Silva, came from Tacoma. And their sets, both excellent, had a confidence that I, admittedly, do not identify with that city. And here is the weird thing: None of their jokes mentioned Tacoma or the old rivalry between our two cities. It was not important to them. They just lived there, and they were making people laugh here, in a Beacon Hill club.
The differences between Tacoma and Seattle have become, I realized, inconsequential. But when did this happen? And, more importantly, how did the 150-year-old conflict between Tacoma and Seattle cease to be (or lose its force)?
Tacoma, in my mind, has always been a kind of failed Seattle. And this impression makes a lot of sense if the history of the city is considered. In the 19th century, Tacoma was destined to become the region's future—indeed, it was called "City of Destiny." It was compared to San Francisco. It was connected to an important railway line. Seattle was nowhere in sight.
Then, all of sudden, there was a mad rush for gold in a remote part of Alaska, and Seattle successfully marketed itself as a being nothing more than a hop, skip, and a jump from the gold fields that were in fact 2,000 miles away. One hundred thousand prospectors went to the freezing hills of Alaska, and many of them bought their supplies in Seattle. This was the first of many booms that transferred the future from Tacoma to its rival.
The fact that I still saw the cities in these competitive terms showed I was way behind the times. There was a new feeling, a new attitude that was expressed by Neagle's and Silva's sets. For them, nothing could be more stupid than making jokes about how Seattle benefited from the Klondike Gold Rush in the 19th century.
But there is something else. Seattle comedians Brett Hamil and Emmett Montgomery, the curators of Joketellers Union, invite talent from all over the greater area. Some nights, the jokers are from Everett; other nights, they are from Bellevue. And in this way, Hamil and Montgomery expose the self-centered Seattle audience to the wider region. They are also committed to the representation of different voices: women, people of color, queer people.
What to make of all of this? For one: Tacoma is no longer out there, it is now in here. Also: Seattle is just not that cool of a place. It has become a city for the rich, and the rich are always boring. By presenting a variety of voices from different parts of the greater metropolis, Hamil and Montgomery have concocted a show that feels like a real city.