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USA Lacrosse Magazine
| Apr 22, 2022

Georgetown's LizaBanks Campagna a Regular in D.C. Comedy Scene

By Kenny DeJohn | Photo by Sophie Schriever

A dozen comics sit downstairs in an otherwise empty bar, faint music providing little more than background noise. Some talk among themselves. Others sit quietly, lost in their own thoughts. An eruption of laughter from upstairs echoes down. They pay it little mind.

“LizaBanks, you’re next,” the host says.

LizaBanks Campagna rises from her bar stool, pockets her small notepad and makes her way toward the tall, dimly lit staircase. The laughter gets louder with every step. She stops at the top and waits behind a thick beige curtain meant to keep the light out. Her hand digs back into her pocket for the notepad. Two minutes.

It’s a Thursday night just after 9 p.m. in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, D.C. About 50 people sit upstairs at The Town Tavern, a local favorite for drinks and comedy. It’s a dingy bar with a friendly vibe.

“This is going to be tough,” Campagna says. “That guy is killing.”

The exposed brick behind the wooden stage amplifies the laughter even more. It reverberates through the shallow, intimately seated room. The emcee introduces Campagna.

Grabbing the mic like a seasoned pro, the 22-year-old dives right into a high-energy, quick-hitting set. She riffs on everything from college to politics with witty, sarcastic jokes. The laughs grow as she finds her rhythm.

Five minutes later, Campagna gives way to the next comedian and heads back downstairs. Before she can even get settled, two guests come down to say they loved her set.

Twenty-four hours earlier, Campagna earned praise from another stranger. It was Dana Dobbie. Coming off a game in which she controlled seven draws but her Georgetown women’s lacrosse team lost 16-6 to Loyola, Campagna was stopped by Dobbie, the Loyola assistant and one of the best draw takers in history, who complimented her on her play.

“I don’t even know her,” Campagna says. “That was a top-10 lacrosse moment for me.”

A graduate student, Campagna — who goes by “LB” — is committed to the grind. She played four years at Cal, where her 178 draw controls are the most in team history, before getting into Georgetown for graduate school to study journalism. She asked coach Ricky Fried for a spot on the team. The Hoyas do not usually take transfers. Reluctantly, he said yes.

Having grown up in Alexandria, Virginia, Campagna finds the D.C. metro area to be a comforting, familiar place. It also allowed her to fully dive back into her passion.

Campagna has been a stand-up comedian since she was 13. At an age when most teenagers are doing everything possible to avoid human interaction, Campagna put herself at the very center of it.

“I would go to shows a lot by myself in D.C. — there are times now when I’m like, ‘How was I not abducted?’ — but I would metro into D.C. by myself, and then I hatched a plan to just [perform] and not tell [my parents],” she says.

“When I did my first set, I did jokes that were really blue — like, really inappropriate. It was just something I thought was kind of funny because I was 13 years old. I thought that’s just what you did. People laughed, but they were uncomfortably laughing.”

Christopher and Shannon Campagna knew their daughter was a comedy fan. At the time, they just didn’t know how deep into the weeds she was. That changed as it became part of her identity and she carved out a home in the D.C. comedy scene. Back where she grew up, Campagna can adequately balance the two biggest things in her life right now. During the lacrosse season — which she said takes priority — she’ll perform four or five sets in a week. In the offseason, she’ll go on stage 10-12 times over the course of six or seven days.

“She’s in her happy place,” Shannon Campagna says. “That’s a lot of the reason she opted to come back here for grad school and play for Georgetown. It’s where she can do all the things she enjoys.”

Everything about comedy has shaped Campagna into the person she is today.

Campagna was first exposed to comedy through her parents, who watched “Seinfeld” and “The Daily Show” during her formative years. She idolized Tina Fey after reading Fey’s book, “Bossypants.”

Campagna was the first in her family to have a Kindle. A voracious reader, her father said she used to “chain smoke books.” He tied a credit card to the account so she could purchase books and read as much as she wanted. That backfired when, at 12 years old, she got a hold of an iTunes account and downloaded comedy albums of Aziz Ansari, Kevin Hart and Jim Gaffigan.

“My mom saw it on the bill, and she was so mad,” Campagna says. “She changed our Apple password to ‘christianvalues.’”

Being exposed to more adult themes at an early age certainly had its effect on Campagna, who oozes maturity and confidence. She can hold a conversation with anyone, her wit and curiosity a perfect marriage of qualities.

People marvel — even those who’ve known her for most of her near-decade in comedy — that she started as young as she did. Those comedy albums and appetite for reading encouraged her to do so. She read Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers: The Story of Success,” which details the 10,000-Hour Rule. Gladwell writes that it takes 10,000 hours of intense practice to hone a skill.

Campagna took the stage for the first time at the Ballston Quarter Shopping Mall in Arlington. Her parents just thought she was going to watch.

“It’s very intimidating in comedy to start, and even at a young age, she kept coming back and had that perseverance,” says Jack Coleman, a comedian and co-founder of Capital Laughs, which hosts Thursday events at The Town Tavern. “The grit was very impressive.”

The more Campagna performed, the better she got. Like a lacrosse player wailing on the wall, reps mean everything in comedy. The jokes got tighter. The laughs got bigger.

Comedy is like a drug, Campagna says. Comics are always chasing the high of the first laugh they ever got. But comedians are on an island on stage. They can’t dish to a teammate who has a better shot on goal. It’s all or nothing.

“It’s really nerve-wracking every time,” she says. “There’s always something at stake.”

Asked what it’s like to bomb on stage, Campagna anxiously laughs. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she says. “Bomb? Not me. Never.”

Four years ago, Campagna was at a crossroads.

While going to Cal was “the best thing that ever happened” to her for how it exposed her to a different lifestyle and opportunities, it also hampered her ability to perform. She wasn’t familiar with the San Francisco comedy scene and says going into the city was sometimes sketchy. It was much different than the friendly confines of D.C.

Years prior, Campagna sat in the first row — by herself, no less — to see Amy Schumer perform at Sixth & I, a converted synagogue in the Chinatown neighborhood of D.C. She got there early to be first in line. Schumer, a comedy giant, is famous for her raunchy bits and stories.

“I got there early and sat in the middle, in the front. She was like, ‘Where are you parents?’” Campagna says. “I met her afterwards and talked to her. I was really embarrassed. I had braces. I was wearing a plaid shirt because that’s what I thought comedians wore.”

Somehow, around that time, Campagna and Schumer followed each other on Instagram. Campagna messaged her idol asking for guidance and got a response.

“One time in San Francisco in 2018, I connected with her, and we were going to meet up and get coffee,” Campagna says. “But her plane changed, and I haven’t reached out since then. At that moment, I wasn’t doing standup and I wanted some sign [to keep going], and that was enough.”

Even as a teen, Campagna could hold a back-and-forth with the heavy hitters of stand-up — Seth Meyers, Lewis Black, Judah Friedlander, Marc Maron and others. This was more than asking for a selfie. Campagna wanted to pick their brains.

“After talking to her, they’d look up and look around because they realize they’re talking to a 14-year-old,” says Christopher Campagna, who used to memorize Steve Martin bits and perform them in front of his aunt. That was the extent of his comedy career, though.

But Campagna’s ability to turn a phrase and get an audience on her side soon became more than a talent. Call it a weapon of manipulation. She once showed interest in a comedy camp at Gotham Comedy Club in New York City.

“She tricked us,” Christopher Campagna says. “The comedy camp was a ruse. She wanted to hit all the clubs in Manhattan and do the open mics.”

The antics were not that of an unruly teenager who knew she was doing something wrong. They were a manifestation of her fierce independence. To this day, Campagna’s parents have only seen her perform once. It’s not for a lack of support, but rather to allow their daughter to hone her craft without worrying about making her family laugh.

“My comedy is super personal to me,” Campagna says. “Sometimes something won’t go over well, or it’ll cut too deep, and I’ll be like, ‘Sorry, that was a list of things for my therapist, not my set list.’”

Campagna’s future is bright and undefined. 

Lacrosse and comedy are far from her only interests. She was a film major at Cal and carries a camera with her everywhere. Sustainability and thrifting are passions. There’s also the political scene. Comedy writing for “Saturday Night Live” or “The Daily Show,” she says, might be the move.

Right now, lacrosse is her No. 1 focus, even as she bounces from mic to mic during the week when it doesn’t conflict with the sport.

“Every game’s emotional this year,” Christopher Campagna says. “Every minute on the field is a little gift.”

Campagna didn’t play club lacrosse until her freshman year of high school. She committed to Cal the summer after her sophomore season, when coach Brooke Eubanks saw her ability to command a huddle. If comedy is all about delivery, then Campagna understood the importance of time and place.

“She can bring light to uncomfortable situations,” Eubanks says. “It allows people to be OK with making mistakes. It’s a quality. You can laugh and move on.”

Fried — who jokes that he’s also a comedy professional after taking an improv session a few years back — sees Campagna’s leadership firsthand. “She consistently shows up and works her butt off,” he says.

Comedy can be lonely, Campagna says, especially when outsiders don’t realize that she’s trying to cram lacrosse, schoolwork and comedy into her schedule. But many of her peers see the determination and hustle.

Coleman thinks that’s what makes her different.

“There’s definitely respect from the scene,” he says. “Comics respect the grind. If there’s any predictor of success, it’s that grit and that grind, and she has those in spades.”