By Haley Frederick
Pittsburgh Current Managing Editor
The Robinson Township Eat’n Park looks like it was originally constructed to be a large bank or perhaps a small and outdated movie theater. But once you get inside, it’s all there: the bakery counter, the soup and salad bar, and the 80-20 ratio of seniors to infants.
I didn’t grow up in the world of Eat’n Park, but local comedian Samantha Bentley certainly did.
“My grandma used to take me to Eat’n Park all the time,” Bentley says. “When you went to Eat’n Park you were on your best behavior—you didn’t fuck around.”
Box: Samantha Bentley performs in Chrissy Costa’s Broad Squad Comedy Show at Arcade Comedy Theater on Friday, July 26 at 9 p.m. Tickets $12. Show is 18+. arcadecomedytheater.com/events
Bentley grew up in Pittsburgh, and though being in comedy wasn’t in her plans, she ended up gaining a following on the show “Off Da Grill” that aired Mondays at midnight on PCTV, Pittsburgh’s public access channel, in the early 2010s. The show, created by Howie D. Mac, featured raunchy comedy sketches and other hijinx.
In the five years since I came to Pittsburgh, I’ve had the privilege of dining at Eat’n Park more than a handful of times. The first time I tried one of the venerated Eat’n Park cookies, after having heard so much about them, I was both disappointed and confused. What I’ve since come to understand is the power of nostalgia.
“They’re famous for [the cookies] and ranch dressing and senior citizens,” Bentley says.
But we’re here for breakfast, so ranch and cookies aren’t on the menu. Bentley gets the Mixed Berry Waffles with bacon. They come out looking remarkably like the picture on the menu. We’re impressed.
I can’t figure out the exact formula of how to just get pancakes, home fries and bacon. The server is happy to suggest ordering the Griddle Smile minus the eggs. The pancakes and bacon are perfectly good. The home fries are spongy; I’ll skip those next time.
When Bentley decided to do stand up, she wanted people to be able to get to know her for who she was, instead of as her “Off Da Grill” character Crazy Cakes.
“A lot of my stuff was my character just being the worst person,” she says.
People she knew or met that watched the show would confuse Crazy Cakes’ persona with Bentley’s.
Now when Bentley is on the standup mic, she takes the opportunity to let her real personality shine through. She’s never been one to write out every word and every joke; she likes to react in the moment.
“I love to just be myself, improv, talk to the crowd—that’s my favorite thing to do,” Bentley says.
In 2016, Bentley won the Pittsburgh Improv’s open mic competition, so being herself must be working.
Bentley and her friend and fellow comedian Tracey Williamson co-founded BentWilli Entertainment this year. Together with Shaun McCarthy, they do a live show called “Three Women, One Mic” and record it as a podcast.
“We all have very different personalities which makes it funny,” Bentley says. “Being with females in comedy is cool. I’ve met a lot of cool women.
“Pittsburgh has always had a lot of talent, and a lot of unrecognized talent. There’s a lot of women here in Pittsburgh that I think are very, very funny and I think the more stuff that I start to do with Tracey, the more we’ll incorporate other women because that’s important to spotlight that. Women sticking together is amazing.”
She’s enjoyed the journey so far. Though, being a mother and a stand up comic is difficult at times, she says. She works full time in the day and has shows on nights and weekends. It’s a lot, and there have been a few times over the years where she’s had to take a break.
“I don’t think I’m stopping anymore. I know that the talent that was given [to me] is supposed to be seen by everybody. Pittsburgh is a great place to do comedy and I look forward to performing all over this city,” Bentley says.
“It’s nice now, but I look forward to getting a whole lot bigger. I would like to be something like Jimmy Fallon one day—being the host of the show, laughing,” she continues. “Black women, that’s not an area we’re at…we host shows, but it isn’t funny like that. That’s a man’s thing. I would like to break into that.”