Buffalo Game Changers: Kristen Becker

Kristen Becker is one of Buffalo Spree's 2012 Game Changers

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In her estimation, what has held the city back is low self-esteem, a condition at least partly remedied by a healthy sense of humor.

You can’t leave Buffalo without hearing a Buffalo joke. Kristen Becker, a Buffalo native who’s been back and forth like a wisecracking yo-yo, seems poised to stay for a bit now, turning that butt-of-the-joke mentality on its side with her involvement in a brand-new Cobblestone District business that showcases comedy. Becker, who spent seven years running the weekly open-mic comedy night at Nietzsche’s, is now general manager for Helium, a 250-seat club featuring local and national stand-up comics. 

The club is one of three owned by a very successful and well-regarded pair of brothers from Philadelphia, who sought her out for another business venture. Becker spent thirteen months persuading them to go full tilt and open a Helium club here, an expansion that had not been on their radar screen. Now Buffalo has a multiuse entertainment facility that includes an adjoining 120-seat restaurant and bar called Elements. Private parties and corporate events can be held in the space, and comedy classes to develop fledgling comedians are in the offing. It’s a big project expected to open in mid-December, according to Becker, “just when that seasonal depression begins to set in.”  

Though she spent her grade school and high school years in Louisiana when her dad took a job transfer, Becker has never quite scraped the rust off her belt. She is more passionate about her hometown than ever, and, at thirty-six, says she’s more interested in quality of life than becoming famous. “I didn’t want just any comedy club,” she says, “but the best one for Buffalo.” In her estimation, what has held the city back is low self-esteem, a condition at least partly remedied by a healthy sense of humor. She also believes in extending a hand back as you move up the ladder. “The only way the game changes is through mentoring, paying it forward,” she says. She thinks the game is changing in Western New York these days, thanks to:

• Retention. “For the first time in a decade, we are retaining people my age, those in the post-college years and into their thirties. That keeps energy here. We are not just a rust-belt town with a sports focus, but have become a real arts community.”
• A new generation of politicians. “For too long, we’ve been led by people whose main goal was to hold on to what they had, with no idea of mentoring a new group of leaders,” she says. “It all boils down to insecurity, and that has to change.”
• A core belief in the city. “We haven’t had this in decades, but it’s here now.”

Becker has made at least a three-year commitment to the Helium venture. If she wasn’t here doing this, she says she’d probably be in New Orleans running a club, “or just out on tour, telling jokes.”


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