OK, Theatre 99, admit it: this "Comedy Festival" is just a plot to lure all the hottest comedy acts in the country right to your front door, isn't it?
"It's true," Brandy Sullivan says with a laugh. "We decided, ah, the heck with traveling. We'll just bring all the acts that we love to see right here to Charleston."
Theatre 99's nefarious scheme for world comedy domination by means of the Charleston Comedy Festival began innocently enough.
"Brandy and I have a process," says Greg Tavares (as he softly cackles and strokes the large cat on his lap). "We look at what's happening all around the country in terms of exciting comedy acts and then we go down the list, picking out the acts we really admire and figuring out how to get them to Charleston."
Those who follow Theatre 99 closely have cause to cheer when they hear Tavares and Sullivan get excited about a new comedy act. They have a proven knack for bringing superstars and soon-to-be-superstars to the festival. These aren't farm team funnymen and funny women; these are major league players with connections to comedy powerhouses like New York's Upright Citizens Brigade, Saturday Night Live, and America's finest satire news source, The Onion.
The 7th Annual Charleston Comedy Festival is bursting at the seams with names that any Charlestonian who has kept his or her head in the game over the past decade will immediately recognize, such as the burlesque Matt and Evan Bivins dynamo known as The Dangerous Strangers of Cabaret Kiki (with special guests Cook County Social Club) and former 96Wave deejay turned stand-up standout Kenny Zimlinghaus.
The history of the festival can be summarized thus: bigger and better every year. It was an exceptionally well-received comedic cornucopia from the very beginning, but when Theatre 99 and Charleston City Paper began co-producing the festival five years ago, this thing began to grow off the chain.
"One of the most exciting things this year is the number of double bills," Sullivan says. "So you can really get bang for your buck."
She also points to the surge in entries into the Charleston Stand-Up Competition as further evidence that this year's Comedy Festival is going to be basically pretty freaking awesome.
"The Stand-Up Competition has grown by leaps and bounds," she says. "60 people signed up for the prelims. We've even had to turn people away due to the sheer number of talented people wanting to compete. The finale, on Wednesday, January 20, is going to be such a great kick-off to the entire festival!"
It'll be a whirlwind tour of American comedy, with individuals and groups from all across the nation represented, sea to shining sea.
Sketch comedy sensation Elephant Larry, a festival favorite, will be easing on down the road from their home in NYC to once again whack us with their funny shtick. The Big Apple will also contribute superstars like Ted Alexandro and Trey Galyon.
Switchboard, a musically inclined trio of lovely ladies from Chicago, will be helping us get our dance on in addition to making us laugh. They'll be joined by fellow Windy City wonders Sitting at the Grown Up Table and Hunter Family Crest. Groovy stuff from as far away as Austin, Boston, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles will be making merry in our fine city.
North Carolina will be sending acts like Danny Canoe and Senior PGA. Atlanta will be doing the same by lending us Einstein Meets Elvis and Family Dinner. Not to mention the fact that there will be local talent in abundance: The Assorted Rogues, Doppelganger, Cats Hugging Cats, Hot Pants, Moral Fixation, Neckprov, and the list just goes on and on.
Suffice to say, devotees of stand-up, improv, and sketch comedy will find examples aplenty of their preferred style as well as lots of miscellaneous goodies to sprinkle on top.
"Basically, we're looking for the acts that are equally awesome, funny, and somehow pushing the boundaries of the work," says Tavares. "We think about what we'd most like to see and let that be our guide."
The result of this calculated effort is that the Who's Who of comedy greatness is going to be more or less entirely contained within nine venues in Charleston from Jan. 20-23.
That's a whole lotta funny for one Holy City.