While most Charlotteans are aware when an A-list comedian plays an arena or big theater here, outside of The Comedy Zone the mainstream isn’t that attuned to the variety of comedy acts performing in the back of bars, in art spaces, or at open mics around the city.
The Queen City Comedy Festival aims to change that. It’s a two-night smorgasbord of local talent, from family-friendly improv to touring standup comedians who call Charlotte home. During the day on Saturday and Sunday, workshops for fledgling performers or those wishing to tweak their skills will be offered.
The festival’s organizer, Cale Evans, came up with the idea after a trip to Chicago.
“They’ve got these huge theaters that are all distinctively separate, but I noticed I’d see the same guys at one theater that I saw at a different theater the night before,” Evans says. “The community is more connected than what I was seeing in Charlotte.”
Aside from uniting the local comedy scenes, the QC Comedy Festival also gives Charlotteans unfamiliar with local comedy a sampling.
“Aside from knowing Jerry Seinfeld or Bill Burr or Katt Williams is coming to a theater here, people don’t know,” echoes comedian Will Jacobs, a full-time attorney who tours as a comedian on the weekend. “Some people have never seen a sketch show or a standup show. The festival is an opportunity to discover all of that.”
“All of the arts and entertainment struggle with that right now,” adds Evans. “There’s so much noise, it’s hard to get people’s attention.”
The variety of scheduled acts includes Hannibal, a magician/comedian; Improv Charlotte’s clean comedy show; Charlotte’s only all-female comedy troupe; pro-wrestler-moonlighting-as-standup-comic Jake Manning’s first live podcast; a TedTALK-type lecture by the Know-It-Alls, where the audience chooses the topic; and comedy from touring acts PJ Barnes, Jacobs, Blayr Nias, and Charlotte staple Robot Johnson, one of the city’s best known comedy groups.
The festival also serves as a sort of precursor to the new comedy space Carey Head and Kevin Shimko plan to open this year. The multi-purpose venue will be used as a place to hold comedy workshops and a performance and rehearsal space for acts displaced when, for example, the restaurant or bar they’ve been performing at closes.
“Whenever a bright, young, up-and-coming improviser would start to consider expanding and trying to grow as an improviser, actor or comedian, they usually left for New York, Chicago or LA. My thought was, ‘Why does everyone need to leave because they want to have more of an opportunity to study and grow in their comedy?’ ” says Head, “We want to bring in people from Chicago and LA to do workshops.”
For Jacobs, who is leading a double life as lawyer and standup, basing his act out of Charlotte is a reality. He hopes to make it his focus.
“I don’t want to be the person that does something they don’t like for 30 years,” says Jacobs, who is expecting a child in April. “With a son on the way, I didn’t want to set the example that you do something you don’t like and come home and be miserable.”
Queen City Comedy Festival
The event combines local improv, standup, musical comedy and sketch acts for a two-day onslaught of funny.
When: 7 p.m. Friday and 6:30 p.m. Saturday, with various comedy and acting workshops during the day Saturday and Sunday.
Where: Acting Out Studios, 8145 Ardrey Kell Road.
Tickets: Single-show tickets are $10. Advance passes covering any of the festival’s 15 performances are $65 for VIP or $15 for the “Cheap Ass Pass,” which allows entry to shows after they’ve started (unless they’re sold out). Friday’s “How Did This Get Booked?” live podcast and the “Late Night Off the Cuff Improv” show are free.