When the North Carolina Comedy Arts Festival was conceived in 2001, its goal was modest: Its creators wanted to produce quality sketch shows for students from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and local audiences. Since that time, the festival has grown exponentially and has become an integral part of the nation’s sketch comedy scene. This year, however, organizers decided to add a week of stand-up comedy to the fest. (Check out the schedule here). Up-and-coming stand-up comedians from across the country will gather in Chapel Hill between Feb. 12 – Feb 15 to show off their comedic wares in nightly shows. The festival continues with sketch shows until Feb. 21.
Punchline Magazine recently chatted with Zach Ward, the man behind the festival, to discuss this year’s programs and the future of the North Carolina Comedy Arts Festival.
Why did you decide to add stand-up to the fest this year?
We started producing the festival in 2001, before we had a venue for comedy in North Carolina. For the first eight years, it was just improv because that’s all that we were doing at the time. In 2005 I opened the DSI Comedy Theater and we started to produce stand-up showcases in North Carolina. In 2008 we started teaching stand-up classes. We also hosted the College Stand-up Comedy Regionals for RooftopComedy. I wanted to provide an opportunity for North Carolina comics to work with people from around the country and I wanted my students and audiences to see a bigger cross-section of stand-up.
What makes this fest different than the many other comedy fests across the country. It
seems each year, more and more are created or expanded upon.
That’s a good question. For comedy, sketch and stand-up, I’m excited about all the activity outside of New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. And to be honest, the NC Comedy Arts expansion was an answer to that call. A lot of groups look to improv as a tool for writing, both for sketch and stand-up, so after developing a loyal lineup of talent we wanted to start to showcase the different weapons of choice: improv, sketch, stand-up and video.
When people think of stand-up comedy from a geographical point of view, people think: New York, LA, Boston…. North Carolina doesn’t register for most people. Why is that?
For the same reason I think it’s not on people’s minds I think it’s going to help our
festival grow. We’re in the middle. It’s also true that as a state we don’t have a very concentrated urban center. But we do have the film industry in Wilmington, NC and a very liberal population. After all, if the state of North Carolina can go BLUE for Obama then we must be on the right track for the arts.
For the stand-ups performing this year, what can they expect to get out of the experience?
We worked hard to mix up all nine of our festival shows to highlight different styles of comics. I wanted for each “show” to have four contrasting comics performances to give each a better opportunity to standout. venue. DSI has an incredibly professional staff and an awesome vibe. the space sets people up to succeed. Our audiences want people to rock out. panel workshops. comics have an opportunity to talk about the business of comedy, how to set yourself up to succeed online and in the media, with talks from RooftopComedy, Punchline Magazine and Time Out NY.
How do you see the stand-up portion of the fest growing next year?
We had the stand-up nights of the festival only the weekend this year, but next year I’m pushing to make the event ride between major bookings, so for example: an A-list touring comic could hit the NC Comedy Arts Festival Monday through Thursday between headlining weekend sets in New York, Boston, DC or Atlanta. We are focused on one venue this year in order to build a relationship with RooftopComedy. All the comics are being featured online at RooftopComedy.com after the event and have an opportunity to be invited to
Aspen from their performance at NCCAF.
I know Lewis Black started his stand-up career in NC. Are there other names that we might not know about who have comedy connections to the area?
Zach Galifianakis, David Sedaris and Amy Sedaris, Brian Huskey from Naked Babies (UCB-LA) and the Sonic Commericals. Gallagher… and Jon Reep. Should we claim them? Probably not. Stephen Colbert and Andy Dick are from Charleston, SOUTH Carolina.
For more info on the this year’s festival check out the official site at: nccomedyarts.com