BACK STAGE  April 23, 2004
New York Comedy Festival
Laughing Matters
BY Amelia David

Start Spreading the News

If you're a comic wanting to keep up with the latest comedy festival news, or an audience member looking to fill your calendar with great comedy events, I've got big buzz for you. NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently had a press conference where be announced plans for "the first New York Comedy Festival," to be hald Nov. 9-l3. Now before I get Amangry corrections in the mail from festival producers and performers who have already done comedy festival events in New York, this column isn't naming the festival as the "first" to be held in New York. "Laughing Matters" knows you've been out there in the past working in smaller-budget festival wonders. This is the mayor's language and Back Stage is just the messenger here, excited to report (especially after the demise of the Toyota Comedy Festival) that the city's press-tourism machine is getting behind a comedy event so positive for comedy performers and venues.

This annual event was proposed both to celebrate New York's long tradition of stand-up performance and to boost New York's economy. The suggested plan as to showcase 50 comics (both New Yorkers and national performers) at major venues, including the Theater at Madison Square Garden, Towb Hall, the Apollo Theater, City Center, and the Beacon Theater. I'm sure, as with past Toyota Festivals, many smaller NYC and even tristate clubs and nontraditional comedy venues will showcases, theme bookings, other events to ride the wave of interest that this festival generates. As you read this, there may even be smaller or less traditional venues that haven't heard about it yet, or haven't started making their festival plans. This gives you a chance to be one of the first to ask the clubs where you work how you can be part of what they're planning.

You'll be viewed as the well-informed go-getter if you get planning, pitching, and producing early.

If you're not far enough along to have a "home" club or booker to ask, don't beat yourself up about it; you can do solid work for years and still not have those contacts, especially those of you who can't devote full time to your comedy careers. Gather up that audience mailing list that you've been cultivating and come up with a strong theme for a showcase idea to pitch. Include those talented comics you've always thought would make a strong showcase bill along with your own work. Since NYC opening sets never bring in that much money, a better-known comic, one who would only be invited to open at his or her own home club, might consider being the featured headliner for your show it never hurts to ask.

Caution: If your work is unknown to bookers. you're less likely to succeed at pitching your solo set It's also harder as a solo to provide enough audience to get club md cabaret bookers, theatre producers, and restaurants that hold comedy or variety shows interested. Remember, too, NYC religious organizations will sometimes use their meeting spaces for comedy events if you offer clean, family-oriented comedy-variety shows. Also consider niche markets, like senior audiences, kid comics performing for kids, or blue-oriented comedy-variety audiences all looking for something to do in between bigger promoted shows. Theme shows and ethnically oriented shows also sell, and the trend of mixing burlesque, magic, or music with stand-up will also work.

If your work is less known, you may have to back up your pitch with audition tapes of yourself and the other comics you're suggesting. If you don't have great tapes and clean, professional-looking photos and materials, this is a perfect example of why this column often cautions you to have them before you need them. Luckily, you've got some time to gather tapes aid materials from the performers you want to put together, as wall as to make your own. You can always do a "bringer" show, one that offers you a videotape in exchange for supplying an audience paying a cover and minimum. These aren't popular, but they're a necessary evil that can give you a goad quality tape with a well-known club as a backdrop. Please be sure to look at a past tape that the club has made before offering your valuable mailing list.

Remember, some-bookers only watch a tape for a few minutes (many say two minutes tells them whether to keep watching), so start with your best, and close that way. After being booked, plan a four-to-six-week lead time for sending out your press, and don't assume that venues will promote you (ask before you book). Sending earlier "save the date" flyers or faxes will keep you from getting lost in the crowd. Remember, national and cable news services and websites coostantly need information. NYl News, CNN, and Fox often feature NYC performances. If you've got a human-interest story about your project or group, bring it on, too. Although press reps offer great contacts worth their prices, they aren't mandatory to pitch newspapers and news services, especially daily websites needing content. Dream and think big, and Back Stage will continue to keep you posted. This column will also continue to offer ideas for promoting your projects. If you have proven, successful pitching and promoting tips you want to share, email them too. If they're helpful additions to my own ever-evolving list of tips, you'll see your name or group mentioned here with your idea.

Kudos to the festival's three strategic partners: NYC & Company, a private, not-for-profit group dedicated to building New York's economy, headed by President and CEO Cristyne Nicholas; Alliance, a firm that brokers strategic partnerships in the marketing and entertainment fields, headed by President and CEO Jarrod Moses. and Carolines, the NYC comedy club of which Caroline Hirsch is owner and president. Since Carolines consistently offers strong, balanced lineups, and Ms. Hirsch and the club's press and booking staff are not only a pleasure to work with but always run a professionafly tight ship when it comes to promotion, this festival is likely to be promoted right. Hirsch also deserves congratulations because the National Association of Women Business Owners-NYC Chapter (NAWBO-NYC) just gave her its Lifetime Achievement Award. I can't think of a better recipient for this great organization, which empowers women business ownets in all industries, promoting and supporting the growth of women-owned businesses.

New York is also the perfect breeding ground for celebrity satire (anther great festival idea). For an example of this genre, "Who Killed Woody Allen?" has an open-ended run at NYC~s Triad Theatre, playing Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm. Featured in the cast is John Francis Mooney, a stand-up favorite of mine (under the name of John Mooney): Find out more at

Send correspondence for "Laughing Matters" to Amelia David, c/o Back Stage. 770 Broadway 4th floor NYC 10003 or e-mail to

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