New York Comedy Festival 2011

“If you build it, they will come.” Famous words from a terrific novel and a classic movie, but equally applicable to the New York Comedy Festival. In its eighth year, the fest that Caroline Hirsch and her associates built has top comics scrambling to be included. This year’s lineup features Louis C.K., Wanda Sykes, Ricky Gervais, Sarah Silverman, Bill Maher, Bill Burr, Tracy Morgan and Kathy Griffin, who almost didn’t make it.

“I had to beg to be in this festival,” Griffin says with a sizable chortle. “Because my wonderful agent is very wise and usually when I play New York, I either play the theater inside the Garden, or Carnegie Hall, and I did 10 shows on Broadway recently. So I like playing festivals, but my agent is like, ‘I don’t want you to cut into your normal New York business by doing the festival.’ So I had to beg! I finally got my agent to let me play one show at Carnegie Hall for the festival.”

It’s easy to see what this festival is so enticing for the comedians — even one like Joel McHale, who is missing the fun after two years in a row.

“Because it’s New York, first,” says McHale. “New York is so famous for so many things, and so many great comedians and traditions came out of there. And New York has the best selection of venues in the country, I think.

“And Caroline is one of the biggest, most famous names in comedy. She’s like the Coca-Cola of comedy. So the combination of that, and all the other comedians that are associated with the festival, that all just kind of dovetails into each other. So when all those things come together, it’s irresistible. It makes one of the best things that’s ever happened. There’s so many people in town for it, there for comedy. And you can see a tiny act in a club and then you can go to Radio City Music Hall. It’s amazing.”

Tracy Morgan, who will headline at the Beacon Theater during the fest, gives credit to a few influences.

“Caroline has been a big part of my standup career,” Morgan says. “She’s provided a place, a stage to perform and share our gift with the world. So I appreciate everything she’s done for me, I’m so thankful to Caroline for that. That’s why I love doing this festival, plus you meet some of the comedians that you haven’t seen in a while. And I love to go to the other shows, I’m a big fan of it. It’s an awesome, awesome thing that Caroline does every year. It keeps comedy alive!”

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