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New York Comedy Festival Celebrates 10 Years

With some 175 comedians lined up to perform across more than 50 shows, the New York Comedy Festival is all about funny business. But its impact is no laughing matter.

That Kevin Hart standup pic — “Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain,” the one that grossed more than $30 million? — it was filmed during Hart’s back-to-back gigs at Madison Square Garden as part of the 2012 NYCF. “Louis C.K.: Live at the Beacon Theater,” with which the comic shook up the distribution model by selling it for $5 a pop via PayPal? That was recorded during NYCF in 2011.

Such wavemakers only underscore New York’s primacy in the comedy world, which was part of the reason it made sense to launch a festival in Gotham 10 years ago. “There had to be something here, because New York City is the center of comedy,” says Mitch Fried, exec VP of the Comedy Central Enterprises branch of Comedy Central, which is the co-presenter of the festival.

Caroline Hirsch, the Carolines on Broadway founder who’s a 30-year veteran of the business, initially got the idea for the fest after her venue’s 20th anniversary celebration at Carnegie Hall brought back so many of the big names who came up through the club.

An annual festival would give her the chance to keep working with those folks, she reasoned. Besides, in her mind, Gotham has something no other city does. “What we have in New York is the best venues in the world,” she says.

So NYCF was launched in 2004, and it’s only gotten bigger, with the lineup this year including headlining gigs from Bill Maher (pictured above), Wanda Sykes and Kathy Griffin, Maria Bamford, Hannibal Buress and Nick Swardson plus panels and events with everyone from Larry David to Stephen Colbert.

Also growing every year is the annual Stand Up for Heroes event, a fundraiser benefiting injured veterans, service members and their families co-presented by the festival and the Bob Woodruff Foundation.

The event means a lot to all the organizers, including foundation founder Woodruff, the journalist injured in Iraq in 2006.

“We know that for these three hours, this show will be a relief for the people who were wounded in battle, and for all of us,” he says. “And it’s a chance for us to get to know the people who’ve been wounded to get them into New York City and show people who they are.”

Every year the Stand Up event has boasted an impressive roster (this year includes Bruce Springsteen, Jon Stewart, Bill Cosby and Roger Waters), a fact that holds true for the festival overall as well. Part of the reason? You don’t have to twist comics’ arms to get them to work in Gotham.

“New York audiences are a dream because you can’t shock them,” says Griffin, who’s playing Carnegie Hall as part of the fest. “You never know what mayoral candidate just texted them a dick pic minutes before the show.”

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