Every year the New York Comedy Festival (held Nov. 10-15) seems to get bigger, adding more nights, more venues. Increasingly, it seems, that growth is centered on the new capital of cool: Brooklyn. Sure, the biggest headliners — Bill Burr, Trevor Noah, Bill Maher — remain in midtown Manhattan at meccas like Madison Square Garden and Town Hall, but this year, one-third of the standup venues are in Brooklyn and nearly two-dozen performances will be in this “outer” borough; that’s triple the amount from just two years ago and about a third of the entire festival.
“Brooklyn is close to New York, right?” deadpans Nathan Fielder, who will appear once in Manhattan and once in Brooklyn during the festival.
“Brooklyn is the place,” says Louis Faranda, the fest’s executive talent producer (and g.m. at Carolines on Broadway), who added Brooklyn Bowl to his roster this year and is expanding the club Littlefield’s presence.
“Every year the festival gets bigger and we always want it to look different, too.” Adds fest founder Caroline Hirsch, “Hopefully we are drawing more people from Brooklyn, which has that young demo.”
While many of the Brooklyn events remain in smaller clubs like Bell House and Union Hall, Sarah Silverman will host an evening of comedy at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the fest will add a second major event in the borough.
The festival’s partner, Comedy Central, is staging Comedy Central Live in Brooklyn at the recently renovated Kings Theatre out in Flatbush. The event will feature Comedy Central talent like Hannibal Buress, Roy Wood Jr., Nick Kroll and Nathan Fielder. Steve Raizes, senior vice president of consumer products at Comedy Central, says it’s important for the network and the festival “to reflect the comedy scene” and Brooklyn’s club scene has surged.
“This feels like a natural extension for the festival,” adds Jonas Larsen, senior vice president of talent and specials, calling the Kings Theatre event as a chance to “expand our footprint and take our brand out and create an experience around it.”
Larsen says the smaller Brooklyn venues often attract the network’s ideal 18-34 demo, frequently people who would not either come into Manhattan or pay the higher pricetag for some of the big-name events there. Raizes adds that they believe the diversity of the Kings Theatre lineup “creates a whole greater than the sum of its parts” and will attract a mix of Comedy Central fans and older Brooklynites.
While Brooklyn is commanding attention, other boroughs remain largely untapped. The festival has held some major shows in the past in Staten Island and one small one in the Bronx; Queens will host a few smaller events this year, but “the demand there is not even close to Brooklyn,” Faranda says.
Still, he and Hirsch add that as young people get priced out of Brooklyn, they are increasingly turning to neighborhoods like Long Island City and Astoria so that they might be the next borough to see a comedy boom.
“At some point we might venture out more into Queens,” Hirsch says.
New York Comedy Festival