The New York Comedy Festival has always tried to outdo itself, adding more big names, more venues, more unique events. In its 16th year, the organizers say they have outdone themselves.
“We always strive to be different from other festivals,” says Louis Faranda, who produces the festival and who books Carolines on Broadway — which runs the festival — year-round. “It has become so big, it has turned into a mega-festival. It’s absolutely insane.”
Caroline Hirsch, the festival founder, says it is not only massive, it is diverse in every meaning of the word.
“We have the most inclusive line-up you will see at a comedy festival,” Hirsch says, pointing to shows featuring LGBTQ, Asian, African-American and Latino comics. There will even be standup, such as the group Risas Del Barrio, performed exclusively in Spanish. “We’re also trying to bring more women to the stage than you have ever seen in a comedy festival.”
Hirsch and Faranda point out that the variety also extends to the types of shows. In recent years, the festival has emphasized sketch and improv in addition to standup. This year there will be more panel discussions (including one with Stephen Colbert), podcasts, live performances by YouTube and Instagram stars like Benito Skinner and Randy Rainbow, off-beat events such as “Behind the Bit” in which comics tell jokes then talk about the personal experiences that inspired the material, comedic game shows, musical comedy performances and even films. “There are all different kinds of funny,” Faranda says.
“There are now as many genres of comedy as there are of music,” says comedian Josh Johnson. Standup, improv and sketch are the big umbrellas, but within that are categories including surrealism, satire, goofy humor, family-friendly and raw humor.
“The New York Comedy Festival sets the trends and gets the biggest comedians and the most innovative shows, across the deep spectrum of comedy,” he says.
Johnson will headline a show at East Side club The Stand and then open for Trevor Noah at Madison Square Garden. “It’s incredibly important,” he says.
Brian Bedol, a consultant working with the festival, says the event is important for sponsors too, as brands that use comedy to engage with audiences have higher recall and loyalty.
“Many brands that are strong supporters of music and film festivals are discovering that comedy is the next great frontier to reach large, diverse, creative audiences,” he says. He points to sponsor activation events as indicators of this shift, such as two evenings at Bloomingdale’s, where comedians will perform while audiences relax on mattresses provided by Kluft, a luxury mattress brand. He also cites a partnership with Citibank and the Female Quotient (FQ), to introduce The FQ Lounge, which will feature panel discussions highlighting groundbreaking women and gender-equality issues in the entertainment industry.
The festival is also diversifying its efforts in terms of charity events, Hirsch says. Hungry for Laughs brings together top chefs and comedians to support the Gay Men’s Health Crisis with food and jokes. Authentic Talent & Literary Management created standup event Another Mother’s Day to benefit Mimsi, a Haiti-based nonprofit that offers prenatal care to mothers in underserved regions.
The fundraising centerpiece remains Stand Up for Heroes, with the Bob Woodruff Foundation as partner. This event, like the festival itself, keeps finding new ways to reach people.
“One of the newer partnerships we are incredibly excited to talk about is our recent work with Sesame Workshop,” says Woodruff, the ABC journalist who, with his wife, Lee, started this clearinghouse organization after he was gravely wounded in Iraq. Using a grant from the foundation, Sesame Workshop has developed online tools and resources for military caregiving families with young kids.
“We’ll also be shining a light on our veteran fertility assistance program, VIVA. It’s all in service of raising awareness around the fact that when one family member serves, the whole family can be impacted,” he says.
Woodruff remains “grateful and surprised” that it keeps attracting top talent — Jon Stewart, John Oliver and Bruce Springsteen are stalwarts, while Hasan Minhaj and Ronny Chieng round out the roster this year at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden. “We feel so lucky that this mission and this event still resonates with folks.”
What: New York Comedy Festival
When: Nov. 4-10
Where: Venues throughout NYC