When Louis Faranda and his team started putting together the New York Comedy Festival after a year’s absence due to the pandemic, they knew it would be a lot of work — it always is. But this year, bringing together hundreds of comedians to make thousands of New Yorkers and visitors laugh was even more challenging than before.
“Early on, many comedians didn’t want to commit because no one knew what November would bring in terms of the pandemic,” Faranda says. “But it was really important to us to bring the festival back strong — people really need to laugh, and we need to show that the world is coming back.”
The festival, taking place Nov. 8-14, will feature 17 major shows and 150 smaller ones, says festival founder and Carolines on Broadway owner Caroline Hirsch, adding that it will fill clubs in all five boroughs, many of which have been struggling financially since March 2020.
“We are supporting all these local venues, and this will boost the whole city,” Hirsch says. She expects comedy fans will also go out to eat and drink in all those neighborhoods before and after shows.
“New York is the mecca of stand-up so bringing the festival back strong is an important statement,” says comedian Ronny Chieng, who lives here and will perform at Town Hall as part of the festival.
Gary Gulman says for New York comedians it will be a special event. “I’m proud to be part of the New York comedy community and so grateful to be part of showing everybody that the city is resilient and that comedy here is back on its feet.”
Faranda says the festival will “encompass the diversity of the city,” with shows featuring local performers of every race, ethnicity, and gender identity, but he is also bringing in “unique” comedians whom New Yorkers have not seen before. So while there are plenty of established stars including Colin Quinn, Nick Kroll, Brian Regan and Marc Maron, Faranda is equally excited for comedy fans to discover yukmeisters such as Alok, Punkie Johnson and Esther Povitsky.
Among the highlights will be such festival staples as Comics to Watch, and the New York’s Funniest competition, which has helped launch the careers of winners including Nate Bargatze, Michael Che, Ricky Velez and Josh Johnson. And of course, the first night of the festival will feature Stand Up for Heroes, produced with, and raising millions for, the Bob Woodruff Foundation, which has spent the past 15 years helping wounded veterans.
“Our foundation started out focused just on physical wounds but then realized that we needed to help those veterans with PTSD and later saw that we also had to help families and caregivers,” Woodruff says.
The foundation’s focus has continued evolving in light of the lost jobs and stresses endured during the pandemic, as well as flaring anger and depression among many veterans in the aftermath of the chaotic and deadly withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“There’s always a new crisis so we always are willing to change directions in what we’re trying to accomplish.”
This year’s event will feature Nikki Glaser, Donnell Rawlings and SUFH regulars Jim Gaffigan, Jon Stewart and Bruce Springsteen.
Hirsch emphasizes that the Festival continues experimenting with new and unique content. “Tall Tales of Comedy” is a national comedic storytelling competition, created in partnership with Audible, that will culminate in an event at the festival with the winner earning a meeting with those executives.
And the festival is partnering on Citi Presents: Comedy Included, a two-day series of panels at Carolines on Broadway that will, Hirsch says, “shine a light on what’s going on in the business and bring attention to hearing more diverse voices on stage.”
Faranda says next year’s festival will hopefully be easier to plan but that the hard work was worth it. “I expect this to be big and I think it came out well,” he says. “When people in the industry call to say the lineup looks really good, that’s a compliment.”
What: New York Comedy Festival
When: Nov. 8-14
Where: Venues around New York City