Shouting cheerleader-style chants in the mirror to remember material for the show, they are ready to return to the glow of the stage.
After being canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic, the New York Comedy Festival is back this year, ready to offer audiences more entertainment than ever before.
The festival added more than 100 shows to its line up, announced the addition of “Comedy Included,” a two-day event in partnership with Citi, to celebrate diverse voices in comedy and entertainment and teamed up with Audible to present the first-ever “Tall Tales of Comedy,” a national competition that brought together emerging comedic storytellers from across the country, to craft comedic and engaging narratives.
“Storytelling is an art, and we’re going to celebrate it at the festival,” said Caroline Hirsch, founder and owner of the New York comedy club Carolines on Broadway and the New York Comedy Festival.
ALOK Vaid-Menon is an internationally acclaimed gender non-conforming writer, performer and public speaker who will be performing during the festival. Their work explores themes of trauma, belonging and the human condition.
“Live performance for me makes life worth living,” Vaid-Menon said.
Vaid-Menon’s performances include storytelling and poetry along with comedy. To prepare for the show, Vaid-Menon spends hours in front of their mirror chanting out show material like a cheerleader.
“So I turn my poems into, like, really campy chants that I jump up and down to in front of a mirror. And that’s when they stick into my head,” they said.
The festival includes over 100 comedians and 200 shows across New York City.
“I love being able to bring joy to people and to also use the knowledge and information that I have to help inform others because I really do believe that education is the path to liberation,” said Amanda Seales, American comedian who will be performing during the festival. “What I do is considered edutainment, because you’re gonna laugh and you’re gonna learn.”
Seales, who started doing stand up in New York, is excited to return to the city to be a part of the festival.
“It’s dope to just get to reconnect with my comedy tribe, in my city,” Seales said.
Seales will be hosting her comedy variety game show, “Smart, Funny and Black” at the Apollo’s Historic Theatre on November 12. It will only be the second time Seales has put on the show since the pandemic shut it down in March of 2020.
“We’re just trying to make sure that we come with some new energy and elements to the show,” Seales said. “But honestly, what we’re doing to prepare is rest.”
The show was created to be a celebratory space for the black community.
“It’s just all about enjoying the comedy and the laughter and also learning about black history, black culture and the black experience,” Seales said.
The variety show includes sing-alongs and a dance-off.
“It’s like a barbecue, a revival, and a college homecoming all in one,” Seales said. Adding, “Live performances are such a community experience, and I think a lot of us have missed that. So I hope they (the audience) get to have that engaging experience again.”
Supporting small venues
Hirsch said the festival this year is more important than ever.
“It’s a way to get people out of their homes and into seeing live events,” Hirsch said. “And the best part of it is to have a good laugh. I mean, it’s something that we haven’t been doing.”
With the addition of over 100 shows, to be performed all over the city, the festival is helping smaller venues recover from the pandemic. Hirsch said she hopes this will encourage people to go out and support their local venues. While the festival has had shows at smaller venues in the past, there has been more of a focus on filling those spaces this year.
“So hopefully, we’ll be able to make a mark,” Hirsch said. Adding, “We hope that this brings more life to some of the neighborhoods.”
Some of the added shows include up and coming names in comedy like social star Trevor Wallace and viral TikTok group, Please Don’t Destroy. Also included with the additional shows, is the 13th annual New York’s Funniest Stand-Up competition on November 13 at Carolines on Broadway. The competition is open to any and all performers who think they have what it takes to be crowned New York’s Funniest.
Bringing more diversity to the festival
This week, the festival announced the addition of “Comedy Included.” The event will feature panel discussions, special appearances and engaging conversations, aiming to educate, discuss and break down barriers on topics of diversity, equality, gender gaps and inclusion in the comedy industry. The event will take place at Carolines on Broadway on Tuesday, November 9 and Wednesday, November 10.
Hirsch said Carolines on Broadway and The New York Comedy Festival have always worked to include diverse voices in their shows. The addition of “Comedy Included” helps further that, she said.
Vaid-Menon said being a part of the festival is a special opportunity.
“The stage is one of the only spaces where people can kind of learn from people like me,” Vaid-Menon said. Adding, “I think it’s really cool that the New York comedy festival included me because I’m not a traditional comedian by any stretch of the imagination,” Vaid-Menon said. Adding, “I think so often people like me are the brunt of other people’s jokes, and so rarely are we invited to tell her own. So I don’t take it lightly.”
Vaid-Menon uses their work to curate a space for people to encounter and appreciate the beauty and the complexity of one another, they said.
“I make art in a profoundly unequal time, where people like me are being attacked at all levels,” Vaid-Menon said “And what I make art to do is to humanize people like me.”
This performance will be Vaid-Menon’s first return to the New York City stage in almost three and a half years.
“I always say, live art is such a beautiful framework, because it’s almost as if living is an art form. And that without art, we’re not alive. And there’s something about live art, I think, and especially the New York City performance scene that really just brings people together in a way that nowhere else in the world does,” Vaid-Menon said.
Vaid-Menon’s show is on November 13 at the BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center. Travis Alabanza, a black trans performer from the UK will open for ALOK.
“It’s going to be unlike anything people have ever seen anywhere else in the world, I have a very distinctive performance art style that is memorable,” Vaid-Menon said. “And I think that is so needed right now, because it’ll be such a healing space.”
Vaid-Menon said they heal and cope with the world through comedy.
“People tend to leave my shows being like, ‘Oh my god, I went from like, sobbing to like laughing my brains out to like sobbing. I’m very confused.’ I love playing around with tragedy and comedy together,” Vaid-Menon said. “For me, humor is a really powerful tool to endure, and not just endure, but thrive, and persist in a world that can often feel so painful.”
What else the festival includes
This year’s festival headliners include Tim Dillon, Michelle Wolf, Megan Stalter, Vir Das, Gary Gulman, Nick Kroll, Amanda Seales and Andrew Santino.
The “Tall Tales of Comedy” national competition held auditions at leading venues and comedy clubs across the country. Ten finalists have been selected by the NYCF and Audible for a special performance at Carolines on Broadway as part of the festival, on Thursday, November 11 at 9:30 p.m.
The festival includes shows with Vir Das, Tim Dillon, Colin Quinn, Michelle Wolf, Megan Stalter, Ronny Chieng, Jon Lovett’s Lovett or Leave It, Smart Funny & Black Live!, Nick Kroll, ALOK, Marc Maron, Michael Rapaport, Brian Regan, Gary Gulman, Bill Maher, Michelle Buteau, Andrew Santino and the 15th annual Stand Up for Heroes.
The festival has featured the country’s top comedians including Judd Apatow, Hannibal Buress, Bill Burr, Margaret Cho, Billy Crystal, Larry David, Ricky Gervais, Kathy Griffin, Kevin Hart, John Leguizamo, Norm Macdonald, Bill Maher, Trevor Noah, Tig Notaro, Nick Offerman, Amy Schumer, Sarah Silverman and Wanda Sykes.
The festival will begin November 8 and run through the 14th. In accordance with New York City mandates and COVID-19 public health guidelines, these shows during the New York Comedy festival will require proof of vaccination.