For the third year in a row, the Richmond Comedy Coalition is bringing what’s billed as the area’s largest–and perhaps only–comedy festival, 2nd Best Comedy Fest, back to historic Jackson Ward. The laughs are coming to three venues this year, as more than 30 acts from around the country descend upon Richmond.
The festival is the brainchild of the staff and players at the Coalition Theater, a small improv theater in the Downtown Arts District that opened its doors almost exactly four years ago after a successful crowdfunding campaign. The group first formed in 2009. Executive Director Matt Newman says the concept began as a birthday party show to be held to coincide with that date, and later morphed into a full-fledged festival.
“We had thought about doing our own festival for a long time,” Newman said. As the group toured in other cities–from Toronto to Austin and everywhere in between–they knew they had to give it a go. “Going to [perform at those shows], we thought man if we did our own festival we could do this and that.” And so they did.
The first festival was held in the spring of 2015, where the folks from Coalition invited those they knew from the comedy scene–in Richmond and from other cities alike–to perform. Since then, organizers have expanded the festival to allow acts to apply to perform. Over 30 groups will take the stage when the festival returns June 8th through the 10th.
“What’s exciting to me is there are teams we’ve seen in different festivals and teams we’ve gotten to know from New York, for example, and they’re coming here to be a part of this festival,” Newman continued. “It’s been exciting to watch [the festival] grow from within, as producer, and then having the community build up around it.”
The 2nd Best Festival is also a homecoming of sorts for performers who started at the venue and went on to bigger cities or performance spaces over the years, which Newman says really makes it all worthwhile. Many have returned or will this year to perform.
“Richmond is in a particular spot,” he said. “If your goal is to really make it on SNL or in the writers room of some other comedy show, Richmond is not the place that’s going to get you seen or noticed, but i think (performers) find their passion and creative spark, their first contact with that art form (in Richmond), and wonder what else is out there–wonder where else can they take it; how far can they can go. I’m so proud of them, and we have so many talented folks right here in Richmond. I wouldn’t be surprised if we had some nice signed pictures on our wall one day.”
Three venues, one neighborhood
The festival will encompass three venues–of course the Coalition Theater at 8. W. Broad Street; TheatreLAB’s The Basement, located at 300 E. Broad Street, and Gallery 5 at 200. W. Marshall Street. All three are within a stone’s throw of each other, which will allow the festival to be highly concentrated and show off the historic nature of Jackson Ward. “We want to show off and showcase Jackson Ward and the city at large, keeping everything local and walkable,” Newman said. Each night, after parties will be held at nearby restaurants and bars, continuing the party into the night.
Who and what to check out this year
On opening night, a majority lineup of local acts–all independent of the theater–will warm up the festival. Of note is the only exception to the Richmond theme, “The Outsiderz.” A Greenville, South Carolina-based group, will host a wrestling-themed show at 9:00 PM at Coalition.
On Friday, things get hilariously weird with “I Am The Show,” a two-man show–with one human, and one machine. One visual, one audio. One responding, the other giving. The audience picks one TV show or movie, and CG improvises dialogue, sound effects, and music. The unique performance is the creative work of Chris George of Finest City Improv in San Diego, California and takes place at 7:00 PM at Coalition.
If you’ve seen the Air Sex Competition that’s come through town (ask me sometime about the night I, myself, tweeted David Arquette and convinced him to stop by and host the show at Strange Matter in 2013 and he actually showed up–weird, but true story), you’ll definitely want to check out the Trew + 2 show on Saturday night. Hosted by the man behind the Air Sex shows, Chris Trew, two people, who preferably don’t know each other and have no improv experience, are invited on stage to perform together. The show takes place at 9:00 PM on Saturday at The Basement.
Concluding the festival will be an all-star show at Gallery 5 at 11:00 PM. The largest of the three venues, the space will allow some of the best performers of the entire festival to improv together–which should be both hilarious and provide some unexpected surprises.
Jump in and participate in the fun
The festival isn’t just about shows–you can get in on the action yourself as well. There will be four workshops during the festival where curious minds can test their improv skills and have fun. Folks from teams in Los Angeles, Chicago, Baltimore, Norfolk, and right here in Richmond will lead the classes, which must be signed up for in advance. There will, however, be a drop-in class as well for those who are a little more spontaneous, Newman says.
Highlights include a sketch comedy workshop hosted by Alex Marino; and Greg Hess and Holly Laurent, the former of which grew up in Richmond and later moved to L.A., will team up to teach an improv class.
Tickets, passes, and schedule
Over 800 people attended last year’s shows, which Newman calls “humbling and exciting” for such a young festival. “We’re very young as festivals go, and we’re already seeing a lot of enthusiasm and support,” he said. Because of this, tickets go fast. Individual shows are $5 or $10; festival passes are available for $30, which includes admission to all performances.
You can view the full lineup of acts, purchase tickets, and learn more on the festival website.