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I attended the Red Clay Comedy Festival last weekend.
It was hilarious, rewarding, and instructional.
I am a newer comic in Denver, CO and traveled to Atlanta, GA for the event. I was unexpectedly surprised by what a great learning experience it was to see dozens of incredibly talented comics.
I was especially taken by the comics from NY who have a style of comedy I grew to enjoy. Quick punchy stories and liberal doses of crowd work sprinkled throughout their sets. Almost as if they were demanding attention from a crowd that just as easily could be watching the Yankees or Mets on a corner TV. In short, they grabbed your attention and held it, often masterfully.
I’d like to highlight a dozen or so of my favorite performances from the weekend. I’ll do my best to give you links to check out these performers as well.
But first lets cover some logistics.
Cost? I paid less than $100 for a 3 day VIP ticket that got me two headliner shows (Janeane Garofalo and Ron Funches), access to 25 different shows, and 50 different comedians. Even a memorable acoustic performance by Mike Cooley of Drive By Truckers at The Earl. What I’m trying to communicate is, this is a total steal for anyone who likes comedy. My ticket price even included a festival t-shirt.
The entire event takes place in East Atlanta Village, with a hipster vibe and plenty of great bars and restaurants. Comedy takes place in two tents (adjacent to The Midway) and three indoor venues, all within walking distance. 529 bar and The Earl have professional stages ready for small concerts and perfect for comedy (although I personally didn’t like the indoor smoking at 529 bar). The Argosy back room was the most visually interesting. Performers worked on the floor in front of folding chairs and an elevated bar seating area, surrounded by pinball machines (some beautiful antiques) and the coolest wooden cephalopod structure I’ve ever seen, above them.
The organizers Jen, Mike and Gilbert were as friendly and accessible as the comics. Being able to say hi and chat with someone who was recently on Conan or Jimmy Kimmel, or Netflix was an unexpected surprise. Talking with other attendees about favorite sets and jokes added to the sense of community.
One last note before I get to the performers. Late night was always fun at the nearby Little Five Points area, and Atlanta’s quirky and fun sides shone on visits to the Clermont Lounge and Ponce City Market.
Without further ado, let’s meet some of the characters that made my belly ache at the 2018 Red Clay Comedy Festival, in no particular order. I’ll mention joke topics but do my best not to give away any punchlines.
NY based comic, originally from Canada. I think if Nathan only spoke whatever it is they speak in Canada, and I couldn’t understand it, I would still laugh. His voice modulation itself is funny. He made my sides hurt with his material on McDonald's and other mundane topics made ridiculously funny. He made me laugh and then kept his foot on the pedal until he said thank you and good night. I first saw him as the opener for Janeane Garofalo, and then again in a tent with about 20 people. This is a comic who has recently done 5 minutes on Conan. What an experience! The best compliment I can pay Nathan is that when he repeated a bit, I laughed just as hard the second time through. That’s solid writing.
Kate was the feature — that’s fancy comic talk for the person before the headliner — for Janeane Garofalo, and she crushed in front of hundreds. Intelligent, but with a hint of raunch, she had the audience rolling with material about her life, sex, dating, the many inadequacies of men (with particular emphasis on men in the comedy community) and more. She has an episode on Netflix in the series The Comedy Lineup, with 15 minutes of her material. Very funny stuff. While having a beer at the Midway Pub she walked by and I was amazed that a comedian with material on Netflix was just hanging around. Then it got even more interesting. She did a closing-night set at the small tent with a couple dozen in the audience at most. Although she didn’t seem as present and natural as she was in her element on a headlining style stage, she was still ridiculously funny, with punchy material that showcased her skill in writing, timing, and using her voice to guide the audience to laughter. In her defense I think either she had a flight to catch or the host made a mistake, he ran the comedians in top down order, but I’m pretty sure she was supposed to close, not open.
That someone who looks this young has been on stage at Caroline’s, online at Funny Or Die, and is perhaps working on a Comedy Central show is impressive. As is his self-deprecating humor. Another NY based comic, his ability to riff on stage when things go wrong (accidental PA music playing, for example) was funny. Although he joked he was too tall for comedy, his stories about retail, dating and life in New York City without a lot of money earned him big audience laughs.
Did you like Avenue Q, but wish it had been more gay? Even if not, you’ll still probably love Kevin Yee, who is as infectiously happy on stage as his musical performance comedy is ridiculous and over the top gay. Talented, funny and decidedly not safe for work, Kevin Yee was another New York stand out at Red Clay. He would like everyone to please watch his show on Hulu, by the way. Thank you for the advice Kevin on family planning, but I think I’ll pass anyways.
Chris is from Queens and he won’t like me saying this, but if you’ve ever peed your pants listening to a comedian who after many Atlanta craft beers looks and sounds like Mark Wahlberg, you have found him. His material about his parents and living with roommates in NYC was gold. Even better was how I watched him handle some rude, loud audience members. Like a true pro he finished his bit for the rest of the crowd, before politely and then hilariously, forcefully putting them into their place. Let’s just say they were quiet after he was done with them, and the crowd was dribbling even more beer onto the tent floor. It’s pretty easy to find video of Chris online, check out his stuff at Laugh Factory.
From Denver! By way of Kansas. Allison hosts the most popular open mic in Denver if you judge by number of comics who sign up every week. Seriously, no joke, I’m still waiting to be called up from last week. I’ve seen her perform around Denver and it was great to see her in Atlanta. Her material is personal and often dark, but my favorite was when she made a hilarious comparison between shopping for produce and a common experience for the American woman. Even though I’m not one, I laughed and it felt relatable all the same.
He lives in Los Angeles but is quick to point out he’s there for reasons other than he got too big for his old scene. His marriage to his high school sweet heart leads to most of his material though he does have a crazy story about an animal that is super old.
Got to catch Tom twice during the festival, he lives in NYC and has funny observations about life there including rent and roommates and his disdain for long distance running. He was once a lawyer.
Compiling this list I am struck by how NYC must be run over with web designers. Every NYC comic has a slick website. Even some of Denver’s funniest like Nathan, don’t have a dedicated website. But looks like he rules on Twitter. Nathan runs a great open mic in a Denver dive bar with short sets. Nathan was outstanding in front of a weird crowd on the big stage at The Earl, one night of the festival. His jokes about alternative transportation and drug taking animals hit with me, but drew a tepid crowd response, which I thought was unfortunate. The comics sure liked him, I kept seeing him hanging with other comics including Ron Funches right after his headlining set. In my half-assed internet research it appears that within a week of his Atlanta performances Nathan will have done shows in both Greeley and Denver, CO, so he is out there, go check him out live. He is a big teddy bear wrecking machine of fun and laughs.
Hilarious. Great energy and crowd work to launch a great set about the real estate industry (kind of), ice cream, and his time in Washington DC. His date story that he did in a longer set at The Argosy killed. Another very tall comedian who is now based in NYC, where apparently those types just grow on, very tall, trees. Also, an observation, Ryan is billed almost dead last on the festival poster, which means either he improved A LOT since his submission, he sandbagged, or somebody made a mistake. This guy is going places. Like an urban beach. [Edit: I noticed the bottom half of the bill is alphabetical by first name, so never mind]
Man, I hope I spelled that right. Maria breaks the rule that all NYC comics have websites, but she’s on the Twitter. And she’s funny. A southern girl (Alabama) who is now in NYC, she weaves absurdists proclamations with stories about her Mom, her definitely not villainous boyfriend, and other family members like an in-law and grand paw. Felt lucky to have caught her act in the small tent and The Argosy.
Another Denver comic, and he’d be the first to tell you, the most awkward of the four performing at Red Clay. But in a funny way! Jeff can do an impression as well as tell a structured joke, or have the audience dying over a one liner that’s always in a hurry to kill. I hear he did the rounds at Atlanta comedy clubs before and after the festival, and hopes to tour the South in the future.
If Jeff Koehn is awkward, Cristine Ferrera is a new level of comedic uncomfortable. With absurdist takes on dating, starbucks drinks, and ice cream. She has a great website with a lot to check out, so click on her name.
Our first headliner and a nostalgic one, she was one of the first stand up comedians I ever saw live more than 20 years ago. I haven’t seen her live since although she’s been in movies and on TV a lot. Similar but more chaotic energy this time and she replaced her notebook with what appeared to be a ziploc bag of newspaper clippings. Her high energy spirit was evident while she roamed the aisles of festival goers mid-set. Good to see you again Janeane. I like that she doesn’t need a website, when I saw her first websites did not exist, but she’s famous enough to have a top Google ranked Wikipedia page.
It took me a while to figure out where I knew Ron’s voice from, but at least I was laughing the whole time. He’s Cooper in Trolls! There it is. Ron was great, partaking on stage between stories, and making the audience roll with laughter. He claimed to still be working on a bit about his Mom and a famous person, but it seemed pretty well polished to me, I just about lost it. Once you get super rich Ron and put that plan in action, don’t forget about Red Clay and our good times. Ron has the best adult child laugh I’ve heard in a long time, check him out and you’ll see what I mean.
An Atlanta comic who would excel at the Denver institution “the wrongest joke”, Bob weaves dark, gross stories with foul twists and laughs that shock and amuse. I’m sure he’d be funny but you probably don’t want to sit near him on airplane.
Another Denver comic, a regular at Comedy Works south (and downtown I presume, but I’m not sure how he fits on stage) Geoff stood tall and slung jokes at The Argosy and smoky 529 bar. Don’t ask him about his name unless you want to laugh but do ask him about his engagement, hilarious. I hear that Geoff made the art on the festival t-shirt. He is as talented a graphic designer as he is a comic, based on show posters I see around the Denver comedy scene.
Trey is an Atlanta based comic but I could have mistook him for a New York comic, his stuff was so polished and well constructed. Whether he was getting laughs with back humor, or perhaps the world’s most boring job, he had the audience in stitches both times I saw him.
Less than a year since late night with Seth Meyers, Kenny from Brooklyn via Missouri slayed as the feature comic before the Mike Cooley concert. What impressed me the most was his closing bit which was heartfelt, personal and rife with … tragedy. Yes, it was funny, but it educated too. I’ve heard it said that set up, punchline humor is dying in favor of Nanette style comedy. I feel this is an over reaction, but hearing a kind of similar story told in person, when you can look the storyteller in the eye, I better understand the appeal. The future may look less smiley in comedy rooms if this comes to pass. But it won’t be void of value, Kenny taught me that a brilliantly timed trage-story can provoke laughter and simultaneous deep introspection. Thanks for sharing that story Kenny.
That’s it. My next comedy trip is to NYC. Get ready big apple.
I have a contact form on my website, if you are in this story, were at the festival, and have something to add, or whatever, please reach out.