The comedy industry is a unique one, with a fine line separating the performer from the act or a surefire laugh and a polite cough. The upside is that comedians can move easily among genres and formats all while engaging with their fans and other comedians via social media.
It’s easy to stream all these laughs online, but only a comedy festival can bring it all together in close quarters for a more personal experience.
This year’s Hell Yes Fest, the largest comedy festival on the Gulf Coast, is expanding to 11 days of stand-up, sketch, improv, film and all kinds of weirdness in between starting Thursday.
Nikki Glaser, who is featured regularly in sketches on Comedy Central’s “Inside Amy Schumer” and had a part in Schumer’s breakout summer feature film “Trainwreck,” will headline a night at the Freret Street Publiq House. Veteran comedian Todd Barry, familiar from appearances in Louis C.K.’s sitcom “Louie,” will return to the festival this year. Barry is continuing his “Crowd Work Tour,” parts of which were already filmed in New Orleans and included in his most recent comedy special/documentary.
Tim Heidecker, who has embodied and influenced the fringe comedy style of Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programming block for over a decade as part of the writing, animation and directing team Tim & Eric will appear in his own one-man show.
Stand-up shows are only one element of the festival, and on each night, audiences will have a wide assortment of other types of shows to choose from. The same strides that the local New Orleans comedy scene has been making in terms of growth, evolution and refinement are being made in other cities, and this year, organizers at The New Movement, which produces the festival, called for submissions from around the country in order to extend the range of acts beyond their already wide network.
“We realized that even though we tour a lot and play festivals all over the place, there’s still so many comedians and show formats that we haven’t found on our own,” said Brock Laborde, co-founder and general manager of The New Movement.
“So we figured, why not make a way for them to come to us? So many people were just thrilled. It was like there was a door opening for people that had just always been closed.”
Almost every show during the festival will pair local performers or groups with out-of-town acts. For instance, New Orleans’ C.J. Hunt, familiar to many from the “Sunken City” Web series, will do a one-man sketch show on the same bill as hyperactive ensemble O.S.F.U.G., who call New York City’s Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater home. Visiting performers will also appear at many of the regular shows that occur in New Orleans monthly like Close Me Out, a live storytelling event hosted by comedian and podcaster Andrew Healan, and KARATEFIGHT, a stand-up and filmed sketch showcase presented by Massive Fraud.
In fact, filmed sketches and other short comedic videos will be scattered throughout many shows under the Hell Yes Film Festival umbrella. Rather than collect them all into a separate arm of the festival, the organizers have scheduled one to three shorts to screen as bonuses on many other shows.
Aiding Hell Yes Fest’s growth is a new partnership with event management firm HUKA Entertainment, the same company that organizes large festivals like the Hangout Music Festival in Gulf Shores, Alabama, and the BUKU Music & Art Project here in the spring.
“They bring a whole other team of people and knowledge and resources for producing a festival,” Laborde said, “so they’ve taught us a lot.”
The staff of the festival has at least doubled to support all the additional shows, but with the venues concentrated along St. Claude Avenue, planning a night of comedy should still be easy for curious or casual attendees.
“We want to keep most of the festival on St. Claude because we believe in this neighborhood and we like that there’s a lot of venues all in one place,” Laborde said.