For a mostly music festival, the Essence Festival sure has some great non-musical talent on display.
This year features probably the hottest name in comedy right now, Kevin Hart, as well as comedians Luenell and Nephew Tommy, and holistic medicine guru Deepak Chopra.
The fest runs from Thursday to Sunday at the Morial Convention Center and Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Deciding to give Hart top billing this year was an easy call for Cori Murray, entertainment director at Essence magazine and a member of the festival’s planning committee. His Essence appearance kicks off his biggest tour yet, the “What Now?” Tour.
“Kevin Hart is special in that he is probably the No. 1 comedian right now,” Murray said.
“It almost feels like he’s the only one of this factor that’s out right now. … Kevin Hart is always there. He’s always in the street, he’s always grinding, and on top of that he has his movies so it seems like he’s everywhere,” said Murray.
Murray said the Essence staff worked hard to make Hart feel welcome when he first performed at the fest a few years ago, and she was thrilled to see him return.
“We were very diligent in making him a part of the experience, and he loved it to the point that he came to the office afterwards to just say thank you for making him a part of it. He’s truly become a friend of Essence,” she said.
Essence Fest also features comedians Luenell, Nephew Tommy and Sommore as hosts, introducing musicians and keeping the crowd in stitches. Luenell is no stranger to this particular duty.
“It’s one of the things I enjoy the most,” Luenell said. “I have access to everybody.”
Luenell has appeared in many movies and comedy specials, such as “Hotel Translyvania” and its sequel. She also appears in Hart’s reality TV parody, “Real Husbands of Hollywood.” Like Hart, relationships are frequent targets in her stand-up.
“I would describe my sense of humor as extremely real and relationship-oriented … it’s mostly about relationships, sex, children, college, things I’m going through.
“I’m a storyteller, sort of like a raw Lisa Lampanelli meets Bill Cosby-type chick.”
Laughter may be the best medicine, but it’s not the only one.
In the wake of recent attacks on the black community, the empowerment-focused half of Essence Fest takes on new significance. Festival mainstay Al Sharpton returns, as well as life coach Iyanla Vanzant and, for the first time, spiritual and holistic medicine guru Deepak Chopra.
“This is the first year that (Chopra) has worked out, and it couldn’t have been better timing given the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, given everything that’s going on in the world with the attacks on black people. What he can bring with his teachings on meditation and peace can really be something special,” said Murray.
Luenell, who has performed in New Orleans before but never as a part of Essence Festival, is excited both to be back in the city and to see what the festival is all about.
“I’m looking very much forward to doing it again because I’ve never been there with Essence. … I’m more than excited. My mom used to say I get ‘all excited in my body,’ and I do. I go nuts. But I’m trying to keep a cool exterior.”
Luenell hosts the Superlounge stage throughout the festival. Hart takes the main stage Thursday at 8:45 p.m. More information about the festival can be found at essence.com/festival. More info about Luenell is at heyluenell.com.