The Charleston Comedy Festival is upon us 

What's so Funny?

The 2008 Charleston Comedy Festival
Jan. 16-19
Various venues
$3-$17.50
(843) 853-6687

www.charlestoncomedyfestival.com

Could downtown spill over with wild laughter next week? Will artsy-minded insiders and curious newcomers congregate in the same halls for a collective chuckle?

It's likely. There's a ton of funny business planned for a half-dozen venues along King and Meeting streets.

So get ready to guffaw.

Organized by Theatre 99 and Charleston City Paper, the fifth annual Charleston Comedy Festival features a rich variety of comedic performers from all over the U.S. From solo stand-up to elaborate ensemble improvisation and sketch work, there's plenty on the bill this year. Locals don't seem to know that such sophisticated comedic talent is thriving right under their noses.

"This festival grows every year," says co-organizer Brandy Sullivan, the leading lady of Theatre 99. "There's always room to grow and always an audience out there, but there are thousands who don't know that we're here [laughs]."

"Five years is a milestone," adds co-organizer Greg Tavares, also of Theatre 99. "Every year, we're getting more people from farther away. They're from relationships we've developed over the years. They know us by name now."

This year, 21 acts are scheduled for performances at Theatre 99, the American Theater, the Charleston Ballet Theatre, Tonik Nightclub, and the newly-renovated Music Farm. The organizers' persistent networking over the years obviously paid off. From their connections, they're featuring some of the more adventurous performers on the circuit — acts specializing in aggressively unique, non-formulaic comedy.

"We pick most of the acts," Tavares says. "But people have to buy into our idea and want to be a part of it. All the comedy groups we deal with have deep benches. We're getting more interesting shows."

The New York City-based sketch group Harvard Sailing Team are a nine-member group of improvisors "dedicated to clean-cut humor of Ivy League standards." Also from N.Y.C. are The Josh & Tamra Show, which is "puppet improv comedy" starring Josh Cohen, Tamra Malaga, and a "cast of amazing puppets" who kick off each performance with a one-word suggestion.

Glennis McMurray and Eliza Skinner comprise the N.Y.C.-based I Eat Pandas who create three "spontaneous, sparkly musicals in under an hour." Improv/sketch group Hot Sauce gig regularly at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York. The Apple Sisters Variety Show is a twisted knock-off of the Andrews Sisters.

Returning from Atlanta are the folks from Dad's Garage Theater, who present Murder, She Improvised — a "completely made-up-on-the-spot whodunit" set in the SunnyArse Hotel on the shores of Britain.

Other featured acts include The Washington Improv Theater's Caveat and Season Six; the DCUP's The Simons and Comedy Royale (all from D.C.); The Magnet Theater's improv groups Hello Laser and Skosh (from N.Y.C.); and The Pushers (sketch comedy from Richmond).

"Over the years, we've had a lot of performers from New York and Chicago," Sullivan says. "The Magnet and the Upright Citizens Brigade are the main improv theaters in New York. The U.C.B. group isn't coming this year, but several groups who've worked with them are coming. What's cool about the festival is that it's not just a bunch of improvisors watching the shows. It's the general public coming out."

The Comedy Festival presents the first audience-judged Charleston Stand-Up Competition on Jan. 16. Hosted by celebrated smart-ass Kenny "Kenny Z" Zimlinghaus, the rapid-fire showcase will feature up to 20 regional amateur comics. Participants should register via phone or e-mail with Theatre 99 no later than Jan. 14. The loudest response from the crowd will determine the winner.

"We came up with the idea along with the City Paper planners," Tavares says. "We wanted to encourage locals to participate, and what better way to get them to participate than to actually get them to perform on stage? Whoever wants to sign up can do it. We almost have no rules ... except for you only have five minutes to be funny."

Zimlinghaus is best remembered among locals as a wise-crackin' stand-up comedian and radio morning show host. He returns from New York City for gigs at the Music Farm and Tonik on Jan. 18-19.

"We started this comedy festival as a sketch, improv, and variety act kind of thing, and now we're starting to get back into stand-up," Tavares says. "We started with alternative comedy as our mainstream. Now, we're adding stand-up. We're featuring that as our alternative. That's the growth of this festival."

Locally-produced acts include Timmy Finch and John Brennan's Big Dicktionary, Moral Fixation, Doppelganger, Neckprov, the sexy Banana Monologues, and Maximum Brain Squad's A Day That Will Live in Industry. The grand finale on Jan. 19 at Theatre 99 will be a crowded, energetic, on-stage sampler and comedic collaboration of all the main acts.

For the full schedule and more information on the festival, visit www.charlestoncomedyfestival.com, or call (843) 853-6687.


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