It's all about bouncing back

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

What Happened to U.S. Comedy Festivals?

Sharing this old post from Dead Frog today because I've been thinking a great deal about the state of comedy festivals in the U.S. and I really thought this analysis was solid. I'll have more to say on this subject myself in coming days (especially on the growing trend of mixing comedy in with music festivals as we saw this year at Bonaroo and Sasquatch, among others), but for now, I'd be curious to know whether you think that the Frog has this one right.

Lifted in its entirety, but with full credit, from this page of Dead Frog:

TBS and Just For Laughs Team for a Chicago “Very Funny Festival”

In the Summer of 2009, Just For Laughs and TBS will pair up for the “Just For Laughs: A Very Funny Festival” which will be held in Chicago. The only top line talent mentioned right now isEllen Degeneres, but there’s also the obvious tie of working together with Second City. No exact dates have been set for the five-day fest as of yet.

A while back I talked about if we need a new festival after the loss of Aspen’s US Comedy Arts Festival. Although I’ve seen some suggest that this is the replacement for that, but from my read the Very Funny Festival seems far more consumer oriented. Also, considering the likely closeness to the industry heavy 2009 Montreal Festival also produced by Just For Laughs, I don’t see this as an Aspen replacement.

TBS will also be taking “The Comedy Festival” off HBO’s hands. With that fest and this new Chicago festival, TBS is making a big play to be Comedy Central’s main competitor. The “very funny” theme has been a part of TBS for a while and with its concentration on sitcoms, to me it marked itself as the less-edgy competitor for Comedy Central. With both fests under TBS, this could be a big play to become a major player in stand-up on TV, something which Comedy Central has had mostly to itself for quite a while.

Comedy Central, of course, wouldn’t let their territory go easily. They have their own fest now, the South Beach Comedy Festival. It’ll be interesting to see if Comedy Central takes on a second fest as well.

When I questioned the need for an Aspen Comedy Festival, I wondered about the point of holding a fest when the web seems to bring comedy talent out of the woodwork. These latest developments have answered my question: comedy festivals are branding opportunities for networks. They’re to say to the public, particularly in TBS case, “Hey, we’re where you can find the funny!” Hence almost all the big USA fests having a more consumer appeal. They’re not deal making events, they’re a synergistic diversification of a business model.

You might wonder if any city besides Chicago was in the running for this new fest. Well, I have a completely circumstantial hunch that New Orleans was considered. Again, totally circumstantial.

But don’t be disappointed for the Big Easy, one of those old-fashioned homegrown fests is currently in the works. The New Orleans Comedy Arts Festival will be taking place on April 3rd to the 5th at the La Nuit Theater. How quaint!

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