AltCom, the Alternative Comedy Festival, begins tomorrow, with two shows this weekend at the Somerville Theatre just outside of Boston. Earlier this week, I exchanged notes with headliner Emo Philips about the fest. Now it’s time to check in with the festival’s founder/organizer, Brian Joyce, to find out what this is all about, exactly.
I saw Joyce last weekend at The Comedy Studio in Cambridge, but our informal chat and the environment (Celtics and Red Sox games on the tube competing with dancers and drinkers for our attention) proved unconducive for typing on a computer. An online Q&A worked much better. And here it is! Actually, before we begin, know that Brian Joyce also performs as a stand-up, has worked over in Ireland where they like his heritage, and has worked here in the States (I saw him open for Doug Stanhope two years ago). OK. Ready? Continue reading…
1) You said Davis Square is really the only place you could imagine holding your festival? Why is that?
I was looking for a small, centralized area where no event like this had existed before. An area with lots of energy, good bars and cafes, a tight-knit community of locals, and most importantly, several venues that are suitable for stand-up comedy. It’s these things that lend the "festival" atmosphere to the event. Davis Square is perfect because it has all these qualities.
2) When you say "alternative comedy festival," do you mean that this is a festival for alternative comedy, or that this is an alternative to regular comedy festivals? It can be read different ways, don’t you think?
I think it can be interpreted both ways. It’s a festival for alternative comedy, that is an alternative to the bigger comedy festivals in North America. My goal was not to create another comedy festival; there are plently of those already. I had a specific idea for a specific location, with specific comedians in mind. I modeled it after the European arts festivals, which have a much different vibe from American comedy festivals. AltCom is not so much about scoring a sitcom deal as it is about having fun and seeing really good stand-up comedy!
3) Since the first year is simply two shows over two nights, what makes this a festival, per se? Or does the fest name imply hopes you have to grow this out next year and in years to come?
I hope to grow it out in years to come, hence the "Festival" name. I always believe it’s best to start small, so I decided not to over-reach this first year. Just keep it simple with two shows over two nights, and if the response is good enough, hopefully I can build it out into several shows over several nights in the coming years.
4) You mentioned making AltCom a comedy destination along the lines of SFSketchfest. Can you elaborate on that?
Well I think the Sketchfest is a good example of something that started small and quickly developed into a destination event with international appeal. The Kilkenny festival in Ireland is another great example. Comedians and audience alike come from all over the world for that one. That is what I hope to do with AltCom – start small by offering a strong lineup over two nights, and let it develop from there. We’ve got national headliners, international headliners, and up-and-comers. There’s something for everyone. I think our audience will appreciate it; they will know they are seeing something new and different. Hopefully, soon enough people will be talking about us all over the world.
5) There has been more than a bit of discussion within the comedy community over the years about the term "alternative comedy" with some preferring to call it "indie" (making a comparison to "indie rock" vs. "rock music") while others hold steadfast to the argument that the term "alternative" isn’t about the comedy itself but about breaking out of mainstream comedy clubs and two-drink minimums. Where do you stand on that? And did that play a role in how you decided to produce this first AltCom?
To me, the term "alternative comedy" involves breaking out of the mainstream clubs and shattering pre-conceived notions about stand-up comedy – the two-drink minimums and Viagra jokes, etc. With AltCom, we have comedians like Patton and Eugene who developed their acts in non-traditional comedy venues, opening for bands and playing rock clubs and coffee houses. We have a comedian from Australia who was once attacked on stage and had to finish his set bleeding from the head! We have a British comedian who performs half naked and sings songs about Gene Hackman. Say what you want, but these guys are definitely an "alternative" to what you normally see in American comedy clubs. That is the formula I followed in booking this festival; it’s got nothing to do with how you look or how you dress, or even your style of comedy. Jim Jeffries and Todd Barry have two completely different styles on stage; what they have in common is this bold commitment to originality.
6) How would you compare AltCom to other comedy fests in America?
Well I wouldn’t compare it all, because we haven’t done anything yet! But like I said, my goal was never to create another comedy festival. I wanted to create something unique and different, and I had very specific ideas as to how to accomplish that. For me, it’s all about the area, what kind of venues you use, what kind of comedians you book, where you have the after parties, etc. I think all these things will make AltCom a unique experience for comedians and audience alike.
AltCom takes place May 9-10 at the Somerville Theatre in Somerville, Mass. Boston-based comedians Myq Kaplan and Micah Sherman will open both shows. Friday: Emo Philips, Eugene Mirman, Todd Barry, doktor cocacolamcdonalds. Saturday: Patton Oswalt, Morgan Murphy, Jim Jeffries, The Walsh Brothers. Tickets? Click here for Friday’s show and type in OSWALT for $8 off. Click here if you’re looking for $8 discounts for Saturday and type in OSWALT.