Not laughing enough? Pittsburgh Comedy Festival able to fix that
How much comedy in Pittsburgh is too much comedy in Pittsburgh?
Even with a variety of laughs from planned to improvised and refined to rude, the Pittsburgh Comedy Festival might not answer the question. The answer may be that the 'Burgh has an insatiable appetite for comedy.
“I don't think Pittsburgh knows its own appetite for comedy,” says Brian Gray, one of the festival directors and a comedy veteran. “And that's why PCF is here. Once people see that comedy can mean clever laugh-per-minute stand-up, compelling edge-of-your-seat improvised theater, wildly imaginative family-friendly entertainment, and everything in between, there will be no limit to what we can create here.”
The Aug. 27-to-29 festival at Oakland's Henry Heymann Theater is pretty much an all-you-can-laugh buffet, with a belly-busting 18 hours of comedy. The multi-layered marathon features workshops and kids shows, as well as adult comedy.
The performances are fairly evenly split between solo comics calling out polished jokes and improv groups that do off-the-cuff bits. This is reflected by the biggest “names” in the festival, solo comic Todd Glass and group member Aubrey Plaza.
Plaza, who played April on NBC's long-running “Parks and Recreation,” will be featured with her improv group, the all-female Bombardo. She also has had roles in films such as “Funny People” (playing Seth Rogen's love interest) and the low-budget cult favorite “Safety Not Guaranteed.”
Plaza, who has been doing improv for years, mainly with the Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy Theater, “pulled a Kanye” at the 2013 MTV Movie Awards, rushing the stage and trying to wrestle an award from Will Ferrell. Was she pranking the “Anchorman,” or was it all set up? Either way, it shows how far this lady will go for a laugh.
Glass is a 30-year veteran of stand-up who has performed his rugged comedy on every talk show you can imagine. He also hosts his own podcast.
Glass is a native of Philadelphia, but don't heckle him about that. Best advice: Don't heckle him about anything. If you want to know why, Google “Todd Glass goes off on heckler.” (Be warned: It's not safe for work.)
“Pittsburgh's comedy scene has boomed over the past five years,” Gray says. “Pittsburgh has more venues than ever hosting live comedy, with a growing comedy community taking advantage of classes, improv jams and stand-up open mics. Yet, most Pittsburghers are unaware of our live local comedy scene.
“Our goal,” Gray says, “is to expose Pittsburgh to the art of comedy while we expand and engage our community of performers. That means informative workshops, programming for comedians and comedy fans young and old, and best of all, fantastic shows.”
Aaron Kleiber, the stand-up veteran and co-director in charge of comedians, says he is excited about national comics Kristen Lundberg (a classically trained violinist who has been known to break out the fiddle in her act), Alex Falcone, Ahri Findling (“started in Pittsburgh, now in New York”) and Gordan Baker-Bone.
Up-and-coming local comics that Kleiber highly recommends: Andy Picarro, Shannon Norman, John Dick Winters (“amateur contest winner for spot on the fest”) and Mike Wysocki, from Jim Krenn's new radio show.
The Aug. 29 closing show will feature an all-'Burgh cast of comics: Winters, Jeff “Konk Daddy” Konkle and comedian-magician Lee Terbosic.
Producers see the festival as a chance to fuel the growing fire of Pittsburgh comedy.
“PCF aims to shine a spotlight on the art of live comedy in Pittsburgh,” Gray says. “I'd love to see this trend continue: more students, more teams, more performances and more people experiencing how comedy can help them become more confident and more comfortable on- and off-stage.”
Last year, the festival drew around 1,000 people. Gray and his co-producers are hoping to nearly double that total this year. Kleiber warns that the Heymann Theater usually fills up fast, and while tickets will be on sale at the door, the best way not to get shut out of the big laughs is to get seats online.
Tom Scanlon is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.