Cape Fear Comedy Festival
May 18-21 • $8-$45
255 N. Front Street
Side-splitting laughter, courtesy of talented stand-up comedians and improv groups from across the country, will have Wilmington in stitches at the 2011 Cape Fear Comedy Festival. Co-founded by Matt Ward and Timmy Sherrill, the event is a four-day independently run improv, sketch and stand-up soiree, taking place this week.
Ward, who started as a comedian at the Soapbox Laundro Lounge, founded Port City’s Top Comic in 2009. Based on the event’s success, he mentioned a larger festival to Timmy Sherrill.
“I kept in touch with Timmy, and when he opened Nutt Street Comedy Room [in the Soapbox basement], I approached him about the festival idea.”
They wanted to ensure the festival was all-inclusive to the comedians themselves. “A lot of festivals are biased, and you get into them because of who you know,” Sherrill says. “We don’t want to operate that way.” As one of the only comedy festivals in the country run by comedians—not by agencies and club owners—Ward and Sherrill wish to keep the event “underground. Thus, they’ll save money by not bleeding the festival budget on headliners.
The goal of the Cape Fear Comedy Festival is to provide a gathering place for comics to develop their careers and enjoy themselves while taking part in a comedian friendly event. “We are continuing to allow comics who don’t necessarily get into larger festivals have an honest shot at getting into ours,” Sherrill says.
Featuring multiple networking opportunities, there will also be Comedy Promo Workshops conducted by Ward at Port City Java on 21 N. Front Street. Each evening will conclude with a meet-and-greet at Nutt Street Comedy Room, with improv classes, and marketing and promotional forums throughout the event.
Although Ward and Sherrill want the festival to one day be larger and competitive, Sherrill says he wishes to see it “grow slowly and evolve into something special for the comedians and Wilmington.”
Last year about 850 came out to watch comedy over the four-day period. Ward and Sherrill expect to see more laughing faces this year. The top floor of the Soapbox will have headlining acts throughout the festival; the middle floor and downstairs will host a variety of improv, sketch and stand-up comedy.
A change of venue takes place Wednesday night, May 18, for the finale of Port City’s Top Comic, held at City Stage at Level 5 on 21 North Front Street. After weeks of competition, the funniest will be crowned.
Sherrill has selected comedians who show festival-level comedy based on their online submission tapes. Headliners do not submit, rather they are invited to perform. On the bill: Kyle Grooms and Marc Price.
Former “Family Ties” sitcom star Marc Price was invited to the festival because of his impressive sell-out performances at Nutt Street in February. Dubbed by fans as the “Generation X Comic,” Price is known to tackle issues unique to post-baby boomers.
Kyle Grooms also made a lasting impression at Nutt Street and is best known for his stand-up special on Comedy Central. Other notable appearances include on VH-1, NBC’s “Last Comic Standing” and “Chappelle’s Show.”
There are 40 total performers scheduled, a fraction compared to nearly 100 last year. “We found that it didn’t really benefit [the comedians] as much, because it limited their stage time,” Sherrill explains of the cutback. “We are turning our focus to the comics to make sure they enjoy it from a performance stand-point but also give them more stage time to make it worth the drive.”
Individual tickets can be purchased for about $8 per show; however, limited- and all-access day passes are being introduced for the first time this year. A day pass will get audiences into the Soapbox venue between the lounge and basement for two comedy showcases. Also, included will be the bands and after party in the lounge from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m.
The all-access pass is for all four days of comedy showcases—eight in all—and nightly live music.
The festival pass includes four days of comedy showcases, the bands and both headlining shows from Marc Price on May 20 and Kyle Grooms on May 21 at 8 p.m. For tickets, passes and the full schedule of events go www.capefearcomedyfestival.com.