Orlando Indie Comedy Festival: The Result and Reflection of Orlando’s Burgeoning Stand-Up Scene
In 2011, Orlando had two regular weekly open mics devoted exclusively to stand-up comedy. Six years later, there’s a mic, showcase, or show every night of the week, promoters bringing national comics to bars of all sizes, and an annual comedy festival, now in its third year.
For whatever reason, stand-up comedy finally exploded in Orlando, FL.
There has long been a stand-up presence in Orlando, between Bonkerz Comedy rooms and The Improv, but there hadn’t been that nightly, exciting, underground aspect of stand-up one associates with larger cities in America. Shows were relegated to the weekends at two-drink minimum clubs cycling through touring headliners while occasionally allowing a handful of rotating locals to host or feature.
Today, the Orlando comedy landscape has evolved into a much larger, more diverse, and far more frequent beast.
In The Improv’s downtown absence, Kyle Raker (Norsekorea Presents) brings bigger, if slightly cultish, acts to Backbooth.
“There’s little I can do to guarantee people will actively seek out upcoming comedy shows,” Raker explains. “ H owever, through the efforts of the local comics, it seems that a greater spotlight is getting shone on shows of all sizes here in town.
We’ve managed to bring some real fun shows here, like Randy and Mr. Lahey of Trailer Park Boys, Eric Andre, and Brian Posehn. I definitely feel like a part of the success of those shows has been built on the efforts of the people who are in the trenches on a weekly basis.”
Smaller bars, like Bull & Bush and Spacebar, launched recurring comedy showcases, and Orlando staple, Will’s Pub, eventually dipped a big toe in the indie comedy pool.
Bull & Bush’s showcases on the first and third Saturdays each month host primarily Central Florida comics, but have attracted comics from around the state, eager to perform for attentive crowds in the cozy neighborhood pub.
Spacebar’s weekly Wednesday showcase, now in its fourth year, provides an opportunity to catch touring nationals. Ben Kronberg (Comedy Central), Sam Morril (Conan), and Zach Sherwin (Epic Rap Battles of History) have all appeared at the stage-less, intimate bar.
Will’s Pub was home to “Shady Brunch,” an early afternoon Sunday showcase where admission included a free Bloody Mary or Mimosa.
The Orlando comedy scene has grown considerably, in that there is actually a scene now.
In fact, it’s been around long enough to experience the most bittersweet of all smaller-big-city scenes: the uprooting of talent to larger pastures.
Comedian Heather Shaw hosts multiple shows and stand-up mics around town.
“When I started, the Orlando comedy scene was a powerhouse of talent,” recalls Shaw. “The scene today is a bit more sparse but, really, it’s due to all of those fantastic comics I started with moving off and ‘moving up,’ if you will. I think these kinds of things are cyclical and we’ll start to soon see more talent from new comics and more growth overall.”
In fact, in less than a decade, many comics who got their start in Orlando, absorbing generous stage time provided by their peers, have taken what they’ve learned to New York, L.A., Chicago, Atlanta, and New Orleans. Some are touring. Some are racking up TV credits. Some are sharing stages with their heroes.
And what they’ll forever have in common is they once called Orlando home.
Check out four days of comics from all over the country at the Orlando Indie Comedy Festival, January 19-22, 2017. www.orlandoindiecomedy.com
**All photos courtesy of Jon Yehling.