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Orlando Indie Comedy Festival: Third Time’s Still a Charm

Three years ago, the first Orlando Indie Comedy Festival was announced; I was at least as skeptical as I was excited. I watched the comedy scene grow over the last three years I was part of it. Performers multiplied like Gremlins. Open mics sprang up at whatever hookah-bar-possibly-drug-front would have us. And the comedy was only getting funnier. 

I lived in Orlando for eleven years, was heavily involved with the music scene, and I knew how difficult it could be to generate interest in artistic events and endeavors. Fickle and fluctuating crowds left independently produced comedy shows look turned inside out, for their emptiness. 

I wasn’t sure if Orlando needed, or even wanted, a full-on comedy festival.

But that didn’t matter. It was going to happen.

After a heartfelt personal pitch for Maria Bamford to headline (she sweetly declined with a very charming video), organizers secured popular punk rock/everyman headliner, Kyle Kinane, and comics from all across the country descended on Orlando for a long weekend at a festival that was, quite frankly, trial by fire.

The shows were packed. In some cases, people were turned away from smaller venues Bull & Bush and Spacebar for fear of violating fire code. Local comics housed their visiting peers to help keep travel costs low.

Maybe it was a fluke. Maybe people only came out because they were itching for something new.

But year two yielded the same results. Eddie Pepitone and Sean Patton co-headlined. First timers, returning comics, and specialty show: Late Late Breakfast (Chicago) lit up stages in the Milk and Mills 50 Districts. Lightning strikes twice.

Due to very unfortunate circumstances, the tragic passing of festival co-founder, Orlando comedian Matt Gersting, the 2016 festival wouldn’t happen until January 2017. But the passion and momentum sustained from the first two years. OICF 3 proved to be a much-needed release for many, due to the unprecedented darkness of the year; in fact, it was a smashing success. 

It provided Orlando audiences with four days of non-stop laughs, comics the opportunity to grow their fanbase, and everyone the chance to come together, meet new people, and possibly make lifelong friends. OICF  donates proceeds to mental health organizations, and raised over $10,000 in its first three years.

I caught up with several out-of-state comics to see what drew them Orlando, what moments stood out, and the appeal of comedy festivals as a whole.

Photo Credit: Jon Yehling

Mary-Devon Dupuy (New Orleans, LA) :
I had heard good things about the festival from friends from New Orleans as well as Chicago. I’m only two years into doing comedy, so this was my first festival outside of my hometown. Late Late Breakfast is an amazing show. Ian Aber (Atlanta) eating cookies off a paper towel conveyor belt had me in tears. Orlando had a really incredible group. I laughed until I cried a few times. It was challenging for me, and that’s a good thing.

Rachel Weeks (Denver, CO):
The fest was full of awesome moments. I’m always delighted to see Jackie Kashian (Los Angeles) live. She’s one of those performers that makes you feel her stories in your gut. And Late Late Breakfast is a wild and crazy joy that prioritizes silliness, which I love. We Still Like You is my favorite show in the country right now and adds a nice mix of funny and real. But my favorite moments were just catching up with comics I haven’t seen in awhile and meeting new people who all love to do comedy. Comedy festivals are like summer camp for comics. They recharge your batteries, remind you why you love comedy and encourage you to get back out there and do it.


Photo Credit: Jon Yehling

Scott Eason (Huntsville, AL) :
I had several friends that had done the festival previously and sung its praises so I was excited to see for myself. Late Late Breakfast is always an awesome show. Watching Ethan Simmons-Patterson (Brooklyn) eat a sardine off of Dave Losso’s (Chicago) chest will forever be burned into my mind. Festivals are an opportunity to meet people from all over the country and see their comedy and have them see yours. You can make valuable connections as well as friends that can last a lifetime.

Aaron Naylor (Kansas City, MO) :
The most appealing aspect of doing a festival in Orlando was seeing all of the awesome people that I met from the 2015 OICF. Also, the weather. My three favorite moments in no particular order would be a beautifully drunk Sean Finnerty (Irish comic from Orlando, now in New York) asking the Barley & Vine crowd to stand for the Irish National Anthem and then singing “Zombie” by The Cranberries. The whole crowd joined in and it was beautiful. Another moment was when Danny Maupin (Chicago) played “Kokomo” by The Beach Boys at Whiskey Lou’s and then led a 50-person conga line. The last one would have to be a collective of all the goofs and yuks we had in the Travelodge. So many funny and amazing people coming together and having fun was the best.

The good times of the Orlando Indie Comedy Festival are not confined to the shows and stages. The streets of the Milk District and Mills 50 come alive with dozens of comics, some old friends, some meeting for the first time, who can’t help but keep the party going. It’s like an encore for bystanders.

If you’re not careful, that energy can be contagious, and you might find yourself lost in a moment where everything feels like it could be okay.

They say laughter is the best medicine because it is. It’s ours, and because it’s unregulated, it’s allowed to work wonders. 


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.


Photo Credit: Jon Yehling.

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.”


Photo Credit: Jon Yehling

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.


Family-Friendly Activities to Celebrate Friday the 13th

Step over cracks, don’t walk under any ladders, and heaven forbid if you break a mirror. Doing these activities anytime is cause for some people to scramble back to their bedroom, lock their door, and cower under the covers. These superstitious folks would be even more dismayed if this happened today, Friday the 13th. This day has always been a cause of anxiety and fear, but it took on another life with the debut of the motion picture horror franchise by the same name in 1980. Eleven sequels followed, giving some an extreme fear of the occasion.

There are ways to celebrate the fear and terror that come with the holiday, such as taking ghost tours. Voted one of the top 10 ghost tours by TripAdvisor, American Ghost Adventures takes you on a spine-tingling tour of historic downtown Orlando. They will describe the tragic events that have befallen our ancestors to make their spirits restlessly roam the area. Haunts don’t confine themselves just to Orlando. Central Florida has plenty of areas that are known for their unexplained phenomenon. Tour the ghostly streets of St. Cloud, Kissimmee, and Palm Bay for proof of this.

For others, Friday the 13th is just another day. There’s plenty of family-friendly activities that will make you forget the “13th” part of today’s calendar, and focus on the “fun” Friday aspect. To still maintain a little bit of mystical elements, head to Christner’s Prime Steak & Lobster for some delicious food and amazing magic. It’s a full evening of fun, food, and thrills equipped for all ages. There’s nothing that takes away the fear for a child more than a good intimate object. IKEA Orlando celebrates National Rubber Ducky Day from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. with crafts, photos with the largest ducky you’ve ever seen, and fishing for ducks. For the older kids, head to the Orlando Science Center for the start of the technology showcase, Otronicon. This is an annual way for kids of Orlando to be reminded just how cool science can be.


Exploring Orlando’s Low-Cost Medical Options

Today is National Pharmacist Day which honors the professional who is often the final member of the devoted medical team that’s attempting to get you healthy. It’s fitting that they’re part of the medical community because health care is something that’s on nearly everyone’s minds these days. Insurance plans are constantly on the rise, politically arguing in Washington puts coverage for millions in question, and prices of medical services and prescriptions are higher than ever. Worrying about health care does not help you if you’re already ailing, but there are inexpensive options out there, especially here in the Orlando area.

Grace Medical Home is a medical facility that puts patients above profits. This is often a buzzword-laden phrase that’s used to curry favor in the healthcare industry, but this Orlando-based medical home means it. Since obtaining its 501(c)(3) status in 2008, they’ve opened their doors to countless patients, families, and children within the community who are most in-need of affordable medical treatment. One of the tenements of their belief is practicing medicine in God’s image, and turning away no patient that can be helped because of their economic background. They accept donations and have volunteering opportunities.

One of the problems of our current healthcare system is that people without insurance go to the emergency room for issues that could more appropriately be diagnosed and treated by a family doctor. This clogs up ERs and reduces the amount of time that can be spent on the patients that are in most need of attention. With 30 locations in Central Florida, and growing, Centra Care offers an alternative to ER visits with affordable medical care services. You can have non-life threatening issues addressed including broken bones, infections, stomach issues, and more. Once you’ve received a prescription to begin to mend, you could be in for sticker shock. Many pharmaceuticals are priced exceptionally high, even for those that carry insurance. Some Central Floridians may not be aware, but Publix offers an extensive list of free prescriptions ranging from blood pressure medicine to 14-day antibiotics. No one should go into debt because they want to feel better. Using these resources can help to avoid this no-win situation.


Orlando’s Third Annual Indie Comedy Fest Is This Month!


If laughter is the best medicine, the Orlando Indie Comedy Festival, a four-day, multi-venue event spanning Orlando’s hippest districts, could serve as intensive therapy.

Now in its third year, the locally cultivated festival brings dozens of nationally touring stand-up comics and specialty shows from all over the country to The City Beautiful, shines a light on the vibrant comedy scene happening right in its own backyard, and donates all of the proceeds to mental health advocacy programs.

In previous years, heavy-hitter headliners K yle Kinane, Eddie Pepitone and Sean Patton anchored the long, often sleepless, often sober-less weekend that, at its core, has one simple goal in mind: show people a good time while supporting a great cause.

All Photos Credit to: Jon Yehling. Featuring: Eddie Pepitone playing a game with Dave Losso.

“ It’s something that Orlando has never had on the scale of what we’ve been able to accomplish,” explains festival co-founder, Doug McPherson. “From the first meeting we had when the festival was nothing more than a cool idea, we talked about donating the proceeds to a charity. Mental health charities made the most sense to us because it’s something everyone is affected by either directly or indirectly.”

Festival organizers also manage to keep ticket prices reasonable. $40 gets you access to every show at every venue for all four days, including headliner shows, this year featuring M ark Normand (Comedy Central, Conan), J ackie Kashi an (L ad y Dynamite, Maron), and festival repeat performer, Trae Crowder (Liberal Redneck).

“One of my favorite things about being involved with this festival is getting to watch the evolution in the careers of all the comics,” says McPherson. “A great example is Tennessee comic, Trae Crowder, who got himself down here the first two years and now, due to his hard work and success with the Liberal Redneck videos, we were able to offer him one of the headlining slots.”

All Photos Credit to: Jon Yehling. Featuring: Alex Luchun hilariously vaping.

Fox recently purchased the Liberal Redneck concept for a half-hour comedy starring Crowder, co-written by Party Down co-creator, John Enbom.

And that’s perhaps the most exciting aspect of the Orlando Indie Comedy Fest. Most of the shows take place in small, intimate spaces, ideal for stand-up comedy, so there’s the very real possibility you could see a star of tomorrow in a bar not much bigger than a living room.

For tickets, lineup and venue information, visit orlandoindiecomedy.com.


When Everything Else Is Closed, Orlando Leaves the Lights On

The gifts have all been opened, you’ve stuffed yourself on some of the finest food you’ve had all year, and your mandated two to three holiday snoozes have been exercised. Now what? For many families, staying at home and being together is their timeless Christmas tradition. So, nothing more is needed. Still, for others who want to leave home to make indelible holiday memories together, going out is a must. In many places in the US, this can be a problem as most establishments shut their doors on Christmas Day. Since we live in one of the most iconic tourist spots in the world here in Orlando, you have plenty of options should you choose to venture out.

If you have no culinary skills whatsoever, and would be relegated to hot dogs and potato chips for your holiday meal if you couldn’t find an open establishment, many of Orlando’s finest restaurants open their doors to Christmas Day revelers. Don’t think of this as the final scene from “A Christmas Story,” these are truly some of the best dining options in Central Florida. If you’re feeling like giving your Christmas dinner an Italian feel, come out to Christini’s Ristorante Italiano. Located near International Drive and Sand Lake Road, this would be the perfect final stop if you’re headed to Universal or Sea World for the day. If your destination is a Disney park, think about visiting Celebration. Not only can you be part of their nightly snowfall, you can enjoy some fine, Spanish and Cuban cuisine at Columbia Restaurant.

If you eat dinner early and want to find an evening activity, think about heading up I-95 to witness the majesty of St. Augustine’s famous Night of Lights. It’s hard to find a more incredible light display, something that was agreed upon by National Geographic, who named this holiday display one of the 10 best in the world. For some family-appropriate fun and games, head to The Firkin and Kegler Entertainment Center. With arcade games, billiards, simulated golf, and more, there’s something for everyone there. This is just a snapshot of all that Orlando has to offer. If you’re venturing out today, enjoy. Have a very Merry Christmas and a tremendously Happy Holidays!


Hair It Is, Your Last Chance for a Great Hair Day On Christmas

Today is Christmas Eve, but it’s not too late to get a new hairstyle, an enhancement to your current look, or a clean shave. Several area barbershops and salons are open today, and will be open into next week to get you the look you crave for the start of 2017. For the ladies, Passion Hair Design, along East Colonial in Orlando, has experienced hair stylists devoted to your every need. Whether you’re seeking hair extensions, straightening, or any other hair-related service, they’ll be there for you. Open today until 2:00 p.m., Winter Park Village Salon not only provides you with hair styling from one of 22 stylists, ensuring minimal waiting time, they can also give you pedicures and manicures.

Located in College Park, Firefly Salon specializes in Wella Hair Color and professional makeup. This will allow you to look like a new person at your next holiday party. Located on Edgewater Drive, Alchemy Hair Salon takes the whole salon experience and makes it suitable for the whole family. Since everyone needs hair styling, this establishment offers cuts, styling, and color, allowing you to skip the multiple hair-related stops for mom, dad, and kids. Speaking of kids, to get them looking their holiday best for pictures that will last a lifetime, head to Glamour Kids Braids. Located along International Drive, they can create braids for ages three and up.

Family hair adventures are great, but sometimes a guy just needs the comfort of the traditional red, white, and blue barber pole. There are countless excellent barber options in Orlando, including J Henry’s Barber Shop. This place is known throughout Central Florida for creating some of the best fades around, and is accessible from its spacious parking lot that includes plenty of room for the bike traffic that’s common in the area. If you’re looking for the works including a haircut, facial hair trim, and old-fashioned shave with the use of a straight razor, head to Liberty Barbershop. Located in The Milk District, if you want your beard cut to fine precision and detail, this is the place for you.


Celebrate Christmas Eve Eve With Family Fun

T’was the night before the night before Christmas, when all through the house, the family was incredibly bored. With most area kids off school for the entire week leading up to Christmas, there might be some cabin fever setting in. If you aren’t preparing for holiday dinners, wrapping gifts, or (gasp) still shopping, what’s there to do for family fun on the day before Christmas Eve, also known as Christmas Eve Eve/Festivus?

Hosted by No steeples, an organization that reminds everyone that church is more than just a building, families can enjoy a celebration of winter (by Orlando standards) at the 8th Annual “I CAN’T WAIT 4 CHRISTMAS EVE” event. Families will gather to sing Christmas carols and savor hot cocoa while learning about the true meaning of the season. You’ll also discover ways of bringing joy into your home during the holidays. This event, which runs from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., is sure to make every grinch’s heart grow three sizes and help every Scrooge embrace the day.

Over at Winter Park High School, Journey Church offers an evening celebration tonight from 7:30 to 9:00 p.m. The featured entertainment of the evening is the telling of the untold true story known as “The Night AFTER Christmas.” This represents the first Christmas event for one of the newest churches in the Orlando area. Journey Church was founded this past September, and invites you and your family to join and help to forge the future of the new organization. In addition to the show, there will be cookies and milk (if Santa doesn’t get to them first), interactive coloring books for kids, and lots of laughter. So, enjoy some pre-Christmas family fun and, of course, Happy Festivus…for the rest of us.


Shop, Craft & Pop: Orlando’s Growing Pop-Up Phenomenon

Living in the internet age certainly has its pros and cons. On one hand, you can create just about any product, offer any service, highlight your culinary cuisine, and sell any other number of items that appeal to online shoppers. E-Commerce is popular these days because merchants can save money on the overhead costs of maintaining a storefront. This can be passed on to the customers through lower prices which can increase business, and (hopefully) increase revenue. Still, it can be tough to reach new customers by being an online-only business. For these companies, there’s now an emerging trend for new customers to experience products or services in-person.

This growing trend, known as pop-up shops, has become a phenomenon throughout Orlando recently. So much so that the Orlando Sentinel highlighted the practice in October. Usually how it works is a brick and mortar business will host the pop-up event at their location. Not only does this help the online business, it also brings in some new foot traffic for the hosting business that they may not have experienced without the pop-up setting up shop for a few hours, days, or months. If you’re an online-only business looking for ways to get a pop-up started in the Orlando area, there are plenty of resources on the internet to help.

There’s a lot of exciting pop-ups on the horizon within the community. On December 29, Winter Park’s Studio 18 will be hosting Divinci Glen Valenci Jr. For just $10, the man who’s worked with Grammy Award-winning Lauryn Hill can give you pointers on how to get your musical talents noticed. Ring in 2017 in style at W XYZ, Aloft Orlando Downtown’s bar. This New Years’ Eve party, hosted by Whats2Hot.com, brings together music, craft cocktails, and a pop-up art gallery. On January 7, Samba Brazilian Steakhouse welcomes nationally-known comedians to treat you to a night of laughs, Brazilian drinks, and tasty appetizers. Eventbrite can keep you abreast of all the latest must-see pop-ups throughout Central Florida in 2017 and beyond.


Orlando Gives Back This Holiday Season

Today is the first day of winter, and while we don’t often feel a prolonged cold snap here in Central Florida, it’s important to remember the people that have no roof or warmth throughout the nation. Fittingly, as the first day of winter coincides with the final weeks of the holiday season, it’s also National Homeless Persons’ Remembrance Day today. It’s important to remember the homeless, those less fortunate in our society, and other important causes during this time. If you’re looking to give back in the final weeks of 2016, there’s plenty of ways to do so.

1. Coalition For The Homeless of Central Florida

This organization helps serve around 600 needy Central Floridians through food, shelter, support, education, and more.

2. Orlando Union Rescue Mission

As this mission is not a part of the United Way, or another, larger organization, they are not subject to government funding. This means anything you give stays within the community.

3. Homeless Shelter Directory

Temperatures do reach dangerous levels a few times during the Orlando winter, and that’s when shelters spring into action. This directory can help to send homeless people to places where they will be warm, well-fed, and safe during the cold spell. Many of these shelters also offer volunteering opportunities.

4. Give Kids the World

In the shadow of the Orlando attractions, this charity provides a 79-acre storybook resort for children with life-threatening injuries. The kids and their families will be treated to week-long vacations at no cost. Donations and volunteering are welcome.

5. Toys for Tots

Although Christmas is right around the corner, it’s not too late to give to Toys for Tots. With collection bins all around Central Florida, it’s extremely easy to help to give underprivileged children a Merry Christmas.

6. Orlando Food Pantries

Many families have way more food than they need at their holiday celebrations. This holiday season, consider those that have very little during every meal throughout the year. This website lets you know where to find your closest food pantry.

7. Elder Companionship

Central Florida is home to many seniors that have relocated here from other parts of the country, leaving behind family and friends who can’t make it here for every holiday. You can provide senior companionship in The Villages community, and beyond.

8. Stand With Standing Rock

Many have been moved to action by attempting to stop the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline directly in the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. If you’d like to help, several Orlando area organizations are collecting money to donate to the cause.

9. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

For over 50 years, this facility has been on the cutting-edge of research to find causes and treatments for childhood diseases.

10. Pulse Victims Funds

The scars of the community will likely never heal after the Pulse shooting just over six months ago. Several funds are still gathering donations, including the Equality Fund Institute, Inc. They’re currently a little over $2 million from their $10 million goal.