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.
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.
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.