If you still have never heard of the Laugh Your Asheville Off Festival, Asheville’s premiere celebration of stand-up comedy, the joke’s on you.
The festival, now in its seventh year, runs from Aug.13 through Aug. 17 at a variety of locations downtown. The event was conceived by producer Charlie Gerencer and producer/stand-up comedian Greg Brown as a way to fill a void in the representation of comedy in the Asheville area, and they’ve played a major role in fostering the city’s scene through the development of the festival.
“I didn’t overanalyze it or anything,” Brown says. “I just kind of assumed that comedy should be here, and we’ve done our best ever since then to make it happen. And now I think there’s stand-up comedy represented seven nights a week in Asheville, so apparently our instincts were correct that it lacked that art form.”
In the festival’s salad days, comedians were drawn mainly from Charlotte, Atlanta, Richmond and Raleigh. Nowadays, the festival attracts comedians from across the country, including many talented performers with whom audiences may be unfamiliar.
“We’ve had some of the biggest names in comedy in the past. But we have the luxury of having an artistic town that appreciates an eclectic show, and so we’ve decided to use it as an opportunity to put on one of the country’s biggest ‘new faces’ events,” Gerencer says. “Bringing in big acts is completely doable, but every other comedy festival in the world does that. We actually expose and promote and sell tickets to new faces of comedy.”
This year also marks the first ever inclusion of the Flick My Clip Film Festival, a touring comedy-shorts festival developed by Ohio comedian Ryan Singer. Flick My Clip showcases comedy shorts submitted by budding humorists and represents a new development in the continual expansion of Laugh Your Asheville Off’s scope.
“Each year we try to add something new to the festival, whether it’s a storyteller session or a magic show and comedy or something. I think this was one of the parts of the puzzle we’d like to have,” Brown says. “Ryan Singer, one of the more talented comics that I’ve come across, will kind of be heading up that. He’s very passionate about short comedy clips, and it’s a new kind of form of media, and I think it’s something special that could really kind of take off.”
Ultimately, what attracts both comedians and audiences to Laugh Your Asheville Off is the festival’s honest appreciation for the craft. The festival is noncompetitive, and instead provides an opportunity for fans to connect with new comics and vice versa.
“Comics are particularly fond of what it is that we do,” Gerencer says. “We get emails every year about how it’s the best week of their year when they come into town because we don’t judge them, and we don’t ask the audience to judge them. We actually produce quality comedy shows with great audiences, so that’s why they love it.”
Jen Kober: Louisiana woman
Jen Kober hails from Louisiana, and she isn’t shy about it either.
“I had such a crazy family, and I have a big Southern mama who’s really outspoken,” Kober says. “I think that so much of my material comes from me talking about life here in the South and kind of what it is to grow up here and to live here. It kind of filters everything I do.”
But she feels her Southern roots will be right at home in Asheville.
“I think that crowds that might be a little more political or might be a little more into the hippie scene — those audiences are pretty informed,” Kober says. “I love going where everybody’s mind is kind of open and I can take it maybe a little further than I would in a place that is more conservative.”
While LYAO audiences might recognize her from guest appearances on Curb Your Enthusiasm, Anger Management and The Mindy Project, Kober has been changing things up with some more dramatic roles. She played a lawyer on HBO’s Hurricane Katrina drama, Treme, and will be in the upcoming film Paranoia with Richard Dreyfuss and Liam Hemsworth.
“I feel like dramatic roles, to me, are easier because I don’t have to worry about if anybody’s going to laugh or not. I just have to worry about if anybody’s going to believe me,” Kober says. “When you’re on set with all those people, and everybody is taking everything so seriously, and everything is kind of heavy, it’s a different feel than being on the set with Larry David and Richard Lewis and laughing at somebody burping.”
Visit her at www.facebook.com/JenKoberComedy or follow her on Twitter (@JenKober).
Erin Jackson: Goin’ to 12 Bones
When Erin Jackson first came to Asheville in 2011, she missed out on the Biltmore Estate, but she still enjoyed the city, and even discovered one of its most beloved barbecue joints.
“The first time I went, I was like, ‘This is adorable!’” Jackson says. “The first thing I do when I get there is I’m going to 12 Bones because I love it. That is my first stop.”
While not on the road touring her standup act, Jackson co-hosts Exhale, a talk show that airs on ASPiRE, a cable network launched last year by none other than Earvin “Magic” Johnson.
“It’s the closest thing in television, I think, to stand-up, because it’s not acting,” Jackson says. “I’m not playing anybody. I’m just being myself. I’m getting to talk about things that I think are important, and give my opinions, which is kind of what I do anyway on stage. It gives me an opportunity to talk about things sometimes in a serious way, where I don’t get to do that in my act. You only get a little bit of serious before people are waiting for a punchline.”
Jackson is looking forward to LYAO because it will give her a break from playing to college audiences.
“I’m not going to lie, sometimes you just want to talk to adults, because you want to talk about bills and [college students] don’t have any, and they don’t know what you’re talking about,” Jackson says. “I could write my act on stuff that happened in my life and very easily not ever pay attention to what the Kardashians are doing. But sometimes you just have to.”
Visit her at www.facebook.com/ejcomedy or at www.erinjackson.net.
To say Hampton Yount’s stand-up comedy is high energy would do a disservice to the peppy fellow who punctuates every answer with a gregarious chuckle.
“I think that just the way I naturally am is pretty high energy. It’s pretty much exactly how I am off-stage,” Yount says. “I guess when I was growing up, Pee-Wee Herman and Jim Carrey just got the bug in my ear and I got the itch to act like that.”
Yount often translates that energy into his writing, which he’s contributed to Ridiculousness on MTV and the absurd Odd Future vehicle, Loiter Squad, on Adult Swim. The latter particularly was Yount’s cup of tea.
“It was a blast. I’m actually a fan of Odd Future, so it was pretty cool to work with them,” Yount says. “I’m really in love with sketch. That’s the closest I’ve gotten to do that for TV.”
Yount is excited to come to Asheville, if only to escape his current base of operations in Los Angeles.
“L.A. is like the ugliest city in the world,” Yount says. “It’s always a treat to get out, you know, to escape prison for a little bit. You get to see some trees.”
It’s difficult to know what to expect with Yount, but he hints that he’s been getting a kick lately out of siding with celebrities when they do stupid things. When I offer up Justin Bieber’s ongoing string of idiotic behavior as an example, Yount is quick to show what he means.
“I don’t blame him. The guy’s been on the road since he was 8 years old. He doesn’t know anything,” Yount says. “Try to live Justin Bieber’s life and know anything other than music. I dare you.”
Follow him on Twitter (@Hamptonyount).
what: Laugh Your Asheville Off comedy festival
where: Venues include The Altamont Theatre, Highland Brewing and the Diana Wortham Theatre
when: Tuesday, Aug. 13 to Saturday, Aug. 17 (View the full schedule at laughyourashevilleoff.com. Tickets $10 to 18 depending on the night, or the entire festival for $60.)