Wondering what comedic qualities make the best fit for the Asheville audience? Los Angeles television developer and live event businessman Charlie Gerencer has the answer. “We do our best to find famous comedians who also play a banjo, brew their own beer and build furniture out of sticks from the woods while waiting for their potato bread to bake, but they are hard to come by,” he says. “I thought we had a lead on a topless comedian who did her whole act while hula-hooping, but she had some issue about Dollar Shave Club sponsoring her show. So, we keep it simple by booking talent that is funny. Funny is a universal language that every person everywhere can understand.”
It was local comedian Greg Brown who launched the first Laugh Your Asheville Off in 2007, back when the city had no stand-up comedy scene of which to speak. Shortly after the modest one-night event, he teamed with Gerencer, who started Asheville’s first comedy open mic (Tomato Tuesdays at the since-closed New French Bar) and generally worked to make the festival a major attraction. “We built the door for Asheville comedy fans to walk through,” says Gerencer. “Now there’s comedy every week in Asheville. Everyone who runs a comedy room in Asheville has the same passion we started with, and they love making their community laugh.”
The fruit of those labors, the eighth annual Laugh Your Asheville Off comedy festival, begins Wednesday, Aug. 13. The opening night show at Highland Brewing, featuring headliner Chris Porter, doubles as a benefit for Brother Wolf Animal Rescue. Three more days of comic showcases follow at The Millroom, The Altamont Theatre and Diana Wortham Theatre.
As the owner and executive producer of Laugh Your Asheville Off, Gerencer strived to build the brand through spring, summer and fall concert series. But as the Asheville comedy scene blossomed in recent years, he and Brown decided to focus more on the annual festival, taking the necessary steps to get it to the next level of national exposure. Though Gerencer now operates on a nationwide platform and attracts national acts, he’s mindful of working only with local sponsors and maintaining the event’s core values. “I don’t think the festival’s foundation has changed,” Gerencer says. “We still stay true to our goals of providing the highest-quality comedy entertainment at a price everyone can afford.”
Joining Porter are 49 comics, any of whom Gerencer could see follow in the footsteps of past festival performers: “I saw them first at Laugh Your Asheville Off” has become somewhat of a festival calling card. Recent notable breakouts include Tom Segura’s podcast “Your Mom’s House” and his Netflix special Completely Normal; Rory Scovel’s casting in the TBS sitcom Ground Floor; Joe Zimmerman’s July 25 Comedy Central Half Hour special; and Seaton Smith’s role in the Fox sitcom Mulaney, which debuts this fall. “It makes us proud to know that we have the ability to recognize great talents before they explode in popularity,” Gerencer says.
Splitting his time between Western North Carolina and L.A., Gerencer works with his Asheville production team to search for talent throughout the year. Exposing the festival’s audience to a diverse group of comedians is also a high priority, as is the order of performers on each 10-act bill. “We make every possible attempt to balance out the shows so that there is a great eclectic feel across the board,” Gerencer says. “Some would say that we overthink some of this, but we are very in tune with making sure that every show is a seamless and hysterical time for the audience.”
So far, the formula has been a success. “Laughter is contagious in a theater or room,” Gerencer says. “When the house is full, there is an energy that comes from the audience that the performers feel as well. It’s like magic.”
WHAT: Laugh Your Asheville Off, laughyourashevilleoff.com
WHEN: Wednesday-Saturday, Aug. 13-16
WHERE: Highland Brewing (Wednesday, 8 p.m.), The Millroom (Thursday, 7 p.m.), The Altamont Theatre (Thursday and Friday, 9:30 p.m.) and Diana Wortham Theatre (Friday, 7 p.m., and Saturday, 8 p.m.). $16 per showcase