Pun intended

Just because Asheville doesn’t have a comedy club doesn’t mean it’s not a funny place.

Big fun: Duke of deadpan Todd Barry will headline a roster that includes Asheville’s own Brian Fox, a 3’4” actor and comedian.

“Our improv scene is fantastic,” says Greg Brown, author, chef and comedian-turned-festival-organizer. “The Oxymorons and Feral Chihuahuas are doing that late-night comedy program at 35Below, and that has the snowball effect of getting people used to that kind of comedy.”

But if what you want is standup in the tradition of Margaret Cho or Jerry Seinfeld, you’re committing to a road trip to Charlotte or Atlanta. For Brown, a native Southerner and stand-up enthusiast, the trek to other towns left him longing to bring good comedy to the mountains.

“Over the winter I’d go to Charlotte and Atlanta to work in comedy clubs and perform,” he explains. “The comedian community is good for a nurturing process. The best performers will tell you what you did right and what you did wrong.”

He adds, “It’s kind of a weird subculture.”

Finding the support for his own developing craft was one aspect of the scene that appealed to Brown, but seeing successful, sold-out shows especially inspired him to create the first Laugh Your Asheville Off Comedy Festival.

“There’s no ‘Laugh Your Cleveland Off’”

Brown’s partner, Rowan Lischerelli, asserts, “We’re artists ourselves. We attend all these different festivals, LEAF and Bele Chere, but we don’t have comedy.”

There was the short-lived Asheville Comedy Club on Biltmore Avenue, but it closed after just a handful a shows. Brown attributes the quick turnover not to a lack of interest but to bad location. The expensive downtown venue, he says, would’ve been better off in a River Arts District locale with less overhead, freeing up more funds to bring in skilled performers.

He reasons that Asheville’s lack of stand-up venues is intimately related to its relative dearth of comedians.

“Unfortunately, there’s nothing here for them. Not enough open mics.” To nurture their acts, Brown explains, comedians have to “be on stage every week—trying new material and fine-tuning really minute subtleties.”

“The feedback from other comedians is invaluable,” agrees Lischerelli.

So when the couple set about creating LYAO, they decided to break a few molds. For starters, it’s only happening here. “There’s no ‘Laugh Your Clevend Off,’” Brown promises, though he wisecracks that to cut costs he’ll be outsourcing next year’s performers from India and Mexico.

The festival’s talent includes Brian “Big B” Fox, who calls Asheville home. The 3’ 4” comic and star in Asheville: The Movie has been touring the comedy circuit since 2003.

Headliner Todd Barry, who’s appeared on Sex and the City, Jimmy Kimmel Live! and HBO Comedy Showcase, is what Brown calls a “comedian’s comedian.”

Johnny Millwater, nicknamed “The One Man Freak Show,” blends rapid-fire-delivery stand-up with daredevil magic tricks like fire-eating.

Joe Zimmerman, recently named Charlotte’s Comedian of the Year by Creative Loafing, bases his show around fortune cookies, penguins and dating disasters.

The list of featured performers also includes Carnival Comedy Challenge winner Scott Oseychik, self-proclaimed “King of Simpsons References” Mike Buczek and Carnival Cruise Comedy Challenge runner-up Clint Nohr, among others.

Another break with the comedy-show formula: LYAO doesn’t allot most of the evening to a single headliner—instead, expect variety. Seven openers present five to eight minutes of material each, allowing the audience to test-drive a number of styles.

“We were raised in the Sesame Street generation,” Lischerelli offers by way of explanation. “There isn’t time to get bored.”

Beyond an understanding of short attention spans, Lischerelli brings to the festival a decidedly Asheville angle: She’s interested in the healthful aspect of laughter. A former Laugh Yoga instructor, she enthuses,“it’s so healing … it reduces your blood pressure and it reduces stress and depression and clears up your problems in life in general.”

Laughter may be the best medicine, but that doesn’t mean it has to come from low-brow humor or at the expense of those less fortunate. “This [show] is definitely for mature audiences,” Lischerelli points out. But theatergoers should still expect humor based more on unusual perceptions, intelligent delivery and sharp punch lines rather than material from what Lischerelli refers to as “the Andrew Dice Clay era.”

“Our comics are the ones in the corner, jotting down last-minute thoughts like quirky poets,” says Brown.

Laugh Your Asheville Off happens at Diana Wortham Theatre at 8 p.m. on Thursday, July 19, and at 7 and 9:30 p.m. on Friday, July 20. Tickets are $28/general, $24/seniors and students. Find info at 257-4530 or www.laughyourashevilleoff.com

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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3 thoughts on “Pun intended

  1. Tommy Calloway

    For the last goddamn time!!! We are not IMPROV!!! We are sketch comedy. It requires rehearsal, script writing, production and way more time than improv. Why are we lumped into this improv continuum?

  2. Kate2356

    We need a comedy club here in Asheville! What with the current pricing of food and gas we defiately need a place to go relax, mingle, and laugh until your face and ache ache! I am a native Ashevillian who returnrd to the area a year ago aeter a long absence. I am attempting to pursue my interst in becoming a comedian; I have asked several people where to go to enjoy comedy to no avail. I know for a fact there is humor in this area; reasoning, no natter where I go people share in my laughing at myself and my constant antics…recently I left my job beause the manager said, “you are too happy!?” What the hell kind of comment is that? I was unaware anyone could possess the ability of being too happy! But obviously I am and I feel very proud of this trait…I can not go anywhere without people approaching me cause I tend to say outload what others only think, I smile all the time, and wish to bring laughter and humor to folks through telling stories about my daily antics and the antics of ny fanily…there’s enough fodder from my families antics to have hysterical laughter! What Asheville needs is a comedy club for folks who are sick and tired of dealing with all the doom and gloom one sees in the news! I do not want to have to leave this area to pursue my path to humorous enployment… Is there no one out there who sees the magical healing powers of constant laughter…??? A comedy club would be a wonderful drawing card…and as real estate agent I am very aware the chosen place would highly depend upon three things..”location, location, location…..” Thanks for allowing me to bend yout ear….Karen

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