The joke’s on Asheville

Funny town: Comic and author M. Dickson, who's headlining the festival Friday night, says that Asheville can take a joke with the best of them.

When Asheville-based jokester Greg Brown wanted to perform in public six years ago, he had to do it at open-mic nights at local bars. “I’d go up and tell jokes between acoustic-music sets,” he remembers. “So it’s so cool to see comics have places to perform now.”

Brown co-founded the Laugh Your Asheville Off festival, a stand-up comedy juggernaut that makes its sixth run next week. Co-founder Charlie Gerencer is also struck by the extent of Asheville’s recent comedic upsurge.

“It’s thriving now,” he notes. “Four, five nights a week there’s stand-up somewhere in town.”

That local energy, along with the festival’s annual injection of new talents from elsewhere, has propelled Asheville’s comedy scene to new heights.

“We’ve certainly got more national attention this year,” Brown says. “The industry has really noticed us. We had more submissions than ever before, so I think the quality of the talent is going to be the highest we’ve ever seen.”

About 400 comics applied to perform at the festival; 60 made the cut. Four local regulars will share in the spotlight (see sidebar).

Most of the jokes would fly anywhere, but Asheville offers especially ample fodder for hometown jibes.

“What’s amusing to everybody is the eclectic kind of vibe downtown,” Gerencer says. “Within a hundred-square-foot area on any given Friday, you’ll find three retired couples, a young family, a bunch of bohemian hippies who just got off a potato-bread farm, and people playing harmonica and doing a hula hoop.”

Asheville puts comedians at ease and reaps benefits for doing so, Brown says.

“Comics are so weird and quirky; when they find a city they feel comfortable in it’s kind of a shock to them,” he says. “Suddenly they don’t feel like the weirdest person in the city.”

The festival puts performers in a rare state of mind, Brown says. “It’s very unique: when comics feel comfortable, they can let their guard down and do the best damn comedy possible.”

When comics come to a town like Asheville, they’re inspired, Gerencer says. “And that’s why they like to make fun of it and joke on it.”

One of this year's headliners, M. Dickson, is making her fifth appearance at the festival, and she says it's one of her favorite annual gigs. “It really helps that it's run by comedians,” she says.

And the audiences don't mind a little ribbing about Asheville's, um, eccentricities. “The local crowd definitely likes being in on the joke — and in the jokes,” she notes.

— Jon Elliston can be reached at jonelliston@gmail.com.

who: 60 comics including headliners Jim Gaffigan, M. Dickson, Matt Fulchiron, Seaton Smith, Nate Craig, Ryan Singer, Tim Northern and Tom Simmons
what: Laugh Your Asheville Off comedy festival
where: Venues include The Magnetic Field, Highland Brewing, The LAB, Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, Pulp, Diana Wortham Theatre and Altamont Theatre
when: Aug. 14-18 (tickets range from $10 to $45 per show, and a pass to the
entire festival is available at a discounted rate; visit laughyourashevilleoff.com for details on venues, times and tickets)

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About Jon Elliston
An Asheville-based mountain journalist: Former Mountain Xpress managing editor. Investigations and open government editor at Carolina Public Press. Senior contributing editor at WNC magazine.

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