Asheville Comedy Festival provides laughs — and connections

CROWD PLEASER: Local comedian Tom Peters hosts a comedy open mic night and appears regularly on Asheville stages. This year he returns to the Asheville Comedy Festival, which he likes, in part, because  instead of playing one of a number of small showcases, “You get the whole audience for the whole festival on that night.” Photo by Cindy Kunst
CROWD PLEASER: Local comedian Tom Peters hosts a comedy open mic night and appears regularly on Asheville stages. This year he returns to the Asheville Comedy Festival, which he likes, in part, because instead of playing one of a number of small showcases, “You get the whole audience for the whole festival on that night.” Photo by Cindy Kunst

Last year, local comedian Hilliary Begley took to the stage at Diana Wortham Theatre for her Laugh Your Asheville Off debut. She says that it was nice to play in front of such a large crowd, but the biggest benefit of performing at the event — since renamed the Asheville Comedy Festival — is the connections she has made.

“Since [last year’s festival], I ended up meeting several other comics from all over the country that I’ve been able to book shows with and travel up and down the coast,” says Begley. “And in Atlanta, I ran into a comedian I had met in the green room at Diana Wortham, and he ended up booking me for two shows down there.”

This year’s Asheville Comedy Festival features four separate comedy showcases with 44 comedians from across the United States and Canada. It kicks off Thursday, Aug. 9, at Highland Brewing Co., before moving to Diana Wortham Theatre for three more showcases on Friday and Saturday, Aug. 10 and 11.

Asheville-based comedian Tom Peters believes these showcases are the key to the event’s success. “The cool thing about this comedy festival is there’s just one big show per night,” he says Peters. “What happens at some other comedy festivals is there’ll be several shows scattered throughout an area, some of them overlapping with one another. So you’ll get booked and have three shows — one of them might be really good, one might just be in a bar for a few people. But at the Asheville Comedy Festival, you get the whole audience for the whole festival on that night.”

Peters will perform at the Saturday night Famous Showcase at Diana Wortham Theatre. He was part of the festival once before, in 2015, and says that performance — also at Diana Wortham —was the biggest crowd he has had to date. But what he is really excited for this year is getting to goof off with old and new friends in the biggest comedian get-together that Asheville has to offer.

“I’m looking forward to being more comfortable this time around,” says Peters. “Meeting some new people, looking forward to seeing people again. It’s always a fun week. Even on the nights where you don’t have a show, it’s still fun to hang out with everybody, go to after-parties and stuff.”

Peters hosts a weekly comedy open-mic at The Odditorium in West Asheville. He says that there is plenty of good comedy happening in Asheville on any given week, but the Asheville Comedy Festival is beneficial to the local scene because it introduces nonlocal comedians to what a funny place Asheville can be. “A lot of people come here to perform who have never been here before, and they may be scratching their heads as to why it is happening here,” he says. “Hopefully, after they leave, they understand why.”

Begley feels the festival has helped to plug her into the comedy community outside Asheville. “I went to New York for the very first time ever in May, for my boyfriend’s sister’s wedding,” she says. “She married a comic who was pretty well-established in New York City, and when we got there, I ended up knowing three other people in the wedding because they had seen me do comedy at Laugh Your Asheville Off.”

Since performing at the local festival last year, Begley’s career has been on the rise. Her stand-up act caught the attention of casting director Megan Louis, who got her a role in Jennifer Anniston’s upcoming film, Dumplin’, as Aniston’s character’s sister. “I was originally only going to be in two scenes with two lines, but they wrote me into more parts, so I’m in like five scenes with like 12 lines,” Begley says.

While she wishes she could be onstage at this year’s Asheville Comedy Festival, Begley will, instead, be in Atlanta, acting in her second film — the Hallmark production When Last We Spoke. Not a bad problem to have.

And, despite the busy filming schedule, Begley says she plans to drive up to Asheville to catch at least a little bit of the comedy festival.

“I’ll be here for a part of it— I just won’t be able to perform,” she says. “But I will still be there to go backstage and meet all the comedians.”

WHAT: Asheville Comedy Festival
WHERE: Highland Brewing Co., 12 Old Charlotte Highway; and Diana Wortham Theatre, 18 Biltmore Ave.
WHEN: Thursday, Aug. 9, 8 p.m.; Friday, Aug. 10, 7 and 9:30 p.m.; Saturday, Aug. 11, 8 p.m. $20-$23 per showcase. Lineup and schedule at ashevillecomedyfestival.com

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