Laugh Your Asheville Off comedy festival returns

PUN INTENDED: Laugh Your Asheville Off festival headliner Chris Porter also performs at the opening night show at Highland Brewing. That event doubles as a benefit for Brother Wolf Animal Rescue. Photo courtesy of the comedian

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,
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


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA). Follow me @EdwinArnaudin

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.