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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Birbiglia, Emo and Brill: Zach Ward discusses returning to North Carolina to oversee NC Comedy Arts Festival

Through Feb. 19

Posted by on Thu, Feb 2, 2012 at 2:09 PM

Zach Ward (right), performing with Emo Philips at last years NCCAF
  • NC Comedy Arts Festival
  • Zach Ward (right), performing with Emo Philips at last year's NCCAF
Zach Ward is currently making it his thing to be at two places at once. The former Chapel Hill resident and current DSI Comedy Theater owner and executive producer has been making Boston his home as of late, running the ImprovBoston theater in Cambridge, Mass.

However, he’s still very much an integral, behind-the-scenes member of his pride and joy, the North Carolina Comedy Arts Festival, which began yesterday with shows at the DSI Comedy Theater. We spoke to Ward about what to expect at this year’s festival, as well as what’s going on comedy-wise over in his new Boston home.

Independent:So, Zach, you're up in Boston now. How long have you been there and what made you decide to move there?

Zach Ward: My first day as managing director of ImprovBoston was June 13, 2011. I was actively recruited by ImprovBoston, a 30-year-old comedy theater in Cambridge. I felt confident in both my company in Carrboro and the DSI leadership, so I was excited to take a pretty exciting professional step for my own comedy career. Paula Pazderka assumed my role as artistic director two weeks before I left for Boston and she has done exceptional work over the last seven months.

What made you decide to make the move up to Boston, and how different is the comedy scene over there as it is in the Triangle?
ImprovBoston as a theater and comedy school is very similar in many respects. However, the scope of my work has increased exponentially just given the metro market and what it takes to operate an arts organization in the city. The comedy scene and community are much larger—which has obvious benefits and unique challenges.

Was it difficult rounding up talent for the festival since you're in Beantown?
Not at all. NCCAF grows each year and we continue to see more and more unique acts to register, in addition to the veteran acts who have become festival favorites. I've been exposed to even more acts by traveling outside of North Carolina and, with our festival jury reviewing online submissions, NCCAF was able to curate one of the best line-ups we have ever had for the festival.

I see there is no film section this year. Why is there no more of that?
We really seek to provide the best line-up possible. NCCAF will bring film back when we can provide the strongest line-up possible with the ability to also bring the artists involved to the festival. For the past few years we have had specialized weeks, but we are considering introducing NCCAF Film into the other weeks for 2013 as a way to highlight projects by acts who may be performing live in standup, sketch or improv.

Mike Birbiglia is one of the headliners this year. He's lately been getting a lot of buzz for his movie, Sleepwalk with Me, which just played Sundance. You couldn't get him to play that flick at NCCAF?
Mike is part of our partnership with the Carolina Theatre—that is new this year. As we understand it, Mike was working on the film right up until the festival. Maybe next year. For 2012, Mike will be in town for the show and that's about it. But even that is awesome for comedy in the Triangle and great for the festival.

Eddie Brill is teaching a master class that appears to be sold out. Are you worried that more people will be there to address those comments he made about female comics in The New York Times a couple of weeks ago?
Eddie is an incredible contact for stand-up comedians looking to get better at the art of comedy. This is the third year he has been at the festival. So far, [female comic] Aparna Nancherla, who is now living and working in Los Angeles as a stand-up comic, was discovered by Eddie at the festival. Eddie gave Aparna a slot in the Great American Comedy Festival in Johnny Carson's hometown. [...] Eddie has never been anything but incredibly professional and gracious with his time and knowledge. We are thrilled to have him back.

In your opinion, what people or performances happening at this year's fest that people should look out for?
For stand-up comedy, I'm really looking forward to David Siegel returning home to North Carolina from New York and also Josh Gondelman—he's a personal favorite. I am really looking forward to the latest material from sketch comedian Paul Thomas and Channel One, a female comedy duo performing at the DSI Comedy Theater. For improv week, I cannot wait for the return of Emo Philips for “A Night of Improv with Emo Philips” and The Chris Gethard Show at Cat's Cradle. I am selfishly looking forward to my own reunion show with my comedy duo partner from Chicago, Beth Melewski, in Dual Exhaust, Saturday Feb. 18 at The ArtsCenter.

What do you want people to take away with them after checking out this year's festival?

Great comedy is out there, everywhere, and, in some cases, performed by the people you least expect. With the festival growth and the sheer number of comedians who travel from all over North America to perform here in Carrboro, Durham and Chapel Hill, I would like our state and local governments and communities to acknowledge how powerful comedy can be, both on a small scale (just making one audience laugh, at one venue, on one night of the festival) and, as an economic driver, how much comedy as an artform can and has done for our state—not to mention culture and quality of life—should I get down off this box now?

The NC Comedy Arts Festival runs through Feb. 19. Visit here for information and tickets.

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