The North Carolina Comedy Arts Festival has been around in different configurations for more than a decade. But this year, instead of being a series of weekends, it's going to follow the model of music and film festivals and go straight through for 11 days.
For Zach Ward, festival founder and executive producer, the reasoning was two-fold.
When programming was restricted to the weekends, he continues, out-of-town performers from one weekend were unable to engage with performers from other weekends. "We found that we were missing out on incredible cross-programming opportunities," Ward says.
But the second reason, he says, was to incorporate other community events. That's why, when you peruse this year's offerings, you'll see such familiar events as The Adult Spelling Bee (Flyleaf Books, Monday, Feb. 10, 7 p.m.), the Durham Pun Championship (Motorco Music Hall, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 7 p.m.) and The Monti (The ArtsCenter, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 7:30 p.m.). This has allowed NCCAF to develop partnerships with, respectively, UNC's Program in the Humanities, the pun fans of Regulator Bookshop and Monti toastmaster Jeff Polish.
NCCAF has a number of outside headliners, too. Bruce Vilanch, an Emmy-winning gag writer and actor (he's the head writer for the Oscars, among many other gigs), performs Wednesday, Feb. 12 at The ArtsCenter in Carrboro, in what Ward says is his first-ever performance in North Carolina. Eddie Brill, longtime talent booker for David Letterman, returns to the festival for master classes and two appearances this weekend, with the sold-out Carolina's Funniest Comic event at DSI Theatre on Saturday, Feb. 8 at 7 p.m., and in the same venue Sunday night at 8:30 p.m. with an all-star showcase.
Iranian-American comic and filmmaker Negin Farsad will appear twice, performing on stage and on behalf of her 2013 film The Muslims Are Coming, a recounting of a cross-country tour of Muslim comedians. With stops in such outposts as Lawrenceville, Ga., and Birmingham, Ala., the film, co-produced with Dean Obeidallah, indulges in yokel-baiting theatrics, but with results less uproarious than Borat. Still, an impressive array of talking heads—including Aasif Mandvi, Jon Stewart, Rachel Maddow, Janeane Garofalo, David Cross and a grim expert from the Southern Poverty Law Center—testify to comedy's universality and the stupidity of Islamophobia. The film will be screened at the Nelson Mandela Auditorium in the FedEx Global Education Center on Friday at 7 p.m. The event is free. The following night at 9:30, Farsad headlines a show at Nightlight that also includes an all-star standup showcase and laughter yoga instructor Julie Ostrow.
Ostrow's specialty—laughter-as-therapy—gets its own showcase Friday night, in the form of the N.C. Laughter Championship, which will be hosted by Albert Nerenberg and will "promote healthy, positive, contagious laughter."
When asked for an insider's tip on a really great performer, Ward barely hesitates before naming one scheduled for 9:30 p.m., Friday, Feb. 14 at the ArtsCenter.
"Paul Thomas is someone I think should be a household name. He is going to be doing a one-man sketch comedy show of original characters. He's just incredible.
"If anyone's looking to see just one show, that's what I suggest."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Comedy without pause."