Wed 11/29-Sun 12/3
Just over a decade ago a few aspiring comedian friends huddled around a table in bar shooting the breeze. Out of what was basically an innocuous conversation fueled by spirits the Cleveland Comedy Festival was born.
“I was one of the original founders, and it really came out of a sort of late-night conversation amongst amateur comedians, part-time comedians like myself at the time,” said Cleveland Comedy Festival co-founder Joe Hannum.
“At that time we were seeing other comedy festivals had sprung up around the country and one of us said, ‘How come Cleveland doesn’t have a comedy festival?’ None of us really knew the answer to that, so we decided to just make one.”
Now celebrating its 10th anniversary, the Cleveland Comedy Festival returns Wed 11/29-Sun 12/3 at PlayhouseSquare’s Outcalt and Kennedy theaters. Naturally the centerpiece of the event is its comedy contest featuring 48 contestants vying for a top prize of $2,000.
There are also more than a half dozen specialty shows including the Four Horsemen of Comedy (Thu 11/20), Liz Huff & Friends (Sat 12/2), the 10th anniversary show (Sat 12/2), Class Clown Graduation Show (Sun 12/3) and Squeaky Clean Comedy Show (Sun 12/3).
“It’s lasted so long because we feel like what we’re doing is interesting to two different groups of people,” Hannum said. “There are the comedians that we attract from all over the country, mostly because of our contest, and also the comedy fans in Cleveland really love comedy.
“They like seeing our shows in a small, kind-of-intimate setting in PlayhouseSquare theaters. They like seeing some of the talent that comes in from outside of Cleveland.”
One of the highlights of this year’s Cleveland Comedy Festival is an “Evening with Fred Willard” taking place Fri 12/1 in the Outcalt Theatre. The Shaker Heights native said growing up in Northeast Ohio he was a big fan of Bob Hope, Danny Kaye, Red Skelton, and Abbott and Costello.
“I have great memories of Cleveland and Shaker Heights,” said Willard via email. “I’m really looking forward to revisiting old familiar places, schools, the old house and neighborhoods.
“I’ll be answering questions at a question-and-answer session, and probably reliving early memories of Cleveland. Some people in the audience may not remember when trains arrived at the Terminal Tower or ball games at Cleveland Municipal Stadium or seeing stage shows at the Palace Theatre.”
Looking back on his five-decade career, the award-winning Second-City alumnus has a resume filled with memorable roles in film and television. However, he’s best remembered for his Best in Show character Buck Laughlin, who isn’t afraid to say the first thing that comes to mind.
So what would Buck Laughlin have to say about Fred Willard’s career?
“Here’s a young guy who didn’t have all the tools, but he was a gamer, pretty savvy and has some power to the opposite field,” Willard said.
Overall more than 2,500 people are expected to attend this year’s Cleveland Comedy Festival. As for the event lasting another decade, Hannum is optimistic.
“The festival has grown, contracted and changed,” Hannum said. “It’s morphed into various different things. The encouraging thing about the contest is that our fans have been buying tickets to the shows even before they know who is in the contest.
“That tells me they respect the product, they respect the brand and they know they’ll have a good time. They just want to come out and be entertained.”