This time last year, Trevor Solomon’s tone on comedy at Boston Calling was cautiously optimistic. In a move designed to absorb the loss of a planned curated movie experience, the New England-area festival’s primary booker pulled together a “Comedy Experience” at the eleventh hour. He admits now, he was surprised by how well this inaugural offering was received.
“People really, they embraced it a lot quicker than I thought they might,” Trevor marveled in our conversation, held shortly after this year’s lineup was revealed. “What I mean by that is that we would open the doors, and it would be packed and to capacity the minute we would open doors. And they weren’t just concerned about the headliners [including acts like Tig Notaro, Pete Holmes, and Phoebe Robinson; and hosted by Hannibal Buress], they were concerned about every aspect of the comedy. So it was really interesting to see how they really wrapped their hands around it and really embraced it.”
Solomon is hoping for a similar reception for this year’s lineup, which features acts like Bridget Everett, Cameron Esposito, David Cross, Jo Firestone, Martin Urbano, Max Silvestri, and more. With more time to settle in and make thoughtful choices, I asked how this year’s lineup came together. Interestingly enough, standup wasn’t the focus right at the start of the process. “[I]nternal conversations and someone suggesting the podcast route and Pod Save America, that was the start to the process. And then the comedians became another piece to the process. It became sort of a, it worked together actually in that regard.”
In addition to the listed talent above, the comedy “tent” (actually the hockey arena at Harvard’s Athletic Complex, the festival’s home for a second year) will feature live recordings of the wildly popular political podcasts Pod Save America and Lovett or Leave It. Was this a calculated move to highlight politics? Not exactly, Solomon shares. At least, not at first. “It was an idea internally, because someone in our office liked those podcasts, so that’s where it began. But you know, the political landscape of where we’re at, I think it’s important to embrace it, and to have people who speak about it.” He added, for those who may be worried about the festival taking a stance: “No matter what political aspect you believe in, I think it’s important to have communication about it.”
As for the standup portion of the lineup, the lineup seemed to come together organically, in a manner not unlike last year’s accelerated process. While Jenny Slate was originally…well, slated to anchor the comedy experience and provide a bit of local flair, she has since been replaced (due to a scheduling conflict) with David Cross. “Unfortunately it didn’t work out, but that was okay.” Although Slate will be missed, the lineup has no shortage of hilarious female performers- something that Solomon didn’t explicitly plan for, but is really pleased to see.
“I don’t really balance the two, where it was like “we have a lot of men, we need to balance it,” necessarily. I did think about female comedians, that came up a lot.” On his list of highlights: Bridget Everett, who he talks about with incredulous awe. “An agent turned me on to Bridget Everett, he sent me a video. [In] the first five minutes, I was hooked,” he remembers. “She just…she strikes a nerve in a good way. She catches your attention.” Also attention-grabbing for Solomon? Cameron Esposito, who came as a recommendation from his wife. “She saw her on something and she was like, “Oh you should look into this, this is really cool.” So I started doing the research on Cameron and really liked her.”
While attempts at local flavor were made by booking Slate and Esposito (who attended Boston College), it’s notable that local performers weren’t announced on the main lineup as they have been in previous years. I had hoped this was an oversight; Solomon confirmed that there would be no local performers on this year’s stage. But lest you suspect a rift or incident caused this change, I was assured it was a programming decision that could change in subsequent years.
“There wasn’t a reason for that, it’s just the way it all came together. It wasn’t anything in particular,” he reassured me. “We try to keep a local flair, be in [on] the comedy side or the music side, just this year we went more with national talent. But in the future, I’m sure we’re going to bring back the local talent aspect of it.”
For now, prepare yourselves for another year of long weekend laughs at the center of the Harvard Athletic Complex this Memorial Day Weekend. 3 Day Passes and most VIP packages are sold out, but single day tickets are available now at bostoncalling.com.
The comedy offerings on the Arena Stage are as follows:
Friday, May 25th
6:00pm | Lovett or Leave It
Saturday, May 26th
4:30pm | Pod Save America
6:30pm | Martin Urbano
6:45pm | Jo Firestone
7:05pm | Tony Hincliffe
7:30pm | Bridget Everett
Sunday, May 27th
5:00pm | Martin Urbano
5:15pm | Max Silvestri
5:35pm | Cameron Esposito
6:00pm | David Cross