Just a few years ago, Connecticut was hungry for comedy but had to leave the state to catch a great comedy show. Now the state is exploding with opportunities to see great stand up in theaters, clubs, and repurposed rooms. And in one week, the state is about to host their very first comedy festival. The Connecticut Comedy Festival brings four days of great performances to the state from April 25th through the 28th. Stamford, Norwalk, Fairfield, Colchester, Hartford, Bridgeport, and Groton will host events and performances by New York and Connecticut comedians: Chris Distefano, Paul Virzi, Matt Richards, Rell Battle, Corinne Fisher, Leah Bonnema, Neko White, Aaron Berg, Beecher, Ryan Brauth, Joey Rinaldi and more with 40 comedians on the lineups.
One of the people responsible for that explosion is Emilio Savone, who is also one of the owners of New York Comedy Club. We talked to him about what people can expect from the inaugural festival. Savone’s goals are to celebrate some of the comedians who have made the state a great destination for comedy and also to serve the communities with multiple shows throughout the state over the course of four nights.
“The main thing with the festival for us is to celebrate what’s been happening in Connecticut for the last few years as it pertains to comedy. We wanted to tie in some of the venues we’ve worked with and venues we haven’t but have made a commitment to showcasing great comedy in southern Connecticut.”
For the first year, its about building a foundation, he told me. Because of the state’s spot so close to New York City, and also and easy jump for Boston area comedians, he sees the potential to build something with national importance, while continuing an ongoing initiative to help create Connecticut’s comedy identity.
Just a couple of years ago Emilio stretched his legs out from New York City where he and his team nurtured a limping New York Comedy Club back from the dead and turned it into a vibrant club that top comedians love to perform at, and packs out with comedy fans all week. He opened the weird and wonderful Fairfield Comedy Club in the lobby of a hotel, on the weekends and filled it with great city and local comedians until it took off. Now it runs five nights a week. That grew into other statewide events. A summer series at Penfield Beach, Taste of Fairfield, Norwalk, Westport, individual events here and there. Others followed Savone’s lead and now the state has comedy everywhere.
For the festival, the plan was to tie in cities that have really kind of made a commitment to want to bring comedy there, and Emilio is using the same formula he’s used successfully in all his ventures. Start simple. “We didn’t want to overwhelm … we don’t really know what we have yet in terms of a festival, so the goal here for us is, let’s just put on four nights of really awesome shows. Let’s run multiple shows every single night. Let’s pull in some of the partners that we’ve been working with that have been doing really good stuff in the area for comedy.”
Which means set up 14 shows in theaters, clubs and breweries, fill them with roughly 40 comedians, and before you know it you have an impressive first year comedy festival. Anchoring the shows are two Connecticut favorites- Chris Distefano and Paul Virzi. “When we were booking this we were like, “All right. Who do we get? What do we do?”. For the kickoff show in a 700 seat theater, they knew they wanted Chris Distefano. “It’s called the Wall Street Theater in Norwalk. They’ve really never done a huge comedy event like this, and we were kicking around a lot of big names. And we’re were like, we’re all about building … you know this about us. I want to work with people who are excited about building something with us, and I want to also work with people who are kind of going through firsts on their end as well.” Chris Distefano sells out clubs regularly but hasn’t done a solo theater show yet, so when Savone pitched him, he was excited. They chose Virzi because he’s been a club favorite at the Fairfield, and he’s kind of a local guy, living right over the border in Westchester. They’ve also got a big fundraiser planned for Friday night, featuring comedians that have been affected by cancer called “Stand Up Against Cancer” that will benefit local charities, and they’re bringing up a New York Comedy Club favorite- Roast Battle- along with the show’s creator, Rell Battle.
The response has been overwhelming, Emilio says. “I think the effort is just really key. Because Connecticut … and I grew up in Connecticut. Connecticut’s one of those states, it just gets forgotten. Because Boston’s there and then you’ve got New York, and Connecticut’s like … it’s just kind of like, “Ah, it’s Connecticut.” It’s almost like people just pass through it, or the people that live there, for them it’s that they’ve always got to go to New York or Boston. There’s never really anything like this going on. And after doing all this stuff in Fairfield and just the whole area, Norwalk and Stanford and everything, I was like, “You know what? The reason why this doesn’t exist, because no one ever really tried.”
Finally a reason for New York and Boston to head in toward Connecticut for great comedy after decades of Connecticut heading out. The festival takes this Thursday through Sunday and tickets and information are available at connecticutcomedyfestival.com.