Last year, the inaugural Skankfest comedy festival was a scrappy DIY success story, selling out a weekend’s worth of passes in record time for three days full of stand-up, screenings, parties and surprises at The Creek and The Cave in Long Island City, Queens. This year, the festival is exponentially bigger, adding a second larger venue and additional sponsors including Cannabis.net, Death Wish Coffee, Via ride sharing app and PBR to expand space and programming, and the crew is gearing up for a cross-country festival tour in 2018. So, it’s safe to say founders Luis J Gomez (GaS Digital, Legion of Skanks), Rebecca Trent (The Creek and The Cave, Trump v Bernie, What’s Your F*cking Deal) and Christine Evans (The Bonfire on SiriusXM, What’s Yor F*cking Deal) could teach us all a thing or two about good life decisions. So we sat down with the crew at the GaS Digital studios to talk about what they’ve learned from the process.
Christine Evans: Rebecca and I started Jay Oakerson’s What’s Your F*cking Deal as a midnight surprise show up in Montreal in 2013 and ever since then we realized we’re great at working together, we’re able to anticipate each other’s needs, we’re able to follow through, we don’t have to micromanage each other. So as a production team, we flow well together. And Luis as an artist and producer is an amazing production partner because he is the guy who will make you believe you can do things you thought were unbelievable. So having Luis in there going, “No, this IS possible” really puts the fire under my ass to go “Yeah, yeah we can!”
This isn’t Fyre Fest, We’re not a friggen’ artist and a rich person. Rebecca is a venue owner who has tons of experience in theater production, I’ve been in comedy my entire adult life. So being able to take all those skills and take this wonderful idea and actually come up with something tangible that was this awesome experience… I was GLOWING through the whole festival last year.
Rebecca Trent: She really was, people asked her if she was pregnant.
Christine Evans: It’s not that I couldn’t believe that we could pull this off, I was just so happy that we did.
Rebecca Trent: I work with a tremendous amount of artists, God, I love my life, but it can be difficult to crowbar in – and I mean like with a shoehorn and a drill sometimes – the idea of business into some of these people’s heads. I don’t have to do that with Luis. I don’t get push-back when we start talking prices or business end stuff, and being able to not have that conversation saves 30% of our time.
And we all have different backgrounds, so if something gets through all three of our filters, we know it’s a good idea.
Luis J Gomez: Working with these two was almost like turning a corner on the production side of my career. Or really every side, because I now apply these things to everything I do. But, you work with people for years and you’re kind of “playing house” – a podcast is like playing radio or you film a web series that’s like playing TV. Eventually you stop playing house and everything holds a certain amount of value. There’s no more playing games, so that means if you’re working with other people, they can’t be playing games either. A lot of older comedians know this and will tell you, hang out with people who are funnier than you.
Rebecca Trent: If you’re the funniest guy in the room, you’re never gonna get any better.
Luis J Gomez: Exactly, so it’s the same thing with production and people I work with. You don’t wanna get stuck in a group of like-minded people who all think they’re good at this or that and no one is actually good at anything and nothing moves forward.
Christine Evans: We’re really able to divide and conquer
Rebecca Trent: It’s just so great to say “Yes.”
Christine Evans: Yeah, when you create something out of nothing, it’s so cool. There’s nothing like it.
Luis J Gomez: It’s nice to say “Yes.” It’s a philosophy across the board I have with people I work with. Let’s not say no, let’s figure out five ways to say “Yes.” We wanna have Jim Gaffigan headline a show at Skankfest? Let’s make that happen. We wanna put a fucking hot tub in the back… I’m very excited about, but Rebecca won’t let me do.
Rebecca Trent: I have literally told him he can do it FOUR TIMES.
Christine Evans: I have a note from a meeting that literally says “Horse drawn carriage for transport”…
Rebecca Trent: I have a call in to a horse carriage guy so we can parade Luis around Long Island City.
Luis J Gomez: The Skankfest production team smokes a lot of pot so you can only imagine how many ideas we have and how few of those ideas actually get executed. But we just started with the simple idea of “Let’s do a comedy festival”, and last year it was kind of for fun, we didn’t care if we made money. This year, it’s a business.
Luis J Gomez: I have a sales background, so that belief in the intangible is built into me. Most comedians, if you take a chance on stand-up comedy, you have this crazy belief in something that doesn’t exist already. So I have that built into me, if somebody says you can’t do something, I’m like “Get The Fuck Outta here, I can see the steps to getting there.” People to this day kind of trash it online and call it a “comedy festival” like in quotes, even comedians who submitted to the fucking festival!
We saw what we wanted to do and what we could do when we put our minds together. I think that most people are afraid to take chances and that leaves a lot of opportunity to take chances. I just say things out loud and then we have to do it because I’m not a fucking liar.
Rebecca Trent: He’s gonna do it, but people are still gonna think he’s crazy.
Christine Evans: Luis sent an email to us about a year before Skankfest happened and all it said was “We’re producing a comedy festival called Skankfest. That is all.” And we were just like, “Okay, I guess we’re producing a comedy festival.” And we put the whole thing together in about 6 weeks.
Rebecca Trent: We just watched Luis pace around and shadowbox while we listened to all his ideas and a few weeks later, he was like, “You guys are amazing, I just say stuff and then you do it!?”
Luis J Gomez: Not to get all dick-sucky, but I truly believe we are changing comedy with stuff like this. People are afraid to take chances and say what they want. It’s funny to use the word “safe space”, but we are creating a safe space for comedians to go and say whatever they want. And NOBODY in the industry is doing that. We want everyone to Go For It. The execs from Comedy Central and NBC aren’t going to be there. We hope the next generation of comedians will see this and say “Wow, those Legion of Skanks guys say crazy shit, but they still get opportunities.”
We’re at a time where everyone is second guessing what they should say, what they should tweet. And the best comedy comes from the gut. I think we are suppressing amazing comedy at a base level.
Christine Evans: We live in this amazing time where the medium and outlets exist where you can say stuff other people are scared to say. NBC doesn’t control show business anymore.
Luis J Gomez: But I think the reason people do it [censor themselves] is we watch it happen so often – Tosh, Gilbert Gottfried – people have to apologize because it’s their job. But the point is I think the industry should have a zero tolerance policy. The same way the U.S. doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, the industry should not negotiate with trolls and censorship.
Rebecca: The only thing that is supposed to be sacred is comedy. Comedy before all else. And we keep putting “issues” before all else or “triggers” before all else.
Christine: I also don’t take my cues from 19 year olds who haven’t lived life, which is what most of this is. You’re a baby! Your opinion doesn’t matter to me! You’ve never seen the world and you grew up in an all white neighborhood!
Luis J Gomez: Anger, laughing, crying, these are certain reactions you can’t lie about. They are true reactions and we shouldn’t be suppressing these true things.