Notes From a Comedy Junkie: Inside Skankfest Edition. The World’s Greatest Fans Attend the Greatest (and most controversial) Comedy Festival on Earth

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Inside the incredible comedy festival that the internet decided to hate.

It’s another edition of Notes From a Comedy Junkie as our own Sara Dahms tackled year 3 of Skankfest. Sara is a comedy superfan who even goes so far as to call herself a comedy nerd. Raised on National Lampoon, John Hughes, Gene Wilder, and Fairy Tale Theatre, her life changed after her older sister showed her Eddie Murphy’s Raw in 1988. Soon after, she found Andrew Dice Clay and became a stand-up junkie for life. Just a few years ago, she took her first comedycation to see Jeff Ross play in Miami on her birthday. Since then, she’s been traveling all over the country checking out the best comedy everywhere, a confirmed comedy addict, and now she’s agreed to share her travels with us. Read all Sara’s write-ups here, and check out her red carpet coverage of the Comedy Central Roast of Bruce Willis with interviews with Nikki Glaser, Dom Irrera, Samm Levine and more!


Skankfest founders Luis J. Gomez, Christine Evans and Rebecca Trent joined forces to create a three day, comedy celebration for the extremely loyal fans that GaS Digital Podcast Network and Legion of Skanks have cultivated over the years. What started out as an intimate celebration of comedy at The Creek and the Cave has grown into a multi-day, nonstop comedy marathon. Christine Evans and Rebecca Trent busted their asses making sure that four rooms of comedy ran perfectly smooth for three whole days and three nights and they did an amazing job! I have the utmost respect for these two women and I heard their praises being sung by the legions of fans in attendance all weekend.

The list of performers, podcasts and various other forms of entertainment at Skankfest is always amazing and there is no question that having booked talent such as Dave Attell, Ron Bennington, Bonnie McFarlane, Michael Che, Bill Burr, & Louis C.K. is extremely impressive, but the truth is what actually sets Skankfest apart from all of the other comedy festivals out there is us fans. The fans at Skankfest are the best comedy fans in the world and at a time when censorship has been sheepishly rebranded as “PC culture” and an artist’s fundamental freedom of expression — something that we thought was important enough to protect in the Constitution–  so often seems to be under attack, it was an honor to meet so many other people who were in on the joke. No one had to explain to us what a joke was, or that jokes are NOT meant to be taken seriously. The fans at Skankfest didn’t need instructions. We knew that when we walked into a performance, we were entering the home of the artist. This means that we leave our egos at the door because it’s no longer about us and the only “safe space” that exists within the theater, is the stage and if you care about the arts, it can be no other way. Comedians are artists who have taken time, lost sleep, often lived at the poverty level for years upon years while first starting out and perfecting their crafts and if you enter into their home to hear what they wrote, it is on their terms. This is crucial because if you really care about comedy, then you want comedians to feel completely free to get into their zone and find their funny and at Skankfest, we cared about that. `I encountered nothing but respect, kindness and friendship. Skankfest is the greatest comedy festival on Earth and it was attended by the best comedy fans in the world! It was the best weekend of comedy ever and here are some of my highlights.

Skankfest, Day 1: Make New Friends but Keep the Old

Me and Geanie

It was 78 degrees, the sun was shining, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The summer solstice and Skankfest had both arrived and the festivities had definitely begun. I got in line for Doug Loves Movies and almost immediately met Geani. She was in town from Indiana with her boyfriend Tony who was doing guest vocals with the band that won Battle of the Badass Bands 4, Dwarf Among Midgets. I flew in from Chicago so we compared stories of how we made our way from the Midwest, through the storms and into this beautiful city just in time for this amazing festival. Geani introduced me to one of the friends she drove down with from Indiana. His name was Messy and he was the drummer from Dwarf Among Migets. They were so nice! I felt lucky to have met them. Alas, my first show was starting so I bid them adieu.

Doug Loves Movies, Skankfest Edition

Doug Loves Movies” made its Skankfest debut and this premiere episode featured Luis J. Gomez, Trey Galyon, Mike Cannon, and Big Jay Oakerson who was defending his three time undefeated record on the show. Doug described this installment of his show, “Legion of Skanks with 15 minutes of movie talk” which sounded like an absolute dream to me…. and it was! Jay ended up coming out with the win and his perfect record remains unscathed. I’m a movie nerd and the only competitive sport I play is trivia so this show was the perfect way to get my Skankfest going.

After the show I went outside and ran into Big Jay Oakerson. He’s one of my favorite people in the world and is an extremely talented comedian and he introduced me to his friends. They were a young, professional couple who also happened to be extremely fun and really love comedy. Those are two of my favorite qualities a person can have and they ended up being two more quality people that I had fun hanging out and watching comedy with. It was only two hours into Skankfest and I was already having the time of my life. Maybe too much fun in fact because by the time I headed off to go upstairs for “Legion of Skanks” the line had already gone in. I’m short and the room was completely packed. Just then I saw Geani and like the angel that she is, she took my hand and said “Don’t worry, follow me” and that girl led me all the way through that crowded room and dropped me off right in front for the show. It was perfect! What a sweetheart!

Legion of Skanks

Ari Shaffir and Zac Amico joined Big Jay Oakerson, Luis J. Gomez and Dave Smith at the table. This episode was completely out of control. It had everything, including about a thousand well earned “Zac!” chants and a bit that was akin to adult themed pro wrestling that escalated from Luis apologizing and asking Ari to please accept his apology. It most notably featured a failed attempt at squashing the beef that’s existed between Ari and Luis ever since last year’s “Naked Roast,’ but unfortunately for our viewing pleasure, Luis rejected the terms of Ari’s plea deal but the good news is that Ari’s infamously ginormous balls made a hilarious cameo in this episode and we all laughed our asses off. I guess we finally learned where Luis J. Gomez draws the line.

I honestly thought that Luis might actually go through with it, for the bit, but I was totally wrong. I wondered what the craziest thing these guys ever did for the bit was and then the coolest thing happened, the guys did a Q and A and I got to ask them and find out their answers! For Jay the farthest he’s gone for the bit was the time he made out with Luis, for Luis it was having Jay give him a helping hand with a Fleshlight, Dave said that doing LOS with Jay & Luis for all of these years is his answer, for Ari it was having his friend with one arm pretend to make a video making fun of him for making fun of her in a bit and Zac’s answer may be a crime! That was so much fun! I love my Skanks!

My last show of the night was going to be “The Naked Roast” hosted by actor, writer, comedian and wrestler, Zac Amico. In addition to hosting the actual roast, Zac Amico and his assistant added a side-show element to the event and even though I watched most of his tricks through half closed eyes, I thoroughly enjoyed the controlled mayhem that Zac created around him. I have never been to one of these shows before but boy am I glad I decided to push myself out of my comfort zone and go. Ari, the Great came out to get the evening started. He asked that no one take their phones out for the entirety of the event and spoke to us about the uniqueness of witnessing a one of a kind event such as this and suggested that if we see our neighbors taking their phones out, we ask them to put them away out of respect for the space. It was a beautiful introduction to a show that pushed me out of my comfort zone and into a new way of thinking about what comedy could be. “The Naked Roast” was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Comedians who were lesbian, gay, straight, bi, and trans mustered up the courage to perform completely nude, throw insults at one another and then get critiqued by a panel of naked judges in front of an audience. And this audience was amazing! We laughed, applauded and supported each comedian no matter how they identified and judged them only on the quality of their material. When it came to the actual roast, all bets were off and these comedians went at each other hard, with no safety nets to rely on other than the original material they wrote just for this show and it was hilarious. What these comedians did took courage and I am proud to report that the audience at Skankfest was completely respectful of every single comedian who came out on stage and not one person got called out for taking their phone out during the entire show. We rock.

 

Skankfest, Day 2: The Day Dave Attell Lost His Mask to Ron Bennington and I Lost My Shit for Louie

The second day of Skankfest started at The Creek and the Cave for breakfast and the Skankwalk. I looked around for an empty seat and joined a table. All three of the people I was sitting with were comedy fans who had flown in from different parts of the country just to be there for this event. One of them was from Colorado, one from North Carolina and the other was from Wisconsin. It was the first time any of us had met each other and yet there we were, talking comedy and enjoying a meal together. Luis J. Gomez soon gave the rally cry and the group of about 50 comedy fans left The Creek and made the one mile Skankwalk to the festival. The group sang songs and talked about what shows we were most looking forward to on this beautiful summer day.

I couldn’t wait for Unmasked with Dave Attell that Ron Bennington was hosting. This show was a huge surprise to me. Ron didn’t announce this “Unmasked” on his SiriusXM show, “Bennington” in advance so I only learned about it when I saw it listed on the Skankfest program when I was on the plane on my way to this party! Dave Attell is my favorite comedian and yet also the comedian I know the least about. He’s very private and seems to have mastered the art of respectfully turning a question back to the person asking it. If anyone was going to be able to help Dave open up and talk about himself, it was Ron Bennington! Aside from being one of my favorite memories from Skankfest, this show was yet another example of just how awesome the people at Skankfest are. My seat for this show was all the way on the end of the row and there were three very tall dudes sitting to my left who were blocking my view and like total gentleman, they volunteered to move down a chair and switch seats with me. How courteous! I thanked them and told them what a huge fan I am of Ron and Dave’s. They were three friends who had flown in from all over the country just to meet up and be in New York together for this amazing weekend of comedy. One of them even flew in from Hawaii. It was interactions like this that really made Skankfest so special.

Ron Bennington and Dave Attell came out and they got right into it. Dave Attell was his usual funny self, making jokes and shining a flashlight into the crowd as Ron made wisecracks about the lack of lighting in the room. It didn’t take long before these two masters were talking like they were the only two people in the room. There was one question that I’ve been dying to know the answer to and by golly, Ron asked it! Dave Attell is a masterful joke writer and improviser but the one thing he never does is tell stories. Ron asked him if he would ever branch out and take a swing at this final frontier of comedy and tell stories about himself on stage and Dave’s answer was surprising. He said no because he considers that to be “weak.” He explained that it’s too easy to write jokes about the things in his life he’s most familiar with and so he doesn’t draw inspiration from his personal life in that way. I understood what he was saying but I for one would still love for Dave to go into his vault and tell us some of his stories from his adventures in comedy. That well is too deep not to tap into but it’s actually about more than just the material in my eyes. Hearing Dave Attell share a few of his stories from his career in comedy is also about his legacy. And as he’s starting to throw the word “retirement” around more and more, there’s sentimental, reflective and celebratory elements to it as well that I think would be good for everyone…. But I digress… The good news is that even though Attell may not be into telling jokes about his personal life on stage, that did not stop him from being open with Ron and telling stories about his first job in his family’s bridal store, having aspirations of being in the military when he was younger and when presented with the idea of the future Dave alluded to retirement eventually being in his plans.

Ron is the best interviewer and conversationalist and he proved it to me yet again with this “Unmasked.” Anyone who’s been a fan of Dave Attell’s as long as I have knows what a special treat it was for him choose Skankfest as the setting for a sit down interview. Dave always says that “Legion of Skanks” fans are the best fans in the world and now I know that he really means it. We love you, Dave!

 

After the high of seeing Dave Attell’s “Unmasked” I headed upstairs and caught Rich Vos and Bonnie McFarlane’s show, “Would You Bang Him?” This was fun! It’s where male comedians go up and do a quick set then have a panel of judges determine if they would bang them based on how funny they were. All of the judges were female so Rich decided to show the world how progressive we are at Skankfest and chose a gay, African American male from the audience go up on stage and join the panel of judges. He was actually super funny and fit right in with fellow judges Corrine Fisher, Kim Congdon, Kerryn Feehan, Krystyna Hutchinson. It was a very funny show and in the end the only thing that everyone could agree on is that Michael Che is extremely bangable!

After this show, I went downstairs and was going to head outside to get into line for “Kill Tony” but when I walked past the main room I heard Ron Bennington’s voice on stage so I decided to head in and watch his set. Lucky for me, I was able to get to the front of the standing room only area and still have a pretty good view of the stage. That’s when I noticed one empty chair at the very end of the front row. Score!!! Ron finished his very funny set and Justin Silver came out on stage to announce the next comedian. This was the moment I completely lost my shit as well as any ounce of cool I ever had…. Instead of announcing the next comedian on the bill Justin Silver brought out surprise drop-in, Louis C.K.!!!!!

As soon as he said his name, I let out an involuntary scream that I think was the sound of my pride completely leaving my body because I then proceeded to jump up and down, clapping and pumping my arms in the air in complete elation. Louis CK took the stage to a standing ovation and if you’d like to see what this looks like, TMZ got ahold of the video and described me as a “woman going berserk,” and they’re not wrong either! LOL!!! Louis did about 20 minutes of killer material and completely proved that he still is and will always be one of the most talented comedians of all time. I’m a huge fan of his work and always say that if “Seinfeld” is a show about nothing, then “Louie” is a show about everything! I’m not going to write any specifics about his actual material except to say that Louis CK shared that he was adopted and as a foster parent that made me love him more than I already did. I felt so lucky to be there! I mean, I almost walked right past the room. If I wouldn’t have heard Ron Bennington’s voice on stage, I would have missed Louie completely… and yet there I was with a front row seat! Amazing!!! I love Comedy and if you are one of the people who wishes to sentence this man to a lifelong ban from comedy, I have bad news for you. He’s back. Sorry…. Not sorry!

My second day at Skankfest ended with “The Goddamn Comedy Jam with Josh Adam Meyers” and Tony Hinchcliffe bringing down the house and proving that he is more than a comedian, he’s a Rock God. Tony had the entire room singing, moshing and completely under his control as he belted out System of a Downs hit, “Toxicity.” It was there that I ran into the group of super nice fans that had switched seats with me earlier that day at “Unmasked.” They formed an awesome wall that I was able to stand behind and make sure that I was safe every time a mosh pit started, proving yet again that Skankfest has the greatest comedy fans in the world!

 

Skankfest, Day 3: The Day The

The last day of Skankfest had arrived and I woke up feeling grateful for all of the amazing people and comedy I had encountered thus far but was also curious as to how the universe could ever possibly top the Louis C.K. pop-in to which the universe basically said, “Sara, hold my beer!”

The third and final day of Skankfest began with a ring, a referee and a room full of enthusiastic fans who were super pumped to watch Mike Harrington fight his boss, Luis J. Gomez in an effort to defend his job! The place was pretty much packed to capacity and short people problems are real. That’s when one of the many friends I met over the weekend saw my struggle and she offered me a chair to stand on. I’ll say it as many times as it takes until everyone believes me; Skankfest has thee best fans in the world!

The match began and everyone was pretty much waiting for Luis to kick the crap out of Harrington and that is exactly what ended up happening. In Mike’s defense I will say that I saw a video that Corinne Fisher posted when she volunteered to help train him and he really does pack a mean punch. My advice for Mike Harrington is to start working out, get in better shape and then start your campaign for a rematch! Skankfest 2020!!!!!  In the end Luis beat Mike but Ari came out the real winner because he ended up getting the revenge he has so desperately wanted for a year and this vendetta is over.

 

Kill Tony” was next on the agenda for me. I love all of these guys and I’m always impressed with Brian Redban’s quickness on the board. All of them are so funny! Ari Shaffir, Rich Vos and Bonnie McFarlane sat on the panel of judges to give hilarious critiques as Tony Hinchcliffe picked open micer names out of a hot dog water holder otherwise known as “The Bucket of Destiny.” Then one at a time, people came to the stage to perform 60 seconds of material. I’m sad to report that many of those who came to task did little to no preparation for their moment in the spotlight but the good news is that made it all the easier for this panel of expert roasters to come up with some very hilarious feedback for them. One of my favorite moments from this show was when Tony surprised us and brought out a comedian that we all love but didn’t know that their first time ever doing a joke on stage was when Tony pulled her name out of the bucket at The Comedy Store during an episode of “Kill Tony” many years ago. It was Kim Congdon! What an awesome story! We love you, Kim!

 

I watched the grand finale show of Skankfest 2019 from the side of the stage surrounded by so many of the talented artists we know and love. “The Goddamn Comedy Jam with Josh Adam Meyers” brought down the house and proved that it’s not a real party without them!

Highlights: Joe DeRosa sang, “I’ve Had the Time of my Life” and Big Jay Oakerson did a dance routine in the crowd with Becky Rodriguez and she landed the lift just like Baby did in the movie.  Big Jay Oakerson got brought out on stage by bagpipe. Tony Hinchcliffe gave the people what they want, more “Toxicity!”  Ari rocked out to Rage Against the Machine.  Bill Burr made a surprise appearance and played drums while Joe DeRosa sang “Kick Start My Heart” by Motley Crew!!!!

I saw more shows, made more friends and had more laughs than I have at any festival before. If you are someone who uses comedy or comedians to draw lines in the sand and create adversity, you’re doing it wrong. Comedy and laughter brings people together and Skankfest certainly did just that. Skankfest is more than a comedy festival, it’s a movement and it’s only getting bigger because this weekend the Depraved Laughter production group consisting of Luis J. Gomez, Christine Evans and Rebecca Trent announced their expansion of Skanfest into “Skankfest South: Skank By Skankfest!” Legion of Skanks and the team will be taking this festival on the road and heading to Houston, Texas for a weekend of more comedy debauchery March 28th and 29th and who knows what city they’ll be heading to next! As for me, Ari said it best at the start of the Legion of Skanks podcast, “I love the vibe here. This is the purest celebration of comedy and I’m happy to be a part of it.” Thank you for everything!!!!!

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Sara Dahms
Sara Dahms
Sarah Dahms is a comedy superfan hails from Chicago and travels all over the country checking out the best comedy everywhere.