If you’re not local to the Rhode Island area, you might not be familiar with Rhode Island’s only Comedy Festival. Now in its third year, the Rogue Island Festival kicks off today and runs for four days of pretty impressive comedy, particularly for such a small state. This year, the fest welcomes some of our favorite performers. It’s toplined by movie star, TV star, stand up star and improv star T.J. Miller, along with plenty of names you’ve seen featured here on The Interrobang, like Greg Stone, Amber Nelson, Nick Vatterott, Kelly MacFarland, Christi Chiello, Rosebud Baker, Dan Perlman, and Brendan Sagalow for starters.
The fest features 14 shows over four days in beautiful Newport, R.I. So, save some time to check out the amazing Newport waterfront, Cliff Walk, bars and restaurants. Every show is good old fashioned stand up. Plain and simple with each lineup fine-tuned for diversity and variety. Behind it all is R.I. comedian Doug Key, who took some time to speak with us about his own history in comedy and the festival.
The Interrobang: How long have you been doing comedy and where did you get your start?
Doug Key: I started comedy 8 years ago in Providence, RI.
The Interrobang: What’s the comedy scene like in Rhode Island?
Doug Key: The scene in RI is quite small as you’d imagine. It’s a comedy buffet of club shows, VFW halls, Italian restaurant gigs, and bar shows. It’s pretty tight knit though and everyone helps each other out in one way or another. The Comedy Connection in Providence is home base for a lot of us RI comics.
The Interrobang: What made you decide to start a festival?
Doug Key: I started producing a monthly show in Newport in 2012 called “The Wasted Talent Show!” It started at this little black box theater and it sold out almost every month. The shows were always stacked with a nice variety of talent. I was amazed by the support and the positive feedback I got from the locals. It was just something new and original to do in town. Due to a scheduling conflict, I had to find a new venue for the show. Then that venue closed and I had to find yet another venue to keep the show going. I realized that I can set up a show anywhere I see fit, so I thought why not book a few of these shows at different venues in one weekend and call it a festival. I ran the idea by my friend and fellow comedian, Rob Greene, and then Rogue Island Comedy Fest was conceived.
The Interrobang: Did you have a favorite festival that you modeled yours after? Or was your goal to be different from existing fests?
Doug Key: I actually had little to no festival experience when I had the idea. At the time, the only festival I had ever done was the Boston Comedy Festival which was a contest, and I certainly did not want Rogue to be a contestival. We wanted it to be a place where comics can network and hang in a non-competive atmosphere. We definitely took some of the standard bells and whistles like gift bags with custom badges, t-shirts, and koozies. We also wanted to add some incentives like a meal, a couple drinks, and most importantly, money for their time.
The Interrobang: Who will be performing at the festival?
Doug Key: We booked 69 comics this year (not on purpose) so I can’t list everybody, but some stand out names are Christi Chiello, who is actually from Rhode Island. Greg Stone, who did the festival our first year. I’m really looking forward to seeing Nick Vatterott, Amber Nelson, Sydnee Washington, Kelly MacFarland, Sean Sullivan and some local killers like Ray Harrington and Pat Oates.
The Interrobang: How’d you get T.J. Miller to perform at a new small fest?
Doug Key: Well logistically, we had to secure a big enough venue to be able to make it work, but apparently T.J. enjoys doing festivals and I think our reputation from our first two years may have helped our case. It’s just an overall better vibe during a comedy festival. The crowds are there for comedy and comics, famous or not, are reminded why they do this. I think T.J. appreciates that.
The Interrobang: What’s the hardest thing about putting together a festival?
Everything. It’s an incredible amount of work. The amount of attentiveness it takes to keep track of everything is insane. It takes nearly 6 month of preparation, confirming comics, venues, scheduling press interviews, promotional materials, ad campaigns, signing sponsors, and way more that I’m probably forgetting. I don’t recommend doing this without a team. Mine is amazing.
The Interrobang: Who are some comics people might not be familiar with yet who you think they should be paying attention to?
It’s sad that most people may not be familiar with any of the comics, but just like any good music festival, you go with friends, have a blast, and walk away with some new favorite musicians or bands you never knew existed! Many comics who’ve done our fest in the past soon went on to do big things. Last year, we had Sam Jay and since then she’s done a late night set, taped a Comedy Central special, and got hired to write for SNL! Just saying, you’re literally seeing the stars of tomorrow at a bar in Newport!
The Interrobang: Who are some of your comedy inspirations?
Doug Key: It’s hard to narrow it down really. My inspiration is always changing the longer I do this, but before I started comedy, I spent a few years watching and studying a lot of comics that were all over Comedy Central at the time like Attell, Giraldo, Judy Gold, Al Madrigal, Dane, Mitch, and noticed how each had their own style authentic to themselves. I guess that era of comedy in itself was where I got most of my inspiration.
The Interrobang; If I could only attend one Rogue Island show, what should I see?
Doug Key: Oh man, that’s like asking who my favorite child is! I hand picked these lineups so it’s very hard to choose just one, but I’d say other than seeing T.J. Miller at an old historic theatre, come see the Nick Vatterott show on Saturday at 7pm because that guy is an amazing performer and born entertainer.
The Rogue Island Comedy Festival starts tonight and runs through October 9th. Get more information, tickets and a look at the lineups at www.rogueislandcomedyfest.com