One week after Boston Calling, the area is getting another festival geared toward attracting comedy fans. Who’s going to be on it? Well, unlike the splashy announcements that drew folks to see acts like Jenny Slate, Fred Armisen, and Michael Che…this lineup’s a surprise. And the organizers like it that way.
“We’re less about the glamorous big tents and people walking around on stilts,” Don’t Tell Comedy founder Kyle Kazanjian-Amory shared with me ahead of this weekend’s Boston takeover, the first festival in the company’s history. “We’re focusing that energy on making these shows really cool and really special, using the money to bring in talent from New York and packing the lineups with the best comics.” And in a city like Boston with such strong comedy roots, Kyle thinks it can support a slate of eight intimate and unique shows over the weekend (May 30th-June 2).
It seems like a massive undertaking for a company that, only two years ago, was hauling chairs in a Prius to a friend’s backyard for their first show in Silver Lake, Los Angeles. Fun fact: they made forty chairs fit that night, their record is sixty. “It was BYOB, we weren’t charging at the time. It was mostly friends, and friends of people at the house. It was really fun,” Kyle remembers. “We had a really fun lineup on that show, we had Sam Jay on that first show- who’s now a writer for SNL and one of our favorites.”
Since then, the concept of quietly announced shows in venues like furniture stores, clothing stores, coworking spaces and more has expanded to 35 cities across the country. When asked about how they’ve grown at such an impressive clip, Kyle put it simply: “we have a very light frame, and we’re very network driven.” Rather than trying to organize shows from afar, Kyle and his business partners place trust in the hands of comics in the host cities, who do the heavy lifting of approaching venues and creating relationships. Then they partner with these organizers to coordinate talent. In cities like Boston, these relationships have extended further to other bar shows in the area, allowing booked talent to perform on additional shows. The result? “We can pay the same amount that a club would pay to do these local, fun shows in weird places.”
This weekend’s shows will take place all across Boston, and will culminate with a comedy cruise on the Charles River with a lineup wholly different from the ones that will have taken place in the days prior. Again, there’s no sign of who will take to the water with the guests, but Kyle doesn’t worry about that often. With most of the comics, “you may not know who they are beforehand, but you’re going to want to follow them after.”
But that doesn’t mean that Don’t Tell doesn’t have the clout to pull big acts. Since pulling Sam Jay on to their first show, they’ve also attracted the likes of Bryan Callen, Taylor Tomlinson, Langston Kerman, and a number of other highly visible (and highly funny!) talents to their stages. When I asked who they’ve been surprised to be able to get, Kyle answered with no hesitation: Ali Wong, for their LA shows. “She lives in the neighborhood that we’ll usually reach out to her to do a show. I really admire her, her work ethic,” he marveled. “She works so hard and will pick up spots outside of typical club spots just to get more reps in […] so it’s impressive and cool to see that she wants to come back and do the show again.” And on his Don’t Tell wish list? He acknowledged that Bill Burr would be an amazing get for Boston, wished aloud for Adam Sandler and Dave Chappelle, as well as Maria Bamford – an icon of sorts when it comes to doing comedy in unconventional places (see The Special Special Special, filmed in her living room for her parents, Joel and Marilyn Bamford).
And it’s that intimate and interesting space angle that Kyle continually comes back to. “Most comedy is filmed in large theaters, which isn’t how comedy exists today. It’s a very small percentage of the shows that go on, toward the end or prime of a comic’s career. But most shows happen in small places, weird bars…and for us, you never know where it’s gonna be. For us, we’re trying to really show what comedy is today.”
For a look at the unusual and unconventional spots where Don’t Tell Comedy will be popping up this weekend in Boston, check out Don’t Tell’s site – quickly. Boston shows are notorious for selling out (by Kyle’s count, every one in 2019 has) so get in early!