Laughter is said to stimulate circulation, soothe muscle tension, lower blood pressure and boost endorphins, prompting some to ditch the yoga mat and binge stand-up specials.
After the mind-numbing chaos of 2020, it’s fair to say we could all benefit from embracing more humor.
Boulder is getting its first ever comedy festival slated for June 24-27. Originally scheduled for last summer, the multi-day event — with a focus on female comics, inclusivity and diverse voices — promises hilarious sets from local and regional talent hitting up area stages.
“I have wanted to do a comedy festival for years,” said Zoe Rogers, comedian, writer and founder of Boulder Comedy Festival. “I started thinking about it around the time I began producing. I like to put together lineups of eclectic people that have different perspectives and voices. I remember thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be awesome to do a festival like this?’ At the moment, we are finalizing our list of performers. We should have 18 to 20 performers, eight touring comics and 10 local.”
Rogers put out a call to comics and received submissions from talent mainly based in New York, California and Colorado. Confirmed comedians include Chris Bryant, Tamer Kattan, Dave Williamson, Shanel Hughes, BK Sharad, Wally Baram, Dorell Green, Eeland Stribling, Brandon Vestal, Katie Bowman, Mike Merrill and Felicia Michaels.
Prior to moving to Boulder, Rogers was a staple of the thriving comedy scene of Los Angeles and while she welcomed the chance to make folks chuckle nightly with her relatable sets — that often covered the honest perils of parenting — she was disappointed at the lack of other females and absence of people of color in lineups.
“When I started in comedy, it felt like most lineups were all straight white men and if they did have a woman in the lineup, it was exactly that, just one woman,” Rogers said. “It can be a lot of pressure to feel like you’re representing your entire gender on a show.”
While aspects have improved, there is still a long way to go and Rogers hopes this festival is a step in the right direction.
“It’s gotten so much better for women in comedy than it was 10 years ago,” Rogers said. “That’s not to say that most lineups aren’t men, but there seems to be a growing awareness of having women and diversity in lineups. Obviously, that’s not all the time, and it’s not everywhere. When I started comedy a decade ago, the challenges of being a woman in comedy were everything from lack of representation and limited opportunities to feeling like you had to work harder to get stage time.”
The conversation around just what in means to be a woman in the industry has recently received some airtime with the April 2021 release of “Hysterical” — a documentary that features interviews from some of today’s most boundary-breaking female comics, including Amy Schumer, Sherri Shepard and Iliza Shlesinger.
“There’s also the awkwardness of people telling you what you should talk about onstage, as opposed to what you want to talk about,” Rogers said. “What that really means is there are topics some people aren’t comfortable hearing a woman talk about. A lot of women in comedy have had similar experiences, from being harassed, being told they ‘don’t look like a comic’ or dealing with people who don’t like to work with women and make that very obvious. Lots of women have had the experience of being introduced by a description of how they look, as opposed to using their credits.”
The festival — that features stand-ups that have appeared on Comedy Central, Stephen Colbert and Netflix — will take place at the Dairy Arts Center and The Louisville Underground at Tilt Pinball. An array of ticket options are on sale now.
Proceeds from the June 26 show will benefit Out Boulder County.
“I do see this as the first of many,” Rogers said. “There was a lot of interest in the festival. We are already talking about next year. I’m really fortunate to work with venues that are very supportive. Boulder could use the healing power of comedy.”
Rogers is reaching out to sponsors to explore what other elements can be a part of the inaugural festival.
“Food trucks would be awesome,” Rogers said.
Local businesses interested in partnering with Boulder Comedy Festival are encouraged to reach out to info@BoulderComedyFestival.com with suggestions.
“I’m a very collaborative person, so when I saw that there was a new comedy festival starting in Boulder, I reached out to Zoe (Rogers),” said Ann Sabbah, artist and co-founding producer of Denver Fringe Festival. “I had read that she’d performed at the Edinburgh Fringe, so I wanted to let her know about the Denver Fringe. I also thought it would be nice to talk about the process of starting a festival, how it was going for her and see if we could share any ideas or resources and help cross-promote each other’s festivals. And of course we could, women are so supportive that way.”
The Denver Fringe Festival and The Boulder Comedy Festival will take place over the same days and will both feature performances by Tamer Kattan and Felicia Michaels, as well as Boulder/Denver-based comedian BK Sharad and Denver-based comedian Eeland Stribling who were part of the 2020 Denver Fringe.
“We had a great conversation and when we realized the dates of our festivals were overlapping, we had to laugh,” Sabbah said. “We decided we’d plug each other’s events whenever possible.”
Rogers and Sabbah are seeing the two events happening simultaneously as a way for attendees to double their fun and experience a cross-section of unique performances. Both summer festivities are geared to attract attendees in Colorado and those from out of state.
“Because Denver and Boulder are so close, people don’t have to choose one festival over the other,” Sabbah said. “It would make a pretty incredible weekend of entertainment to plan to see shows at both the Denver Fringe and the Boulder Comedy Festival. There’s so much variety — you could see a mixture of comedy, theater and other innovative stuff happening — and they’re both such great destination cities in the summer.”
In addition to organizing the festival, Rogers will also be taking the stage in June.
The presence of a number of ladies orchestrating comedy-related events, throughout the country, brings comfort to the mother of three.
“Having more women running mics and shows is huge,” Rogers said. “I love when I see that. I love when I see a lot of women on a show. I love when I see a diverse lineup. It is important to me that diverse perspectives and voices are heard. Representation matters. I am a big believer in the idea that once you get your foot in the door, you should hold it open for other women. I’m also a big believer in creating opportunities for other people.”