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North Texas Comedy Festival curates charitable laughs

North Texas Comedy Festival curates charitable laughs

Comedian Mark Nash was the first performer at the North Texas Comedy Festival on Oct. 7. Brigitte Zumaya

North Texas Comedy Festival curates charitable laughs
October 11
15:23 2017

Denton’s most recent comedy festival began Oct. 5 on the small stage of a crowded little white house named Killer’s Tacos.

The audience for the North Texas Comedy Fest was adorned with different colored wristbands, signifying how many of the festival events that they would be attending. Local comedian Joe Coffee took to the stage and opened the charity event with a joke about the irony of performing comedy for charity.

“I was doing some shows out in Colorado and a homeless man stopped me outside the venue,” Coffee said. “He said, ‘Sir, can you spare some change?’ I said, ‘Man, I have no money. I’m a stand-up comedian.’ He looked me up and down to assess the situation and goes, ‘My bad, fam — you right,’ and then he gave me $5.”

The North Texas Comedy Festival stretched over a three-day period at five different venues: Killer’s Tacos, BackYard on Bell, The Abbey Underground, The Bearded Monk and the Black Box Theatre.

“This was an endeavor,” said Nick Fields, a local comedian and host of the event at BackYard on Bell. “There was marketing involved. We had to go to multiple venues and make sure they all had the same days open, and then you go to sponsors and vendors. This was something we talked about doing for quite some time — long time.”

Out of all festival proceeds, 35 percent were donated to Language of Laughter, a charity that aims to assist children who are struggling with literacy.

“Essentially, we use the comedy show as a vehicle to raise money to buy books for kids,” said Stu Hollowell, coordinator of the North Texas Comedy Festival and COO of Language of Laughter. “We focus on bilingual students. That’s our target. We want to make sure those books get to the kids who need them most, who might not have books at home.”

Hollowell is now a UNT alumnus, but he began Language of Laughter while he was a student.

“I started the charity when I was [at] UNT, which was a mistake for my grades,” Hollowell said. “But I somehow managed to graduate and run a charity at the same time. We’ve been trying to marry comedy and charity in Denton, and it seems to be working.”

The festival featured over 35 comics, mostly from the Denton and Dallas-Fort Worth area. The planning committee decided to hire organizers from Dallas to help select which comics would be performing in the festival because they knew many of the applicants personally.

“It was difficult to choose,” Hollowell said. “We had about a hundred submissions, and that’s cool, for an inaugural fest to have over a hundred submissions is awesome. It’s a success in and of itself.”

Hollowell said the Denton comedy scene has only developed to its current state in the last five years.

“It’s a fairly new thing,” Hollowell said. “There’s always been people telling jokes at music mics, but now you see more comics at these mics than you do musicians. We love our musical counterparts, but it’s cool that we are starting to get recognized as a comedy town as well as a music town.”

The festival was unique in the fact that it united so many different venues and so many different comics under one banner for a three-day event.

“All those people together that throw shows out here doing one big thing,” Coffee said. “You know, kind of reaching out to all the corners of the scene. That makes a difference, that makes it fun, to know we can all work together and put on one thing for one town, as opposed to our own thing. It’s always been one scene. We all get along great, but to do something like this, and work year in and year out with each other is pretty cool.”

Many of the comics in Denton know each other well and describe themselves as a community. They often perform together at the same venues and frequently attend each other’s shows.

The festival brought them together for one, large, collaborative show.

“We all pretty much know each other,” said Latrice Allen, a stand-up comedian and headliner of the event at BackYard on Bell. “Everybody’s real cool and very welcoming and supportive.”

While many comedy shows or festivals are organized by venues or bars that do not specialize in comedy, the North Texas Comedy Festival was created differently.

“The difference for this one is it was created by comedians,” Fields said. “Usually, when you run a fest, you have like a big sponsor or an organizer come in and put it all together and the comedians are more like consultants on it. But this one was by comedians. The people who are running it are comics. I think it puts together a better show. This is comedy fans making stuff for comedy fans.”

The festival was thoroughly organized and planned out in advance, but still stayed true to Denton’s “DIY” arts scene.

“It’s funny that a lot of people think festivals are this amazing industry-run thing,” said Jay Whitecotton, a comedian and headliner of the event at The Abbey Underground. “Cities like this have an artistic community that doesn’t really fit the clubs. So they come together and put on a festival to celebrate the local scene.”

While the event’s main goal was to raise money for Language of Laughter, the event was also organized as a way to celebrate the local comedians of Denton.

“The scene has been going for such a long time,” Hollowell said. “We really wanted a way to celebrate the scene, celebrate the comics, and bring people out to experience what everybody’s been working so hard for. Most of the people who come to our shows have never seen a comedy show before. It’s cool to be bringing comedy to a lot of people for the first time. That’s part of why we love doing it.”

The festival sought to raise awareness for the comic scene, to the point where it was its own kind of charity.

“We need attention,” Whitecotton said. “We are very lonely. Just validate us or we’ll kill ourselves. Give us a quarter, we need it for parking.”

Even people who do not live in the Denton area recognize the town’s thriving comedy scene.

“[The comedy scene is] really jumping and I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody moved a full-time comedy club to Denton,” said Slade Ham, a comedian who performs for troops overseas, participated in the documentary “I Am Battle” and headliner of the event at The Black Box Theatre. “You have a college town [where] people are starting to get in comedy. It’s kind of got this resurgence again with the young kids. Even if you don’t see a club, you’ll start to see a lot of the satellite stuff pop up. The little one-nighter, you know, a Thursday night mic and this and that. As long as there are black boxes like this, people are going to find ways to do shows.”

Featured Image: Comedian Mark Nash was the first performer at the North Texas Comedy Festival on Oct. 7. Brigitte Zumaya

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Slade Meadows

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