It’s official. I’ve finally recovered from my riotous weekend down south at the Charleston Comedy Festival. What. A. Blast. The food, the people, the insane/beautiful/terror-inducing cab rides, ain’t nobody does it like Charleston.
Festival producers BRANDY RUCKER SULLIVAN, GREG TAVARES and tech and all around great guy SEAN SULLIVAN are three of my favorite people on the planet. Truly. They know how to put on an amazing festival, welcome all their attendees and create a fun and creative environment, which left me feeling re-energized and inspired. Each year the festival grows. More venues, bigger names (this year welcomed TODD BARRY as headliner), but the vibe is always all-inclusive, southern charm and hospitality. Many times over the weekend I found myself joking about a move there, but in all seriousness I could see myself in Charleston. It’s sort of magical and, I learned this weekend, it’s the number two destination wedding location in the US after Vegas. Magic!
KATE TELLERS and I landed on Thursday and settled into our hotel room in the posh Aloft Charleston. The beds. Oh god. The Aloft beds hold the bar. Amenities included a fully-equipped gym, lap pool, pool table, bar, outdoor lounge, fireplace, free coffee and a bowl of toothpaste. They really know how to treat their performers down south.
Our first cab ride to downtown Charleston was rather tame compared to the ones to come. Charlie, our driver, told us to eat at his favorite joint, A.W. Shaws, and pointed out some places we could hang in our free time including the visitor’s center and the road leading to the mansions at the tip of the peninsula. He dropped us off in front of the Charleston Ballet Theatre and, after grabbing our first of many glasses of Malbec, we took our seats for a show including THE SHOCK T’s, NATE BERGATZE and THE VILLAGE THEATRE. TYLER PATERSON, TIM DUNN and G.L.O.C. SARAH SHOCKEY make up THE SHOCK T’s, an adorable trio of singers (with Tyler on acoustic) who regaled us with original songs, covers and a hilarious sketch about a kitchen-raiding medium. I was immediately psyched about their unbridled enthusiasm, something that is sometimes lacking from NY comedy. They were preceded by four gents from THE VILLAGE THEATRE who improvised a myriad of hilarious scenes off the suggestion Henry VIII, and were followed by NATE BERGATZE, a NY-native I had never had the pleasure of seeing in our native NY. Much to my own dismay! His laid back brand of comedy set the audience at ease, silenced the drunken hecklers behind me and I’m still laughing about ovens vs. transformer cars.
Friday night brought the premiere of my solo show, DISCO BALLS, which was paired with another fabulous NY group NEW EXC!TEMENT, aka my new obsess!on. Smart, hilarious, sharply executed sketches from G.L.O.C. MARY GRILL, CHRIS ROBERTI, MATT HOBBY and CHRIS MANLEY (RANDY PEARLSTEIN was home sick) that I looked forward to seeing once more on Saturday night on the second night of our run. It was wonderful seeing a woman as strong as MARY GRILL holding her own on stage with a group of equally hilarious gents. Her speech through a fit of sobs on the space shuttle in a sketch I assume is just called “Manly” (or “Randy” when RANDY is in attendance) had me howling both nights. I hung and talked with them, we ate Roti Rolls from the Roti van parked outside Theatre 99 (where I learned that MARY and MATT are engaged!) and I discovered my new comedy crushes.
Post-show, KATE and I hopped in a cab to head back to Aloft and had the singular most hilariously terrifying experience on the planet. Our driver crawled along at 12MPH while his mouth ran at 40. He kept calling us “beautiful ladies” which was not only sweet, but true, and within the first 5-minutes, after learning we were in town from NY, told us of his time in NY on the mean, mean streets as a homeless drug addict. Not necessarily frightening since my first instinct was to congratulate him on kicking the habit, but when I noticed the meter had never been set paired with his saying over and over, “God has big plans for you,” we were both pretty sure those plans were a double murder in the woods of SC. The hilarity came from his insistance that I, “ask yer dad. He’ll tell you.” since I had never once mentioned my father. I tried to keep the conversation light, endeer myself to him all the while filing my nails to a point in the back seat while KATE, hand on handle, prepped herself for a split-second ditch and roll. I mean, we could have handled ourselves, but the relief has never been greater than after he dropped us in the parking lot of the hotel. With great relief comes great breakdowns of pee-inducing laughter. I almost didn’t make it. But I did.
New Yorker MATT DONNELLY, now living in Vegas, brought his show TAROT LOUNGE to the Charleston stage and I was lucky enough to be a part of the cast. Based off a one card tarot reading given to an audience member, the show is a fun and fresh new improv format. MATTHEW LOVE, ANTHONY BATISTA and ERIK TANOUYE rounded out the cast the first night and, night two, we lost ERIK, but added PATRICK SHEPHERD & KURT BRAUNOHLER. I feel lucky to have shared the stage with these kind and generous performers!
On Saturday we ate a pre-show dinner of fried oysters/okra, pecan encrusted chicken, collard greens and mashed potatoes at the one and only Jestine’s. Home of the legendary coca-cola cake! (Which we also ingested.) The house at Theatre 99 was packed, the shows went off without a hitch (big ups to Sean in the tech booth!) and we all set our sights on the finale and afterparty. I met up with two Charleston friends at the Mellow Mushroom during the finale, but headed back in time to catch the end of MURDERFIST (with G.L.O.C. JACKIE ZEBROWSKI) and to perform in the final improv jam with THE HAVE NOTS!
I had a great conversation with SOMEBODY’S IN THE DOGHOUSE‘s LEAH GOTCSIK & MARTY JOHNSON, but missed their shows and was sad to have also missed JILL BERNARD, TODD BARRY and the firey & fierce DOPPELGANGER, but with the addition of new venues many shows ran simultaniously. The cab ride home on Saturday night (morning) with SASHEER ZAMATA & KEISHA ZOLLAR of DOPPELGANGER and a few of their friends (NICOLE BYER had taken an earlier cab) more than made up for it when the entire van of seven, including myself and KATE, broke into perfect harmonies for the chorus of “It Takes Two.” The driver and his sidekick, a sweet sleeping pup between our seats, gave us a dance party we’ll never forget. A once in a lifetime cab ride. Magic. TODD was on our flight home so we had a chance to catch up with him and chat about our shared misery in having had colds all weekend, and his general hilariousness helped ease the massive hangover I had from having gotten about 3 minutes of sleep the night before. (There was an interview with Stiller & Meara on TV when we got back to the room. How can you resist?)
The afterparty featured mad beats by ATHONY BATISTA, some insane dancing by OSCAR MONTOYA and G.L.O.C. JULIA MORALES of NORTHCOAST (OSCAR performed with LOCAL 154 in the festival and he confirmed that they did indeed listen to their playlist during their 15-hour drive from NY) and G.L.O.C. JESSICA MICKEY kept us all hydrated from behind the bar all night long. (All night.)
Another huge shout out goes to BRANDY, GREG & SEAN for their hard work and dedication to producing another fantastic festival. I know I speak for all in attendance when I say – have us back next year!!
(Check out some pictures from the festival by ANTHONY BATISTA here.)