Mirth-athon 

Inaugural Idaho Laugh Festival brings two days of funny

Megan Bryant, organizer of the inaugural Idaho Laugh Festival--going down Friday, Jan. 10, and Saturday, Jan. 11, at venues across Boise--extended a lesson in talking to someone who does comedy for a living: Don't ask that person to tell a joke.

"That's the worst way to start an interview with a comic," she said. "It doesn't work like that. I mean, I can just tell you a joke, but stand-up needs to have a setting that's appropriate for it.

"Like, here's a joke: I ate a lot of cat food as a child," Bryant began. She said she thought if she ate cat food, she would turn into a cat when she grew up. It obviously didn't work. "But as it turns out, the side effects just take a little bit longer than I thought. As I've grown older, I can see a little more each day that I'm turning into a cougar."

Bryant said jokes have more impact in the right environment, where an audience can readily embrace them. And that's the environment she's hoping to create at the Idaho Laugh Festival.

The festival will feature family friendly comedy shows as well as R-rated late-night club scene material. Friday and Saturday are packed with 70 comedians at several different venues, including the Egyptian Theatre, Reef, Liquid Laughs, China Blue and ComedySportz.

Bryant--who runs local improv troupe Chicks n' Giggles--got the idea for ILF from similar festivals happening in Wenatchee, Wash.; Austin, Texas; and Boston. She has watched Boise's comedy scene gain momentum over the past few years, and she decided it was time to do something big.

"It's like a ticking time bomb, in a good way. [We want] to give all the energy that's building in the stand-up and improv communities another outlet, so we can show the public that this is what's available," Bryant said.

She didn't expect her festival to grow quite so large, though. With working a full-time job managing media and marketing campaigns for volunteer firefighter recruitment, and raising two children under 6, she planned for a one-day event with a couple of shows but branded it to make it look like a bigger deal and sent an email to several of her comedian friends around the country.

"Within five weeks, I had 80 submissions from stand-up comics," Bryant said.

Based on headshots and a five-minute tape of material, Bryant chose 70 comedians and improv players for ILF. Out of the 46 stand-ups, only eight are from Boise, and of the nine improv troupes performing, four are from out-of-town. And only the two headliners, Eddie Brill and Dennis Regan, are being paid.

Local comedian Heath Harmison has been in the stand-up and improv scene for more than a decade and comedy is his full-time job. He said festivals like these aren't about the money. They're considered "investment trips." And in the case of ILF, it could be a very wise investment: Bryant said a producer from the Funny or Die comedy video website plans to attend.

"Festivals are meant for comedians to be seen, to build their network," Harmison said. "It's all about who you know. Bookers will come to these festivals to see who's doing what. They want to see who's going to be the next big thing."

The fest will also feature comedy workshops, including a storytelling workshop led by Story Story Night's Jessica Holmes; an introduction to improv; a stand-up workshop lead by headliner Brill, the warm-up comedian on the Late Show with David Letterman; a musical improv workshop; and a seminar on the business of stand-up by Liquid booker Jen Adams and Liquid manager Matt Bragg. Adams said the workshop is for amateur comedians who haven't been in the business very long.

"I'll answer questions from the booker's angle," Adams said. "Things like club etiquette--showing up late, drinking too much, making rookie mistakes like that. ... There's usually a wall between booking/management and the comedian. This lets them know how to interact with the industry business side and get the best results as an up-and-coming comedian."

Adams books comedians for Liquid, and plans to attend as many shows as she can during the festival to "window shop" for the club.

"If I like somebody, I'll take their information and book them," she said.

Though this festival is the first of its kind in Boise, Bryant wasn't the first person to have this idea. A few years ago, promoter and comedian Sarah Shamblin Foster had the same idea and even bought the domain name for a Boise Comedy Festival. She started looking for sponsors and comics.

"I was really excited," Foster said, "But I was so new, I didn't have the clout yet to go after those things, so I refunded everyone's fees. I wanted to do it right, not do to it half-assed, so I got several more shows under my belt."

Since then, Foster has put on two Boise's Best Bad Dancer contests and the well-attended, first-ever Boise's Funniest Person competition at Liquid this past summer. She had her sights set on March 2014 for a Boise Comedy Festival.

Then she saw a Facebook post announcing the Idaho Laugh Fest.

"I was disappointed and indignant," Foster said, "But I just kinda stepped to the side graciously. [Bryant] pulled the trigger before I did."

Foster said she doesn't feel any resentment toward Bryant or the Idaho Laugh Festival. She said Bryant even asked to meet up with her early on, but Foster didn't want to be part of someone else's festival. She has plenty to keep her busy promoting her own shows, including a live courtroom comedy with people who have minor grievances, set for Saturday, Feb. 15, at Liquid.

Bryant said she heard about the Boise Comedy Festival years ago and wanted to participate but started to get impatient waiting for it to get off the ground. But she said she didn't know until later that Foster wanted to hold Boise Comedy Festival in March.

Bryant said she feels as ready for the festival as any comedian right before going on stage: ready, but not ready. But she has a feeling it'll go well.

"This is going to be my baby," Bryant said. "I'm going to watch it grow into adulthood. Into a cougar."

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