Building a Better Comedy Festival 

The 208 Comedy Fest is set to pack Boise with future superstar comedians

click to enlarge Comedian Chris Fairbanks has performed at the 208 Comedy Fest. - 208 COMEDY FEST
  • 208 Comedy Fest
  • Comedian Chris Fairbanks has performed at the 208 Comedy Fest.

If the founders of the 208 Comedy Festival get their way, their festival would be as big as Treefort Music Fest. When Dylan Haas and Emma Arnold founded it in 2017, they wanted to build a bigger platform for comics in Boise and convince the funniest comics in America that the City of Trees is a real destination. Three years in, they're realizing that dream.

"The festival we wanted to build was that we would always grab people right before they got famous while we could still afford them, and I feel like we've been nailing that every year," said Arnold, who is also one of Boise's preeminent stand-up comedians. Her cross-country touring schedule doubles as a chance to scout out the best talent to bring to Boise, which has made a good impression.

"I've been delighted to be in Boise," said Caitlin Gill, a rising star who first visited during Treefort in 2017. "This is my third visit for comedy and it's just a beautiful town and the crowds have always been great, and that's a lure that will draw me from just about anywhere."

People are often surprised by the caliber of talent Arnold and Haas bring to Boise. "Everyone who comes out always says 'I'm sore from laughing,'" said Arnold. She and Haas have worked to put together the right group of comedians, finding a hilarious and diverse group of performers that will impress all comers to its events, which run Thursday-Sunday, Sept. 5-8.

click to enlarge Erin Foley at the 208 Comedy Fest - 208 COMEDY FEST
  • 208 Comedy Fest
  • Erin Foley at the 208 Comedy Fest

"Women come to me after the shows and they're, like, 'Oh I do like comedy! I thought I hated comedy but it turns out I just hate male comics who talk about how much they hate women,'" said Arnold.

They're also serious about creating a festival that's safe and inviting for everyone, which has historically not always the reality in the comedy world.

"Trans comics and women have been like 'I felt so safe here the whole time,'" said Arnold.

Haas said this focus on the lineup and environment at the festival "was borne out of making the festival we want to see." They've taken no shortcuts. When a major sponsor balked at their partnership with Planned Parenthood in 2018, they ditched the sponsor.

"We didn't sell our soul and now we're broke," said Arnold.

Despite that setback, the festival still offers high-level comedy at a bargain-basement price. Single shows cost between $10 and $15; a pass to every event is $89. A VIP pass is $139. Like Treefort, the 208 Comedy Fest is a chance to see the big performing acts of tomorrow, and in a few years, a single ticket to see one of its guest comedians could cost as much as a festival pass. Arnold and Haas said they hope every comedy fan in Boise will attend.

click to enlarge Palavi Gunalan has performed the 208 Comedy Fest. - 208 COMEDY FEST
  • 208 Comedy Fest
  • Palavi Gunalan has performed the 208 Comedy Fest.

"I mean yeah, I guess you could go see another Marvel movieā€”not to knock Marvel, if they want to send us money," said Arnold.

If everything goes according to plan, the 208 Comedy Fest will be the best part of September.

"Spreading joy is the whole point," said Haas. "You're going to laugh. There is no doubt in my mind that if you come down, you're gonna have fun."

MARIA BAMFORD

Comedy legend Maria Bamford has been called "the funniest woman in the world" by Judd Apatow, and "brilliant and ridiculous" by Sarah Silverman. Beloved for her understated, erratic style, her comedy often wrestles with depression, anxiety and her dysfunctional family. Her semi-autobiographical Netflix original, Lady Dynamite, garnered stellar reviews. "She's my idol," said Arnold. "I almost started crying when I met her." Bamford will headline the fest on Saturday at The Knitting Factory at 8:30 p.m.

SOLOMON GEORGIO

Solomon Georgio has appeared on Conan, Drunk History, Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail, This is Not Happening and 2 Dope Queens. He has written for High Fidelity, Adam Ruins Everything and HBO's Crashing. His first comedy special appeared on Comedy Central, but perhaps his most impressive achievement is writing for Spongebob Squarepants. "Solomon is my favorite comic," Arnold said. He will perform Friday at Liquid Laughs at 8 p.m.

JENNY YANG

The 208 Comedy Fest tries to find comedians before they get famous, but they were too late on Jenny Yang. "Jenny does huge stuff already," said Arnold. In addition to her solo act, the Los Angeles labor-organizer-turned-comedian tours the nation with Disoriented Comedy, which her website describes as "The first-ever (mostly) female asian american stand-up comedy tour." When she's not on tour she hosts the talk show podcast A Little Forward and writes for the sitcom Last Man Standing. Yang will perform Thursday at Liquid Laughs at 10:15 p.m.

SAM TALLENT

Sam Tallent may be a successful comedian, but to hear him tell it, he's just another guy. "I'm really funny for everybody. Universally loved. Admired by peers. A rising meteoric star, the future of comedy today," he said. To keep his ego in check, he has worked alongside comedy greats like Dave Chappelle, Dana Carvey and Hannibal Buress. He's excited to return to Boise, and has fond memories of the city from his visit with his punk band in 2008. "Boise was really strange because I'd never met punks who also knew how to fly fish," he said. You can see Tallent at Thursday at Liquid Laughs at 8 p.m.

CAITLIN GILL

Big things are in the works for Caitlin Gill, who just released a new comedy album, Major, which is named after her dog. What can you expect on the new album? "My comedy is silly, confessional as opposed to observational," she said. And most importantly, it's clean, which means it's perfect for the ride home with your kids or the bluetooth speaker at the office barbecue. Voted Best Comedian by the East Bay Express and named one of the 2018's best Comics to Watch by Time Out Los Angeles, Gill has plenty of reasons to celebrate. But she remains grounded, and acknowledges the limitations of her profession. "Nobody will ever write anything funnier than someone falling down and not being injured," she said. Caitlin performs Saturday at Liquid Laughs at 10:15 p.m, and she will return to Boise for a four-night engagement Sept. 13-16 at Liquid Laughs.

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