On a hot Tuesday evening in early September, I joined a few local comics around a table at Blackbird Buvette before an open mic got underway. The comics, Drew Wayne, Mike Long, Sarah Kennedy, Jason Green and Sarah Mowrey are members of an event committee organizing the 2nd annual Comedy Awareness Week, which starts on Oct. 12. I listened as the comics drank beer and got down to planning the upcoming festival that, according to Kennedy, is “a weeklong celebration of the local, DIY comedy scene.” Wayne describes it as “a week jammed all up with various types of events emphasizing live performance.”
Wayne, who earned his MBA at UNM, writes and performs super nerdy stand-up full of references to video games and comic books. His sets are smart and hilarious. With his background in business, he couldn’t help but take a strategic approach to planning this event. He has a goal for this festival, which he says is “to get this city back into the habit of going out to laugh.” Performing live is one of ABQ comedy’s biggest strengths. Of course, more traditional comedy shows do exist in ABQ—they have an opener and a headliner taking turns doing stand-up—but most shows around town are formatted in very unique ways and must be experienced live. This festival highlights ABQ’s diverse perspective on comedy.
The week commences Downtown on Saturday, Oct. 12 at The Box (114 Gold SW) with an improv and sketch show from Comedy?, the UNM improv troupe. It ends with a new show this year called The Comedy Olympics on Saturday Oct. 19, also at The Box, that’s looking so far to be the highlight of the week.
To qualify for the Olympics, the comedians will compete in a Vine contest the week of the festival, run by Kennedy but judged by fans. A Vine is a looping video that lasts a mere six seconds, so the challenge for the comics is to get people to laugh in just 6… 5… 4… Comics will create their funniest Vine video, post it to the Comedy Awareness Week Facebook page, and the ones with the most likes will compete in the Olympics, a multi-challenge comic competition. One difficult round requires the comics to improvise a stand-up set on the spot by pulling topics out of a hat.
Another high point of the week is the Cup-Full-O-Comedy Contest on Sunday, Oct. 13 at Joe’s (108 Vassar), the brainchild of comic Rusty Rutherford. For three years, Rutherford ran a stand-up contest every third Thursday of the month at Terrene Hookah. The show consisted of 10 comics doing 5-minute sets with audiences voting on the winner. Only the top three comics got paid, so the competition was always pretty tough. Cup-Full-O-Comedy is a revamped version of this show, and as Rutherford says, it’s “a multimedia comedy show with stand-up, funny videos and anything else we think will make you laugh.” This show will “be a little different” from typical stand-up, he explains. “There will be a stand-up contest, but also videos and other non-stand-up acts.”
The festival also includes workshops and panels at the UNM SUB on Oct. 19. The stand-up workshop, run by Kennedy, introduces comedy with lessons on writing a punchline and developing stage presence. There’s also an improv workshop and a panel discussion on the business of comedy. Comedian Curt Fletcher, who’s been doing stand-up for 12 years, is the featured speaker in the panel. Fletcher’s comedy is packed full of well-crafted one-liners, which has made him a favorite at comedy clubs around the country. Fletcher’s panel deals with the business side of comedy, the getting gigs and getting out of town of it all. “It’s just things that comics will need to help get on the road,” he says.
On that summer evening on the Blackbird patio as the comedians drank, planned and chatted, it was clear that the live comedy scene in Albuquerque is booming. The 2nd annual Comedy Awareness Week festival focuses on how important and thrilling it is to see comedy performed live. Although you can watch comedy from home, as Wayne puts it, “There is nothing like a live show, nothing like being in on the joke.”