There will be 28 shows in four days at four venues, all in walking distance. Level 5’s City Stage, The Beam Room at Front Street Brewery, The Reel Cafe, and Bourgie Nights will host the events. Each of the four nights will feature a special headliner and over a dozen other shows.
What first started in 2009 by then-local comedian Matt Ward and Timmy Sherril—owner of The Nutt Street Comedy Room (which is slated to re-open in the old Firebelly Lounge spot downtown in mid-May)—CFCF has been sustained by a strong cult following. With over two dozen popular local comedians circulating stage-time, Wilmington has proven itself one of the better small markets in the country for comedy. Sherrill and Ward wanted to create their festival with as much integrity and fairness as possible. “Most are done by a who-you-know basis,” Sherrill states. “But we like to give everyone a fair chance.”
CFCF accepted over 300 submissions and narrowed down their final to 64 comedians, not including headliners. Most comedians fly in from all over the nation, and though they don’t have cars or a place to stay, locals lend a hand and often let them sleep on their couches or floors. The festival represents an underground vibe, and welcomes young comics and veterans alike.
The opening headliner is two-time Daytime Emmy Award-winner Judy Gold (“The Rosie O’Donnell Show”), who plays May 7th at City Stage at 8 p.m. Her half-hour specials on HBO, Comedy Central, and her own critically acclaimed off-Broadway project, “The Judy Show: My Life as a Sitcom,” have secured her credentials across the comedy spectrum. Gold tells she always used comedy as a coping mechanism. Humor was how her family communicated. “We were rewarded when you had a snarky and sarcastic comment,” she quips.
Gold continues this twisted law within her own family. “My kids can get out of trouble if they say something funny,” she says, laughing. “But if it’s not good enough, they get punished.”
After a dare from a Secret Santa at Rutgers University, Gold was forced to do a 10-minute roast of the entire floor of her dorm room. “After that I felt a high like never before,” she says—“nothing that drugs or alcohol could do for me.”
Now, Gold thrives in the humor of her personal life. As a lesbian mother, there are many obstacles she faces against social mores, but she handles it accordingly. “I think it’s cool because in my skits I talk about this minority that I’m a part of, yet people can still relate to me,” she says.
To be clear, Gold doesn’t believe it makes her any more special. She wants her audience to understand humans go through the same things just in different ways. “There is nothing better than laughter,” she says. “And that’s a fucking fact.”
Another headliner, Joe Zimmerman (May 8th, City Stage, 8 p.m.), is a rising star making some headway on the circuit. He just released a new album on iTunes, “Smiling at Wolves,” and has recorded a half-hour special with Comedy Central, set to air in July. From NC’s own Davidson College, Zimmerman jumped into his first open mic knowing that stand-up was going to be his his full time job. “I would not recommend that to anyone,” he warns. “I honestly had no idea what it was going to be like.”
Zimmerman went into it simply hoping it would work out for him. Though it did, it came with a lot of hard work and strange shows. Zimmerman remembers hosting a small comedy club in Matthews, NC.
“I did my jokes that worked OK at open mics,” he explains, “and the paid audiences mostly stared at me. They were waiting for the main comics to come out. You learn pretty quickly that getting laughs at an open mic is very different than getting laughs at a show where the general public has paid money to see good comedy.”
Zimmerman is prepared for Wilmington, the now New York City-based comic has come to terms with feeding off of the crowd. He likes to test jokes and just let it loose onstage. Zimmerman focuses mostly on telling stories or observations that mean something to him.
“Being onstage is simply putting myself on display,” he describes. “I’m not trying to cram any opinions down anyone’s throat, but I also don’t want to waste anyone’s time with generic material.”
Making their local debut, The Grawlix (May 10th, City Stage, 8 p.m.) is a comedy trio of young and successful comics who found tremendous popularity on Will Ferrell’s site Funny or Die. Comprising Ben Roy (solo show, May 9th, 8 p.m. City Stage), Adam Cayton-Holland and Andrew Orvedahl, the Denver, CO, hosts do shows regularly. They fuse a variation styles, both on- and offstage. “The Grawlix has a completely equitable vote on anything,” Roy says. “Two-third wins everything.”
Roy believes creatively, there’s nothing better than having two other people around to bounce off ideas. “I’m very lucky,” he confesses. “Not everyone has this experience in collaborating.”
The Grawlix is also very loyal to their fan base; they strive on making new material monthly for those who support their shows. “Our fans are fucking gross, though,” Roy divulges jokingly. “Screw them all! If I could wipe them all off the planet, I would. But, right now, I have to pay off my motorcycle, so I can’t write them off just yet.”
With sincerity, he explains, “We got fans who started following us years ago and have stayed through all the changes. Denver is a very proud, loyal city, and anyone who performs here loves it.”
Roy calls it the little city that could and has seen similarities between Wilmington’s comedy scene and Denver’s. “It’s very isolated,” he says. “That isolation creates its own unique thing. Plus, I’ve heard nothing but good things about the festival. I’m pumped to get back down there.”DETAILS: Cape Fear Comedy Festival May 7th – 10th Various venues, downtown Wilmington Judy Gold headliner: $18 – $25 Festival pass: $20 • Day passes: $8 (passes do not include Judy Gold show) www.capefearcomedyfestival.com