This year, Musikfest will feature a dash of laughter at the Charles A. Brown Ice House, as it teams up with Lehigh Valley with Love on the first official Lehigh Valley with Love Comedyplatz. The two-day showcase, taking place on August 11-12, will give 30 comics from New York, Philadelphia, and the Greater Lehigh Valley the opportunity to showcase their material at the historic venue.
Lehigh Valley Underground sat down with George Wacker, Lehigh Valley with Love founder; Ryan Hill, ArtsQuest programming director; and comedian Tyler Rothrock for a look at what’s in store, both now and in the future.
Last year, Lehigh Valley With Love put on a comedy showcase at The Ice House during Musikfest. Take us through that event, how it came to be, and how it went.
GW: Tyler approached me with an idea of “Hey, we should do some comedy at Musikfest. How can we make that happen?” After a lot of talking and venue searching, and even wondering if it was something people would want to see, we were able to secure The Ice House, put out as much marketing as we could, and crossed our fingers. Thankfully, we were able to pack the house on an unreasonably hot night, and everyone had a great time
TR: I really just woke up with it one day, and I knew if I didn’t include George and the Never Again Radio guys, I would most likely just keep it as an idea. But, getting other people on board and getting it announced forced us to make it actually happen. It went great last year. We couldn’t have been happier.
This year, the showcase is included as an official part of the Musikfest lineup, titled the Lehigh Valley With Love Comedyplatz. What/who aided the jump to Platz status?
GW: Tyler can attest more to this, but he always had it in his mind that he wanted the show to be a part of Musikfest. I was just glad to be able to get Lehigh Valley with Love involved. After some talking with ArtsQuest, we decided that it’d be a smart move to bring comedy to the North Side, as there seemed to be a pretty decent number of people who were willing to see a few shows in between their music listening.
TR: Being a part of Musikfest was my goal the whole time. We just didn’t get things moving early enough last year, and that might have worked as a blessing in disguise, because had we been a part of Musikfest, we may not have discovered the Ice House as such a cool venue. Ryan and I are in constant communication about comedy, and he was interested in how it went. Getting included into the programming for Musikfest is a seal of approval that goes a long way around the Lehigh Valley.
RH: Tyler had let me know about the 2016 version well before it happened. I was definitely interested in seeing how it would do, as I’m always looking for ways to further ArtsQuest’s comedy programming in new and viable ways. Patrick Brogan, our Chief Programming Officer, was also very interested in seeing how this did, as he’s been very supportive of my efforts regarding comedy and, as the main programmer for Musikfest, is always looking for new things to add to the festival to continue to broaden its appeal. So, when I saw last year’s version succeed, Patrick and I pretty much immediately set forth to partner up with George and Tyler to make ComedyPlatz an official part of Musikfest 2017.
Comedy fans are in for not one, but two nights of comedy Aug. 11-12. What led you to do this on multiple nights?
GW: More of a question for Ryan and Tyler, but the more the merrier, right? Besides, we had more than 200 comics submit to be a part of this event, and we wanted to try and include as many talented artists as possible.
TR: Ryan has been producing comedy successfully for a long time. This is a part of the process where George and I let Ryan use his experience.
RH: My reasoning essentially had to do how many submissions we received, but also how many people come to Musikfest. We get nearly a million people (and sometimes more than that) every year. So, instead of putting this on one night and really hoping that night’s crowd has a bunch of comedy fans in it, I figured there’s no reason why it couldn’t be on two nights, since we’ll have yet another set of a few thousand people to go after the next day, with its own set of comedy fans there. Many people just come to Musikfest, walk around, check out the brochure or app, and make decisions on what to see, hour by hour. Having this on two nights exposes more people to ComedyPlatz.
We’d love to grow this to the point where comedy is happening every night in the Ice House, but want to first take the baby steps necessary to see if that is something the public actually wants or will respond to.
Surely, you had no problem getting submissions, with more than 200 comics vying to perform. Tell us about the lineup. Who should we look out for?
RH: I’m excited to have the opportunity to bring in younger comics from New York in a way I don’t currently have. Blair Socci just made Bustle’s list of best female comics in the country, and the other day was named as one of the New Faces at Montreal’s Just for Laughs comedy festival, widely considered to be the best comedy festival in the world. Patrick Monahan has more than 70,000 Twitter followers, one being former President Obama. Dina Hashem was featured in Comedy Central’s Roast Battle last year, and Dan Perlman has done a lot of cool things in the comedy world, including creating the animated series That’s My Bus!
We also have some great Philly comics coming up, including Shane Gillis, last year’s Philly’s Phunniest champion at Helium Comedy Club, and Brendan Vincent Jackson, runner-up in this year’s competition.
All of this becomes really exciting to me when I consider the local talent we have in ComedyPlatz (10 comics born and/or currently living in the greater Lehigh Valley area) who will get a chance to perform alongside these NYC and Philly comics in a way they’d otherwise have to travel to those cities to do. ArtsQuest’s mission includes fostering an environment for local artists to flourish in, and this definitely helps.
TR: Being a comedian, I wanted to make sure the submission process was accommodating for the comic. I also wanted it to be fair and unbiased, so I kind of took a back seat in the selection process. But, I was there and can guarantee every submission was reviewed, and it was hard to narrow down the field. I’m very excited for all six shows.
Each night has three separate shows – 7 p.m., 8:45 p.m., and 10:30 p.m. – featuring a different lineup of comics for each (total of 30). In your estimation, how will each unique lineup help to create an overall experience?
GW: The variety of comics is going to be something that people will enjoy. Every show is going to be different.
RH: We definitely sought to make sure each lineup was as diverse as we could make it, in regards to performer backgrounds, homebases, and performance styles. I think we did a decent job of that, but hope to continue to improve it for future incarnations.
TR: I think we’re all pretty curious how this will all unfold. But, the one thing we know we can rely on is the talent coming out. There isn’t a comic throughout the six shows that anyone should miss their set to go to the bathroom. That being said… if you need to go, go.
It’s fair to note that there are plenty of performers from beyond the Valley. What encouraged you to open this up, as opposed to making this a local showcase?
GW: Musikfest is definitely about local artists, but it’s also the largest free music festival in the nation. SXSW and other big festivals don’t just bring in local artists, although local artists are a highlight of their events. By being able to bring in artists from other regions, we hope that it will bring in crowds from those regions, or at least gets the word out a little bit more.
RH: I alluded to this in a previous answer, but this set of shows allows me to showcase NYC and Philly comics that might not otherwise get to Bethlehem for simple lack of stages. I only have so many shows produced at SteelStacks and, other than that, there isn’t too much else for them. I hope that situation continues to get better, however.
TR: It’s cool for local comics to work with people from all over. But really, part of where the original idea came from was to show off Musikfest to my friends who aren’t familiar with it. Musikfest has been my favorite week of the year since I was a kid. I thought if we could bring some comics here and show it off, it could turn into an event they won’t want to miss.
What are your hopes for the future of LVWL Comedyplatz?
TR: World domination.
GW: We’d love for it to continue to grow and remain a part of Musikfest for years to come. The festival is really in a great place now, and adding even more entertainment is exciting.