by Ashlee Voorsanger You're a comedian.  You're writing jokes, doing mics, networking.  There are many ways to get your comed...

To Fest or Not to Fest? A Comic's Insight on What to Consider

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A close-up of a microphone with a group of people in the blurred background

by Ashlee Voorsanger

You're a comedian.  You're writing jokes, doing mics, networking.  There are many ways to get your comedy into the world: bar shows, club shows, college gigs, youtube, twitter. . . all of which can be done near or even from home (YAY!), but what about comedy festivals?

Comedy festivals are another way to network, build your fan base, and (sometimes) get seen by industry.  With over 175 established festivals happening this year alone, how do you decide when or if a festival is right for you?

The following are a few things to consider, and I've asked an industry pro with a unique insight, both as a performer and a producer, to weigh in.

There are different kinds of festivals: competition festivals (Laughing Skull), diverse just for fun festivals (Dallas Comedy Festival, which features stand up, improv, and sketch), and the ever elusive invitation variety (Just for Laughs).  Some comedians don't want to be "judged" against other comedians and / or perform under the constraints that some competition festivals impose.  Many competition festivals start out with short sets, that increase in duration as you advance to the next round, and many do not allow you to repeat material.  In addition to deciding if that format is a good fit for you, think about how many minutes of solid material you have and how you would break it down to perform under these circumstances.  There are also festivals that have industry at the shows (Laugh Your Asheville Off).  That is another component that may or may not appeal to you.  To get the most out of any festival, it's best to know what you want going in.

Once you decide which structure is best for you, you can use that to filter to the next level of differentiators.  Some festivals are stand up only.  Some festivals celebrate and include all things comedy: stand up, sketch, improv, and some also include comedic content like short films or other media.  There are also festivals geared towards women, the LGBT community, alt festivals and others.

Okay, so you've decided to take the next step, and apply for a festival.  Now what?  Do your research.  Find out more about the festival, the venues, past line ups.  That will help you know what to expect and also if you are a good fit for the festival itself.  Talk to other comedians about their festival experiences, ask questions - this is an investment in you and your career and putting some work in ahead of time will help you get the most out of the trip and your experience.

If you are applying to your first festival, you might want to target smaller or newer festivals that may have less competition for spots.  Find out if there is a festival in your hometown, or another place you've lived.  This can help ease anxiety as you will be in familiar surroundings and might have friends of family that would love to see you perform.

Before you haul off and apply to every festival still accepting submissions, there is another rather important thing to consider... COST.  The application itself has a cost associated with it, typically $25 - $50.  Not too big a hit for one application, but four or five festivals later and there goes a couple hundred bucks.  You should also factor in the cost of getting back and forth to the festival, would you need a car, is Uber or another car service a reliable option there (believe it or not SOME places don't have all the options of large metropolitan areas), where will you stay?  You may want to price out hotels or other options.  This is another good reason to apply to festivals where you may have friends or family with a comfy couch or (gasp) a GUEST ROOM!  Of course, don't forget to factor in the cost of food / beverages / related socializing during the trip.  There are some festivals that offer travel and / or lodging, but they are largely the exception and not the rule.

Alright.  You researched.  You plotted.  You planned.  You applied.  Now what?  You wait.  Some festivals will let you know during the submission process when selections will be made and announced.  Many festivals will send both rejection and acceptance emails . . . some will only send an acceptance emails . . . so that's right, after all this work and research and anxiety - you may hear nothing at all. 

Hey HEY! You got that sweet sweet acceptance email.  It's time to get started.  Decide how much (or how little) you want to do during your trip.  Many festivals will create their own private performer groups on Facebook that will allow you to start networking, and serve as good place to get additional information about the festival / the city / the scene.  You may also want to look for other groups related to  hat city and comedy community to see about mics or shows that are happening while you are there.  If time and budget allow, check out some of the local attractions!  Museums, dive bars, world's largest ball of twine - who knows what cool stuff you'll uncover.

Finally, and most importantly... have FUN.

Ashlee has featured in the Chicago Women's Funny Festival, Big Little Comedy Festival, 
and the 2017 and 2018 Dallas Comedy Festival.

*CLICK HERE for 10 Festival Questions with Comedian and Producer Carole Montgomery

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