People throughout all corners of Greater Baltimore will celebrate this upcoming Labor Day weekend with all of the usual end-of-summer ceremonies: barbecues, family visits, beach trips, Sunday night parties and other last bits of fun before the kids head back to school and work gets busy again.
Still, the persistence of alternating severe heat and apocalyptic rains makes the whole idea of summer actually ending in September seem wildly outdated. No matter where you fall in the what-or-who-caused-this-weather debate, chances are high that you might want to spend as much of the long weekend as possible indoors. And entertained.
Luckily, the 3rd annual Baltimore Comedy Festival, which takes place from Aug. 28 through Labor Day (Sept. 2), offers a great reason to escape the heat and mosquito bites. Prepare for six nights of hilarity from local and national comics with these answers :
(taps microphone) Is this thing on?
Cool! So, a Baltimorean walks into a bar and wonders, “What’s the Baltimore Comedy Festival?”
(crickets) OK ... anywho, the Baltimore Comedy Festival is an annual comedy showcase that features performers from across the country, but focuses on the local and regional comedy scene.
Wait, we have a comedy scene?
Absolutely. With so much death, poverty, corruption and other unfunny things taking place daily, Charm City deserves every opportunity to laugh it can get.
And it gets them. Comedy-focused venues like the Comedy Factory, Sully’s Comedy Cellar and The BIG Theater draw audiences for both local and national touring acts. The Ottobar, Motor House and other multi-format spaces additionally host their own regular comedy shows. Those spaces only scratch the surface of Charm City’s ever-changing comic landscape.
None other than superstar comic and actor Kevin Hart highlighted the scene in a Baltimore episode of his showcase-cum-travelogue Comedy Central show, “Hart of the City," in June. During that visit, he sat down with local comics Ty Davis, Sir Alex and Baltimore Comedy Festival founder Ivan Martin.
So how did the festival begin?
Martin, who moved to Baltimore from Virginia in 2009, noted that the local comedy scene has traditionally been segregated—not just between black and white, as American comedy pipelines have historically been, but also different disciplines like stand-up, improv and more formal theater.
“When I came to this city, it was such a huge DIY scene, which is a beautiful thing and I’d never seen anything like it before,” he said. "However, what the DIY scene lacked was organization. It allowed everybody to do what they wanted to do, which kind of created this very, very friendly but very secluded, cliquish environment.”
Martin, who built his career in the highly organized and professionalized world of for-profit comedy clubs, launched the recurring Art of Comedy showcase at the Motor House in 2015. His goal: to build line-ups around the tenets of diversity and professionalism.
“I just started putting together comedy shows that always included one person from the black community, one person from the... white community, one person from the LGBTQ community, one person from out-of-town, one person that’s an amateur,” he said.
By 2017, Art of Comedy spread to other venues and earned increasing local attention. Seeing the potential to combine showcases into a major event, Martin launched the Baltimore Comedy Festival that year.
How many comics perform?
Martin said that each iteration of the festival featured over 100 comedians in total.
And it’s just stand-up?
No, although that’s still the main focus. This year marks the second Sketch Fest, a juried showcase of sketches and shorts. Titles include “Death of a Cookie Saleswoman" and “What is the Stock Market?” Find answers at the Motor House on Aug. 29 at 7:30 p.m.
That sounds like a lot. Who should I see? Where should I go? How do I make sense of it all???
Well, besides the Sketch Fest, start by putting these events at the Motor House on your calendar:
- The Opening Ceremony on Aug. 28, 8 p.m. at the Motor House—the festival’s main partner and headquarters. Enjoy drinks, food, music and conversations with comics at 8. Stay for a showcase with Elizabeth Norman, Tink and others. This ceremony, like several other Baltimore Comedy Festival events, is free of cost (with donations encouraged but not mandated).
- Club Out of Town on Aug. 30, 8 p.m. at the Motor House. This is the festival version of Norman’s recurring showcase for women, non-binary and LGBTQ comedians—in other words, communities with plenty to say that too many comedians use as punchlines. It’s free.
- Hilarious Omar, also on Aug. 30, 9 p.m. at the Motor House. This Baltimore-D.C. comic achieved viral success thanks to his quippy parodies of regional slang, celebs and rap tropes. His Instagram boasts over 83,000 followers. He comes home for one of the festival’s main headlining events. Tickets are $15 or less.
- Closing Ceremony on Sept. 2 (Labor Day), 9 p.m. at The Sidebar. Performers, fans and randos alike can wrap the festival and see novices at the downtown staple’s recurring open mic night. Cost? Free.
Other participating venues include the Ottobar, Zissimos Bar, the Mercury Theater and the Lord Baltimore Hotel. Find the full schedule below, or at baltimorecomedyfestival.com, and visit the festival’s Facebook page for updates.
Well all that sounds dope!
It is. So much so that comic and “Black-ish” star Deon Cole stopped by last year to hang out with the comics. No word on if he’s coming this year, but if you’re lucky, you can catch another comic giant on the move.