Memphis standup and improv comedy performers will come together for the first Memphis Comedy Festival Thursday, Feb. 16, through Sunday, Feb. 19. Presented by the Memphis Roast Club, the festival is at TheatreWorks, 2085 Monroe Ave.
The Roast Club is a comedic mercenary group performing Friars Club-style roasts for charities and private events. The club was launched last year by local standup comic Katrina Coleman as a way of showcasing the talents of local comics to audiences who might not normally go to a standup comedy show.
Memphis hasn’t had a permanent comedy club since Comedy Tennessee in Bartlett closed three years ago, and Coleman hopes the festival will be a chance for comedians to get together and showcase their talents to the wider Memphis community.
“Memphis is always very supportive of all its local talent,” Coleman said. “Most people in Memphis don’t even know that there’s an underground comedy scene, and I think as soon as the city realizes the talent that it has here, then the city will support it.”
Current ABC-24 sports reporter and former pro-wrestling impresario Corey Maclin hired the Roast Club to perform last December for a show benefiting Youth Villages, a Memphis charity. The positive response inspired Coleman to expand the Roast Club’s scope. She decided to create a showcase for the greater Memphis comedy community.
The earliest event – Thursday night – is a late-night podcast taping.
Friday evening’s main events start at 7:30 with “home IMPROVment,” a night of improv featuring local groups The Wiseguys, Running Gag, BIT (Black Improv Troupe) and FreakEngine.
“It is the first time all four improv groups have performed under one roof,” Coleman said.
Former Soul Classics FM morning radio personality P.A. Bomani heads up the eight-person Black Improv Troupe. The BIT players began at the Hattiloo Theatre but quickly outgrew the venue. Now the troupe performs at the Open Heart Spiritual Center on Broad Avenue the third Friday of every month.
Bomani also sees the value in getting the Memphis comedy community together under one tent.
“We’re able to exchange ideas because standup and improv comes from the same creative point,” Bomani said.
Also on Friday night, the Memphis Comic Film Society will present a screening of a rare schlock sci-fi film “Attack of the B-Girls.” The comedians will add their own running commentary in homage to the cult TV show “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”
“Doesn’t everybody love to watch a bad movie with some guy who thinks he’s funny interrupting it?” Coleman said.
The festival continues Saturday, kicked off by two workshops for those who want to learn the comedic craft. The improv workshop, led by Austin King of The Wiseguys and Mike McCarthy of Running Gag, begins at 9 a.m. The standup workshop, led by 2011’s Funniest Person in Memphis, Richard Douglas, and nationally touring feature act Jane Haze will follow at 1 p.m.
Those who take the standup workshop will get a chance to show off their skills. A standup showcase featuring the newly trained comedians will start at 7:30 Saturday night.
Then at 9, a full evening of Memphis and Mid-South standup comics will perform in a showcase called the “Ultimate Championship Marathon Run of Epic Destiny.” Fifteen performers, including Kerry White, Brandon Sams and Amy Pannell, had signed up as of press time, with several more expected to be added.
Another podcast taping will occur Sunday afternoon, then the festival will culminate in the Sunday night roast of longtime Memphis standup comic and former owner of Comedy Tennessee, Sammy Marten.
Individual show tickets are $7 at the door. Single workshop tickets are $25 each or $40 for those wanting to attend both the improv and standup workshops. For registration information, visit memphisroastclub.com, the TheatreWorks box office or call 264-0055.