Today, I chat with one of Salt Lake City's longest-running stand-up comedians and founder of the Carnivale, Christopher Stephenson, about what you can expect over the festival's run. (All pictures courtesy of Stephenson.)
Gavin: Hey, Christopher. First thing, how have you been since we last chatted?
Christopher: I have been very busy. I'm glad ,though; things have progressed a lot since we last talked.
Gavin: Catching up a bit, how has stand-up been going for you over the past few years?
Christopher: It's been good. There have been a lot of shows that have popped up all over the valley, so the stage time has been easier to come by. The scene has grown a lot, as well, which is good for everyone involved. I had the great opportunity of opening for Doug Stanhope this past June. It was a huge milestone in my comedy endeavors.
Gavin: What's the good word on your other projects, like Sketchophrenia?
Christopher: Sketchophrenia is still around. It has been on hold for a bit; we have been really busy organizing the Comedy Carnivale. We -- Andrew Jensen and Troy Taylor -- have still been writing together. Once this fest is out of the way, we will start production on our next live sketch show; I hope to have it ready by next summer for some performances. We will have some new comedy shorts uploaded for the holidays, so keep a lookout for those. We are also planning to collaborate with Glass Eye Dog on some projects.
Gavin: Getting right to it, how did the idea come about to start up the SLC Comedy Carnivale?
Christopher: Andrew Jensen and I have talking about organizing a comedy festival for a few years now. Finally, after discussing it for sometime, we decided to just go for it. We came up with a basic concept of how we wanted to the festival to feel. We wanted variety, all types of comedy. We also wanted it to be submission-based. We wanted the up-and-coming talent. We are both huge fans of comedy; we love it all. We wrote out a game plan, came up with a name, made a logo, built a website and started networking with other comedy scenes to get the word out about the submissions. Then, it started to snowball.
Gavin: Considering that we already have a comedy festival, what made you feel we needed to have a second fest?
Christopher: The Salt Lake Comedy Festival is great; it features a ton of local talent, especially the improv scene. It's family-friendly which there is a definite market for that here. But not everyone wants to watch family-friendly comedy. To be honest, we just had a different view on what we wanted for our festival. We wanted to have the performances submission-based. Any comedian out there could submit to perform. We wanted it to be a 21-plus thing so we could give the performers complete freedom on content. None of the comics are going to have to wear a paper bag or a dog cone because they brought up something crass or offensive. Most of all, we wanted the performers to come to Salt Lake City, perform for awesome crowds and have a great time here. We want to show off our own comedy scene to comics from all over, giving our local scene a chance to network with comedians from all over the country for almost an entire week.
Gavin: When planning it out, what did you do to set yourself apart from the other festival?
Christopher: Well, obviously, the name, for starters. We intentionally sought after venues that were 21-plus, like Brewvies and The Complex. We wanted to take submissions from any comic out there. We wanted all types of comedians. We also approached Squatters and Wasatch Beers to sponsor the Carnivale. I really think we've accomplished setting ourselves apart. It's a total different market.
Gavin: What was it like bringing comedians on board, and what kind of a challenge was it keeping it mostly local?
Christopher: Showcasing the local comedy scene was a main focus. I love this scene -- it's a great comedy scene and it's growing at a rapid rate. We had some great local comics submit: Levi Rounds, Melissa Merlot, Jay Whittaker, Jason Harvey and many more are in the lineup. We also went after the Lady to Lady show at the L.A. UCB -- Upright Citizens Brigade -- Theatre. Barbara Gray, a former local, helped create that show. There show is hilarious and I love that she has local ties. We had an unbelievable amount of national talent submitted. That, I think, was the biggest challenge, narrowing down the lineup while keeping a fair amount of local talent in the shows.
Gavin: How did you go about choosing venues, and why aren't there any shows at some of the more familiar stand-up comedy hotspots in Utah?
Christopher: We already had a great relationship with The Complex with comedy, so that was a shoe-in as a venue. We wanted to screen films and video sketch, so we approached Brewvies Cinema Pub about it and they were on board. SugarSpace was in the process of opening a second location in the River District. We had worked with them in the past, and the performance space on their patio is pretty awesome. We were also focused on keeping the venues a fairly short distance from each other; it makes it easier on the traveling performers if everything is in a central location.
Gavin: Who are some of the comedians you have on board to perform the next few days?
Christopher: Matt Knudsen --Conan, HBO, Late Late Show -- will be headlining on Wednesday night. Lady to Lady with Barbara Gray, Tess Barker, and Brandie Posey will be one of the headliners on Friday. Local favorites Cody Eden, Natashia Mower, Arthur Carter, Steve Mclnelly; so many others. John Hilder will be coming back to Salt Lake for this. Alien Warrior Comedian from NBC will be here, Christian Spicer and Laura Crawford from Los Angeles, Tim Messenger from Denver, Danny Felts and Whitney Streed from Portland, plus so many more.
Gavin: What have you got planned for sketch comedy, improv and comedy on film?
Christopher: Upright Citizens Brigade will be putting on a special performance of their improv show ASSSSCAT. Originated by Amy Poehler, this is one of the longest-running improv shows in the country. Local improv will feature Jokyr & Jesster, ToySoup, Quick Wits and Red Lampshades; Squeeze from Los Angeles. I'm really excited to see Famke's How to F. Famke Roumstead is a sex therapist who improvises sex therapy with audience members. Brewvies will be screening sketch videos and films on Saturday. We have a great mixture of both local and national content.
Gavin: Beyond the standard stand-up stuff, what other activities and shows do you have set up?
Christopher: Lady to Lady will be recording an episode of their podcast at Squatters Pub downtown, Thursday at 5 p.m. Tuesday night at The Complex, we have a Comedy Showcase Marathon Fundraiser. You will see short sets from 18 comics from the Carnivale; a donation to the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Utah gets you in the door. That show will be a great way for people to sample which comics they want to go see. Squatters and Wasatch beers will be doing a Tap Takeover during the shows at The Complex, and at Brewvies they will be pouring beer right in the theater so you won't have to leave the show to grab another beer.
Gavin: What are you hoping to achieve with the festival and within the local comedy circuit?
Christopher: I want this festival to take our comedy scene to the next level. I also hope it makes Salt Lake City more appealing to touring comics to make a stop here. I hope it helps get local comics networked and, hopefully, become a launch pad into the larger-market cities.
Gavin: What can we expect from you over the rest of the year?
Christopher: I was just cast in a zombie short from JWatt Productions. We start production soon, so keep a lookout for that. Sketchophrenia will be shooting some new spoof videos. I will be teaming up with Steve Mclnelly to produce new monthly comedy shows at Lumpy's South. Hopefully, some other stuff will pop up, as well.
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Christopher: Go 'Like" the SLC Comedy Scene on Facebook. It's a great page to keep up on what's going on in the comedy scene. Comedy Roadkill every Tuesday night 8 p.m. at The Complex; it's always free. My Twitter handle is @TopherComplains. For full lineup, showtimes and tickets for the SLC Comedy Carnivale, visit SLCComedyCarnivale.com.
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