Festival season is in steady course for comedians and The Milwaukee Comedy Festival is gearing up for another year of great laughs! We thought it would be a great idea to talk with local great Johnny Beehner about comedy festivals!
Johnny, who recently competed in Gilda’s LaughFest Best in the Midwest Competition and returned to Laughing Skull Comedy Festival, was awesome enough to chat with us about his experiences with comedy festivals and offered some humbling advice for young comedians looking to submit to festivals.
(Milwaukee Comedy) You recently finished Laughfest and Laughing Skull…what were the most enjoyable moments that came from those experiences? What did you learn that you didn’t know before going into these events?
(Johnny) don’t know that I learned a ton that I didn’t know before going into those. I did go to a couple of seminars at the Laughing Skull Comedy Festival on the business of comedy and what industry is looking for. This was my 3rd time doing the Laughing Skull Festival and I love it every time—lots of comics, lots of opportunities to hang with comics, and lots of industry.
LaughFest was great because it is so well put together and a great cause! Gilda’s Club runs and puts on the festival and there are so many shows and it’s just great. The whole city of Grand Rapids gets behind it.
Here’s what I learned doing those festivals and talking to the higher ups: The comics that do the best are one’s that have a unique point of view and are very memorable. There were some comics that killed in their sets and didn’t advance. These judges see over 60 comics and they look for the one’s they will remember weeks after the festival.
Ya got to stick out.
There’s more to these events than winning and performing…can you explain what some of the benefits of participating or just hanging around festivals/contests?
The best part is getting to hang out with comics that you don’t get to see very often. As comics, we all work at the same time and only 2 or 3 work together on weekend shows, and if you are at the same level as each other, you never get to work together. That is why festivals are so great. Comics get to hang out and have a week of fun together.
The networking is really important. If you don’t live in NY or LA, festivals are a great opportunity to get seen and meet people in industry that can help your career. I met very important [individual] at the Laughing Skull Festival the year I didn’t even advance [who] I to this day have a pretty close relationship with.
How do (did) you typically choose which festivals/contests you enter or perform in?
The reputation of the festival based on just talking to other comics. There are a LOT of festivals that pop up that make a lot of money for the person putting it together that don’t really do much for the comics that have to pay to be in them. That’s upsetting, so I am pretty picky.
I’m not saying every festival has to have promises of boosting your career, but it needs to be well organized and provide lots of social opportunities for fun.
Laughing Skull is great about that—they have lots of parties and outings, and a kickball game, etc. I’ve kind of gone through my “submit to every festival” phase and am pretty picky now. If you have to pay to submit AND there are no accommodations included, it’d have to be really GREAT festival for me to give it a shot.b
Sometimes comedians will avoid applying to (or get upset when denied from) certain festivals and contests. What are some suggestions that may help new comedians understand the process of entering these sorts of events from your experiences?
Obviously it sucks getting rejected from a festival, but I think comics just have to understand how it goes. As long as they don’t look at the roster and feel like it was an obvious game of unfair playing favorites, then I think they understand. I usually put it out of my mind right after I submit to stuff. Waiting and hoping doesn’t change anything.
What would you say to newer comedian looking to enter contests or festivals to avoid?
Just make sure your submission video is professional and the best stuff you got. It has to have great sound quality AND it has to look great. You can be killing, but if its shot from a cell phone and a guy’s head keeps popping in front of the camera, it’s annoying to watch and nobody will care how well you’re doing.
What are things to avoid worrying about in contests?
Winning. You can hope to win, but try not to stress and worry. I know that is way easier said than done, but its true. When I feel like I need or want to win so bad, I perform way worse than when I am laid back and relaxed. Comedy is subjective.
The important thing is doing a good show and being you. Most festivals that have a contest aspect to it, the contest doesn’t mean much, it’s more of a gimmick for the audience to get excited about. They feel like they are witnessing a live reality show.
What is the atmosphere like at these events?
Some comics are chill and some are pacing. It’s fun because they are usually GREAT shows. Everyone wants to do their best and is on their game so the audience really gets a great show.
Is it best to submit with friends or alone or does it matter?
I like both. I have done it both ways. I used to do it alone and took them really seriously and got stressed if someone wanted to do something that prevented me from focusing, but now I try to go with friends. I did Laughing Skull with my good buddy, Mike Merryfield last year and this year. We both have pretty good attitudes about not caring what happens. Last year we both got knocked out right away and had a blast. This year, Mike didn’t advance and I made it to the finals and it was fine.
How often are practical jokes played between comedians during these events? What are some you’ve pulled on your fellow comedians?
Ha. Not a whole lot of pranks other than farting in someone’s face when they are sleeping and stealing each others phones to post horrible facebook status’s on each other’s fb accounts. This day in age, at these festivals, it’s a lot of incestual podcasting taking place. Everyone has a podcast. In fact, if you wanna hear what happens at comedy festivals, listen to Mike Merryfield’s Irrelevant Radio Podcast. We recorded a bunch this year and last year festivals. Some with industry, and some where we were super drunk and just making each other laugh at 3am.
If you’d like to find information for upcoming Johnny Beehner events check www.johnnybeehner.com. You can also grab Johnny’s album ‘Tiny Weiner’ on iTunes! Connect and Follow Johnny on Twitter @johnnycomic.
Don’t forget to check out information on The Milwaukee Comedy Festival!