Jennie Stencel and the folks at The Idiot Box1 in Greensboro wanted to host a comedy festival and when a spot opened up in February, they were happy to fill it.
Not long after waking up on Aug. 25, I did my morning Twitter check-in and was delighted but somewhat perplexed to find this:
So many fantastic shows in the works for the week of Feb 19-24th! Greensboro NC is gonna be the funniest place on earth! 🌎😂
— NCComedyFest (@NCCOMFEST) August 25, 2017
My delight stemmed from discovering that North Carolina was getting another comedy festival. The Cape Fear Comedy Festival in Wilmington is perhaps my favorite week of every year and the one time I attended Laugh Your Asheville Off in the gorgeous NC mountains was an absolute blast.
In a perfect world, I would go see live stand-comedy on a nightly basis and festivals provide that opportunity for three or four straight nights. At festivals, I often wish I could be in two places at the same time so I could watch more stand-up.
What puzzled me was that I, a man who considers himself to be in the know when it comes to comedy in NC, had not heard a thing about the Greensboro festival before seeing the tweet.
I didn’t allow myself to get too caught up in that disappointment though. Rather, I reminded myself how great surprises can be and smiled while considering the possibilities for the North Carolina Comedy Festival.
DSI Comedy in Chapel Hill hosted the North Carolina Comedy Arts Festival for years, but that festival is no more after DSI’s recent closing.
In stepped Stencel and The Idiot Box, and during a Wednesday morning phone interview, Stencel discussed what comedy fans can expect during the Greensboro fest Feb. 19-24, what we love about The Idiot Box, Dead Crow Comedy Room in Wilmington and Goodnights in Raleigh, her ideal scenario for how festival week will go and more.
Tony Castleberry: How did this festival come to be?
Jennie Stencel: When (DSI) closed, the owner said he wasn’t putting on a festival this February. We had always wanted to do one, but we didn’t want to do a competing thing. With other clubs that close by, we didn’t wanna take anything away from anybody. With him not doing it, we decided we would do it. We’re in the middle of booking headliners. The venues are booked and hotels are getting booked. It’s all crazy. It did happen kind of fast.
TC: Have you ever done anything like this?
JS: We haven’t done a festival before. We’ve been to lots of festivals and have run large events, but we haven’t done a festival in Greensboro before.
TC: Has it been overwhelming? Exciting?
JS: It’s been really exciting. We’ve gotten tons of submissions already and a lot of interest. I love comedy and love people being able to perform their style of comedy at our venues and bringing more of it to this area and getting people’s attention with it. I’m excited. I’m tired, but I’m excited.
TC: [laughs] The tweet was the first thing I saw and I immediately thought, “Hell yeah! Another festival in North Carolina!” I love the Cape Fear Comedy Festival in Wilmington and Laugh Your Asheville Off in the Asheville. Is there anything you’re doing to make the Greensboro festival stand alone or do you hope to take some things from those other events?
JS: They all have their own styles and they’re really neat festivals. This festival, we’re gonna have stand-up, sketch and improv. Those festivals don’t necessarily have all those. It’s gonna be a third (stand-up), a third (sketch), a third (improv).
Greensboro, we have folk festivals and food trucks, which are cool things, but there’s nothing like this in this area. … We’re still plotting out all the events, but we also have some big names coming. I can’t announce those yet, but I’m excited that they’re all coming.
TC: My next question was going to be about the headline acts, so I’ll just imagine that it’s Louis CK, Nikki Glaser. Seinfeld is closing the last night. How does that sound?
JS: You might wanna lower your expectations just a little bit.
TC: [laughs] OK. I’ll try to be a little more realistic. You mentioned different venues, so there will be things going on at places other than The Idiot Box?
JS: Yeah, we’ve rented two other larger theaters. The Idiot Box is a small venue so we’ve rented other venues to bring in bigger acts. Then we have area businesses that are gonna be converted into comedy venues as well. It’s a pretty big operation for a first-time festival. We’re kind of going all for it.
TC: If you’re gonna do it, you might as well get all the way in, you know?
JS: If you wanna swim, swim. Just don’t drown.
TC: Exactly. Are you a full-time comedian?
JS: Yeah, well, I mean, I have kids, but they’re people now so I don’t have to do much anymore. [interviewer laughs] Just random drug testing is pretty much the deal.
TC: [laughs] That would have been awful for me as a teenager.
JS: Yeah, you just pull a hair out while they’re sleeping and you run a quick test.
TC: It sounds like you’ve got the parenting thing down pat, Jennie.
JS: [laughs] Honestly, they’re just a bunch of nerds so I don’t have to drug test. They were easy kids and they’re easy teenagers. I love them, but yeah, I run The Idiot Box and do comedy. The comics (in Greensboro) are super supportive. We never have any trouble. Everybody tries to get everybody on shows and get people to meet people. For comedians, they work pretty well together.
TC: I’m a little bit surprised at how supportive comedians are of each other in this state. I had an idea of the stand-up comedy scene being pretty cutthroat, but it seems to be the opposite here. In dealing with comics in North Carolina, is that what you’ve found too?
JS: I think there’s pockets of problems, but one thing that Dead Crow does and what Goodnights does too is, those people you’re describing — I don’t know if you want to say troublemakers or cutthroat types of people — I think all three clubs try to keep away from letting them ruin the environment. Not that those people don’t exist. They do, but they’re not necessarily on stage at those three venues. They might be in the scene, but they’re not involved in the three clubs as much.
At those three clubs, you’re on stage, A. Because you’re funny and B. Because you’re not a piece of shit. [interviewer laughs] You know what I mean?
JS: The people that run Dead Crow are legitimately wonderful people and Brandy, who runs Goodnights, is an amazing woman. They’re also super smart and they get comedy too. At some clubs, the owners aren’t performers so I don’t know that they get it and I think that breeds more of the competition, of the ugliness. I mean, we all want more stage time, but I’m not gonna set somebody on fire to get it.
TC: Say that we’re a couple of days away from the festival opening. Are you nervous? Are you too busy to be nervous? You can’t predict the future, but what do you maybe expect the week of?
JS: I’m hoping that I’ve gotten everything so prepared that the week of, I’m just worried about what I forgot. [interviewer, Stencel laugh] I think the stress there is more based on things like travel. Is the headliner gonna make it? Is he getting snowed in wherever he was or she was? Those kinds of things. But that’s all out of your control. I’m hoping that everything within my control is done to make it an amazing event and it just goes.
Here it is, The Best Tweet I Can Find in Five Minutes:
Everyone who meets Trump should say "Oh, you must be Melania's husband" until he explodes into little orange dust
— Michael, still here (@Home_Halfway) August 30, 2017
- The greatest name for a comedy club in the history of naming comedy clubs. ↩