Get Ready to Laugh Your Asheville Off
Story by LENA R. BRODSKY | Photos by MARGARET HESTER
Organizing one of the largest comedy festivals in the nation is no laughing matter, as the organizers behind the upcoming Laugh Your Asheville Off comedy festival, Greg Brown and Charlie Gerencer, know well. It takes months of picking the best comedians, finding the perfect venues, and arranging sponsors to foot the bill.
In their six years of putting on the annual comedy festival in Asheville, Greg and Charlie have perfected their formula and proclaim that this year’s LYAO will be Asheville’s best comedy event of the year. The event this year is August 14-18 in venues across town.
We have a great partnership because we are from different sides of the industry,” Greg says. While Greg is on the performance side as a comedian, Charlie is a television producer. His producing credits include the hit TV show that aired on NBC, Last Comic Standing.
Charlie’s experience on Last Comic Standing made a strong impact on him and informed his decision with Greg to make Laugh Your Asheville Off a noncompetitive comedy event. “Coming from Last Comic Standing, I never wanted to do an event again judging stand-up comedy,” Charlie says. “Comedy is an extremely subjective art. You can’t ever find unbiased judging when it comes to stand-up. So we wanted to get back to basics, and simply showcase a wide variety of comedy.”
Greg and Charlie both feel that comics are more comfortable in the non-competitive atmosphere, and are therefore able to perform at their highest level on stage.
The stages where comedians perform around town vary year to year. This year, comedians will entertain at the Highland Brewing Company, Diana Wortham Theater, Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, Altamont Theater, Lexington Avenue Brewery, Pulp, and other venues.
We incorporate more and more venues every year; accessibility [for the audience] is key,” Charlie explains. Greg, a current Asheville resident, and Charlie, a former resident, both feel that is important to support the local venues that provide a platform for comedy year-round.
“We want to make sure people are aware that it’s there, with the comedy that’s already happening, for example at the Pulp,” Charlie says. The organizers of the frequent comedy nights at the Pulp Lounge, under the name Slice of Life Comedy, appreciate the attention to local comedy that Laugh Your Asheville Off garners.
Michele Scheve and Kelly Rowland (who goes by the stage name of Kelly Row) have been putting on stand-up comedy nights at Pulp, the intimate venue and bar underneath the renowned Orange Peel, since last October.
Michele says the comedy nights at Pulp are, on average, two Thursdays a month, but August will be particularly active, with a show every Thursday, including a showcase as part of the LYAO festival.
“Kelly and I have so much fun putting our room on,” Michele says. “The Orange Peel gives us 100 percent support, and helps us grow our [local comedy] scene.”
Michele, whose background is in comedy writing and producing, says she is proud of the burgeoning comedy scene in Asheville. “[The way] Asheville’s growing is just amazing,” Michele notes. “There are rooms every night of the week where people can get up and do stand-up comedy.”
Kelly will perform Thursday, August 16, at Pulp as a part of the Laugh Your Asheville Off Festival. Kelly says that Pulp is a great place for comedians to hone their craft because Slice of Life films performances and gives these videos to the comedians so they can review their performance and improve. A lot of the comedians that applied to LYAO used the videos from their performances at Pulp for their submissions.
In addition to featuring local comedians, Slice of Life Comedy at the Pulp also hosts comedians from all over the nation. “We feel like ambassadors of Asheville comedy when hosting out-of-town comics,” Michele says.
Social media and creating a sort of online word-of-mouth about your venue and the local comedy scene are important aspects for booking comedians, Michele explains. “It is such a social thing to be in the comedy scene."
Michele and Kelly’s view on how a comedy event should feel benefit the audiences at Pulp. “Kelly and I really make an effort for people to feel like they’re at a house party,” Michele says. “We have a fun time setting a vibe and the energy has been amazing.”
From the beginning, Michele says Slice of Life Comedy events have enjoyed a good turnout, but the showcase at Pulp for the Laugh Your Asheville Off Festival should be an even bigger night than usual. Meanwhile, Greg and Charlie promise that all of the comedy events at this year’s festival will be great.
For more information about Laugh Your Asheville Off, visit laughyourashevilleoff.com.