Getting to the grassroots of comedy and supporting local comedians, as well as comedians traveling into the city, is at the heart of Madison Comedy Week’s festivities, kicking off August 7 and ending on August 14. Started in 2018 to help promote the growing local comedy scene, Madison Comedy Week gave exposure for working comedians and an opportunity for aspiring comedians to come perform and build connections with each other and the Madison community. Jake Snell, Executive Director of Madison Comedy Week, reflected on how the event came to be.
“I got asked to produce the Pursuit of Happiness Sessions in conjunction with getting asked to put on a comedy festival, so we combined them,” Snell said. “We decided to do all the independent shows that happen in the city, plus a big headlining event, and just call it a comedy festival. We wanted to do it for eight days to make sure we could get a ton of comedians in and pay everybody, which is not the norm in a comedy festival, believe it or not. Allowing it to kind of happen organically by casting a big net around the things that were already happening, and then adding a couple of new things was a big way for us to make it a memorable event.”
Snell’s involvement in the comedy scene in Madison and connections with comedians in other scenes around the Midwest inspired the decision to host a week-long event showcasing the talent of comedians both from Madison and from elsewhere. Madison’s comedy scene is something Snell was proud to praise for its quality and community.
“Madison, I would say, is one of the best comedy scenes for a city of its size by a landslide,” Snell said. “The amount of comedy infrastructure is really important to the scene, and this kind of just shines a light on how many cool things are happening year round, which is a really good opportunity. Then from there it just makes it more of a destination for comedians who are wanting to work in other scenes, especially in the Midwest. I know Madison hosts a lot of Chicago comedians all the time. There’s also the Twin Cities, Milwaukee, there’s even a scene in Eau Claire, and there’s scenes in Dubuque and Des Moines. It really just helps the kind of collaborative nature of all of that.”
Headliner Ian Edwards, a former Saturday Night Live writer with specials on Comedy Central and HBO, brings a sense of excitement to the festival as anyone planning to check out the festival will be able to see on Aug. 13 during the Pursuit of Happiness Sessions at McPike Park. The three-day music festival, which focuses on a variety of diverse musical acts, will include both the Madison Comedy Week “Best of the Festival” and Edwards as the headliner. The Sessions at McPike Park are free and open to the public.
As someone who opened for Edwards in 2016, Snell was excited to be able to bring in someone whose comedy is something he connects with on a personal level.
“He just resonated with a type of sense of humor that I’ve grown accustomed to. He’s got this, I don’t want to say dry delivery, but it is really chill and intricate at the same time. Just a really unique way of presenting ideas,” Snell said. “The thing that I love about comedians is that when they get to that level, they don’t sound like anyone else. They have their own voice, and if you resonate with it, you really resonate with it.”
The importance of the local comedy scene was not to be forgotten though, as plenty of local comedy shows presently happening will be present, and the opportunity for new acts to find their own chance is always possible. Madison Comedy Week has already given local comedy acts a chance to find regular bookings in the city with the exposure they get from the week-long event, and the comedy scene is alive and well.
“There’s a lot of different independent show producers that run things around town,” Snell said. “There’s a really good website, localmadisoncomedy.com, run by a local comedian. He kind of makes a comedy calendar for everybody. Madison Comedy Week is like a condensed version of that plus, for example, we have 12 shows at the Burr Oak. The Burr Oak is hosting some of the local shows. There’s shows coming in that usually take place in New York, or Chicago. Supporting the local infrastructure is just being curious about it and checking it out.”
As for what people can expect from Madison Comedy Week, Snell had a passionate message for those on the fence or any of those who may not be familiar with Madison’s comedy scene.
“I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. If you’re not familiar with the local comedy scene, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see how good it is,” he said. “A lot of the shows are free or low cost. I’ll say a lot of the shows are free, and then the rest of them are low cost. We are one of the only comedy festivals that I know of that all of the ticket sales go directly to the comedians. So when you come out, you’re literally just supporting working artists and fueling the fire of Madison being an attractive place for working artists to come and perform.”
To learn more about Madison Comedy Week and to check out tickets and dates for their upcoming event days from the 7th to the 14th, check out their website here.