Sixth City Comedy Festival returns for second year, highlighting Cleveland’s comedy scene


CLEVELAND, Ohio – During the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, there wasn’t a whole lot to laugh about when it came to daily news and updates. But Marla Massie found herself turning to comedy, as she has for years, to help get through it.

As a result of lockdowns and the blooming pandemic, Massie conceived the Sixth City Comedy Festival which hosted its first event last summer.

“The festival started out as an idea during COVID. We were all locked indoors and things got sad and depressing really quickly, and my rationale was, ‘Well, laughter is the best medicine,’ as corny as that sounds,” Massie said. “I wanted to try to help put my city back together – the city that made me. I wanted to show how much I appreciate the city by doing something like this.”

Now, the festival is set to return Aug. 10-13 featuring headlining acts Bill Squire, a co-host of “The Alan Cox Show” on WMMS, and New York comedian and writer Eitan Levine. The lineup is rounded out with a long list of performers, including Jasmyn Carter, Tim Wolfe, Brandon Petri, CiCi Bullock and more than 60 others.

The fest will take over multiple Cleveland venues and businesses, including the Bop Stop, Lakewood Village Tavern, Hatfield’s Goode Grub, Great Lakes Brewing Company’s tasting room, Market Avenue Wine Bar and Hi and Dry.

Tickets are available for Sixth City Comedy Festival at the event’s website, sixthcitycomedy.com, ranging in cost from $20 per show to $55 for a day pass. A $160 weekend pass is also available for Bop Stop shows only.

The festival has expanded rapidly since its first event last year. Its 2022 edition adds seven more venues, an additional day and 20 more comics to the lineup compared to last year, Massie said.

Comedy performance

Sixth City Comedy Festival will return for its second year Aug. 11-13. (Photo by Marla Massie)

Sixth City Comedy Festival was designed to add a summertime event to Cleveland’s already-robust scene, which included Ramon Rivas’ past, long-running Accidental Comedy Festival and the Cleveland Comedy Festival. Those two fests served as inspiration for Massie when pulling together Sixth City, a fest that draws in talent from around the country while emphasizing Northeast Ohio’s comedy scene.

For Massie, that scene proved crucial to her own standup career. The comedian, who grew up watching “Kenan and Kel,” “All That!” and “The Amanda Show,” said she dreamed of comedic acting. She was first introduced to Cleveland comedy at a 2012 show featuring John Bruton and Bill Squire at Hilarities.

“I was nervous because this guy [Squire] is on the radio, he’s probably too cool for school, but he was the nicest person I’ve ever met,” Massie said.

From there, Massie started performing at open mic nights at Lakewood Village Tavern and one-off comedy events around the city to sharpen her craft, and spent her spare time reading comedians’ stories through autobiographies and biographies.

She moved to Portland, Oregon to test out the comedy scene there for nine months, and recently moved back to Cleveland this summer.

“I really wanted to do comedy on the West Coast. It took me a while to realize that West Coast comedy isn’t really my thing,” Massie said. “There’s nothing wrong with it. I just enjoy the faster-paced unpredictability that is East-Coast comedy.”

Comedy performance

Sixth City Comedy Festival will return for its second year Aug. 11-13. (Photo by Marla Massie)

Specifically, Cleveland’s comedy scene has been a supportive place for Massie to learn how to do standup.

“It’s super supportive. When new people come into the scene, when comics that have been here longer, they try to help you get better, without trying to be like, ‘Your joke sucked and I’m not going to try to tell you why,’” Massie said. “There’s really a sense of trying to foster good comedy. There are plenty of people putting on shows around town.”

Massie has become one of those event organizers with her fest. Sixth City Comedy Festival includes a range of comedians, featuring both established comics and young performers. Comedians of various ethnicities, ages and sexual orientations are represented in this year’s festival class.

“Comedy is not just one viewpoint. It comes from many different viewpoints. I may not look like you, but I can relate to some of the things you talk about,” Massie said. “That’s what comedy is about: relatability. It’s not about looks; it’s about making yourself vulnerable and relatable to the audience.”

The festival is quickly approaching, and Massie already has other major plans to pursue after the event wraps up. She mentioned looking into opening up her own independent club, called Sixth City Comedy Club.

It all goes back to supporting the same scene which has supported her for years.

“We’re not the ‘mistake on the lake’ anymore. We’re a cool place,” Massie said. “I want people to see that Cleveland is a place for comedy.”

Find more information about Sixth City Comedy Festival at sixthcitycomedy.com.

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