“Honestly, I just wanted a festival and to throw a big party,” says Coree Spencer of her forthcoming Cinder Block Comedy Festival. As lighthearted as that seems, Spencer organized the festival on her terms in order to challenge the ongoing status quo in the comedy world.
“I started really thinking about representation,” she said. “There a lot of festivals out of there that won’t really book a lot of women or minorities. I don’t know if that’s a conscious decision, but you can see it in the lineups. My whole idea was, ‘Okay, let’s make this a festival for everybody.'”
So in order to ensure she got a diverse a cast of performers as possible, she created a six-week-long “early bird” submission fee that was $19 as opposed to the standard $25 fee – a figure that a math-savvy individual will realize represents 77 cents on the dollar, the hilarity of which we hopefully don’t have to explain.
Nonetheless, Spencer, who is a comedian herself, is making a statement here. She remembers observing festivals were there were very few women and minorities in the lineup, and was always told that the reason for that was that there were simply not enough female and minority comedians who applied to the festival. Spencer found that dubious.
“It can’t be right that only two women applied to a festival with loads of people in it,” she said. “What are you doing that makes people not apply to your festival? Because there are plenty of other types of comedians out there.”
For the Cinder Block Comedy Festival, which will take place from September 14 to 18 in various venues across Williamsburg, Spencer has drummed up a lineup of over 150 performers with a total of over 60 shows. She explained that the festival won’t just be hours and hours of standup: there will be scripted shows, film screenings, improv, live music numbers, and even the anxiety-inducing implication of audience participation acts. Spencer compares the whole festival experience to a “bar crawl,” where multiple shows take place simultaneously across a variety of venues throughout Williamsburg.
“There’s a fun show called ‘Surrogate,'” Spencer said, referring to a show which takes place on Saturday night at Over The Eight. “The audience members get to go up on stage with an ear piece, and the comedian tells them what to say.” The audience members on stage have to act out a stand-up comedy routine while every single line is fed to them by a comedian backstage. So if you’ve always secretly dreamed of being a comedian but were actually always too lazy to write your own jokes, this might just be the show for you.
The festival’s headliners are Baron Vaughn, who is a regular on the Netflix show Grace and Frankie; Laurie Kilmartin, who currently writes for Conan; Jon Laster, an NYC comedic staple; and Marga Gomez, a playwright and stand-up comedian. They’ll be performing at the Headliner’s Bawl on Saturday night at Experiment Comedy Gallery.
Throughout the duration of the festival, there will also be a constant open mic at the Williamsburg location of Two Boots Pizza. “Anyone can go up and do two to three minutes of stand-up, and that’s free,” Spencer said, adding that while most shows required a $15 entrance fee, there were a couple throughout the festival that were free.
Then, for those who like some thrills with their comedy, there’s The Naked Show on Friday night at the Experiment Comedy Gallery, which is, you guessed it, a show featuring a whole lot of naked people (the audience can choose their own level of nudity). That gives a whole new meaning to the concept of “baring it all onstage,” doesn’t it?
For the comedy die-hards, there’s a weekend pass available for $111, and a day pass will set you back $30. However, Spencer pointed out that the weekend pass allows for access to the secret afterparties, the locations of which won’t be revealed until the last possible moment (we’ll go out on a limb here and assume they’ll all be in the Williamsburg vicinity).
Other show highlights include a one-liner contest on Saturday night at Over The Eight, as well as a Friday-night improv rap battle called Battlicious, also at Over The Eight, in which performers use improv elements (audience suggestions, etc) to cut each other down to size.
The fun kicks off on Wednesday the 14 with a free preview show at Pete’s Candy Store, and just keeps going for then. Check out the full schedule for the giggle-filled weekend.
Cinder Block Comedy Festival, September 14 through 18, various venues throughout Williamsburg. Check website for specific time and location details.