WHEN SHE was living in New York, Brianne Halverson would go see live comedy four nights out of the week.
Now, the Savannah Comedy Festival co-founder is working to create year-round comedy culture in The Hostess City.
“Savannah has such a creative community,” Halverson says admiringly. “There’s lots of visual arts, and the music scene has grown so much. But I feel like it’s time for that next step.”
Last year, Halverson and John Brennan founded Savannah Comedy Festival to expose locals to all the wild and wonderful ways that live comedy takes shape.
While there’s a robust standup scene in our city, Savannah Comedy Festival strives to showcase short form and long form improv, sketch comedy, and beyond.
“There is an appetite for this,” Brennan attests. “We just didn’t know it. People are into it.”
After selling out shows at their inaugural 2017 event, the festival has added a day and moved the shenanigans to Bull Street Labs. A host of fresh out-of-towners and locals will provide the 2018 entertainment.
“We didn’t want to lean on repeat performers,” Brennan says of the lineup. “We needed new shows. We didn’t want to say, ‘Here’s the second-year festival—it’s the same people from last year!’”
“The primary goal is to get groups from out of town to broaden what we see,” says Halverson. “At the same time, we want to grow our own community.
Savannah Stage Company brings back (it)’s B.I.G. The Improv Musical, an original, improvised musical created on the spot at every single performance.
With the audience suggesting the genre of musical style, the musical’s title, and everything in between, there’s quite literally no show just like (it).
Dad’s Garage Theatre in Atlanta brings its National Lampoon Improvised Vacation show to Savannah for the fest.
With audience suggestions, a family of three embarks on one unforgettable road trip.
“I’m excited to be able to showcase these homegrown shows,” Halverson says.
“The National Lampoon show is a heavy hitter at Dad’s Garage,” adds Brennan. “They are all working actresses, actors, and voiceover artists. We bring heavy hitters down here.”
Two New York favorites will hit the stage. Potty in the USA offers a distinctly Manhattan-style cabaret show as Stacia Newcomb (30 Rock, Good Night Show) sings original songs and keeps the audience cracking up with audacious humor. Additionally, her hair is styled like a certain, uh, chocolate ice cream emoji.
Centralia offers bold improv that’s earned the troupe has become dearly beloved in its hometown.
“Centralia, they’re legends in New York,” says Brennan.
The group, which got its start at Second City Improv in Chicago and New York’s Burn Manhattan, features Patrick McCartney, Jay Rhoderick, and Kevin Scott.
Finally, Chicago’s own Pimprov will have the audience roaring. Check out our interview with the troupe’s founder, Marz Timms, on page 22.
Discovery is a key element of Savannah Comedy Festival, and its founders hope audiences venture out and find their new favorite comics.
“We want to be that middle tier as far as fame goes,” Brennan adds.
“I do know that Savannah audiences are willing to check out something new,” says Halverson.
“I’ve been to shows in the Midwest where people look at you like you’re crazy, but Savannah is open and friendly. Savannah’s a smart audience, and you don’t have to dumb anything down. On the road, you sometimes have to do ‘fast food comedy’—this is smart. There are elements that are silly and stupid, but for the most part, people here want to see smart, funny, creative stuff.”
Brennan shares Halverson’s sentiment, and thinks Savannah’s deep roots as a creative hub make it fertile ground for a broadened comedy scene.
“How many people do you run into who say they moved here to live in a cool city in which to do their art?” he poses. “It’s a better lifestyle. People who come to our shows say, ‘I’m so glad something like this is here. We’re so game for improv.’”
And with all that touring talent, Savannah Comedy Festival thinks Savannah’s multitalented creatives might even be inspired to give improv a shot themselves.
“Seeing people that close to you...it makes you want to get on your feet and try,” Halverson says. “Whether you’re an admirer or want to be onstage or take classes, we want to develop our comedy community.”