Scruffy City Comedy Festival Returns to Market Square

Comedy Festival

It’s been just over a year-and-a-half since I first wrote about Knoxville’s comedy scene. Matt Ward explained a bit of the history of comedy in the city and talked about what he was doing to help comedy become a staple of the city. It sounded as if it had a long way to go, though Knoxville has had comedy in one form or another (take Cas Walker, please – little Urban Guy humor) for a long time. In addition to comedy clubs, open mic nights are sprinkled around and Preservation Pub has had a weekly show on Sunday night for closing in on five years.

That meeting and article seem like years ago, and in comedy years for Knoxville, it was years ago. Since then an explosion of comedy has scattered around town. Comedy cruises are common, Pilot Light routinely books comedy. And the comedy is found in a number of forms, from Open Mic nights, to small club shows all the way to the pretty common sold out shows that come to the Bijou and sometimes the Tennessee Theatre. And improv, though it’s been around town for many years, primarily in the form of improv group Einstein Simplified, has really taken root and other groups such as Full Disclosure have recently joined that scene.

Matt Ward, Rocky Top Comedy Contest Finals, Scruffy City Hall, Knoxville, November 2014
Matt Ward, Rocky Top Comedy Contest Finals, Scruffy City Hall, Knoxville, November 2014

The potential was on display last year at the first annual Scruffy City Comedy Festival. A reluctant comedy audience member, I really came around as a result of that weekend in which numerous styles of comedy and comedians were on display. I particularly fell in love with the intellectual word-play comedy of Tim Northern. I mentioned him and the festival the next week on the blog and noted that when the second annual Scruffy City Comedy Festival came around, you really need to stop in – or better yet, plan your weekend around it.

And you’re in luck. It’s this coming weekend and this is your heads-up. It starts this Friday night at 7:00 PM and runs through Sunday night at 11:30 PM. Tickets are $15 (Friday or Sunday) $20 (Saturday) or $30 for the weekend and admission to all shows. What you’ll find will be nearly three dozen comedians from all across the country converging on Scruffy City Hall, Preservation Pub’s Speakeasy and Knoxville Uncorked. If you watch comedy on television, you’ll recognize many of these comedians from shows like Last Comic Standing, appearances on all the late night talk shows and several from their own cable television specials.

There are a couple of new wrinkles this year, as well. Improv will play a larger role, with both Einstein Simplified and Full Disclosure performing Saturday night. Chris Trew and New Movement will host an improv workshop for two hours on Saturday afternoon at Scruffy City Hall ($40). Chris is a comedian from New Orleans who has grown his New Movement Improv from borrowing theaters to owning one and then owning a bigger one for both performances and classes.

Full Disclosure Comedy, "Princess Cut" Celebration, Flow, Knoxville, July 2015
Full Disclosure Comedy, “Princess Cut” Celebration, Flow, Knoxville, July 2015

Each night features various headliners, though many of the other comedians have impressive credentials of their own. Friday night’s headliner, Andy Sandford started out in Atlanta, but now lives in New York City. You may have seen him on Conan and the Village Voice calls him, “one of New York’s comedic gems.”

Saturday’s headliner is Jackie Kashian who has also appeared on Conan, has had her own special on Comedy Central and is currently producing a weekly podcast, The Dork Forest, in which she interviews people about their obsessions. I was lucky enough to chat with her for a few minutes over the phone as she waited for a plane in L.A. She’s currently on a major tour and it will include her first significant number of dates in the south.

She’s also never been to Knoxville, though she says she’s looking forward to it. I asked her if she notices differences in audiences around the country and she said she does, but she brings her own brand of comedy and audiences usually respond. She mentioned the range between a mid-western sense of humor – that’s where she was born – and humor in L.A., which is where she lives now. Her in-laws (she’s recently married) are from Mississippi, so she’s gotten a little taste of the south from them.

Tim Northern, Scruffy City Comedy Festival, Knoxville, 2014

She’s been on the road for seventeen years and says she still enjoys it, but she’s made some changes to make it more sane. She’s playing more festivals and several night runs so she doesn’t hit a new town and a new club every night. She’s also exploring small theater shows that she books herself and looking at alternative ways to get her humor out in the world – like The Dork Forest podast.

Sunday will feature a set of headliners with Mia Jackson and Shane Mauss. Mia is from Atlanta and has appearances on the Oxygen and TLC networks. Shane won “Best Stand-up” at the HBO Comedy Arts Festival in 2007, has multiple appearances on Conan, has appeared on Jimmy Kimmel, Showtime, Comedy Central (his own show) and Netflix. He recently had the #1 comedy album, “My Big Break,” on the iTunes comedy chart.

I’ll leave you with samples from some of the headliners, so you can get an idea of what is in store. Don’t forget to grab your tickets here and head out to enjoy some comedy this weekend. You can also see a full schedule here.