Posted by Brendan James
This weekend Skidmore will host the 23rd annual National College Comedy Festival (NCCF) on Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. Both professional and collegiate comedy groups will grace the stage at Janet Kinghorn Bernhard Theater.
The festival, alternatively known as Comfest, has been a staple of Skidmore ever since alumnus David Miner, producer of 30 Rock and Parks & Recreation fame, founded the event in 1988. Originally a grassroots effort to gather any and every student troupe interested in live comedy, Comfest now sees a flood of applications every year.
The problem used to be finding enough comedians and comediennes to put on a show; now the producers — seniors Scott Galante, Ruth Morrison and Lex Curry — face the opposite task. The admission process is long and thoughtful account for the number and enthusiasm of every group.
"As for deciding who gets in: we watched previous performances of the college groups to see which ones we liked, then re-invited them back with four open slots," explained Galante.
Decisions are then made to balance out different types of comedy, from sketches to long form material. "Looking at our balance of sketch and improv, as well as which schools were already coming and who we think is good enough to be given a chance, we carefully picked the last four," says Galante. "We think this process gives us the best in quality and mix."
Lex Curry emphasizes the creative and educational aspect of the groups chosen, including the professionals. "I would say we try to find groups that are not only hilarious but also clearly supportive and enthusiastic about up-and-coming comedians," she explains. "People who can take a look at college students and remember what they were like before they were able to perform professionally."
"They need to be able to see and nurture potential. Bleak! Comedy, for example, used to perform at Skidmore as a college group and they are great mentors as a professional group," she added.
Though Comfest has surged in popularity and is now an essential element of not only college but Skidmore culture, certain aspects of the festival remain rather folksy and immune to change.
"It's funny to see the festival grow, because it is at the same time very mainstream (being one of the biggest college comedy festivals in the nation) as well as very underground and jimmy-rigged (selling tickets at Case center, for example)," said Galante.
What then, keeps the event close to Skidmore given the decades that have passed since Miner's original project? Lex Curry spoke of the special dynamic that Skidmore audiences and groups possess which makes for a particularly successful comedic formula.
"Although many of our veteran groups from other colleges have cult followings or a supportive sector of their college community behind them, I would say Skidmore students are, by far, the most demanding audience for comedians. They don't let comedy groups get away with a bad set," she noted.
A special treat this year was a feature on the New York Times website. All three seniors were thrilled to appear in the Times, though there were moments during the photo shoot where they yearned for the actual funny business to begin. "My face hurt from all the stage laughing we had to do."
Galante noted certain misleading typos in the article, but admitted that "overall, I think it was a very positive article that portrayed the school in a great light and gave the festival the attention it deserves."
"In short," he added, "it feels good."
The financial aspect of the festival is unchanged from its original form in several key ways: the entire festival remains non-profit. Galante explains: "Everything we get, whether it be from registration, fundraising, co-sponsorships or donations goes right back into a gigantic pool that goes towards anywhere from printing posters, to paying travel and performance fees for pro groups, to feeding the college groups, to ordering t-shirts. Any profit made goes right back into the budget the following year. "
As for organizing the event, Galante stresses the amount of stress he and his two peers experienced. "We are (quite literally) three people making calls and sending e-mails out of our dorm rooms, with two assistant producers available to get supplies and do some grunt work. That's what was really so scary about this whole process: if we don't do it, it just doesn't get done."
For a complete schedule of this year's National College Comedy Festival, click here.