Woodstock is home to artists of all types: painters, writers, musicians, dancers—the list goes on. But amid all the profound lines of poetry, delicate brushstrokes, and anarchic folk songs, a question hangs: Where's the funny?
Two years ago, the Woodstock Comedy Festival formed to bring a weekend of humor to a town that might take itself too seriously. The festival is the brainchild of Chris Collins. "Woodstock has a lot going for it," he says. "It has a writers' festival, a goddess festival, a poetry festival. I realized the one thing it didn't have was a comedy festival." Woodstock is indeed home to a barrage of festivals—the most famous of which took place in 1969 and wasn't even held there. But the motivation driving Collins to create the weekend of comedy wasn't only to round out Woodstock's catalog of festivals. The Woodstock Comedy Festival is a not-for-profit that supports two charities: Polaris, which works to combat human traffickers and provide support for the victims, and Family of Woodstock, an organization that focuses on crisis intervention services for victims of domestic abuse. "I wanted to do something that was bigger than myself," Collins explains. "I grew up with five sisters, so I know at least a little bit about what women go through and wanted to do something about it." Its philanthropic drive is why the festival can label what it does "comedy for a cause."
This year's headlining comedian is Robert Klein, who will appear at the Bearsville Theater on September 19. Klein is famous for his "I can't stop my leg" routine and starring in HBO's first stand-up comedy special. "Robert Klein can take any topic and make it funny," says comedian and festival producer Josh Ruben. Ruben worked with the comedy sketch group College Humor and started his own group, Dutch West, before getting involved with the festival. "There's something about seeing comedy live," Ruben says. "It's a really visceral feeling, being in that room, looking around and seeing all the faces there."
The festival opens on Friday night with Laughingstock!, a night of stand-up and improv at the Kleinert/James Center for the Arts featuring Jo Firestone of the Upright Citizens Brigade as well as Megan Gailey, Brendan Eyre, Robert Dean, Jeffrey Joseph, Shane Torres, and Audrey Rappoport. The Kleinert/James Center will also host panel discussions, including a tribute to Joan Rivers with Hester Mundis, and a discussion of growing up funny with Janna Ritz, Pat Cooper, and Patrick Carlin.
New to this year's festival are two competitions, Faces of Comedy, for stand-ups, and Funny Eye, for filmmakers. "Now in our third year, we are still young but thriving and want to foster young, thriving comedic talent," Collins explains. The grand prize for Faces of Comedy is the opportunity to perform on AXS.TV's "Gotham Comedy Live," the runner-up to perform at the Woodstock Comedy Festival. The winner of Funny Eye will have their film premiered at Upstate Films Woodstock on September 20 and participate in a Q&A after the screening.
The Woodstock Comedy Festival will be held September 18-20 at venues throughout the town of Woodstock. Woodstockcomedyfestival.org.