In the five years since Jenny Slate, Max Silvestri and Gabe Liedman started their weekly comedy show Big Terrific in the then-rapidly gentrifying (now completely upscale) Williamsburg, Brooklyn has become a home for the new wave of young comedy. There’s at least as much good comedy to be found as in Manhattan, with many comics playing bars and coffee shops there before crossing the river to perform (and make some money) at the city’s traditional clubs. It was only a matter of time before someone tried to take advantage of the borough’s impressive comedy scene. And lucky for us, the Brooklyn Comedy Festival did it right.
In truth, calling this collection of shows the Brooklyn Comedy Festival was a bit of a misnomer; this was really the Williamsburg Comedy Festival. The six nights of shows took place entirely at venues around the single hipster neighborhood, drawing mostly young, trendy crowds to the inaugural fest. To its credit, BKCF embraced this pedigree; the logo invokes Lucille Ball and a Marx Brother—if they lived in North Brooklyn in 2013.
It’s both a strength and limitation of the festival that it felt mostly like a collection of great comedy shows that already exist in New York City. Focusing on strong local comics rather than attempting to draw with big-name headliners meant that the crowds were filled with comedy fans, and the unimpeachable lineup of comics—many recent Comedy Central Half Hourers and Montreal New Faces—showcased the incredible talent currently on offer in the city. Special festival versions of local shows included Game Night at Spike Hill, a Brooklyn Brewery-edition of Comedy at the Grocery, and East Village staple Comedy as a Second Language. Wednesday night’s Very Funny Characters Welcome Who Know Comedy featured a mix of stand up and sketch, including a character set by Michael Patrick O’Brien the night before industry gossip named him as a new SNL featured player.
Though the festival had a somewhat under-the-radar feel (most of the advertising seems to have been posters around Williamsburg), every night was packed. All the shows were free or cheap with free booze, thanks to a multitude of liquor sponsors. Like any first-year festival, it wasn’t quite flawless. Most shows started 15 to 20 minutes late and suffered some sort of technical glitch. And the casual bar atmosphere seemed to encourage chatting among the audience members; waves of “shhh” echoed through the back of many shows.
On the final night, one host promised that next year’s BKCF would indeed venture beyond Williamsburg. Given the clearly higher-than-expected turnout this year, there will undoubtedly be another year for this promising, talent-savvy fest. But since it lacks the impressive roster of the New York Comedy Festival and the quirky insanity of the Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival, the challenge for the Brooklyn Comedy Festival will be to establish a unique voice in the cacophony that is New York comedy. It’s off to a strong start.