The original concept came when Anthony Racic and his fellow planners decided to apply for a grant to see if their idea of a Fort Wayne comedy festival might come to fruition.
Quick on their feet
“About four years ago, Downtown Improvement District was having a grant contest to bring new events to downtown Fort Wayne,” Racic said. “They still do that today. But we knew we didn’t have a comedy festival and decided to apply figuring maybe we’d win. And we won.”
That first festival required the group to be quick on their feet since the time between winning the grant and the festival itself was four short months. Even so, they managed to attract some great comedy talent and 1,200 attendees. By last year’s second festival, that number grew to 2,600.
They hope this year’s installment, held April 11-13, will grow even more. With more than four months to plan the event, the team has learned a lot in the last few years.
“It’s mostly logistical stuff, when to contact sponsors, when to book the comedians,” Racic said. “Running a show is a lot of work, and there are multiple shows during those days so we’re lucky to have such great volunteers and the committee to help put it all together.”
It does take a village to plan a comedy festival. Racic’s village includes Sam Wright, Ryan Hawley, Alex Eakin, Isiah Gray, Muffy Schmidt, Gordon Schmidt, Kinta Dowdell, Kelly Dowdell, Jay Arroyo, Cam Cooper, Bryson Charlton, Clint Spahr, and Daniel Vergara. With that many hands coordinating every aspect of the three-day event, the festival has been able to grow.
The original venues are still involved — Cinema Center, Pint & Slice, the History Center, O’Reilly’s, the downtown theater at the Allen County Public Library, and the Phoenix — and last year the beautiful First Presbyterian stage was added to the mix.
Choosing the Talent
Much of the work then comes in choosing the talent to perform.
“We get about 300 submissions and sit down as a committee and watch them all,” Racic said. “Sometime it can be a little painful because they’re not all great, but we find the best talent and bring them in to town. We try to find a little something for everybody and find some up and coming comedians who are on the rise. We end up with people from all over the country and from Canada, and we always have spots for local comedians because it’s important to support local comedy. It gives them a chance to network a bit, meet some people, maybe get some more shows out of it.”
When Racic said they find something for everybody, he really means it. Understanding that comedy can run the gamut in terms of language and content, he and the committee are mindful of who the audience might be.
“We always try to have family-friendly shows,” he said. “Then we’ll have shows for 18 and up, 21 and up. Our Sticks & Stones show can get ridiculously raunchy. It’s a comedy battle where comedians just throw their worst insults at each other but in the funniest way possible. It’s all in good fun, and everyone is friends at the end.”
Letting Fort Wayne Shine
In bringing in talent from around the United States and Canada, not only does the Maumee Mary & Joseph Comedy Festival bring talent to area audiences, but it also give Fort Wayne a chance to shine.
“They get a chance to see how great this city is,” Racic said. “In fact, Olivia Grace came here to perform one year and ended up moving here for six or eight months because she thought it was so great.”
And for those who want to learn from all of this talent, there are opportunities for that, too, with an improv workshop with Broken Pencil Improv and several family-friendly and free events on Saturday, including Comedy Dance Chicago, at the Allen County Public Library theater.
For more family-friendly fare, audiences can move from the ACPL to First Presbyterian for the Clean Comedy Showcase which Racic said will be rated PG-13 so that people can feel comfortable taking their kids. There, Broken Pencil and several other groups will take the stage for some all-ages fun.
In addition to several comedy podcasts which will host sessions, local comedy favorite Mufasa will be recording a live comedy album during the festival. And Game of Thrones fans can expect something particularly enticing with the Roast of Westeros. That particular event takes place on Friday, April 12, at 11 p.m. at O’Reilly’s.
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