Performance » Comedy

The Promise Land of Laughter

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Bloomington is well-known for being an excellent destination for cultural events, including art galleries, live music, cinematic fare and theater. If you haven't already, make sure you add comedy to that list. Indy's neighbor to the south is also home to the Limestone Comedy Festival, which kicks off on Thursday (June 4) and includes an impressive 30 shows before wrapping up on Saturday night (June 6). Why not celebrate the new month with a trip down S.R. 37 for great locally sourced food, shopping and some late-night laughs?

Now in its third year, the Hoosier State's first comedy festival was created by Mat Alano-Martin, a stand-up comedian, and Jared Thompson, who owns The Comedy Attic with his wife, Dayna. Alano-Martin performs around the country in support of his art and has learned over the years what he does and does not like about participating in comedy festivals.

Patton Oswalt performed at last year's Limestone Comedy - Festival. - COURTESY OF LIMESTONE COMEDY FESTIVAL
  • Courtesy of Limestone Comedy Festival
  • Patton Oswalt performed at last year's Limestone Comedy Festival.

"I've done fests where famous comedians were in the theater and non-famous comedians were in the bar basement across the street," he says. "There [would be] no reason for a person to pick your show over the famous comedian's show."

When it came to forming the Limestone Comedy Festival, Alano-Martin and Thompson wanted to improve on existing festivals and build upon the loyal fan base The Comedy Attic had after five years in existence.

"We wanted to marry the club's methodology and my approach towards comedy," Alano-Martin says. As a result, every Limestone show features a nationally known headliner - the roster includes Janeane Garofalo, Kyle Kinane, Aparna Nancherla, Dana Gould, Michael Che and Esther Povitsky (a.k.a. Little Esther) - as well as feature/submission-level and local comedians.

"It's a better experience for the comedians," Alano-Martin says. "Up-and-comers get to work with people they might idolize." The experience also benefits festival attendees with a variety of show times and entertainment options, including tapings of podcasts.

Mat Alano-Martin is one of the founders of the Limestone Comedy Festival. - COURTESY OF LIMESTONE COMEDY FESTIVAL
  • Courtesy of Limestone Comedy Festival
  • Mat Alano-Martin is one of the founders of the Limestone Comedy Festival.

Feature-level comedians were selected by a five-person panel and narrowed down from more than 400 submissions to an impressive set of 45 talented folks. Thompson and Alano-Martin looked through the top 100 finalists and formed the final list from there.

"It's a tough process," Alano-Martin says. "Comedy is an art form. There are lots of different ways for people to express themselves. We want to have a diverse fest ... diversity in style but also racial, gender identity and sexuality. It makes for a more interesting and stronger fest. Three days of nothing but sarcastic white guys in their 20s would get old pretty quickly."

The Limestone Comedy Festival has been successful since its inception, when it drew an estimated 900 people, including industry professionals and sponsors. Its second year increased to 999 paid attendees.

"We couldn't get one more person to buy a ticket!" he cries out in mock exasperation.

A fair amount of industry comes in every year, the comedian explains, including booking agencies and "big-time management people" who can potentially help festival comics. "A couple unknowns have gotten work from booking agents in years past," Alano-Martin says, "which is another bonus for submission-level comics."

"We're lucky," he continues. "We try to keep putting on a great festival for everyone. It's an honor and responsibility to make it as good as it can be for Bloomington and the state ... and to expand Indiana's comedy identity nationally."

It's clear that Thompson and Alano-Martin put serious thought into the creation and maintenance of the festival. In addition to the headliners and feature-level comedians, 10 Bloomington comics will serve as emcees for the festival's numerous shows. Each comic was chosen because Alano-Martin and Thompson felt they were ready to step up to the next level. Alano-Martin mentions the word "value" more than once, determined to make the festival a positive experience for everyone involved.

Not surprisingly, the two work on the Limestone Comedy Festival most of the year. Their efforts are currently supported by volunteers from the local comedy scene, as well as an Indiana University intern who helps out each year.

The Buskirk-Chumley Theater is one of the venues for the comedy festival. - COURTESY OF LIMESTONE COMEDY FESTIVAL
  • Courtesy of Limestone Comedy Festival
  • The Buskirk-Chumley Theater is one of the venues for the comedy festival.

Some of their behind-the-scenes work includes reaching out to sponsors, managing relationships with supporters already on board, coordinating with hosting venues, working to improve the festival from each previous year, and doing the graphic design and websites work.

"We're the CEOs and the janitors," Alano-Martin says. "Maybe one day we'll be able to have staff."

Building upon the festival's existing success shouldn't be hard. Alano-Martin notes that it's getting easier to get sponsors while also acknowledging that some folks were great from the start. The festival is becoming more of a "cultural force."

"We're becoming more of a proven identity," Alano-Martin says. "It's a good time for comedy in Indiana."

Comedians will be popping up all over Bloomington this weekend at five festival venues: the Buskirk-Chumley Theater, The Comedy Attic, The Bishop, The Back Door and the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center. Attendees can purchase individual tickets or multiday badges with benefits such as reserved seating and the chance to break croissants with the artists at brunch. Visit the Limestone Comedy Festival's website or Facebook page for more information. Follow alongwith festival happenings on the organization's Twitter feed and keep an eye out for #LCF15 to start trending locally -- and maybe even nationally.

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