The Hell Yes Fest showcases local and out-of-town stand-up and improv comedy this week.
"Come up with a cool name like Hand Bomb, Water Park, The Language. These would also be cool band names."
For The New Movement Theater's Chris Trew, if your improv comedy troupe's name could be mistaken for that of a band on Secretly Canadian Records, you could be good. It's not a completely reliable tell, but it's accurate enough, and survey of the improv groups that will perform at this year's Hell Yes Fest in New Orleans reveals many such groups: CB Radio, Shipwrecked!, Personality Plus and The Green Team to name a few.
Tonight, Hell Yes Fest begins at The Republic with a stand-up showcase with D.C. Pierson, Cameron Buchholtz and Andrew Polk, but the festival is split between stand-ups and improv groups, many of which were trained at The New Movement Theater in New Orleans or Austin. It's tempting to think of improv groups as being differentiated more by the casts than anything else, but Trew says they tend to have pretty distinct signatures. Some do music-oriented improv, which he says is difficult because the stakes are so high. " I've seen musical improv that has made me want to never see anything else ever again, and I've seen musical improv that has inspired me and given me chills," Trew says.
Some groups can be pop reference-heavy, while others have inventive formats. The Richmond Comedy Coalition will borrow an iPod from someone in the audience and hit shuffle, letting the songs that come up determine what comes next. "The weirdest show we'll have is Saturday at 9 at the Shadow Box with Disco Box opening for Machine A," Trew says. "Disco Box is a hyper-absurd group from Austin that is really fast and not logical at all. But they're good at it. They're opening for two really strict, hardcore theater actor types based here who do a very complicated format. You watch a Disco Box show, and 'Oh, that's funny. Erin just crawled inside Christina's mouth and did a bake sale.' Machine A - it's like, 'Ohmigod, her heart is broken because that guy won't give her a discount.'"
Improv groups are the local theater's bread and butter, but it is also involved in stand-up. With that in mind, Hell Yes Fest has brought back Louisiana talent that has gone on to national careers including Sean Patton and Theo Von, who first appeared on the public stage as part of the first cast of MTV's Road Rules. Since then, he has had a comedy career that involves a recent Comedy Central special and regular comediy videos for AOL.
The point of the festival is to build audiences and exposure for local comedy. No local improv comedy group will anchor a show, but many are on the lineups. "We want to get people in the door who want to see the groups from outside the city, but then we want local openers to open for them to create new fans," Trew says. The stand-up lineup includes what he considers the best of the city's alternative comedy stand-ups - Scotland Green, Cassidy Henehan and Dane Faucheux - and those who have also developed into top-tier comedians - Andrew Polk, Cyrus Cooper, Addy Najera and Leon Blanda.
"The ultimate goal is for New Orleans to consider comedy as something to do at night," Trew says. "That's number one. A very close second is that I want everyone to know where to see and who to see locally. I'm comfortable saying on the record that no one's working as hard as we are, putting on tons of shows a week, bringing in people from out of the city, and working hard to give people in the city great opportunities."