This weekend, get in on the jokes as the first Woodstock Comedy Festival lights up the town with three days devoted to the art and science of laughter. Stand-up, films, and a closer look at how comedy is created will all be part of the picture, presented by folks like Dick Cavett, the Upright Citizens Brigade, and Bobcat Goldthwait as well as some of our most hilarious local wisecrackers. And every ticket sold represents a pie in the face of violence.
Founder and executive director Chris Collins learned early that humor can help. "I came from a large, anxious, hilarious family," he said. "We made fun out of hardship. I teach at SUNY Ulster, and I try to do fun stuff there too. I finally decided it was time to get off the proverbial pot and combine that love with charity."
In choosing causes to target, Collins got very serious. "I started studying domestic violence and human trafficking because most of the victims are women and children, and that’s over half of the world’s population.
"I researched for a year, got very depressed, got over it -- this stuff is horrible, but humor is an enormous tool against depression and violence both. I always go back to Aristophenes. He cracked on everybody. He was repeatedly threatened with execution, and he was so damn funny in front of the judges that they let him go."
Arranging three days of hilarity required delving deep into the business end of both show business and charity. "I had to file a lot of papers to lay a foundation," Collins said. "I got IRS approval on Valentine's Day of 2011 -- for a romantic, what could be better?"
Approval in hand, Collins got word out to the big-hearted world of funny folks and found a great response. "I reached out to Josh Ruben -- he grew up in Wooodstock -- and Eddie Brill was a friend of a friend. Word started to spread and people jumped in -- we have a core group of 13 co-producers now, some of them very well-connected." A fundraiser held in NYC for the event featured Jim Gaffigan.
It didn’t hurt that Collins has put a lot of thought into how to leverage the proceeds against the problems and come up with a multi-layered local and national approach. "Family of Woodstock runs the foremost domestic violence hotline in New York State. And the Polaris Project runs the only hotline for human trafficking, so I chose them as the national organization," he said. "People loved the idea of helping both."
What a way to help -- spending a weekend laughing in venues like the Colony Cafe and the Bearsville Theatre, partaking of stand-up, chat-up, improv jammin’, thoughtful panel discussions and film screenings. Things start rocking Friday night with a double bill of Running Late with Scott Rogowsky and Collegehumor Live with Jake and Amir -- everybody’s bringing special guests and friends -- and segues into a VIP party for just $20.
This week, Collins says, some ticket prices have been discounted, both to include the community and to pack the houses. He’s hoping the whole thing will be so much fun that the combination of laughter and the prevention of cruelty to humans goes viral.
"I’d like to make this annual," he says. “And the ultimate goal is to network with comedy festivals all over the world and get them to dedicate one night’s proceeds to these causes. We’re off to a good start -- we made it onto New York Magazine’s Approval Matrix as despicable and lowbrow."
Woodstock Comedy Festival. Friday, September 20 through Sunday, September 22. Various venues around Woodstock; see the Woodstock Comedy Festival website for a full schedule. Tickets from individual events from $12 up; a full weekend pass to all events was recently discounted to $125. For more, see the event's website or Facebook page.