You might think the N.C. Comedy Arts Festival is mostly for people in the profession. But festival founder Zach Ward says that's not the case.
"Does the beer festival in Durham just attract beer makers?" he asks. "Sure, a lot of home brewers appreciate it, just like a lot of comics and performers treat this like a convention. People are still signing up for workshops, and we already have about 650 people active in improv, stand-up, sketch and film production registered. We'll raise the population of Carrboro by 4 percent."
The festival has grown tremendously since it started in 2001. It kicks off Thursday and runs throughout February, with expanded offerings in film and sketch comedy to go with its stand-up and improvisational programs.
Among this year's highlights are "Visioneers," a film that Wilkesboro native Zach Galifianakis made more than a year before his star turn in 2009's comedy hit "The Hangover." A Feb. 13 bill at Cat's Cradle will feature Eddie Brill, who coordinates talent for CBS' "Late Show With David Letterman." There's also a Feb. 20 Cat's Cradle bill of Death By Roo Roo and MC Frontalot.
"Death By Roo Roo is amazing," Ward says. "Jaws drop at the places they're willing to go. And it's exciting to showcase MC Frontalot as a nerd-core hip-hop star. Most of what he says is immediately funny because of the contrast between what you expect the character to be and the medium of music. He's incredibly talented. But just the concept of nerd-core rap is comedy to me."
Ward founded Dirty South Improv in Carrboro, so improvisation is where his roots and primary interests lie. He started the festival "to bring Chicago-style improvisation to North Carolina."
"We purposely cross-program all the shows to try and get people to see as big a cross-section as we can," Ward says. "Our original mission was to educate improvisers but also audiences. So if this event draws them in, they might have a bigger appreciation for what happens the rest of the year."