Durham News: Community

Something funny this way comes

Zach Ward, executive producer and artistic director at DSI Comedy Theater in Carrboro, poses in front of a picture of Del Close, recognized as the guru of long-form improvisation.
Zach Ward, executive producer and artistic director at DSI Comedy Theater in Carrboro, poses in front of a picture of Del Close, recognized as the guru of long-form improvisation. News and Observer file photo

If things seem a little funny around town in the next few days, don’t panic.

It’s just the return of the North Carolina Comedy Arts Festival, the high-spirited and rigorously annual invasion organized by Carrboro’s DSI Comedy Theater. Now in its 14th year, the fest will feature more than 100 out-of-town performers along with the Triangle’s growing legion of comic talent.

In a significant scheduling change, this year’s festival will run for 10 straight days, Feb. 6-16, as opposed to the fest’s previous format of three consecutive weekends dedicated to stand-up, improv and sketch comedy. The festival is also tweaking its approach a bit by focusing on local and community events, rather than a series of high-profile touring acts.

Local venues participating this time around include DSI Comedy Theater and The ArtsCenter in Carrboro; Open Eye Café, Nightlight, Flyleaf Books and the UNC campus in Chapel Hill; and the Regulator Bookshop and Motorco Music Hall in Durham.

Zach Ward, owner of DSI and executive producer of the festival, said that the shift is intended to accommodate both performers and audiences.

“When we had the multi-weekend festivals, that was great for programming all the different disciplines of comedy, but it can be exhausting for the local comedy audience,” Ward said. “The other issue is that we would have a lot of out-of-town talent interested in more than one thing – improvisers that were also stand-up comedians or sketch comedy writers. It was difficult for them to travel here, then go back and travel again the next weekend.”

To fill out the new 10-day schedule, particularly the new weekday evening slots, Ward and the festival organizers reached out to other local groups and found plenty of opportunities for crossover events. On Monday, Feb. 10, at 7 p.m., Flyleaf Books will host the popular and semi-serious Adult Spelling Bee, with both individual and team competitions. Among the event’s listed rules: “Judges may not know what they’re doing.” Admission is $5, and attendees can sign up at the door to compete.

The festival has also partnered with The Regulator Bookshop to present the third annual Durham Pun Championship, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 7 p.m., at Motorco in Durham. The pun competition will feature a pool of 48 contestants facing off in tournament-style format, riffing on given topics until a single pun champion is left standing. The competition is open to both visiting festival comics and the public at large. Competitive-minded punsters can sign up at the Regulator website, regulatorbookshop.com. Tickets for the event are $5.

On Wednesday, Feb. 12, at 7:30 p.m., the festival will co-present a comedy-themed edition of the Monti storytelling show at the ArtsCenter in Carrboro. Jeff Polish, founder and host of the popular Monti series, said the lineup will feature a mix of veteran Monti storytellers and visiting comics from the festival. Tickets are $20.

It’s the first-ever collaboration between the festival and the Monti, and Polish said he’s looking forward to the event as an experiment in bringing together two different styles of comedic presentation.

“I love stand-up comedy and I love storytelling, obviously, and there’s great overlap between those two performance arts,” Polish said. “But there’s also a bit of a difference. With the Monti, we want authenticity and vulnerability and sincerity. We’re doing a comedy show, but it would be interesting if a comedian came up and told a really serious story.”

Special events

Several other special events are planned throughout the festival’s 10-day run, including a screening of “The Muslims Are Coming!” – a documentary about a group of Muslim-American stand-up comics and their tour across the U.S. heartland. The free screening – Friday, Feb. 7, at 7 p.m. at the FedEx Global Education Center on UNC’s campus – will be followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers.

DSI Comedy Theater will host the North Carolina Finals of the “Carolina’s Funniest Comic” stand-up competition on Saturday, Feb. 8, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10. On Sunday, Feb. 16 at 8:30 p.m., the top comedians from the North and South Carolina events will compete on The ArtsCenter main stage for interstate bragging rights. Tickets for the final event are $16.

In an effort to class up the proceedings, presumably, the NCCAF is expanding to fine art this year as well. Throughout the run of the festival, the Open Eye Cafe in Carrboro will host an exhibit of paintings, photographs and poster art by local comedians or otherwise inspired by the Triangle comedy scene.

Stay classy, Carrboro!