With the recent winter being one of the coldest on record, Vermonters need, more than ever, to get out and enjoy a good time. Well, spring has sprung in more ways than one, and the Green Mountain Comedy Festival is here to help you dust the cobwebs off your funny bone.
“Comedy in general in important to Vermont,” Nathan Hartswick, founder of the Vermont Comedy Club and one of the organizers of the grassroots event, explained in a recent interview with Thread. “Vermont can be a hard place to live six months out of the year. We see a lot of need for people to laugh and enjoy themselves.”
Indeed, the festival promises to deliver, with five days’ worth of laugh-out-loud entertainment planned within walking distance of downtown Burlington, and at satellite locations in central Vermont. Headlining the event, which runs from May 21 to 25, is comedian Tig Notaro, a regular on Comedy Central, Conan and NPR.
Organizers Hartswick and his wife, Natalie Miller, entered a contest to get Notaro to come and do the show, which required candidates to pitch unusual locations for the comedian to perform.
“Like a pig sty,” Miller explained. “We made it to the final round, but didn’t win. So we just booked her.”
Miller, Hartswick, and the third organizer of the event, Kathleen Kanz, were excited about the headliner, whose performance has been lauded by celebrated comedian Louis CK. Notaro will perform two shows on Saturday.
In scheduling the festival’s performances, organizers aimed to create what Hartswick said was a “lineup with no weak links.”
“These are all high-quality shows, with local performers and some from out of town,” Hartswick said.
The schedule includes more than 30 performances ranging from stand-up to improv, sketch comedy to a live podcast—all of which cater to a wide variety of audiences from family-friendly to those with a more edgy sense of humor.
“We try to make something for everybody,” Hartswick said.
Organizers chose festival acts with the aid of some of the judges from Montreal’s Just for Laughs Festival.
“They were surprised by the quality of local acts and the concentration in such a small place,” Miller said.
Hartswick and Miller aim to expand the comedy scene in the state through their two joint ventures: Spark Arts, a Burlington studio that offers classes in comedy, theater and music to kids and adults, and Vermont Comedy Club, an organization that produces and promotes comedy in Vermont and beyond.
“We’ve always said that Burlington should have a bigger comedy scene than it does,” Hartswick said. “It’s been fun and rewarding to see this festival grow, and it builds an audience for the hundreds of shows offered through the rest of the year.”
“Overall, the scene is growing,” Miller added.
The couple has worked to expand the festival since Kanz founded it six years ago. Currently, they are working to turn the festival into a nonprofit to increase sponsorship. This is the first year that the festival will be walkable—allowing attendees to walk from one event to another, much like Burlington’s First Night or annual jazz festival. The festival will also include volunteers this year for the first time.
This year’s Green Mountain Comedy Festival promises to be a worthwhile investment for spectators and organizers alike.
“It is so rewarding to introduce new audiences to good comedians and watch the sparks fly,” Hartswick said.
“The festival is a local showcase to see comedians before they go big,” Miller added, noting one of the festival shows—Made in Vermont: Local Comics Return Home—invites comedians who have left Vermont to make it big in New York, Boston and Los Angeles to return and perform closer to their roots.
With five days, dozens of acts and ticket prices Hartswick calls “as affordable as possible because everyone deserves a chance to laugh,” this festival proves to be one not to miss.
Miller’s final advice? “Come out and see shows. Yay!”
For information on shows, times and tickets, visit www.greenmountaincomedy.com
Annalisa Parent is a writer and teacher happy to be living in Vermont. Her work can be seen at annalisaparent.com