Dozens of new comedy festivals have sprung up in the past few years. Many of these are fly-by-night operations that entice hopeful young comics with the promise of industry cred only to exploit them for steep submission fees and—if they’re even accepted—poorly produced shows that offer no tangible career benefit. It’s a sleazy business model that profits off the desperation of comics instead of ticket sales, a scam/cottage industry that’s supplanted comedy boot camps as the most egregious grift in the game. [See my previous column about “cannibal comedy festivals.”]
Refreshingly, the SoCal Comedy Fest delivers exactly what it promises: a guaranteed festival credit. It’s advertised as “the ONLY comedy festival where everyone gets accepted.” The catch is that it will never actually happen. There will be no shows, no industry panels, no afterparties. Comics who pay the fee will receive an acceptance letter congratulating them on “successfully running your credit card.” No further action is required.
“The only reason we all submit to these festivals over and over again is because we hope to get a credit out of it,” says Zach Broussard, SoCal's producer and a comic living in LA. “I have to pay my own expenses, pay for a flight. It’s a very expensive endeavor just to put a few words on a resume.”
Broussard conceived of the perfect transaction: a direct quid pro quo without the unnecessary overhead of actually producing or attending a festival. Packages range from $4.95 for a “Regular Performer” to $19.95 for the special perks of a “Headliner.” On the weekend of the festival, performers will be tagged on Facebook events, tweets and posters for the nonexistent shows.
“Most people won’t know the difference,” Broussard says, “In a year or two I believe that no one will know this was a fake festival.”
Previously, Broussard was the mastermind behind the annual Top 1000 Comedians, a completely arbitrary list he put together to poke fun at year-end “comics to watch” clickbait. He says he's seen comics unironically list their chance inclusion on the Top 1000 as a credit. (Ahem, I ended up at #46 in 2015.)
“I’ve had meetings with industry people who told me they’ve used the list in earnest, which is crazy, “Broussard says, “It is literally just a random list of names I found off of show listings on the internet.”
So far Broussard has accepted about 50 submissions for the SoCal Fest, and the majority of them are going for the premium “Headliner” package. He plans to use all the proceeds for a “really big goof idea” that he’s keeping secret for now.
“Half of the people submitting are comedians who are excited to do something very silly that makes fun of their world. The other half are people I know who maybe did one open mic and quit, who are getting some weird validation out of it, some weird closure. And then one guy who submitted is a chemical engineer in Houston who has never done comedy, he just loves that he gets to be on a comedy festival poster,” Broussard laughs at the multiple levels of absurdity his idea has wrought. “The truth is, I really think that actual festivals are almost as arbitrary as this.”
Photo by Mindy Tucker.