Whether it’s a storytelling show at the Dive, open mic at Raven Lounge, or improv showcase at The Arts Parlor, you can find some really great comedy going on almost every night of the week in this city.
For the next five nights however, locals will have a rare opportunity to see several of Philly’s finest comedic talents all on one bill as the F. Harold comedy festival returns for its second year.
“F. Harold is a little different from any other thing happening in Philly,” says local improv vet and the festival’s producer, Rick Horner. “It’s a true blend of the parts of comedy that seem to be finding so much overlap in the city in other areas.”
Besides being the only exclusively local comedy festival, broken up into eight half-hour blocks, each of the nightly performances will showcase a mix of stand-up, improv, sketch and storytelling. Even better: admission to the nightly smorgasbord of laughs is only $10 while a full festival pass will run you a mere $25.
"What's great about this festival is you get an amazing cross-section of comedians from Philly,” says local improviser and stand-up comedian, James Bradford. “Male, female, gay, straight, different ages and races and schools of performance all come together with one thing in common: they're all fucking hilarious."
Bradford, who is also an accomplished actor, singer and TV personality will be performing "Live Nude Clothes," a collection of stories about the most uncomfortable moments in his life during Friday night’s line-up.
When Horner founded the festival last year, ultimately he hoped to generate more excitement about Philly’s flourishing comedy scene. “There’s a real explosion in comedy in Philadelphia and this is just another example of it,” he says.
Having first discovered the wild world of improv roughly 15 years ago when there wasn’t much of a “scene” to speak of, the 45 year-old has been devoted to creating development and performance opportunities for local comics.
In addition to serving as an producer for Duofest and the Philadelphia Improv Festival, Horner started the Improv Incubator, a free weekly improv workshop in West Philly and most recently, Polygon Comedy, a new collective working to produce and promote comedy shows around the city. The Philly native also currently teaches, directs and performs with three improv duos, two of which will be performing this week—Horner & Davis on Thursday and WhipSuit on Saturday.
Much like his other projects, F. Harold allows for greater creativity and collaboration within the comedy community. “There’s a fledgling sense of cohesiveness between independent groups and experienced comedians in stand-up, sketch and improv,” Horner says, noting that several new acts will actually be making their debut at the festival including, Salutatorian, Eat Candy Stay Up Late and Whisper.
“Considering the audience is made up of a really balanced mix of long-time and greener performers, comedy enthusiasts and people looking for a fun night out, this is a really good way to try out new material or approaches and see what works,” adds Cara Schmidt, one of the several unpaid volunteers/comedians who will be working behind the scenes each night of the festival.
The 28 year-old is a relatively new improviser and storyteller to the scene and is performing on Thursday as part of the all-girl improv troupe Apocalipse as well as hosting the Friday night set.
With five of the six shows having sold out last year, Schmidt doesn’t suspect they’ll have trouble filling seats this year, but is really hoping people who haven’t seen any local comedy will come out. “F. Harold is a great entry point to what could be a pretty much endless supply of things to see and do,” she says.
“Plus, it isn't every day that you have someone sincerely asking you to have fun with them for six nights straight.”