Richmonder Peter Kaufman thinks the Virginia comedy scene never gets any respect. He’s hoping his new business idea will change that.
Kaufman is launching The Festival of the Laugh, a stand-up comedy competition that will gather comics from around the state to compete for prize money and a governor’s proclamation naming the first-place winner “The Top Stand-Up Comedian in the Commonwealth of Virginia for 2015.”
It’s the first act of what Kaufman hopes will become a larger endeavor that can spread to other states and potentially a national stage.
The Festival of the Laugh will be held from June 18 to June 20 at Buffalo Wild Wings at 7801 W. Broad St. The event will consist of 10 Virginia stand-up comedians competing joke-for-joke and judged by a panel of comic laymen.
Kaufman, who works in marketing, said he has long been a fan of stand-up comedy but only recently worked up enough nerve to take the stage for a 5-minute set at an SPCA fundraiser in King William County. He ended up staying on for 13 minutes.
“I said, ‘Boy, that’s the dream right there,’” Kaufman said of his experience. “I was talking to the comedians there and I said, ‘How come there’s no comedy festivals?’ They said, ‘Have you ever tried to get 20 comedians together?’”
Kaufman hopes Richmond’s built-in comedy scene will help support his efforts. He mentioned regular comedy nights held at Bottoms Up Pizza in Shockoe Bottom, Pie in the Fan, as well as clubs like Richmond Funny Bone in Short Pump, as evidence Richmonders know the value of a one-liner or two.
“Everybody loves to laugh, but people have a tremendous amount of options,” Kaufman said of local nightlife. “But unlike a jam festival where you have to invest three days and buy a lot of patchouli oil, (with comedy) you’re in and you’re out.”
To test this theory, Kaufman organized a three-night comedy event in February at the downtown Capital Ale House. Kaufman said over the course of that event, about 700 people attended, and it just about broke even.
“There’s obviously an appreciation for comedy in Richmond,” Kaufman said. “The question is how do we make this bigger?”
Kaufman said he is in talks with investors to consider putting on regional and national iterations of the Festival of the Laugh.
“We’re trying to make this the first step in a national contest,” Kaufman said. “There’s kind of a lot riding on this one.”
It costs comics $15 to send in an application with video of their stand-up performances, and the competition has 38 entries so far.
The top prize is $500, second place gets $250 and third gets $100. Buffalo Wild Wings and local advertising firm S2 Creates are sponsoring the event. Tickets for each night are $15 in advance and $20 at the door. A portion of the proceeds will go to LINC, which helps cancer patients find legal and financial resources, and Children’s Home Society of Virginia.
Kaufman expects the Festival of the Laugh to cost $8,000 to $10,000 to put on and that the venture will probably break even.
“You don’t do this kind of thing to get rich,” he said. “It’s something I’m really passionate about.”
Great idea! Looking forward to hearing more about it! Congrats Peter!