Magazine article Variety

Standups Prove to Be Political Animals

Magazine article Variety

Standups Prove to Be Political Animals

Article excerpt

Late-night talk-show hosts have lately been commanding center stage in the nation's political conversation. So it's fitting that the centerpiece of the nation's premiere comedy festival will bring together four of the biggest names in the field on one stage - even if it is for a decidedly non-political event.

This year's Stand Up for Heroes fundraiser at the New York Comedy Festival includes "The Daily Show" correspondent Hasan Minhaj and John Mulaney, but will focus on heavyweights of late-night past and present: Conan O'Brien, who hosted the first Stand Up, Trevor Noah, making his Stand Up debut, and return players John Oliver and Jon Stewart.

Bob Woodruff, whose Bob WoodruffFoundation is the beneficiary, says the organization is careful to remain non-political and that Americans from both parties want to help the veterans. But he makes no effort to vet the comedians' jokes.

"I'm sure they will show respect for who is in the audience because they all respect the troops, but I don't know how they'll avoid political jokes," says co-organizer Caroline Hirsch, of the legendary comedy club Carolines on Broadway.

Louis Faranda, the executive talent producer for both the festival and Carolines, says while he and Hirsch sought a balanced schedule, with non-political acts including the Impractical Jokers, he believes the entire festival will be even more political than last year's event held on the eve of the election.

"New York City is multiracial and multicultural and this president is very divisive and absolutely ridiculous and people here despise him so there's a political fervor," he says.

Faranda adds that he thinks O'Brien will "maybe make one joke and move on, but the other guys will not be able to resist."

Brian Regan and Nick Offerman, along with Bill Maher, are among the high-profile comics who have performed at the festival in the past. Many of the first-time big names year are coming in as part of the festival's new partnership with TBS, which replaces Comedy Central.

Hirsch had conversations in the past with TBS but then renewed with Comedy Central. "Now, however, I felt the time was right - they have a whole new look, with smart, cutting-edge comedies," she says.

Michael Engleman, Turner's executive vice president of marketing and brand innovation, says TBS not only "changed the chemistry of its brand" but began thinking about entertainment differently. "We are looking for immersive experiences and for digital and social media experiences."

The result is the Hub at the new hotel Public, a centerpiece for the New York Comedy Festival filled with free events based on TBS programs: Ana Gasteyer ("People of Earth") will interview Samantha Bee ("Full Frontal") and take audience questions; O'Brien's writing staffwill do standup, and the show will also record at the Apollo Theater all week; and "Search Party" will provide an interactive experience using sets and magic.

"It's a new flavor for the festival," Hirsch says. "They're so enthusiastic and they came up with the plan."

Engleman says the Hub is "a perfect way of showcasing our diversity of talent," adding that it provides opportunities with sales partners and deepens relationships with fans who must RSVP through the TBS app. "It's part of our commitment to original thinking to pushing entertainment beyond the television screen."

Hirsch adds that TBS is hosting a paid event, but one is a fundraiser: to promote the new series, "The Last O. …

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