Those looking for laughs as the summer winds down are in luck. For the first time, Pittsburgh will have a comedy festival all its own.
The Pittsburgh Comedy Festival will kick off Thursday at Henry Heymann Theater in Oakland. The three-day event, a mix of stand-up performances and improv shows, hopes to become a lasting annual tradition that will bring in comedic talent from all over Pittsburgh and the country.
Comedy has a long history in Pittsburgh, and in recent years the scene is more diverse and flourishing than ever, said Mike Peditto, the festival’s marketing director.
“Just recently with the opening of Unplanned Comedy Pittsburgh in Lawrenceville, now we’ve got three dedicated theaters to improv, as well as the stand-up that happens. ... There’s stand-up open mics almost every single night in the city.”
With places like Boston and Chicago hosting multiple comedy festivals every year with great success, Mr. Peditto sees this as a chance to put Pittsburgh funny business on display for people who might not know how much talent exists here. From large improv teams to a Saturday show just for kids, Mr. Peditto hopes the festival will have something for everyone. Each day will be a mix of stand-up and improv, a slightly unusual combination but one that serves to showcase Pittsburgh’s strengths.
“That was one of our goals. We wanted to be a little different in that way.”
But it’s not just ’Burghers like Mr. Peditto who are excited to have an event like this become a tradition. After solidifying their plan, it didn’t take long to get interest from comedy folks outside of the city as well.
“Word spread quickly. In the first day or two, we got submissions from all over the country. I think we got one from Canada on the first day. ... We tried to find groups and acts that would work well together: musical acts together, smaller improv acts together. We tried to have some themes and connections between the acts as well.”
Improv duo Cackowski and Talarico are two of the more anticipated performers in the festival this year. The Los Angeles-based comedy partners are writers and actors who have worked on “MadTV,” “Key & Peele” and “Community.” They also will be teaching workshops as part of the event.
The headlining stand-up act, comedian Judah Friedlander, who is most well-known for his work on NBC’s “30 Rock,” sees this as a perfect opportunity to get a regular gig in one of his favorite cities.
“It’s a very picturesque city. ... It’s still a tough town, but there’s all this tech stuff. Medicine stuff. Things are changing. It’s pretty cool. ... I like Pittsburgh. I have family from Pittsburgh on my mom’s side. ... Pittsburgh is a great city, and I don’t have a regular place to perform here, so I heard about this and was like, ‘Yeah! Let’s do it!’ ”
Mr. Friedlander’s image and act are distinctive, from his homemade trucker hats emblazoned with boastful slogans like “World Champion” to his slovenly appearance and deadpan delivery. On stage, Mr. Friedlander gives absurd solutions to major problems, recommends fighting techniques and brags about his own machismo, particularly when it comes to its effect on the ladies. He says his act is a role and a real part of himself.
“It’s almost like a super hero or like a super anti-hero kind of persona. This is someone who stands up for the common man, the little man, and offers up all these solutions to oppression and government corruption in kind of a ridiculous way. It’s kind of like fantasy. Here’s a messed up situation. Our country is very divided, ... I’m coming in there being like, ‘Things are pretty messed up. But here’s another way, and I think people are going to agree with it.’ No matter how crazy it is, you can’t argue it.”
Mr. Friedlander, who performs 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, is excited to have the opportunity to bring his peculiar brand of world-saving crazy to town every year if the festival goes well.
“I’m the World Champion. Pittsburgh is known as the City of Champions. I think that’s where I should be doing a show. Legally, I think the city should be having me perform here on a regular basis.”
Alexis Wilkinson: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1581, or on Twitter @OhGodItsAlexis.