Comic Dan Frigolette on the Hoboken Comedy FestivalDan Frigolette is a stand up comic, writer, and founder of the Hoboken Comedy Festival. Kicking off on Monday, September 29, this upcoming Hoboken Comedy Festival is the fifth annual. There are seven days of performances, ending on October 5, with appearances from prominent comics such as Christian Finnegan, Chuck Nice, Todd Barry, and Carlos Mencia, as well as many up-and-coming comedians.
More than just a good time, the Hoboken Comedy Festival has been partnered with and supports the Liberty Humane Society three years running. I had a great conversation with Frigolette about his and the festival’s start, the challenges of producing a comedy festival, and his soft spot for animals.
When did you begin performing stand up?
DF:I got on stage in 2003, in Syracuse. A place called Viva Debris, owned by a guy named Joe DeLion, who was a comedian and magician.
What made you want to do that?
DF: I don’t even know what happened to me. Somewhere along the lines of my freshman and sophomore year of college, I had sort of decided that being funny was one of the most important character traits that I possessed. Because I was in a couple of little situations where whether or not I was funny was called into question and it actually bugged me. I had an ex, and you know when you break up with your girlfriends, especially your first girlfriend and it’s not working, they just say some hateful shit, to try to hurt you? I didn’t know that that’s what it was, and my pleading argument to my first ex-girlfriend was, “No, we have fun together, we laugh together!” and she was like, “Daniel, our whole time together, I never laughed.” It was like a scene from a crime show, “dun, dun, dun!” She could’ve told me anything and it would’ve hurt less than her telling me that she didn’t even laugh when she was with me. So that was a moment, where I was like, “Why is that so important to me?” So, I thought, “let me explore this,” and in under six months I got on stage for the first time. Worked my way into this comedy club in my home town. It was the only one that existed, and for some reason, in my life, whenever I decide there is something I want to do, I pretty much do it right away. I got on stage and it was awesome.
You did well, got a lot of laughs?
DF: You know what, the first time you go on stage, you always do well, because you’ve never heard people laugh at you before. You have no barometer to base it on. You might have sucked and you probably did, because it’s not an easy thing to do, but it felt like you crushed it. I had some friends there, so I had some fake support anyway.
When did you start the Hoboken Comedy Festival? What prompted that?
DF: 2010. It was a mixture of things. I had already been running the company Comma D Productions in NY, for a while. I started that in 2005. I was running a couple of weekly shows that kind of blew up. I had one at a place called Jimmy’s No. 43. We had our one year anniversary in this tiny little room, standing room only for like a hundred people, I think. Then we made it to the second year and that anniversary show was standing room only, and most of the shows leading up to that were standing room only, jacked in the corner. I moved to Hoboken to follow a lady and we didn’t work out. I was trying to figure out if I was going to stay or what was going to happen and the thing I noticed about Hoboken, in my singledom, was that I couldn’t find a Hoboken person here. I couldn’t go out to a bar in Hoboken and find a person that lived here.
I would meet a girl, it would be nice and it would be cute and it would be fun, and I would ask her where she lived, thinking I’d hear “11th street” or “7th street” or “right by the A&P” and they would say, “Oh, I’m from Wayne.” I don’t know what that is. They would say it’s the number whatever on the whatever, and I don’t even know what she’s talking about. I was just like, “Where are these Hoboken people?” So the initial intent was literally to get Hoboken people to hang out with Hoboken people…on a small scale so I can have sex with somebody from Hoboken. But really, I just realized there were no Hoboken people running around and I didn’t understand why. That’s the aggressive intent of the festival, to make Hoboken people stay here on the weekend. Don’t go to NYC, you don’t have to get on the PATH train, have fun tonight in Hoboken.
What was the hardest thing about producing the fest that first time around?
DF: Increasingly, the problem that I have is that every year is a fresh slate. Nobody really knows that it [the festival] exists. And it’s partially because Hoboken is a word of mouth town and it’s a changing landscape. Not a lot of people stay here and the ones that do stay here have a different lifestyle than I need because it’s a lot of parents that stay with kids and get these bigger apartments. They’re building these big apartments everywhere, 3, 4, 5 bedroom apartments where people with kids can stay. So the hardest part is trying to get people to know we exist without a real stream of press in Hoboken. I mean, you can say there is the Hudson Reporter and the Hoboken Reporter and all these other things but nobody reads these papers. Hoboken people are Wall Street Journal and New York Times.
As much as we love this beautiful town, and we believe in it, we know the demographics of the people here, how much money they make and so forth, New York Times, Time Out New York and Metro and AM New York, and all these other publications do not view Hoboken as a valuable place to talk about, for the news aspect of their papers. So every year I have the same conversations. They’re like, “Oh, we don’t really cover Hoboken,” and I’m just like, “Then why do you have people standing by the train holding the paper?” So that’s the challenge, trying to figure out how to get everyone to come because invariably every year, the conversation becomes, a couple of weeks before the festival, and a few weeks after, “I didn’t know we had a comedy festival.” That’s not a testament to a lack of work, because we are selling out the shows, it’s a testament to the fact that it is really hard to figure out how to tell these people about the festival. And it comes down to, every year we stand at the PATH train and hand out ten thousand fliers to people’s faces, and say, “Hoboken Comedy Festival! Come to this. It is good.”
Your festival helps support the Liberty Humane Society. Why the Liberty Humane Society?
DF: As soon as you get an animal, your whole concept of the world changes. So I was bringing my dog—she’s half pitbull, half dalmatian—over to the Liberty Humane Society for shots. They do $20 shots with all the immunizations leading up to adulthood, which is great and honestly, if you’ve ever been to Liberty Humane Society, you kind of just feel like they need your help. It’s like a house. If you’ve ever seen any of the Willy Wonka movies, it has that sort of Charlie Bucket home kind of feel to it. It just feels like they’re doing good things and you gotta find a way to help out any way you can. So that’s where that came from, and they’ve been a wonderful partner. This will be our third year with them, and we’ve gotten more involved with them and they’ve gotten more involved with us. The festival gave them Justin Silver last year to host their Bark in the Park event, their big annual event in October. It was the Saturday of the festival last year. Justin Silver is a comedian and has a reality show called Dogs in the City. So we’ve been able to partner up pretty good with them and we run the buckets and make the show feel good and do some things with some animals. I think it’s a good match up.
It’s a dollar per head that goes to the Liberty Humane Society, in addition to the donation buckets?
DF: Yes. We also just added a show. On October 4, that’s a Saturday, at 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. we have a show at Pier 13. It will feature a number of comedians, and it’s a dog friendly show and it’s going to be a suggested donation sort of show. We would love everyone to give ten dollars for the event but they can give more or less to come out and watch. 100% of those proceeds will go to the Liberty Humane Society. Last year we had a calendar campaign where we were raising money, and that’s where a lot of these dog and comedian photos are coming from. We put a calendar out for them, and for us. We had famous comedians posing with adoptable dogs, on calendars. This year, we’re doing the same campaign but we’re not making the calendar. Turns out, in 2014, nobody wants to own a calendar.
You take submissions from up and coming comedians for the opportunity to perform. How many of those comedians get that opportunity?
DF: That again is one of those things that…When I started, I just said, “Hey, I just want to meet some people from Hoboken and get these people to stay.” And then over the course of time, we just started getting bombarded with “Hey, how do I get in the festival? How do I do this, How do I do that?” And the festival is booked a very traditional way. There is the booker, who books the festival—that’s me—and I have an eye for who’s talented and what talent is out there. Those are the people who are headliner, feature, opener, and an MC. Traditionally the show has been four comedians of varying levels. The first year we had Amy Schumer and two years later she blew up. That year we also had Kurt Metzger. Same kind of thing, he’s humongous now, he’s on Comedy Central, he’s writing for four different shows, so we’ve had a pretty good eye on the people in town.
People who have gone on, have had their successes and blew up, so throughout that process, people have been asking, “How do I get on the festival?” And it’s part of a problem with the verbiage, because festivals, in most comedy senses means you submit to the festival, send a video, and you might get to perform in it. And that was not the initial intent of the festival. It was just a celebration of comedy in Hoboken. So through some pressure and overwhelming demand, we decided to put a submission aspect on the website and see what happens. First year we did that, without marketing or promoting it, 75 people submitted videos and took the time to want to be a part of the festival, so we said, “Okay, now we have a submission aspect,” which has caused us to add days aggressively. We are now a seven day, ten show festival with over 200 submissions, I believe.
How many of those will actually be able to perform?
DF: You know, that’s the big problem, that I’m a big fairness guy. So, while there are only seven days in a week, I can only have as many shows as there are days and add some on the weekends and what not. It’s become this thing, where it’s like, what’s a fair number? But also we need to make the shows entertaining for people to go to, for people to want to watch and we have amazing guys that have submitted to us. Guys we had last year have gone on to have TV credits and specials playing all over the country. It’s not necessarily anything to do with us, but we picked some of the right names and they’re doing great things. The short answer is that we have six or seven per night, Monday through Thursday and the shine-through performers of those nights will get to perform again on Friday and Saturday for the headliner shows. The shine-through for that will also get to perform on Sunday. That’s why we added the Saturday day event. We’re trying to get another chunk of guys to perform that show. So it becomes that kind of thing, if we ever get to 500 submissions, I don’t know what we’re going to do because I want to get as many of these people as possible.
What are your ambitions for upcoming festivals?
DF: I was going back and forth about what Hoboken does, with doing something at the beginning of the year and end of the year. The biggest problem I have I have in Hoboken besides letting people know that it exists, is a lack of large venues. We got some big guys this year. We got Carlos Mencia this year, we had Artie Lang last year. These are guys that are playing 3000, 4000, 5000 seat theaters and probably more. For them it’s almost like taking a night off, to do a show for 200 people in Hoboken. So it becomes a challenge. We’ve been looking aggressively into some other venues in Hoboken that can house a larger number of people. Time is an issue and it seems like we need 6-8 months to try to plan something like that. Or we might to something of the outdoor variety. That’s why we have that day show at Pier 13, to see what that looks like, because I’m not a huge fan of outdoor comedy. I don’t think it works as well. So we’re trying as many things as we can.
I want to be able to have people not ask if there is going to be a Hoboken Comedy Festival. I want people to be ready for it every year and excited about it. I’m trying to decide if we should do one in the front end of the summer and the back end of the summer like the Music and Arts Festival does or just stick with the one festival and do it strong. I mean, if we have open submissions throughout the year and I could put up sixty people over the course of two events, that might make me and other people happy as well. It’s one of these things where we’re growing every year and every year we’re trying to figure out how to respond to that. Now that we’re doing seven days and ten shows, which direction do we grow? That’s the big challenge now. I want this to be something that holds up over ten plus years. I really like Hoboken. I don’t know what my future in the town is, but I would love even if I didn’t end up staying here for another twenty years, that the festival is still here.
Photo Credit: Chris Langston