The Jersey City Comedy Festival is a week long event that includes stand up comedy, sketch, improv, art installations, and much more. The festival, sponsored by Dos Equis, runs from March 31-April 5 with various events taking place throughout Jersey City. Some things to keep an eye out for are the Rogues’ Gallery, a pop up art gallery and comedy club that will hopefully become a permanent fixture with your help (contribute to the Indiegogo campaign here), Robert Kelly performing stand up with other comics and live recording his You Know What Dude podcast, as well as a sketch comedy showcase to benefit Liza Dye, a comedian who survived getting hit by a subway train and racked up some hospital bills.
Craig Mahoney, a local Jersey City comedian and artist, is the founder of the Jersey City Comedy Festival. Here is the conversation we had about the festival.
How long have you been performing stand up professionally?
Uh, professionally? Well…what does that mean, the first time I got paid? I’ve been doing stand up overall for about five years. Well, I quit tending bar like a year ago so there’s that (laughter). Now I do both the art and the comedy together so that helps pay the bills.
What kind of art do you do?
I do a lot of pop culture and sports stuff.
What compelled you to start the Jersey City Comedy Festival?
You know what it was? I saw that Hoboken had one and there was myself and a few other people running different shows around Jersey City and I was like, hey you know we’ve got enough to make a festival, let’s have one here. Why doesn’t Jersey City have a comedy festival? It should. And then also, the way I had seen things done with other comedy festivals and certain arts festivals in this city, I thought could’ve been done better or done differently, ways to treat comedians and participants a little more fairly.
How well did doing stand up all these years, putting together and hosting comedy shows prepare you for the challenge of producing the festival?
Well, before I moved up here, I lived down the shore and I had tried something similar. I had been running several shows and I worked television production for a while and sang in bands, so I knew about putting on a show. That all kind of prepared me, but there was still stuff I learned last year that prepared me better for this year and stuff I learned this year that will hopefully prepare me better for next year. And I’m sure there will be new stuff coming at me as well. You never know everything.
What kind of new challenges did you come across?
This year, the three biggest challenges were honestly my decision that I wanted to have two art shows, large curated group art shows. And that just led to extra work. There was also that we’re having our own pop up venue, our own temporary comedy club/art gallery, and it’s just the extra work of curating art shows and trying to open a venue even if it’s only for a week. And then also we’ve got corporate sponsorship, which in a lot of ways makes it a lot easier and helps our budget, but then there’s a lot more work to do as far our obligations to sponsors and certain things like that. Sort of a victim of our own success and my ideas to expand the festival, have these different types of shows and have our own little venue. Basically, I just made more work for myself.
You mentioned the art gallery, this is the Rogues’ Gallery right? Would you like to say more about that and its mission?
Yeah. Everyone will be able to see the concept, or the main idea during the week of the festival since we’ll have something going on there every night. Because I do that kind of pop culture, geeky art, I have always wanted some sort of space, my own gallery space that I could curate and have different movie, comic book, pop culture types of art and also have live comedy going on there. So we’ve got the Indiegogo campaign going on now, trying to turn it from a pop up space the week of the festival to a permanent addition to the newly rezoned Riverview arts district up here.
In addition to having stand up there, we’d do different things like if people have independent short films they want to show, record live podcasts, do sketch, do improv, and it would also be available to the community for local fundraisers. We might have live jazz and figure drawing, you know, get creative with the space. I don’t want it to be just one thing. And I didn’t want the comedy festival to be that way either. I didn’t want it to be: here’s a bunch of stand up shows, two drink minimum, let’s take your money. With comedy, there’s so much more you could do, get to be more creative, that’s why we’re having things like live podcasts, even a book reading.
What kind of other stuff can people look forward to at the Jersey City Comedy Festival?
Well there’s something like a dozen stand up shows that are a part of it. We’ve got a couple open mics as well. One of the big shows we’ve got is Bobby Kelly and the people from his You Know What Dude podcast. They’re doing a stand up show followed by a live Q&A. We’ve got the two different art openings, we’ve got two live podcast recordings, there’s a book reading with a couple of stand up comics who’ve authored books, there’s a couple of after parties where there will be some live music.
At the Rogues’ Gallery that week there will be figure drawing and live jazz. We’re gonna do one event with a series of people from web videos and shorts and we’re gonna host a marathon of those with a live Q&A afterward. Then myself and my co-host from our Transformers podcast, at midnight on the Friday that week, we’re going to have a live viewing of the 1984 Transformers movie and do a live commentary over it. Trying to hit all corners.
Considering what you did with the festival this year, what would you change for next year’s?
I think what I’d like to do is…I’m trying to figure out a way to say this without sounding like an asshole (laughter). Well, I’d like a couple of larger acts, more national headliners. I would like to maybe involve a retrospective film showing, show a classic movie and more sketch comedy than we’ve had. Like we’ve only got the one sketch show. I would like at least two shows next year and somehow involve musical comedy. That’s really it.