May 12--Before The Comedy Attic, there was the Funny Bone. And for many years before that, Comedy Caravan made regular stops at Bear's Place, all of them part of the comedy tradition here.
But now, comedy in Bloomington is moving onto a bigger stage -- in fact, five stages -- during the inaugural run of the Limestone Comedy Festival.
The festival is something that Attic Owner Jared Thompson is sure he and festival director Mat Alano-Martin would have had great difficulty pulling off when The Attic first opened five years ago.
"The type of audiences that we have in Bloomington has lent themselves to us being able to provide the line-up that we bring," he said. "It's not just good booking. It's also great audiences."
Fifty-six comedians will be performing over a single, three-day weekend in early June at five different Bloomington venues, including The Comedy Attic. Four, big-name comics will headline the festival -- Tig Notaro, Maria Bamford, Doug Benson and Pete Holmes.
When Alano-Martin, a comedian who got his start at the Comedy Attic and co-director of the festival, first approached Thompson last year with the idea of doing a comedy festival, Thompson admits he was skeptical at first. In 2008, he and his wife, Dayna Thompson, worked hard to make the club a special place for Bloomington, and since then, Thompson said he's used to handling the majority of the club's work.
"It sounded like a bigger fish than I really wanted to fry," he said.
It's not the first time the headliners have performed at Thompson's club. In fact, every comedian on the line-up has once performed at the Comedy Attic, with the exception of Cleveland-born Al Jackson. But booking big-name comedians who are willing to return to the Walnut-Street location is what helps bring back audience members -- especially those from out of state.
"The Comedy Attic has thrived over the years on booking comedians that people will drive here for," Thompson said.
It helps that Alano-Martin knows a thing or two about building a comedy festival. In addition to doing his research, Alano-Martin said, from a comic's perspective, that he's looked at what he does and does not like at comedy festivals he's performed at in the past.
As a result, the partners are pushing for buyers to purchase a full-festival badge rather than individual tickets for the headliners' evening shows. The priciest badge they're offering is $125. It guarantees a good seat at podcast and headliner shows, allows you to attend festival VIP after-parties and -- most importantly -- "looks cool."
Badges for other comedy festivals throughout the country can cost upwards of $600, but typically include more perks. If audience members want to buy individual tickets for three shows -- which each cost $30 -- ticket-buyers would save $15 from buying the cheaper badge ticket, which costs $75.
Alano-Martin said the goal was to try to benefit each of the festival's participants in building the business model for the event.
"(We want to) treat the badge-holders great but also treat the comics great, even if they're not famous, even if they're smaller comics," he said.
Many of the comics on the line-up started out in the Bloomington comedy scene, including Brad Wilhelm, who will be hosting and performing at all of the shows at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater during the festival.
"This fest is a testament to how Bloomington has become a comedy oasis in the Midwest," Wilhelm said in an email.
Although the big names are expected to draw in audiences, Thompson said he sees the festival as an "imaginary passing-of-the-torch situation" between the local comics and the popular headliners.
"From Day 1 of the club, we have always insisted no matter what, that there's a local element to every show that we ever do," he said. "That will continue through the major shows at the festival."
If you go
WHAT: Limestone Comedy Festival
WHEN: June 6-8
WHERE: Various venues in Bloomington including Buskirk-Chumley Theater, the Comedy Attic, the Bishop, the Backdoor and the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center
TICKETS: Festival badges are $75 for the Limestone badge and $125 for the VIP badge. A limited number of individual tickets to the headliner shows and various matinees are also available. See http://limestonefest.com/ for a complete list and to purchase tickets.
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