At comedy festivals, the big-name headliners tend to fill the seats and draw the crowds, but smart comedy fans realize it’s also ground zero for the next wave of stand-up and improv superstars. Pros like Patton Oswalt, Marc Maron, and Louie C.K. spent years touring the circuit before making it big, so when perusing the lineup for the Charleston Comedy Festival, make sure to include the up-and-comers on the Stand Up Comedy bill.

Vicky Kuperman

This Russian-born New Yorker vividly recalls her first stand up experience: An open mic in the basement of a taco joint near the Empire State Building on a very hot night in July. “Actually, it was on July 3rd, so nobody was in the city, which calmed me down at the time because I was hoping nobody would show up to watch and I could do comedy to a wall, as I had been doing up until then as practice — and very happily at that,” she says. Two comedians showed up along with Kuperman and a small audience gathered. “Two of them were unenthused English male tourists who didn’t look up from their tacos at all, not once,” she remembers. “The other two were young guys who looked like they got lost on the way to Woodstock ’94 and were still trying to find it. They stared at me — excuse me, they stared through me — while I blanked on my material as soon as I got onto the stage, which was made up of cardboard, rubber, and human hair. I ran off about six minutes early, coincidentally the exact time I had to do my set. My eyes welled up in tears as I tried to find an exit through the bathroom window and I told myself ‘I will never, ever do this again.’ Luckily, I don’t take my own opinion seriously and never have.”

Since then, things have steadily improved. Kuperman, who’s a contributor to The Huffington Post, is also something of a short video queen. Her features are a regular fixture on and comedy legend David Brenner recently tapped her to participate in his What’s So Funny? showcase as one of five comics to watch. Kuperman’s comedy style takes a hammer to all notions of political correctness, but there’s a sly cleverness to her brash tackling of everything from racial and cultural stereotypes to sex. Nothing is safe from her acid observations, so leave the sacred cows at home.

Brett Druck

Armed with a black, sticker-covered guitar, and (usually) a plaid shirt, Druck looks every inch the laidback Jack Johnson of stand up comedy — until he opens his mouth and short, one-line bursts of observational humor spill out with merciless, straight-faced speed. Druck balances his deadpan style (we have yet to see him crack a smile in any video) with equally serious-seeming sing-song jokes that only get funnier thanks to the contrast of his delivery methods.

His time studying improv at the famed Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York adds to the livewire presence that lurks below his matter-of-fact approach, and it’s easy to understand how out of more than 10,000 submissions, Druck found a spot in the America’s Got Talent YouTube Top 20.

Adam Newman

It’s not easy when you share a name with a key character on The Young and the Restless, but Adam Newman is doing alright for himself. The Daily Show‘s John Oliver included him in his Comedy Central stand-up special, and he was also named one of Comedy Central’s “comics to watch.” He recently released his debut stand-up CD, Not for Horses, and he has a new web series, My Dad is in a Boy Band, premiering this month. He also has an entire section on his website, separate from “Stand-Up Videos,” for “Other, Weirder Videos” which features Newman as a “very sexual person” on the Tyra Banks Show.

It seems the accolades and heraldry are justified: Newman is hilarious, as evidenced by snippets of a College Humor stand-up showcase wherein he recaps a VH1 Most Metal Moments special to sidesplitting effect. Newman’s absurdist style grabs from the inanities of everyday life, and his own pleasurable wonder at it all helps every joke stick the landing.

Fri. Jan. 18, 9:30 p.m. $12.50. American Theater. Sat. Jan. 19, 8 p.m. $12.50. Lighthouse at Shem Creek

Stay cool. Support City Paper.

City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.