Co-founder of Theatre 99 and of improv group, The Have Nots, Greg Tavares has an interesting way of describing the Charleston Comedy Festival. The fest, now in its 16th iteration features plenty of local talent, with fresh faces from across the country. As Tavares says these out-of-towners help “cross-pollinate” the comedy scene. “They’re birds from a different zoo.” And what a zoo.
This year Tavares and his partner in crime, Brandy Sullivan are excited about a lot of the returning and new acts, especially the headliners. “Jamie Lee is really hilarious,” says Tavares. Sullivan is looking forward to seeing Jamie Kennedy perform at Woolfe Street Playhouse, a new move on the festival’s part — placing a big name in a more intimate setting. Needless to grabbing a glass of wine and settling into your table at Woolfe Street to watch the guy who starred in Malibu’s Most Wanted will be a treat.
Tavares and Sullivan point out a few other highlights of the fest: the provocative show, Magic Negro from Mark Kendall, which Tavares says is “so right for 2019”; Amber Nash, who voices Pam on Archer; the performers of fast fuckin’ sketch show, OSFUG; and a new venue for the festival, Threshold Repertory Theatre. If that sounds hip, cool, and fresh, well, Tavares and Sullivan would agree with you there. Another thing to note? “They don’t realize we’re here all the time,” says Sullivan.
Theatre 99 is here all the time, offering live improv and sketch comedy four nights a week. And Theatre 99’s improv classes have created a lot of local talent, with a number of Theatre 99 veterans performing in the festival. Then there are the repeat gems who come from out of town like crowd favorite, Reformed Whores. “They are absolute musical comedy stars,” says Tavares. “They’re always bringing new work. It’s a new concept every time.”
Sullivan and Tavares describe themselves as “analog” compared to the more tech and social media savvy acts that perform during the festival. “New comics have a social media presence — it’s now appropriate to read from your phone on stage,” says Sullivan. The two about the convenience of keeping notes on your phone but we all know the real joke is that the audience doesn’t care if performers text during their set. We’re phone whores, .
“Comedy is more a part of our lives than ever,” says Sullivan. “It’s the barometer for what’s OK and not OK.” From Louis C.K. to Aziz Ansari to Kevin Hart, we’re starting to use what comedians do on stage and in their private lives as the litmus test for what’s acceptable in society.
That’s comedy — a reflection of the society we live in — and an escape from it. And while they still can, Sullivan and Tavares will think of Theatre 99 as a safe haven, maybe from reality, and maybe even from our phones. “It’s a time capsule, improv at Theatre 99,” says Sullivan. “There’s not a ton of technology in our show. The shows could be happening at any place or time, it doesn’t need the internet to happen.” —Connelly Hardaway