They say true artists have to suffer for their art. Santa Cruz Comedy Festival organizer DNA is giving them a running start.
“I bring 65 comedians from all over the West Coast and make them run, literally, from one show to another,” he says. “It’s like The Amazing Race with no prize and more work. They run around like idiots. The point is to be a non-elitist festival, which is very Santa Cruz.”
The festival returns for a fourth time Oct. 28, boasting comedy walking tours and a plethora of free and ticketed shows across downtown. It continues into Halloween and ends Nov. 4 with DNA’s Pop Up Comedy Events, which can best be described as completely bizarre immersive experiences for really weird people—basically all of Santa Cruz.
“A lot of events in Santa Cruz skew one side or the other, either 40 or 50 [years old] and up and others are 35 and down,” DNA says. “I don’t find the middle ground at a lot of things.”
By featuring David Liebe Hart and other well-known West Coast comedians alongside local comics, DNA says he hopes to appeal to a wide range of comedy fans. Hart will headline the Catalyst Atrium, along with Nervous Energy and DJ Real, there will be an All Star show at the Kuumbwa with 15 headliner comics, and Pure Pleasure Shop’s lineup of female-identifying performers returns following their sold-out show last year. And of course there are the WasTED talks, which are exactly what they sound like—wasted comedians hosting a TED-style talk.
“Comedians are like microbrews, everyone has their favorite,” he says, adding that there will certainly be something for everyone from the stereotypical stand up to the ultra weird comedy.
Like many local comedians, Christina Powell got her start at DNA’s standup showcases at the Blue Lagoon, having dragged her friends there weekly until she mustered up the courage to get on stage herself. She will be hosting part of the Streetlight Records show on Saturday, and will then move on to host the Pure Pleasure show. Starting out last year, Powell says she was surprised by how supportive everyone is in the Santa Cruz comedy scene, as well as by their range of backgrounds.
“There are doctors, lawyers, students, people who work in restaurants and weed stores, everything,” says Powell. “You need to have some pieces of a normal life to be a good comedian. If I was just at home writing all day I wouldn’t be experiencing anything or creating relatable material.”
She says that the comedy festival keeps local comics on their toes by bringing a new, unpredictable audience to try out material on—and full-time professional comedians to be completely intimidated by.
“If you are performing in the same town and the same bars, there is a style of comedy that works, and you stick with that,” Powell says. “It’s good to get out of your comfort zone.”
Even though the festival is his brainchild, DNA wants to make sure he doesn’t get all of the credit. Besides the comics, there are 100 volunteers helping to make the festival run smoothly as possible—even with frantic comics running everywhere.
“So many of the comics coming to the festival have a socially conscious perspective on life, with a humorous edge,” DNA says. “Not only is it cathartic to laugh for several hours at a show, but it can change your perspective on things, and then change your life.”
A highlight of last year’s festival were the pop up events, including theatrical stagings of two Twilight Zone episodes, followed by DNA himself hosting the Late Late Night Show. The Twilight Zone dramatizations breathed new, tense energy into stories that—despite setting the standard for current mindbender series like Black Mirror—are sometimes mistakenly thought to be outdated. And the faux talk show was a weird and very funny twist on the late-night format set the night before the world ends. This year will see two new Twilight Zone adaptations, followed by the return of the Last Late Night Show at Center Stage Theater, on Oct. 31 and Nov. 2-4.
DNA says everyone deserves a laugh, especially now.
“It’s a cathartic experience. Laughter brings people together and they leave with a smile on their face,” he says. “Laughter is going to get us through. And music, too. And drugs and alcohol.”
For more info and full lineups visit standupsantacruz.com.