The sixth annual Ventura Comedy Festival — which takes place Aug. 1 through 7 at six locations across town — has a few tricks up its sleeve.
Along with the popular annual comedy competition featuring 105 comedians battling it out for a cash prize and goodies, there also will be big names like The Jamie Kennedy Experiment star Jamie Kennedy, an app that allows comedy showgoers to vote on their favorite acts (more on that later) and, for the first time ever, a Miss Comedy Universe showcase.
For the latter, festival organizer Randy Lubas hand-picked hilarious female stand-ups from around the world, including Japan, Peru, Israel, Jamaica, Turkey and India.
“Some of them are new and some are more established, so it’ll be interesting to see,” Lubas says. “We’ve always done an international comedy show at the festival but I thought this was a little bit more interesting.”
The various shows, panels and showcases will take place at The Green Room, The Greek Mediterranean Steak and Seafood, 805 Bar and Grilled Cheese, Copa Cubana, the Boatyard Pub and Lubas’ own Ventura Harbor Comedy Club.
Lubas knows how to pick a winning mix of acts for a comedy festival. Now based in Santa Monica, he grew up in Pittsburgh and has been doing stand-up comedy his “whole life.”
The Ventura Comedy Festival came about after he’d been running the Harbor Comedy Club for a few years. A woman came in who had previously run an oyster festival on the northern coast of Oregon, and he told her he’d always thought of starting a comedy festival. They worked together to get the first couple off the ground, and the combination of the comedy competition, marquee big-name shows and new up-and-comers worked well in comedy-friendly Ventura.
This year includes Ben Gleib, who has a brand-new Showtime special that’s airing currently, the aforementioned Jamie Kennedy and The Mindy Project‘s Fortune Feimster.
“[Feimster and I] met probably the second year we were open and she just took off like a rocket,” Lubas says. “She was on Last Comic Standing and from that went on the [Chelsea Lately] and The Mindy Project. She’s become very in-demand.”
On Sunday of the festival, nationally syndicated public radio host Larry Elder will host a show called “Derision 2016” that’s a comedic political forum. It will have comedians from the right, left and in between doing stand-up and a panel discussion — apropos considering our current political climate this election year.
And then there’s that massive comedy competition. The preliminary rounds are happening now throughout July; semifinals and finals will be the week of the festival.
Along with the two human judges of the competition, the festival is working with a company called Barkback, an app that lets customers communicate directly with business owners. The technology will allow for everyone who walks into the shows to be able to instantly vote using their phones, rating the comedians.
While around 10 of this year’s comedians are locally based, the rest come from all over the country and even the world. But most are heading up from Los Angeles, which is something that makes the festival unique, Lubas says.
“A lot of people from different states are dipping their toes in the water in Southern California or have recently moved — so we get a lot of new faces that way.”
FOUR QUESTIONS WITH COMEDIAN-ACTRESS FORTUNE FEIMSTER
Who did you grow up idolizing?
I grew up watching reruns of The Carol Burnett Show. She was a big influence on me; it was rare to see a woman like that have her own show and do so many different mediums — her monologue, her Q&A with the audience, the sketches. It was so cool to see someone so multifaceted on TV. I also grew up watching Saturday Night Live. I would do the sketches like Mary Katherine Gallagher for my friends and just try to mimic whatever I’d seen the Saturday before. I liked all the silly things, the cheerleaders, Adam Sandler’s characters, and Cheri Oteri had some great ones. It’s cool because at this point in my life, I’ve gotten to meet some of the cast members and have worked with them so it feels like it’s come full circle.
What’s been the biggest turning point so far in your career?
I’ve had a couple. My most defining one was definitely getting on Chelsea Lately. Chelsea was sort of the first person who took a chance on me and put me on television, and I think she had a knack for tapping into undiscovered talent and giving them a platform . . . And then another big milestone was filming my own sitcom with Tina Fey last year. We got to shoot it for ABC, and even though it didn’t get picked up, I think it was the first time someone from the industry saw me as other than just someone from Chelsea Lately — and it led to another big turning point for me, which was getting cast as a series regular on The Mindy Project.
Who on The Mindy Project makes you laugh the most?
Ike Barinholtz (Morgan Tookers) is probably that person for everybody on set. He’s such a master improviser. . . . He’s constantly making everybody laugh.
What drives you to want to keep doing stand-up?
As much as I love acting, it doesn’t have the immediacy. If it’s a movie, it doesn’t come out for a year later, but with stand-up you’re right there in the moment, connecting with these people. And it’s cool to meet people who follow your career. The goal is to make them laugh and make them forget the stress of their day and just have a good time.
The Ventura Comedy Festival takes place Aug. 1-7 at various locations. For scheduling and more information call 644-1500 or visit www.venturacomedyfestival.com.