Shadowbox Live’s third Brew Ha Ha, a festival celebrating comedy (sketch and standup), music and beer, is its biggest yet. Brew Ha Ha grew out of Shadowbox’s annual Sketch Comedy Competition after the theater company moved from Easton to the Brewing District and wanted to expand offerings to include standup and music.
This year the festival brings in national touring standup comedians (Ryan Singer and Shawn Pelofsky), the winner of last year’s standup competition for a headliner set (Cleveland-based Mike Ivy), seven renowned sketch troupes, and closes with a free 10,000 Maniacs concert in Brewer’s Yard. The goal for Shadowbox and Brew Ha Ha is to continually grow each year, with the intention of creating a national attraction for comedy fans.
“This city has a lot to offer on the arts and cultural scene. We wanted something national, something that said, ‘Hey there’s more here.’ When you think of [comedy] hubs, you think of Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles and Austin,” said Shadowbox Live’s director of media relations Nikki Fagin. “There’s no reason at all Columbus shouldn’t be one as well. We wanted to elevate the notoriety of the arts and culture, [and] we love the standup scene in Columbus as much as the sketch comedy scene.”
Besides bringing in well-known comedy and music headliners, Brew Ha Ha invested in local comedy. Columbus’ Laura Sanders will open for Singer (a Dayton native currently in Los Angeles), and former Columbus resident Travis Irvine will open for Pelofsky. The festival also incorporates regular comedy shows and open mic events around town for the Kickoff Week of Brew Ha Ha, which is currently taking place. The goal is to highlight standup comedy nights from Campus to Franklinton and the Short North to Grandview.
“I thought what better thing to do than … expand Brew Ha Ha throughout the city. I pitched the idea to [Shadowbox Live founder and CEO Steve Guyer] of involving these other venues and making [it] the week leading up to [the festival] so each venue could feel like [it was included], but it’s not competing with anything going on down here. He loved it, and said run with it,” Shadowbox writer and standup comedian Nickey Winkelman.
Tuesday, July 22, Brew Ha Ha also awarded an opening slot for Ivy’s set to Sommer Sterud, the winner of the Backstage Bistro Standup Competition. Ivy, who took top honors in last year’s contest, was impressed by not just the Brew Ha Ha festival, but the strength of Columbus’ standup contingency.
“When I got down there, it wasn’t what I expected. It totally surpassed my expectations in every way. Everybody treated me really well and any comedian should really enter this [competition],” said Ivy during a phone interview, adding he also plans to make more trips to perform in Columbus. “It’s cool because it’s a smart town. People tend to get my humor which is good because then I can let loose a bit there.”
While Brew Ha Ha has expanded and added new elements this year, the festival is still dedicated to its roots — sketch comedy. Before the standup acts at 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday of next week, Shadowbox will host the sketch comedy competition at 7 p.m. Four troupes will perform Tuesday and three Wednesday, with the winners from each preliminary round competing for overall champion on Thursday evening.
The troupes that move on to Thursday’s finals will be decided by a group of judges (Guyer and Shadowbox veterans Jimmy Mak and Julie Klein) and audience approval. Besides having a say in the outcome — Fagin said the audience will act as one of the judges — those in attendance will also get a behind-the-scenes look at the craft of sketch from a multitude of approaches.
“Because Shadowbox is so different, I think it’s really great for our patrons to see other folks or styles. Plus, the audience loves getting to hear the feedback. They don’t get to hear everything that goes into it. It’s more than just getting on stage and acting goofy. People from past years have said that’s their favorite part,” Fagin said.