First C-U Comedy Festival celebrates growth of local comedy scene

By Rebecca Jacobs

Jesse Tuttle planned the upcoming first C-U Comedy Festival with a circus mentality: “Give something a little different for everyone, and it’s rare anyone will go home disappointed. If they do, they probably just don’t like the circus to begin with.”

Jesse, along with his twin brother, Justin Tuttle, and Esteban Gast, created and developed the festival. The week of comedy begins on Tuesday and includes nine shows in eight venues over the span of five days. Comedians include University students, along with local and visiting comedians.

John McCombs is a 2012 University alumnus now stationed in Romania with the Marine Corps. While at the University, he was involved in the C-U comedy scene with the Tuttle brothers. He’s also done stand-up in Chicago, Washington D.C. and Baltimore, but the C-U shows are still his favorite.

“I’m all the way on the other side of the world on deployment, and I’m still excited to see how it goes,” McCombs said. “You’re always happy to see your hometown scene thrive and to see so many people and businesses involved.”

Thanks to the planners’ circus organizing strategies, there’s a show for all types of humor. Current University students will kick off the festival on Tuesday at Canopy Club. Matt Shancer, senior in Media, reviewed previous footage to prepare; he is set to perform the first set of the entire festival.

“It should be the greatest week of stand-up comedy Champaign-Urbana has ever seen,” Shancer said.

Juan Villeta, Ph.D. student in LAS, will also perform opening night. Before he goes on stage, he goes over his first few jokes to make sure he starts off strong. He also scans the crowd to “see if there’s anything that lends itself naturally to jokes,” such as a man in an odd hat or a table that laughed at an earlier theme that night.

“I like performing earlier in the festival, just because the longer I wait, the more butterflies I accumulate,” Villeta said. “It also challenges me to set a high bar.”

Esteban Gast, a C-U comedy regular and 2014 University alumnus, created the concept for True Story on Wednesday night. Champaign Mayor Don Gerard is performing during True Story. Jesse said that Gerard must have some funny stories from being mayor.

“If he doesn’t make me snort water out my nose three times or more due to laughter, I’m voting for the other person next election,” Jesse said jokingly.

On Suits & Ties night on Thursday, comedians will perform in formal wear, but the crowd can wear anything. Thursday is also the only improv comedy show, performed by the locally-known Abe Froman Project.

On Friday, performers will each take two to three shots of alcohol five minutes before going on stage for Shot It Up at Exile on Main St. Audience members will also be given two shots with the entry fee. Nick Martin, a 2013 University alumnus who will perform on Friday, promises his act will be so weird that it’s “something you’re unexplainably attracted to even though it makes you uncomfortable.”

“It’s kind of like when you were a kid and used to watch someone spin around in circles then try to run in a straight line. They always fell down like a fool,” Jesse said. “This is the stand up equivalent of children being dizzy and then trying to concentrate.”

The festival ends with The Dirty Show at Clark Bar on Saturday. This is the “hard R-rated, filthy fun show of the festival.” The only thing left off limits? Physical contact. But Jesse said even that depends on if it’s consensual.

“I would never advocate someone on stage saying things that make crowd members leave, but for this one-time show I will be a little disappointed in the performers if there isn’t at least one person walking out in a huff of disgust,” Jesse said.

The festival is a reflection of the C-U comedy scene being as “big as it’s ever been right now,” Jesse said. The Tuttle twins helped develop and grow the comedy scene in C-U.

“I don’t think people understand how hard that is to have that,” Jesse said. “Even some major cities have so-so scenes.”

McCombs agrees that Jesse and Justin are largely responsible for making the comedy scene what it is today. McCombs remembers a “genuine excitement and energy” from the comedians and crowds that he hasn’t felt elsewhere.

“I think part of that is seeing where it has come to get to this point and how, unlike in bigger cities with an already established scene, we can all play a part in helping make this thing huge,” McCombs said.

Rebecca can be reached at [email protected].