PressureLife wanted to sit down with Ramon Rivas II right before Accidental Comedy Fest ‘17. However as you’d expect of a man who’s set himself the task of performing in, and curating the biggest comedy festival in Cleveland he was too busy for sitting. He did have time to answer a few questions about what’s on for Accidental Comedy Fest ‘17. This is what you need to know about the homegrown Comedy festival that began under a bridge, and by next year will likely be spilling out into every venue on East 4th Street.
PressureLife: Other than a change of venue what’s the biggest change for Accidental Comedy Fest ’17?
Ramon Rivas II: The scope of it. It’s always been kind of an underground, in the know sort of thing. The festival started as a comedy stage at Ingenuity Fest the year it was under the Detroit Superior Bridge, so it was literally underground. Now, it’s only moved physically a half mile but right to the main artery of downtown Cleveland, East 4th Street. It’s cool to have Hilarities become a partner and host of the event. They’ve been around for 30 years, and the years between their original location in the warehouse district (now the RTA offices) and their current home on 4th Street, they operated very similar to Accidental: pop up shows in areas that are often overlooked. Nick’s vision for the club is what coalesced into the 4th street district. He was the first building on the street back when you could drive down it. So now, that vision is joining up with the Accidental crews goal of enriching the arts in Cleveland through live comedy, so it’s not so much a change as a challenge getting the whole of the city to embrace a DIY festival at a prestigious club that started out with a very DIY vibe.
PressureLife: You’ve spoiled us in the past with many stages all crammed into one venue. How will you maintain the DIY vibe in a dedicated space?
Hilarities has the main show room and a permanent Cabaret Stage, so things will still be under one roof. Portions of the complex will be repurposed for the festival to accommodate folks before, during and after the shows. I’ve worked with Hilarities to make these shows as assessable and affordable as possible. Mainstage shows are only $20-25, Cabaret Stage shows are just $10. VIP passes for the full week Wednesday to Sunday, or weekend Friday through Saturday are also available. The martini bar downstairs will serve as the “Waiting Room”, with the behind-the-bar stage serving as a workshop for festival artists all weekend for folks waiting for their programming blocks to begin. So compared to the three stages that former fest home Mahall’s offered it’s not so much a change as it is a challenge. Selling out every show on every stage means 600 people Wednesday, 700 people Thursday, 1100 people Thursday, 1500 people Saturday, and 700 people Sunday. Which seemed like a lot of people, until I put it in the perspective of it being 10 percent of the least attended Indians game, one percent of a Cavs sellout, or point five percent of a Browns sell out. People are used to going downtown. They walk by Hilarities all the time. It’s just challenging to get people to make that connection. If they could support the arts as much as they do sports, Cleveland could become a hub where talent incubates. Sometimes, you gotta step up your efforts to continue DIY in order for the city to realize what’s happening inside it year round.
PressureLife: One year of operating out in LA has added serious star power to the line up. Why still have Cleveland host ACF ‘17
Because I miss Cleveland every day. I started doing Accidental shows because I couldn’t afford to live in New York or Los Angeles but I wanted to do comedy. I wanted people to come together and see funny people I’d met in my travels. It’s cool that this year representatives from Comedy Central and other industry sources are coming to check out Cleveland because of a dumb thing I started doing under the bridge. There’s no reason for me to do this fest anywhere else because there’s no reason Cleveland can’t support and sustain it’s own dope festival. I’ve been fortunate to attend and perform at Just For Laughs, Riot LA, San Francisco SketchFest , Laughfest in Grand Rapids, and Clusterfest in San Francisco. The one difference between Accidental Comedy Fest and those bigger more illustrious festivals is simply the support of the city. Businesses, city officials and citizens embrace and support those events then they grow and flourish. A few businesses have partnered with us for the last few years (Oskar Blues, Brick & Barrel, The Cleveland Hostel), but in general I’ve found difficulty getting support to grow the festival into what it could be. Hilarities presenting and hosting this year is what enabled the uptick in volume of talent, but every year performers come who go on to television appearances and more opportunities. But the overlap of talent with Accidental and those bigger fests is something I’m very proud of. People in Cleveland don’t have to travel to points all over the country for stuff. Accidental and Hilarities are bringing it a short drive from them.
PressureLife: This monster keeps growing. How many performers submitted to be on the line up this year?
The way I ended up curating the festival this year is a wave of invited performers as headliners, which was 30 comics. Then there was a two week window where we took submissions from around the country. Just under 200 submitted to come to Cleveland and perform at the fest. A panel of comedy fans helped narrow the field down to what wound up being 13 additional comics from around the country. Some, like Mia Jackson, are ascending (she was a new face at this years Just For Laughs) and has been to numerous fests. For others this is their first festival and their first time in Cleveland. Which is something I’m proud of. A dumb thing that started under a bridge brings people to Cleveland.
PressureLife: You’re notoriously known to support new folks in the scene. If you could give them one Pro tip for next year’s submission what would you say?
Hmmmm… Know what you’re up against. Of the nearly 200 submissions, 21 graded out to A- or better, which we had to cut down to 15 or less. Make sure your tape is filmed at a “good show” or comedy venue. The number of submissions at shitty bar shows/open mics where you could hear a lot of room chatter or disinterest is surprisingly way more than 0. If you don’t have access to good shows to record a set at, you might not be at a point you should be submitting for comedy festivals. Make sure your set is a reflection of your comedy NOW a lot of people send whatever clip they have available, and often times it’s years old. If you don’t have a lot of sets taped, you might not be at a point you should be submitting for comedy festivals. Make yourself easy to identify. Lots of bad submissions from people who don’t have websites, easily identifiable social media profiles, or the presence of a professional comic is pretty high too. If you haven’t reached a point where you have an act you’re willing to invest resources into, you might not be at a point you should be submitting for comedy festivals. Fuck festivals, just work. Most festivals give a blanket “you were not accepted” response to people that submit. One thing Accidental does is supply the option for feedback from judges. Which is hopefully helpful when folks are submitting down the line. Sometimes it’s just nitpicky. Folks had B or better packets but weren’t accepted. Their videos were funny, but for whatever reason they didn’t measure up to the folks who got accepted. That’s not an indictment of that person’s comedy vs someone else’s, it’s just based off of what they sent. A good tape takes forever to get. A few years ago I sent my Comedy Central comics to watch set into Bridgetown. Filmed by Comedy Central at the New York Comedy Fest. I was not accepted. I wound up taping my half hour special that weekend anyways. Don’t let other people validate or invalidate you. If you don’t like how people do things, start your own thing. That’s how Accidental came about. I didn’t like how other festivals in the city felt like bringer contests or participation trophy ceremonies due to the sheer number of comics they accepted because they were funny. I had to tell a lot of people I’m personally a fan of and enjoy watching live that we couldn’t offer them a spot.
PressureLife: Where do you see ACF next year?
Ideally still centralized at Hilarities but potentially with more of the downtown area engaged with it as well. Seeing how other fests take over sections of a city and offer multiple VENUES and such would be cool. But I never want to overstep my bounds. It’s going to be hard enough getting 4700 people to come and eat, drink and be merry together at one venue, adding more and more shows just adds to that challenge. It’ll be easy once that support clicks in, but entering year six we’re still guerilla marketing champions. Hopefully next year, I’m able to continue bringing peers and mentors and strangers I’ve never met together in a city I love. That’s the dream I make a reality every year, with or without help.
PressureLife: You expanded beyond CHUCKLEFCK which was started by Jim Tews from local rooms Into what Accidental Comedy is now. Do you foresee handing over the empire or have you already done that?
Accidental Comedy exists to enrich the arts in Cleveland through live comedy and other performances. I’m the manifestation of most of it, but that’s just because I’m autistic for Cleveland and for comedy. But the current members based in Cleveland all run weekly/monthly shows around town that continue those efforts. The empire is in their hands, in the audience members that support those efforts hands, and my hands. It’s in whoevers hands grab it. Even though I’m gone, what I worked towards (Cleveland becoming a relevant destination for comedy) is not gone. It’s still there, working behind the scenes.
PressureLife: What’s In the SWAG BAG!!!!???
Buy a VIP pass and find out. It definitely includes a lanyard that gets you into EVERY show during the fest and a t-shirt. The rest is a special thing for folks that are gracious enough to support this dumb thing I started under a bridge 6 years ago. When I probably shouldn’t have even been submitting to comedy festivals.
In essence nothing has changed but the reputation, and the location for Accidental Comedy Fest ’17. Ramon Rivas II still is dedicated to bringing big city laughs to our still hidden comedy mecca.
The Accidental Crew is still going strong, but they want to see you this Labor Day Weekend. Grab your tickets and rejoice that you won’t be laughing under a bridge. Mainstage shows
$20 and $25. Sidestage shows only $10. The VIP week and weekend pass which includes access to all shows and the famed bag of fest swag are available at Hilarities.com. Complete artist bios at Accidentalcomedy.com.
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James Earl Brassfield or simply JEB is a writer, podcast host, humorist, actor and “Black Hunter Thompson” type madman of no ill repute. Language has yet to evolve fully to describe his unique view of Northeast Ohio and the world. JEB produces work across all media with his original and clearly stated voice. @Jearlbrass