East End fans of standup comedy have no doubt heard of the Long Island Comedy Festival (LICF), which has been hosted by a number of premier venues, including Bay Street Theater, in its 17 years. This year, a dedicated Hamptons Comedy Festival (HCF) is debuting at Bay Street with show dates starting on April 15.
This new Hamptons festival, produced by comedian Paul Anthony and the LICF, will utilize the same basic formula that has seen a success for its Long Island counterpart: more headlining comedians equals more laughs. Whereas many comedy shows will feature a half-hour opening act followed by the headliner performing for an hour or so, the LICF model retains a 90-minute length but with a rapid-fire comedy showcase of headliners performing shorter sets. The debut HCF will feature Anthony as the opening act and emcee/host, followed by five headlining acts.
“The comedians are going to be doing between 10- and 20-minute sets. … It’s fast paced, and it gives the opportunity for the audience to be exposed to a lot of different styles of comedy — male, female comedians, different age groups — and it creates a really fun, upbeat atmosphere. The formula works,” Anthony says, adding that the showcases of New York City comedy clubs in the 1990s served as inspiration for the idea. “From a comedian’s perspective, if they’re not doing 45 minutes or an hour, they can pick and choose the 10, 15, 20 minutes of comedy that they’re going to do. And obviously they’re going to do their best material.”
The inspiration for the Hamptons Comedy Festival struck during the COVID-19 shutdown.
“There was no work. All of the theaters that we worked with were shuttered. That’s when I came up with the idea. And because of my relationship with Bay Street, I pitched the idea to them. They were gung-ho,” he says, explaining that this pitch is what brought the LICF to Bay Street last year as a means of “dipping our toes in the water.”
The test run was a hit, so they began collaborating on a Hamptons festival exclusive to Bay Street. “The bottom line is that the Hamptons is a very special place, and it has a certain caché to it. And I just felt that it made sense that it should have its own branded comedy festival.”
The HCF debut roster is a reflection of Anthony’s career as executive producer of the LICF, which launched in 2006. “Some of the comedians I’ve worked with for quite a while over the past 17 years, not all of them, but the vast majority of them,” Anthony notes. The lineup includes Rich Walker, Kendra Cunningham, Bryan McKenna, Chris Roach and a surprise fifth headliner.
Walker has worked with Anthony since the beginning of the LICF and is described as one of the “most versatile comedians performing today.”
A longtime veteran of the Long Island comedy scene, Walker has won multiple awards in the annual Bethpage Best of Long Island contest, has performed in top venues across the country and has shared the stage with titans of standup Ray Romano and Kevin James.
Cunningham may have been born in Boston, but she’s making just as big a name for herself in the NYC comedy scene. She was named a comic to watch by Time Out New York, had a seven-show sold-out run at Don’t Tell Mama, has released two successful comedy albums and has appeared twice on NBC’s Last Comic Standing.
McKenna is probably best known for his work with the popular Jim Breuer — touring nationally as Breuer’s opener and releasing his No. 1 album Jim Breuer Presents: Bryan McKenna “The Fight Is Never Over” — but his career has seen plenty of success outside of this partnership as well. McKenna has been featured in the Laugh Your Asheville Off Comedy Festival, and he was a finalist in both the Carolines on Broadway March Madness Competition and the Boston Comedy Festival.
Born and raised on Long Island, Roach has toured with fellow Long Island comedian Kevin James as James’ opener and was given a recurring role on James’ CBS sitcom Kevin Can Wait. He’s also headlined well-known venues across the country including the Gotham Comedy Club, The Borgata and The Paramount.
With the LICF’s standing as the longest-running comedy festival of its kind on Long Island — as well as the company’s success with the Berkshire Comedy Festival, 50+ Comedy Tour and Mom’s Night Out Long Island — Anthony largely credits this success to his strong belief in the strength and power of laughter and in the comedians who make it happen.
“Ultimately, and it’s more important than ever now, people need to laugh more. I mean, people are bombarded with negativity on a daily basis,” Anthony says. “Our goal is to just help people forget about their problems, even if it’s just for 90 minutes. … When an audience of 300 people bursts out laughing at a premise, a joke, a punchline, it just shows you how much we have in common. … We always do a very informal meet-and-greet where the comedians generally just hang out either in the lobby or outside the theater venue … and the general conversation is basically that they want to thank the comedians because they haven’t laughed that hard in, well, they can’t remember when.”
The HCF has three dates scheduled so far — April 15, September 23 and October 21 — all Saturdays at 8 p.m. However, that’s only the comedy showcases. Anthony intends to expand the Hamptons Comedy Festival brand to include smaller events, with ideas ranging from comedy writing classes to talks on the power of laughter to workshops where up-and-coming comedians can test new material and receive audience feedback. The sky’s the limit for the Hamptons Comedy Festival.
For tickets, call 631-725-9500 or visit baystreet.org.