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The Daily Tar Heel

Comedy alumni angered at lack of festival

This is the second year without CUAB’s Comedy Festival, an annual event with comedy performances, workshops and question-and-answer panels that lasted for 11 years.

Jon Benson, the 2005-06 CUAB president and current segment producer at “The Daily Show,” said alumni who are trying to bring the festival back are still waiting for the punchline.

“All of us who have graduated and recognize what a big role our time at Chapel Hill played in who we are and the opportunities we had there are,” he said.

The lineup for the Comedy Festival was a mixture of graduates and newcomers in the national circuit. Lewis Black, John Oliver, Bryan Tucker and Colin Jost have all appeared in the festival.

By 2015, the comedy festival disappeared, with CUAB citing lowered student interest as the reason. Current CUAB President Merrick Osborne was in charge of the final festival during his sophomore year tenure as comedy chairperson, which he said saw low attendance.

“Part of it was because the Duke game my sophomore year got rescheduled to be during that week,” he said.

But the lowered attendance wasn’t just a result of rivalries.

“I think Ben Long was the chair before me, and fewer people had come to his festival than the year before so that by my year we decided that that wasn’t an appropriate use of student funds to invest that much money into this that students didn’t seem to be that interested in,” Osborne said.

Robert Gurdian, 2007-08 CUAB president, said the way CUAB operates is fairly unique to UNC: students control a multi-thousand dollar budget gathered through student fees.

“When I was president, I actually reached out to various universities of similar caliber to see what they were doing just to get ideas and realized that it’s primarily and almost exclusively staff that does this kind of planning,” Gurdian said.

The sentiment was echoed by Benson, who said he encourages current students to get involved with CUAB whenever he can.

“For whatever reason, it’s hard to get people involved, and we were successful in getting someone interested and working on the comedy festival for years, but I think people lost interest,” said Benson. “And I don’t know why, and I wish I did so I could go in and fix it or help someone else fix it.”

But there might be time for an encore performance. Osborne, who said the current board was more focused on graduate student and diversity initiatives, sees space for the comedy festival in the future.

“I’d like for there to be a space for student comedians to perform and do standup and improv because it’s an art form — a really complex and interesting art form.”


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