The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday February 8th

Diversions

Spreading laughter around the Triangle

For those of us who can’t travel to New York or Los Angeles to experience premier comedy, an 11-day celebration of laughter and education is coming to our own backyard.

Starting today and running through next Sunday, N.C. Comedy Arts and Carrboro’s DSI Comedy Theater will host the North Carolina Comedy Arts Festival, a Triangle-wide event that features 117 different acts and 52 live shows ranging from sketch and improvisation to stand-up comedy.

“The big thing I’ve taken from comedy is that you get more out of saying yes, and this festival is one huge opportunity to say yes,” said Ashley Melzer, the festival’s associate producer for programming and DSI company member.

This year the festival, which began in 2001, has revised its format from taking place over three weekends, to 11 consecutive days. Melzer said the decision to condense the festival was a quick one.

“It’s hard to keep up a lot of energy for three weeks and get the whole Triangle pumped,” Melzer said. “The compressed schedule allows the artists to make more impact at once.”

Zach Ward, the festival’s executive producer and owner of DSI Comedy Theater, started what has now become N.C. Comedy Arts 14 years ago. He said this year’s festival is its biggest incarnation yet.

“We may have scaled back on days, but we were able to reach more members of the community and increase the number of local comedians,” Ward said.

“It is the largest festival of its kind in the Southeast and one of the top five in the country,” he said. “There are at least 10 festivals across the country that were created inspired by the NCCAF model.”

“We have really smart audiences,” said Melzer. “There are so many stages and people interested in so many things who are willing to take the risk that comes with a comedy show.”

The festival not only seeks to provide entertainment for the community, but also to serve as an educational tool for local comedians with workshops, panels and networking opportunities.

“We want to help comedians build a new and more diverse audience by exposing them to an active and passionate arts audience,” Ward said.

“And we want to educate local audiences by exposing them to other forms of comedy and new comedic voices from around the country.”

The festival also aims to give back to local organizations — 10 percent of the festival’s proceeds from ticket sales are being donated to Blue Ribbon Mentor Advocate and UNC’s own Beat Making Lab. Ward said these organizations were chosen for bringing music into the local community and beyond.

“They do amazing work and celebrate that kind of creativity that bridges music and comedy,” Melzer said of the Beat Making Lab.

“N.C. Mashup: Beats plus Comedy” is a fundraiser for the Beat Making Lab that will be held on the last day of the festival at the Carrboro Arts Center, which will feature live music improvised by “Beat Makers” that accompanies a live improv comedy show.

For the first time, DSI Comedy Theater has partnered with UNC Humanities and Chapel Hill-based Flyleaf Books to present the Adult Spelling Bee on Monday at Flyleaf.

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“I think the reason we were asked to join the festival is that we’ve always taken a lighthearted and fun approach to the whole event,” Owre said.

“Our goal with the Spelling Bee is to bring scholarship from the college out into the community, through the barest minimum of intellectual content.”

UNC comedy group the Chapel Hill Players, commonly known as CHiPs, will also be a part of the festival. Ward, a founding member of CHiPs, said DSI and the players work to support each other.

“CHiPs and DSI alumni are all over the country. It feels like a family at times,” said Ward.

One current Chapel Hill Player, senior Allen Tedder, said the magnitude of the N.C. Comedy Arts festival poses a great opportunity for CHiPs.

“The festival is one great big comedy hug,” said Tedder. “People travel from all over to be here. It’s a chance for the entire comedy community of North Carolina to come together.”

diversions@dailytarheel.com

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