The Jersey City Comedy Festival Goes Virtual — Here’s What’s In Store

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It’s August. It’s hot. And well, a global pandemic. Needless to say, we could all use a good laugh these days. Lucky for us, the Jersey City Comedy Festival is back this week…and this time, it’s virtual! You read that right. From the comfort of your couch running through August 15th, you can watch some great acts via Zoom as they vie for your laughs {and some sweet cash prizes!}.

Want another virtual event to attend {with in-person options}? Our Hoboken Wellness Crawl kicks off September 13th.

The Decision to Go Virtual

The Virtual Jersey City Comedy Festival is presented by Art House Productions, a nearly 21-year-old visual and performing arts nonprofit organization in Jersey City that has called a few local spots home. Today, they are based in the Cast Iron Lofts on Jersey Avenue {right below that sweet David Bowie mural}. According to Meredith Burns, the organization’s Executive Director, their doors have been closed since March. Like many businesses though, they’ve switched to virtual programs, like story slams and drag bingo.

In June, months after the comedy festival is usually put in motion, Art House decided that a virtual comedy festival would be a contingency plan. “We were still hopeful at that point that we could have some version of an in-person festival,” Burns told Hoboken Girl. As it turns out, the contingency plan became a necessity.

Read More: Your Online Streaming Comedy Guide to Netflix, HBO, and Comedy Central

The Basics

“The virtual festival will span four nights, as it has in the past,” Burns continued. “We’ll be featuring the same diversity of comedians as we always do. Each night will be about two to three hours of comedy with blocks for sketches, stand up, and improv,” Burns explained.

There’s also a Jersey Strong Showcase at 10:00 PM on Friday featuring all Jersey-based performers, including James Mac and Kayt Hester {more on those two in a sec}. And, for all you Hogwarts fanatics, the Roast of Harry Potter with the one and only Character Assassination on Saturday at 7:30 PM.

The festival is being hosted exclusively on Zoom and will feature over 65 performers. Guest judges, including Corrine Fischer of the popular podcast Guys We F***ed, New Jersey’s Bad Boy, Mike Marino, and Ophira Eisenberg of NPR’s Ask Me Another will pick their best stand up performer, and you get a chance to weigh in too! The audience gets to make their selection in each category for the cream of the crop.

The Stakes

The audience picks and the industry judge selection will move on to the Final Showdown on Saturday night and go head-to-head to compete for this year’s cash prizes {$250 to the best sketch team, $250 to the best improv team, $250 to the audience stand up pick, and $250 to the industry stand up pick}.

“We aren’t featuring any bigger name headliners this year as we did in years past,” said Burns. “We really wanted to showcase the emerging comics.” And the cash prizes, also new this year, are Art House’s way to give back to the people helping to keep us sane, or at least laughing through the pain, these days.

An Army Vet Trades in His Fatigues, Takes the Stage

James Mac was in the Army for 15 years, essentially his entire adult life. When he was discharged, he was at a loss of what to do. Then, he realized he had a knack for comedy. “I grew up in a big family of eight kids,” Mac told Hoboken Girl. “We picked on each other constantly. And in the military, you do a lot of that too. I got really good at thinking on my feet.”

So, about 5 1/2 years ago, he started doing roasts in Dallas, where he lived at the time. Then, he moved to Arizona for a little over a year and started taking his gigs a little more seriously. Now, making his home in Jersey, he works the Tri-State scene regularly. “In Tucson, I found my own voice and learned how to write jokes,” Mac explained. He started writing one or two jokes a day and still does.

So how would Mac describe his comedy? “I like true story comedy and 99% of my jokes are about me and my real life, a little dark, but intelligent,” he said. And his jokes seem to resonate. Mac was chosen to roast Jersey City Mayor Steven M. Fulop last year, and he’s ready to make another splash this week.

“Comedy is always great,” Mac noted. “but especially now. It’s great that we’re able to get our comedy out there and make people laugh.”

See More: The 2020 Hoboken Wellness Crawl is Going Virtual for 30 Days, Proceeds to Support Hoboken Relief Fund

A Comedy Newbie Making a Name for Herself

Jersey City native Kayt Hester has been an artist her entire life. She spent 17 years doing tape art {check out her website} until this time last year, when she told Hoboken Girl she started getting burnt out. “I started to feel like I was falling out of love with it,” she said. “So on my last birthday, I decided, ‘I’ve always wanted to do comedy and now is the time. If I don’t do it, I know I’m going to regret it.'”

So Hester decided not to live with the possibility of regrets and started making a name for herself on the stand-up scene. “I dove into comedy,” she said. ” I just gave it 150%. Every night after work I would go to open mic after open mic and now {with this festival} I’ve done two festivals in my first year.” It’s safe to say Hester is someone to watch. And lucky for all of us, this week we can…and without those two-drink minimums they always charge at comedy clubs.

When asked what to expect of her set, Hester said, “I try not to be too political and I guess I can be a little crass or even vulgar. I’ll say this, I would never want to do my comedy in front of my parents.”

If that doesn’t pique your interest, we don’t know what will. “I’m so excited to be part of something so awesome {the Jersey City Comedy Festival} so early on in my career. It feels like a huge honor.”

So, if you’re in the mood for a good laugh {and who isn’t?}, don’t miss out on this year’s virtual Jersey City Comedy Festival. And be sure to catch Mac and Hester as part of the Jersey Strong showcase on Friday.

Tickets are $10-$15. And discounted festival passes, which include one ticket to each event, are available for $45. For the full line-up, event details, and to purchase tickets, visit the festival website and let the belly laughs ensue!

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Born and raised on the Jersey Shore, Alena visited Hoboken {her parents’ hometown} regularly as a little girl and has always had a soft spot for the Mile Square. With family roots in the town’s fire department, she has been a proud resident of our fair city since attending graduate school at The New School in NYC. Alena began her career as a beat reporter at a small newspaper, before finding her groove as a development professional in the non-profit field. She has a passion for helping others, a penchant for writing, and is excited to get back to her journalism roots. When she’s not raising funds or following up on a scoop, Alena is practicing yoga, listening avidly to true crime podcasts, reading a great book, gallivanting with friends, and missing Schitt’s Creek.