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Cream City Comedy Festival puts Milwaukee stand-up first

Milwaukee’s comedy scene punches way above its weight class. Despite not having the lofty reputation of New York, LA or neighboring Chicago, there’s more places that you’d expect offering open mics, showcases and other comedy events. The trick, of course, is figuring out where to look for local laughs.

A new stand-up comedy festival plans to make it a little easier. The Cream City Comedy Festival, scheduled for May 12 to 15, will bring together numerous local comedy showcase producers for a weekend of performances from both Milwaukee and out-of-state.

Phil Davidson, who’s coordinating the event with recent Milwaukee expatriates Sammy Arechar and Liz Ziner (now based in Chicago), says the idea for the festival originally came about from idle discussions with Arechar about a year ago. He says that while there are lots of independent stand-up showcases throughout Milwaukee, presenting local comedians on a monthly or biweekly basis, there was no annual event akin to the Milwaukee Comedy Festival — which takes place every August but features sketch and improv comedy in addition to stand-up — dedicated to exclusively presenting stand-up artists.

About three months ago, Arechar and Ziner emailed Davidson, asking if he was interested in joining their effort to change that fact. Things moved quickly from there, and the festival now has about 70 comedians booked for the four-day event, which will consist of 11 different shows.

Rather than choose one location for the festival to take place, Davidson says, the organizing team has embraced the fact that Milwaukee doesn’t really have a unified arts district, and comedy showcases can be found all over the city. “It would be great if we could somehow “Transformer” Bay View and the East Side and Riverwest into one super-neighborhood where everyone likes to go out and see entertainment,” Davidson says. “But because they’re all split apart … we wanted to showcase all these different locations and neighborhoods where there’s comedy happening.”

To that same end, festival organizers have done their best to feature local comics in addition to guests from out of town, with Davidson saying the festival is split about 50-50. To decide what comics got the invite for the inaugural festival, Davidson says they turned to the showcase producers participating, asking them to pick a “dream lineup” of Milwaukee stand-up comedians. Davidson, Arechar and Ziner then went through those lists, adding in out-of-town comedians where appropriate and fairly distributing locals requested by more than one showcase until they came up with a final schedule.

Of those out-of-town comedians, Davidson says their biggest get is Nick Vatterott, a New York-based comedian who got his start in Chicago and has since been featured on Conan, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and a Comedy Central special. After learning he’d be in town that weekend already performing at another club, Davidson says they reached out to see if he was interested in coming, and he signed on without hesitation. “It’s a good get for us. We’re excited to have him,” Davidson says.

To help encourage audience members to try the festival out, all shows in the festival are free admission, but Davidson says they’re encouraging donations to support the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of those affected by depression and mental illness.

Schedule of Events

Thursday, May 12

8 p.m.: Yeah Buddy Awesome Time, Club Garibaldi, 2501 S. Superior St.

Friday, May 13

7:30 p.m.: Blipsters, Karma Bar & Grill, 600 E. Ogden Ave.

9 p.m.: Hot Room (local showcase), Angelo’s Piano Bar, 1686 N. Van Buren St.

10:30 p.m.: Boy Kisses, Hybrid Lounge, 707 E. Brady St.

Saturday, May 14

3 p.m.: Bad Comedy Theatre (local showcase), Hybrid Lounge

6 p.m.: Subjective, Var Gallery & Studios, 643 S. 2nd St.

8 p.m.: Clam Jam, The Jazz Gallery, 926 E. Center St.

10 p.m.: Sammy’s 3rd Annual Zucchini Party (afterparty/no comedy), Company Brewing, 735 E. Center St.

Sunday, May 15

2 p.m.: Sorry Not Sorry, Riverwest Public House, 815 E. Locust St.

4 p.m.: Super Talent Show, Cactus Club, 2496 S. Wentworth Ave.

8 p.m.: Closing Ceremony ft. Nick Vatterott, Club Garibaldi