Plano is getting its first comedy festival this week, but the founders of the fest had to do a little shuffling at the last minute.
The first Plano Comedy Festival kicked off Thursday and runs through Sunday with more than 30 comedians performing live comedy shows at locations around Plano. The shows start Friday night and include Dexter Givens, Jerry Karnes, Brad LaCour, Jonny Bratsveen, Mac Blake, Ralph Barbosa and Josh Johnson.
The festival concludes Sunday with a roast battle hosted by Elias Ashley at Za*Lat Pizza in downtown Plano. The event was booked at the Plano location of Hyena's Comedy Nightclub until the owner decided to pull out of the festival a week ago.
Plano Comedy Festival co-founder Wes Corwin, who organized and promoted the event with co-founder RJ Avery, says he's been working on bringing a live comedy festival to Plano since his Comedy Royale showcase at the Arts Center Theatre started attracting bigger and bigger crowds.
"We’d seen attendance grow from show to show, and Jamey [Jamison], the owner of the Arts Center, hit me up and said if you ever want to do multiple nights in a row, we’d love to do something," Corwin says. "I don’t know how [it] came about that RJ already owned the domain for Plano Comedy Festival, but it all just came together very efficiently.”
Avery says since they already had the venues in place and a city willing to spend money on comedy, the idea seemed natural.
"The Arts Center is a nice little theater, and they gave us a nice opportunity there, and Taste of the Islands has been a mainstay for Dallas comedy for about 10 years," Avery says. "Plano has a lot of people who spend money, where your market's in Denton, they don't tend to get out and spend money on [comedy] because they have so much of it.
"Plano is a growing city and a cool brand, and Wes is experienced in booking comedians being in comedy for almost seven years now. So it made it all relatively easy, so to speak."
The festival planners are also trying to make sure that everyone who performs gets compensated.
"We're trying to do something a little different here," Avery says. "We're trying to negotiate deals where we can pay out every comic, and we can't guarantee that, but most festivals charge up front, and we're trying to change that dynamic a little bit as far as respecting the fact that these people get up onstage and do this."
Corwin and Avery ran into a spot of trouble with a week to go before the festival's start when Hyena's pulled out of the festival. Corwin emailed all the performers last week announcing the loss of the venue for Sunday's roast battle.
He said Hyena's owner Randy Butler asked him if Avery was involved in the Plano Comedy Festival's plans. According to several comedians who asked not to be identified, Avery and Butler don't get along after some disagreements in the past involving comedians and show bookings. Corwin says he was upfront with Butler and told him about Avery's involvement "as a volunteer, cold calling sponsors, flyering and running social media."
Butler called Corwin later and said that
"Then, Plano Magazine writes something about 'co-organizers Wes Corwin and RJ Avery,'" Corwin wrote in the email. "Randy this afternoon accuses me of lying to him. We lost Hyena's, and Randy says he's going to let everyone performing on the fest know that if they go through with the fest, they're making a choice. If you need to or would prefer to drop out of the fest, let me know, totally understand. No hard feelings obvs [sic]."
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"We are trying to promote people aspiring to be professional comedians and there is no room for this kind of bullying in a professional environment," Avery says by email. "To pull out less than 10 days from the festival because a local blog named me as a co-organizer is uber unprofessional and a slap in the face to everyone who is trying to be a comedian in DFW."
Corwin says he's put the incident behind him and the festival is still running full steam ahead.
“I don’t want this to be a rallying thing," Corwin says. "There are people hitting me up going like, 'Yeah I want in now.' I totally understand that as a venue owner, Randy gets to decide who he works with, and he can do whatever he wants. It sucks because it happened a week before the event, but that’s what you get when you work with a venue and things can happen.”
Butler declined to comment.