WORDS / JULIA TRUPP
At a time when allergies and rain can affect a person’s psyche, a group of local comedians brought some sunshine back into Fayetteville in the form of laughter. The pAth Outfitters morphed itself into a performance space last weekend for the second annual Huge Lightning Comedy Festival, welcoming local performers as well as Chicagoan comedians.
Huge Lightning Comedy Festival is the brainchild of local comedians and entertainers Jordan and Hope Haynes, Thomas Hunter, and Kevin Lammers. The festival features local, regional, and national improv comedy groups, stand-up comedians, performers, artists, and musicians “all in the same space for one super fun weekend. You’ll either have a good time, or a great time. The choice is yours,” according to the festival’s website. Huge Lightning started last year as a way to bring great performers together to hang out, “get strucked,” and share their talents with each other and their audience. And this year, the fun continued.
Thursday night opened with some sweet tunes from Trumann Rail Boys with a little bit of improv comedy from Roughhouse Comedy Collective’s new group Closet Goblins, featuring slam poetry from Last Saturday’s host Houston Hughes, and performing poets Molly Sroges, and Doug Shields as inspiration for each scene. Because of the emotional topics of each poet’s work, such as blindly exploring the world or pointing out the symbolism of guns and religion, some audience members were left wondering how Closet Goblins would use the readings to create a humorous, improvised scene, but worries ceased and laughter carried with each seven-minute-long set.
After the intermission where audience members and performers alike were encouraged to grab a beer at the “Huge Donation Bar,” where breweries Ozark Beer Company, Core, and Fossil Cove — and the standard Pabst Blue Ribbon — had a variety of beer, BANGO! happened.
The rules of BANGO!, a show put on by Artist’s Laboratory Theatre, were simple and repeated many-a-time in the theme song: It’s not a game, and it’s not a play. It’s a bango thang. Each audience member received a typical-looking Bing–er, BANGO! card, but the way to play was unique to the show and its cast. Instead of calling out letters and their accompanying numbers on the balls from the spinning wheel, sketches or other performance pieces were listed, and once that bit was completed (but not without the incessant theme song), one BANGO! member flipped the card on the BANGO! board around to reveal the number — it didn’t matter where the number was, as long as it was on your card. Confused yet? Go to the next play game show and you’ll understand.
Thursday ended before 10 p.m. — it was a nice teasing opener for the festival — and Friday was where the Chicago magic happened. Chicagoan improv comedy groups Mammal Mammal and Morning Gents each performed sets after hearing stand-up from local comedians, similarly to how Fayetteville group Closet Goblins and the Last Saturday crew handled Thursday night, and then around 10 o’clock, Rodeo Book Club kicked off Mess Hall, a variety show usually performed at Backspace on the last Thursday of every month, which includes music, stand-up, poetry and improv. Former UA faculty member and theatre artist Kris Stoker came to town with his improv group from Kansas City. And then there was a sweet after-party at Stage Eighteen, a hoppin’ new joint off the square, with stand-up sets and drinks galore.
Saturday, the last day of the festival, had to end with a bang. Ashley Nicole Black, a writer and correspondent for “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” hosted a workshop themed around writing for comedy in the afternoon, and that night, she’d perform with all-female group beSHEmoth (but we’ll get to that later).
Willi Carlisle Goehring performed as the musical guest for the evening (he’s got a one-man-show going on, check that out here) before the ultimate cagematch took place between Fayetteville-based improv groups Laugh Track and Field, Phunbags, and Fort-Smith-based group Naturally Improvable. Things got intense. To open an event, the last night of a comedy festival to be specific, with a competition was risky on the hosts parts, but it was worth it in the end. Naturally Improvable took home the virtual trophy after winning the physical challenge, which featured a slow-motion dunk into a basketball hoop around Jordan Haynes’ head.
Another Mess Hall began around 10 p.m., this time featuring more stand-up and readings for improv set inspiration, and The Chicago Fired performed, which featured a mega-group full of Chicago-based comedians who wanted to play (and Ashley Black!). A brief intermission happened so dedicated audience members could rehydrate and grab some grub before the next and final performance happened: all-female group beSHEmoth was set to grace the stage around 11:30. As their schedule read: “It’s 2017. So we’re ending this festival with 20 minutes and 17 seconds of ladies killin’ it… It will definitely be a good time, and super fun way to end the festival… We’re gonna end this thing right — in a huge, chaotic clusterf–k of ladies straight crushing it.” And they did. Energy was high, laughter was loud, and ladies were badass. Obviously.
Next year’s weekend festival dates have yet to be announced — or decided — but it’s almost a 100 percent guarantee that Huge Lightning will be back for Year Three. Until then, Fayettevillians can catch some of these performers every month at Backspace, American Legion Post 27, and Maxine’s (because comedians are people, too, and they like to drink).