Laughing Skull Lounge hosts inaugural comedy fest

Sixty comedians perform over four days for serious prizes

Like giving to the homeless, or sixty-nining, comedy festivals are supposed to benefit all parties involved. Fans get an extended chance to see a multitude of comedians in one location, and comedians receive the attention and exposure they need to land more gigs. Marshall Chiles, a local comedian and owner of the Laughing Skull Lounge, hosts the inaugural Laughing Skull Comedy Festival March 3-6. The four-day comedy binge will feature performances by 60 of the best comedians you've probably never heard of. They'll compete for bragging rights, cash, and most importantly, work: The festival's grand-prize winner receives six months of paid gigs.

Chiles, a passionate advocate for Atlanta's diminutive but talent-filled comedy scene, didn't put together the festival solely to get local comics the spotlight. He did it to earn Atlanta some shine as well. Hosting a successful comedy festival can put a city on the industry's radar (think Montreal, Boston), and Chiles wants to showcase Atlanta as a viable career destination for more comedians. "For Atlanta comedy, this is our coming out party," he says. "We don't just want to show the industry that there's a lot of undiscovered talent down here, but also that the city can sustain a strong comedy scene. Hopefully, that will bring more creative work to us. With Turner and Tyler Perry already here, the city has resources to support production."

Chosen from a pool of 600 applicants, the 60 comedians handpicked to perform represent a hodgepodge of veterans and fresh faces that Chiles is proud to (re)introduce to the genre's tastemakers. Well-respected road warriors such as Tom Simmons and Pat Dixon will pit their best stuff against hungry up-and-comers such as Karl Hess and Hampton Yount. And while the smorgasbord of joke-tellers samples comedians from all over the country, Atlanta will be well-represented by the likes of Tanner Inman, Elise Crocker, Dan Mengini, Lavar Walker, Brian Bannon, Mia Jackson, and the Beards of Comedy crew, to name a few. The performers represent a broad spectrum of comedic styles, ranging from the intentionally offensive to the highly cerebral, from crafty writers to whimsical improvisers.

All official festival performances will be held at the Laughing Skull Lounge, but several festival comics will work local rooms such as Comedy Gold at the Landmark Diner, the Warren City Club, and the Funny Farm to get some additional stage time. Extra performances aside, the comedians are vying for the coveted spots in the final showcase March 6 at Laughing Skull. Festival judges are all industry heavy-hitters of some sort – from casting agents and club managers to entertainment executives. Impressing any one of them could lead to that elusive big break. Bookers for David Letterman and Craig Ferguson will be in attendance, as will the talent coordinator for Comedy Central, and Jeff Singer, executive producer of Montreal's Just for Laughs Comedy Festival.

Whether or not the judges discover the next Someone McSomebody this week, the Laughing Skull Comedy Festival will create some buzz around Atlanta's charming, twisted and burgeoning comedy scene. And, if Chiles has his way, it will help establish the city as a destination for comedy lovers and comedians alike.

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