The 2nd annual NJFunnyfest to benefit the Liberty Humane Society comes to Hoboken this week. I caught up with festival founder Dan Frigolette, on the road in St. Louis, to discuss his work and the changing face of comedy.
Who are you traveling with?
We have Usama Siddiquee with us for Dallas and Oklahoma City. Right now it’s just me, Sonia, and Andrew Frank. The goal was that if we found someone in Vegas or Oklahoma City, the winners could jump in the car with us and finish the tour, but schedule wise those people couldn’t do that. It’s crazy because last year we had two guys join us so it’s interesting to see the difference. Last year every time someone won we’d just throw them in the car with us.
Last year they were eager and this year the people who won just couldn’t do it.
How has the festival grown in the past year?
The goal was to move it outside of Hoboken if possible. Last year we had it Father’s Day weekend and we just didn’t hit it quite as hard. We had good shows and we filled the available space in most of the venues, but we had Jersey City and a place in Fairview. The goal of NJ Funnyfest is to get outside of Hoboken and a little bit further out into Jersey, but we’re playing with the dates now and trying to find the perfect fit. It wasn’t at the end of June so we put it at the end of April hoping that makes a difference because we have these relationships with these Hoboken bars. Let’s limit it and make it 3 days and 3 shows and let’s just put it in Hoboken and make sure we know what we’re doing before we move forward to the 3rd year.
What’s the response been from the community?
Hoboken loves us because of the festival and everything else. They really love coming out, but it’s interesting because this will be the 7th year of the festival and the demographics have changed quite a bit. When I first got to Hoboken there were a lot of singles around my age and a lot of us stayed and got married and have kids now, so the same demo is there but they’ve become different people. They’ve become literally a whole different group of people, so literally we’re not Y2Kers but we’re old millennials, so we have to try and figure out what those people are into now. Hoboken is a great town, it always has been. Venues have changed, but some of those relationships have held up over the years
When I added the Liberty Humane group to the Hoboken Comedy Festival I found them to be super amazing and a super great resource. I had become a dog owner and they were helping my dog with things like shots and these vet clinics which are amazing, and they’re helping other animals in the area. The whole plan was to make another event for them and that’s why we were trying to reach out to venues in Jersey City and things like that. What’s interesting is that what I thought was difficult about Hoboken was that the biggest venues that we have are 100 seats, places like Willy McBrides’s and Maxwell’s and The Shannon. Then when you go to Jersey City, it’s the same if not worse – a lot of the venues are even smaller, you’ve got rooms that only fit 40 or 50 people, and then you’ve got rooms that fit 500 or 600. Finding the middle ground among all these places is the challenge. Liberty Humane Society is great, they’re in Jersey City, so we were trying to be nearby them if we could and keep working within Hudson County. We tried to stay in Hudson County because that’s where the charity is. All the animals that get picked up in Hudson County end up at the Liberty Humane Society, so we want to keep it a little bit local.
Talk about the impact that social media has on booking comedy shows:
You always want to be able to utilize comedian’s [following] and social media abilities as part of what you’re doing . That really just goes to speak to their success. The guy who’s a headliner who is on TV and a ton of places just naturally has more Twitter and Instagram followers. You can almost go to somebody’s Twitter page and you can kind of tell how far along they are in their career. In this day and age, if you had a million twitter or instagram followers, that’s enough to get you to the next level because you already have a fan base you can market to. A comedy club or a television show will then insert you into their programs. In the past you would gain all of those things from your exposure, now your exposure gets you more opportunity. As a comedian you can become more of your own boss and your own marketing channel because you can hit your customers directly and you can cultivate a fan base and do some creative and fun stuff. We get a lot of guys that have good followings online and we have a lot of guys who are just really funny. There are some comedians who just haven’t figured out Twitter and they’re super funny and they’re like “I’m not into Twitter, man,” because it’s a whole other side. They’ve got their heads down and they’re writing jokes.
What’s the biggest challenge of putting the festival together?
The biggest challenge is finding the people to come on out. Finding the avenues in which to market. I went to school for journalism and that field is dying before our eyes. There is few and far in between where someone writes a story versus just making some sort of top ten list that doesn’t have anything: “Best Bananas in Town.’ There’s no journalism anymore, so it becomes harder and harder to find the people who are actually doing the coverage. The reporters who are sticking in there and really care about journalism , their roles are expanding so now they’re in charge of food and comedy and blogging and other entertainment like Broadway, so they can’t be everywhere at the same time. Every year, the press core shrinks and the effort to reach people gets harder and harder because everything is becoming more global. So a local thing that it was great in the past where you could say “hey, this thing happened in this spot, let’s talk about it” – that’s shrinking. The other thing is comedians are bigger and bigger these days so it’s like getting somebody to be able to take the time to play a 100-seat room is getting more and more difficult because everybody’s doing really well. The middle class of comedy is shrinking and the top end is getting larger. A guy like Mike Britt needs to play theaters most weekends because that’s the place where he’s at in his career. When you do get the chance to catch him and say “hey, come play 100 seats” it’s really special. The same thing goes for someone like Andrew Schultz, who we’ve had on and whose career has grown dramatically from the first time we had him. Last year we needed to get a theater to house all of the people who wanted to see him, so that’s a challenge. Trying to find the space in Jersey City and Hoboken, where the bigger venues are few and far between.
How do you feel about movie theaters attempting to cater to millennials who won’t put their phones down?
I think we go completely the other direction. Every time we start a show we go “Look guys, I’m a person you’re a person , this isn’t a TV. I can see you, I can smell you. I can hear when you make sounds. If you talk I can hear it, so could everybody else. Don’t make a fool of yourself, and on top of that it’s a live performance. People don’t text and Snapchat during Broadway shows, they don’t do it at community theaters, so we’ve got to let them know not to do it here. All the people who are doing big theaters, Katt Williams and Kevin Hart, what they’re doing is they let you know an hour before the show that if you take your phone out and you take a video or a picture – they are taking it from you. At Kevin Hart shows they’ll mention it an hour before Kevin Hart gets on stage, and then when he does, sure enough, 100 people take their phones out and they have a staff of security that walks around snagging phones and saying “this is not cool.”
Check out the NJFunnyfest, April 28th – 30th in Hoboken, NJ.