Boise might not really be on the comedy circuit map yet, but it’s also not hard to get comedians to come here.
More than 300 comics from all over the United States and Canada wanted to be part of the third annual 208 Comedy Fest in Downtown Boise this week, according to festival organizer Dylan Haas. In the end, about 60 were tapped to perform at five venues: Liquid, the Knitting Factory, The Olympic, The Balcony Club and Woodland Empire.
“Fun shows, access to a new scene, and networking opportunities make a festival stand out,” Nathan Lund, a comedian who lives in Denver, told the Statesman via e-mail. “Those involved with 208 Fest knocked it out of the park from year one, and so comics heard a lot of positive things right away.”
About 3,000 people came out for last year’s shows, a 30% increase over the first year — and he’s expecting the same growth this year, Haas said.
Caitlin Gill, Papp Johnson, Maria Bamford and more
Maria Bamford, featured in two Comedy Central specials and the top headliner for the festival, will perform at 8:30 p.m. Saturday at the Knitting Factory. The festival runs Thursday to Sunday, and the full lineup is online at 208comedyfest.com.
Comedian Caitlin Gill, another headliner, first performed in Boise as part of Treefort Music Festival’s Comedyfort in 2017 and noted that “any city where I see Lizzo (a Treefort performer) is going to get me back.” She did 208 Comedy Fest last year.
“Some of my favorite places that I perform aren’t cities that never sleep, or big apples or windy,” Gill said in a phone interview from L.A. on Friday. “Sometimes you find these towns because of comedy festivals.”
For example, she had a “wildly good time” working the Limestone Festival in Bloomington, Indiana. She’s bringing her dog, Major, and her 66-year-old dad to this year’s 208 Comedy Fest, after a short excursion in the mountains.
“We’re actually camping for a few nights in the Sawtooths,” she said.
Gill, who has a degree in political science, said “comedian” has been her job title for about five years. She just released her debut comedy album “Major,” which also happens to be the name of her Chihuahua-Terrier-Sheltie “scramble” that looks like a Sheltie puppy.
She previously worked at a winery and also was a barista.
“I’ve had lots of jobs that made this (comedy) job possible,” she said. “I’ve served beverages for a living for quite some time. I’m thankful to be out of the beverage game.”
Comics are ‘beloved guests’ at Boise’s 208 Comedy Fest
Gill and the dozen other headliners get a paycheck for performing at the festival, while the others work for food, exposure and a chance to hang out with comics from across the country. They’re fed two full meals each day, drinks and snacks. Video games and massages are available.
“We basically treat all of the comics like they are beloved guests at our house,” Haas said.
Another perk: the Boise experience. The festival gets bicycles for the comedians to ride around the city, organizes hikes in the Foothills and this year is leading a Boise River floating trip.
“One of my comedy brothers, Mateen Stewart, did the festival last year and there is no way Imma [sic] let him outdo me,” Los Angeles-based comedian Papp Johnson said via email. “Honestly I came for the fries.”
Johnson, who performed at Comedyfort earlier this year, said he’s “really hyped for the river rafting.” But if the water is at all choppy, he said, “I’m out.”
Putting Boise on the standup comedy map
The 208 Comedy Fest is a labor of love for Haas, a fledgling standup comedian who holds a Ph.D. in physics and works as an engineer at a Boise semiconductor business. He’s been working for several years with Boise-based comedian Emma Arnold to enrich the local comedy scene, in hopes of attracting top talent to the city.
“I want to attract more diverse comics, people who don’t consider Boise on their radar,” Haas said. “They go to Portland, Seattle, Salt Lake and Denver. I’m trying to get us in their heads ... Boise is a perfect in-between spot.”
Portland comedian Kirsten Kuppenbender, who has never been to Boise before, will be performing at the 208 Comedy Fest.
“As a gay person, I was scared of Idaho for a long time,” she said via e-mail. “It had kind of a bad reputation in the ‘90s. But I’ve heard it’s lovely and things have really changed.”
The winner of Boise’s Funniest Person 2019, Janice Witherspoon, will be performing at the festival as well.
Individual shows cost $10 to $25; tickets are available online at 208comedyfest.com. Festival passes — which get you into any show, including headliner Bamford — are $89. Those who buy VIP passes, which are $139, can go to any festival show, plus see Tig Notaro at 8 p.m. Sunday at The Egyptian.