The Pittsburgh Comedy Festival returns for its fourth annual event, hosting dozens of comedy acts, and headlined by standup comic and CNN host W. Kamau Bell and improv group North Coast, with its “hip-hopera” Anybody.
“This is the most diverse line-up we’ve ever offered,” says festival marketing co-director Kat Caringola.
The five-day festival, Aug. 23-27, features some 45 acts. There are special shows for children and comedy workshops too. It all takes place at the University of Pittsburgh’s Henry Heymann Theatre. Admission runs from free (for Aug. 26’s live podcast recording) to $20 for headliner shows and $50 for an all-festival pass.
The 21 standup acts come from Pittsburgh and as far away as California. Bell hosts CNN docu-series United Shades of America, which tackles race and racial politics. (Bell replaces the original standup headliner, former Saturday Night Live cast member Sasheer Zamata, who is “unable to attend due to an unforeseen scheduling conflict,” according to the festival.)
The 18 participating improv acts hail from Maryland and Illinois, among other places. New York City’s North Coast normally performs weekly at The People’s Improv Theater there. Here, the troupe will present a year-old show called Anybody.
“It’s more of a narrative than our regular shows,” says North Coast member RJ Williams, by phone.
Anybody is inspired by the smash-hit Broadway hip-hop musical Hamilton. The group asks the audience to name an historical figure, and then proceeds to tell a full-fledged story about him or her, sticking to the facts while keeping to a hip-hop aesthetic. To prepare, the group milks the audience for as much information about the show’s subject as possible.
“People always ask us, ‘How do you know so much about every historic figure?’” says troupe member Rachel Rosenthal. “Obviously, we don’t.”
This isn’t the group’s first appearance at the Pittsburgh Comedy Festival — it performed at the first one, too. “Ultimately, we hoped we were making a deposit for a future appearance,” quips North Coast’s Douglas Widick.
The festival’s closing-night show, the #PGHisFunny Spectacular, is a showcase of standup and improv talent drawn from the whole festival.