A flood to laugh at: Floodwater Comedy Festival begins today

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Comedy gives people a lot of things — insight into the political sphere, commentary on deep social issues, YouTube videos of goats shrieking at cameras. But whatever one might think is required in comedy, there’s one simple requirement any comedy deemed “good” must meet: Make ’em laugh.
Whether by firing off witty, improvised lines or brandishing a rubber chicken, the weapons of humor are at the discretion of the comedian. That being the case, Iowa City, prepare for an outright assault.

Today through April 24, downtown will be filled to the brim with comedians as the Floodwater Comedy Festival soaks the city in talents from across the country.

Even now, in just its second year, the festival is pulling big names. Amy Schumer, Natasha Leggero, and former “Saturday Night Live” head writer Andrew Steele make up a mere fraction of the comedians present.

“Right now, we’ve got about six different venues and 10 more events than we did last year,” said UI senior Elsie How, the festival’s executive producer.
One of the many others helping How make the festival possible is Daniel Frana, the talent booker for the festival.

“I started because I went to a comedy festival, the Beast Village Comedy Festival, in Des Moines, and I got really excited about comedy and wondered if we could do something like that in Iowa City,” he said. “Then I found out that there were people already doing it in Iowa City, so we hooked up and went from there.”

A comedian himself, Frana will also host “7 Minutes in Heaven,” a showcase at 10:30 p.m. Friday at the Mill in which 10 comedians will perform their best seven-minute sets.
For most of the festival though, Frana will be just as much an observer as anyone else. He’ll be able to watch after spending months juggling phone calls, emails, and ever-shifting schedules.

“I’m really excited that we got Natasha Leggero; she’s a great comedian,” Frana said. “We also have a few Chicago comedy shows coming in that like ‘Cocaine Murder Jam,’ ‘Yeah Buddy Awesome Time,’ and ‘We Still Like You,’ which are all really good shows.”

Chicago comedian Michael Knish will host two of these events “Cocaine Murder Jam” and “Yeah Buddy Awesome Time.”

“Both of [the shows] are really different,” Knish said. “One’s a really composed multimedia performance that goes between video and live performance. The other is a dream seminar that I’m hosting.”

While in school, Knish had planned on becoming a professional tuba player. Comedy duo Tim and Eric proved to be the siren call that subtly pulled him away from his brass beauty. It was their sort of weird comedy — shared by other “Adult Swim” shows — that was formative for Knish.
Even after leaving his tuba by the wayside, though, Knish still find blends music into his comedy in small ways, such as with “Yeah Buddy Awesome Time,” which he produces with three other comedians.

“[It’s] a twice a month show I produce that we do in Chicago,” Knish said. “In it, I host a dream seminar as a character, Dr. Lesley Tanner.”

The character was inspired by the narrators of self-help tapes. Knish describes the persona as “a new-age self-help doctor who believes in the power of the mind.” Similarly, performances utilize music akin to those of the self-help tapes to set at mood for the show.

The show will immediately follow “Cocaine Murder Jam” and be free to those who attended the previous show.

“Cocaine Murder Jam” manages to be less conventional than “Yeah Buddy,” by providing a variety of live performances intercut with video.

“Conceptually it sounds crazy, but it’s really fun to do,” Knish said. “When we made the show, we wanted to do something new and out there. There’s a million other straight-forward comedy shows out there, so people with this show get the chance to see something bizarre.”

Brian Biancardi’s event also likely veers away from the expected, though in a different way. The Los Angeles comedian will record his podcast, “Why Don’t You Cook?”

“I wanted to find a way to do a food podcast where people talk about their relationship with food since everyone has a relationship,” Biancardi said.

The show will be hosted at DP Dough. For $5, attendees will get a ticket to the show as well as a calzone at the door. Once inside, they’ll be able to sit back and listen to Biancardi ask his guests what food has meant to them through life.

As for his own relationship with food, it’s been going strong.

“[It’s] sort of like that couple that find each other in high school, and they’re just perfect for one another,” Biancardi said. “I’ve never had allergies, or been overweight, or anything; my relationship has always been a positive one.”

As an improv comedian, Biancardi was familiar with the Paperback Rhinos — an Iowa City improv group — from a comedy workshop at the University of Missouri. So when Floodwater asked the Paperback Rhinos if the members knew anyone who might be interested, Biancardi’s podcast came up.

“Often, when people talk about their lives, they don’t talk about the food part of their experiences,” Biancardi said. “People always say where they’re from, what they do for a living, where they went to school; somewhere along the way, as we grow up, favorite food gets lost.”

His own favorite food growing up was shrimp scampi. His palate expanded further when he hit puberty and he began to have the constant question, “How can I eat more food?”
After years of devouring whatever he could and starting to cook his own dishes, Biancardi has only expanded his diet.

“Right now, I’d love a smoothie with some great juice on the side,” Biancardi said. “My favorite food changes depending on what time of day it is or even just what day it is.”

It’s through his podcast that Biancardi is able to mix his passion for food with his love of comedy. Really, the festival as a whole is a blend of interests.

Just as with anything, to be good at comedy you find ways to include elements of things you love. Whether it’s music, food, or a deep fixation with the untold horrors of the mighty Cthulhu, if there’s a comedian with a love for it, it’s bound to find its way into her or his material.

Frana is happy to see a similar blend occurring.

“I like how we have both standup and improv,” he said. “It’s an all-inclusive comedy festival, and that’s something I hope gets preserved through the development of it.”

 

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