Floodwater Comedy Festival returns to IC after two years of cancellations

After several COVID-19-related cancellations, Iowa City’s only official comedy festival will soon return to tickle audiences. Floodwater will take place April 26-29 at various venues.


Contributed by Jamie Shriner

Parker Jones, Arts Editor

After two years of cancellations, Iowa City’s only comedy festival will return to bring laughs to locals and college students.

From April 26-29, the annual Floodwater Comedy Festival will showcase nationally recognized comics and Iowa comedic talent.

Previous headliners of the festival have included Amy Schumer, Paul Rust, and Jak Knight, among others. This year, Chicago-based comics Sarah Perry and Jamie Shriner will take Floodwater’s mainstage alongside nearly 60 other performers.

Acts will be hosted at a variety of performance venues, including Joystick Comedy Arcade, Gabe’s, The Englert Theatre, and Willow Creek Theatre. Certain performances will take place at bars like ReUnion Brewery, Sanctuary Pub, Eden Lounge, and The Green House. While some acts will be individual stand-up routines, others will be performances made by improv groups or open mics.

The last Floodwater Comedy Festival took place in February 2020 shortly before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The festival experienced multiple postponements and cancellations in 2021 and 2022 while pandemic restrictions were in effect.

Logan Pratt, a University of Iowa fourth-year student and Floodwater’s executive producer, performed in the 2020 Floodwater Festival with an improv team called Great White Narcs. Pratt started talking with previous festival organizers in the fall, which led to Floodwater’s return.

“I always knew that Floodwater was like this really awesome opportunity in Iowa City, and then the pandemic happened, and then it went away for many years,” Pratt said. “I started talking to the people who originally started it, and we were like, ‘We want to bring it back.’ So now we have a new team of people.”

Travis Coltrain is the talent booker at Joystick and another executive producer for Floodwater. He noted the impact of COVID-19 in terms of the festival’s venues, recalling that it lost its main home, The Mill, in 2022.

“However, with Joystick Comedy Arcade and Willow Creek being pillars for stand-up and improv, it’s gotten a chance to resurge,” Coltrain wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan.

Coltrain described the largest change to Floodwater as its format, calling this year’s festival a comedy crawl. The main festival pass available for purchase will allow attendees to visit any of the comedy performances at different bars and venues around Iowa City.

“We really wanted this year of Floodwater to feel not only large but as integrated to the city as possible,” Coltrain wrote.

Pratt emphasized that while the focus of Floodwater is comedy, the event also historically serves as a charity. According to Floodwater’s website, the festival donated $1,500 to various organizations in 2018 and hopes to surpass that number this year.

Organizers of Floodwater will donate a portion of the festival’s proceeds to Johnson County’s chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The percentage will vary based on the festival’s ticket sales, donating as much as possible while still retaining enough to keep Floodwater running in the future.

Both of this year’s headliners have performed in Iowa City before. Perry said she heard about the festival last year. While she does not know much about Iowa City’s arts and comedy scene, Perry said she has heard others speak highly of Floodwater.

“I remember a bunch of my friends posting about getting in and going to it, and I made a mental note to apply this year,” Perry wrote in an email to the DI. “Before I could, they asked me to headline which was so cool!”

Perry, who graduated from the renowned Second City Conservatory comedy program in Chicago, performed at Joystick in November 2022. Material usually spawns from her past relationships, experiences, and her family.

Perry will perform individually and alongside Jamie Shriner, another Second City alum from Chicago. She performed at Joystick in December 2022 and described it as a nerve-wracking but ultimately affirming experience, especially when performing for an audience of mainly college students.

“I still consider myself young, but, like, people who are in college are younger than me. You really have to earn their respect,” Shriner said. “And I remember being that age because it’s like you’re not in high school anymore, but you’re not an adult yet. You’ve not been humbled by adult life. You kind of are like on your shit. You’re like, ‘Okay, make me laugh.’”

Shriner’s material often incorporates music and draws on her experiences as a queer woman. She said that what inspired her to join the comedy scene in the first place was the lack of diversity among comics at shows she attended.

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“Overwhelmingly, it was straight white men — straight, cis white men — and I just didn’t find it funny,” Shriner said. “And so, for me, it was like ‘Okay, I want to try that.’ And if I try and I can be good, then I can kind of be that person that I wanted to see when I was sitting in the audience.”

Part of the Floodwater Comedy Festival’s mission, as stated on its website, is to showcase groups often marginalized in comedy. With so many different comedians and groups set to attend this year’s festival, Shriner said it will also be an opportunity to connect the local with the national.

“It’s very rare, I think, for Iowa City to get this many really, really talented comedians all in one place all at the same time,” Shriner said. “You’re going to get to see a lot more variety of voices and points of view than you would normally get to see.”