The locavore mentality is certainly at play here in Cleveland, where micro-industries are driving the city's comeback tale. That bit about the laughing, though, has been taking place just under the radar for years. With the Accidental Comedy Fest about to launch its third year this weekend, comedian and Chucklefck curator Ramon Rivas plans to elevate the state of funny and stretch this city's laughs out to the horizon.
Once again, Rivas will oversee the multi-platform festival, making it less an anomaly and more a budding Cleveland institution. It all starts at IngenuityFest, that annual hub of innovation and entertainment that this year will take root along the downtown lakefront and North Coast Harbor.
For Rivas, this year's antics are the culmination of a lot of hard work, a steady flood of networking and the timeless pursuit of woodshedding his material. Chances are, as a Clevelander, you either know him from his standup gigs at joints like Reddstone or from sharing a joint with him and getting stoned. No matter the occasion, Rivas is among the hardest-working comics in the region.
"My biggest passions are Cleveland and comedy," Rivas says over a bowl of noontide pho in AsiaTown. "I'm always an ambassador for the city." And indeed he is. During short stints in Chicago and New York City over the past few years, Rivas has been actively connecting the broad "Cleveland renaissance" story to the city's growing comedy scene. He's bringing nationally respected comedians to Cleveland's rooms and he's spreading the good word about the homegrown talent yukking it up right here.
Duck into one of Chucklefck's open mic nights — Tuesdays at Reddstone, Wednesdays at Platform Brewhouse — and you'll see everything in action. The crowds pack small rooms and trade laughs over local microbrews. The comedians crack wise under limited lighting and try out new material, gags that will follow them to bigger rooms in the region and elsewhere (although always knowing their Northeast Ohio roots).
Here's how the Accidental Comedy Fest will work: Comics from New York City, San Francisco, Portland, Chicago, Columbus, Louisville and Atlanta will round out the bill alongside the locals. The fun starts at Ingenuity this weekend, where dozens of free standup sets will take place over two days at the Chucklefck stage behind the Rock Hall. From there, Rivas takes the show on the road.
Via inspiration from Montreal's Just for Laughs Festival (and its subsequent New Faces sessions), Rivas will host several nights of Just Faces shows at Great Lakes, Hilarities and the Cleveland Improv. Pick up a Field Guide, put together by Scene friend Aaron Sechrist and Jakprints, at Ingenuity for the who, what, where, when and other relevant details.
And some enticing odds and ends: Reddstone will host competitive erotic fan fiction Sept. 27. Long Island City's Creek and the Cave will host a night of funny at Reddstone Sept. 28. Sketch comedy duo ZADAM will perform Sept. 29 at Grog Shop. These varied opportunities are all well worth penciling in as the event looms.
In sum, fans of funny will have their work cut out for them. The schedule is nonstop action. "Everything revolves around the experience of being in Cleveland," Rivas says.
In a sense, the festival will be the perfect entry point for Clevelanders who haven't yet totally tested the waters of local comedy. The city's best venues will be on display, and a broad variety of styles will earn showcases on the stage. Cleveland's multiplicity of open mic nights and rooms has granted access to many aspiring comedians, all of whom get the chance to cut their teeth in a way that young comedians in, say, New York City, don't always get. "I see so many people start and then disappear completely. Or fade out and then fade back in," Rivas said during an earlier conversation. "It's great that in Cleveland, from Saturday through Thursday night, you can get up and do an open mic."
Still, big names attract crowds. And crowds there will be. With the help of good friends and those outside-of-Cleveland connections that Rivas has crafted, the comedy continues during the Accidental Hangover shows after everything else has wrapped: Hannibal Buress at the Ohio Theatre on Oct. 12 and the Lucas Brothers at the Cleveland Improv on Oct. 13.
"It's always interesting to me to see the growth and interest in Cleveland," Rivas says. And speaking of growth, Accidental follows the trail blazed at least in part by the Cleveland Comedy Festival, which will host its seventh annual incarnation in November.
Beaming in the center of a city on the precipice of national cultural renown, Rivas has known all along what many others are only waking up to. Cleveland has its own vibrant sense of character. He's traveled and worked less-than-stellar rooms in cities bigger than ours. But there's nothing like Cleveland's personality.
Rivas moves on to the bahn mi and drops an egg of wisdom: "You know, it's like that saying 'You have to leave to come back.' It's true."
Read the Field Guide online — and learn all about upcoming Chucklfck shows — at chucklefck.com.