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30 Jun 2016

Bringing the Funny: Joshua Tree Is the New Home of an Improv/Comedy Fest

Written by 
Tom Dreesen. Tom Dreesen.

Joshua Tree is known for eclectic festivals. The high-desert community hosts gatherings centering on everything from yoga to UFOs to music.

Now Joshua Tree can add improv/comedy to that list.

The Joshua Tree International Improv/Comedy Festival will take place Friday through Sunday, July 8-10, at the Hi-Desert Cultural Center. The performer list includes both local names and people from recognizable comedy institutions including Second City and Last Comic Standing.

Jeanette Knight, the director of the festival, said that although the venue is new (to the event), the festival itself is not.

“It’s the first one in Joshua Tree,” Knight said. “The first one was actually called the Coachella Valley Improv/Comedy Festival, and that was in 2014. There was a change in management at our (original) venue, the Indio Performing Arts Center (IPAC). They didn’t really support the idea or the festival, and the Hi-Desert Cultural Center found out that we needed a new home.

Knight, who was the artistic coordinator at IPAC, said the first festival was an amazing experience.

“There are improv/comedy festivals held throughout the world, and I … had the idea to do an improv festival,” she said.

Knight said she’s encouraged about the buzz the 2016 edition of the festival is receiving.

“We’ve already sold tickets, so we’re very optimistic. We’re hoping for a great turnout. We sold quite a few early-bird tickets during early June,” she said. “We have performers coming from as far away as New York and Chicago. We really want the community to turn up and support them. We have a selection company that viewed video submissions and determined the best. We had 70 submissions, and there are 38 performers. These are the best, and they’re up-and-coming.

“Some of them, like (Los Angeles comedy group) the Fireturtles—I’ve become a fan of them after I found all these videos they have on YouTube. They have hundreds of thousands of views.”

Tom Dreesen, a well-known actor and standup comic, is coming to the festival to share a very important message.

“He opened for Frank Sinatra for 14 years,” Knight said. “He also used to perform on The Late Show With David Letterman and also guest-hosted for him. He’s actually donating his time to us. He has a real important message to get out: He’s doing an hour-long seminar for us on Sunday. He’s had a lot of friends who are standup comics, and a couple of them committed suicide. Not to make it sound like his seminar is going to be depressing, but it is about standup comedy and enjoying the journey. It’s open to performers and the general public. It’s for anyone who wants to learn how to enjoy life a lot more.”

The festival should not be considered “fun for the whole family.”

“Some material might be R-rated and not suitable for children,” Knight said. “Parents these days are pretty diverse with what they want to expose their kids to, but we’re not encouraging kids to come, because we don’t want to make them feel uncomfortable. On the other hand, with these different tickets, you can come and go as you please. … With improv comedy, you don’t really know where the story is going to go.”

What can attendees expect?

“Expect to have a lot of fun,” Knight said. “The audience will also be voting on the overall winner. The overall winner, the top-scoring sketch group, improv group or standup comic, will be offered a paid engagement to return as part of the Hi-Desert Cultural Center’s next season. That’s what they’re competing for. The audience will have a little say.”

The Joshua Tree International Improv/Comedy Festival takes place Friday, June 8, through Sunday, June 10, at the Hi-Desert Cultural Center, 61231 Highway 62, in Joshua Tree. Tickets are $45 for a one-day pass, or $120 for an all-access pass. For tickets or more information, visit jtimprovfestival.org.

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