Anyone need a good laugh? A chuckle? A giggle?
If you answered “no,” we want whatever mind-altering substances you’ve been taking. But if you’re like the rest of us, subsisting on a daily diet of COVID-19-induced gloom, you’ll be relieved to know that the Palm Springs International Comedy Festival is on its way, albeit virtually, from Oct. 11-18.
The Palm Springs International Comedy Festival will feature competitions in the categories of stand-up, improvisation, sketch, feature film, short film, TV pilot, web series, animation and music. Winners will receive awards and cash prizes. The festival will also bestow honorary awards on the legendary Judy Tenuta (PSICF Lifetime Achievement Award), comedian/actress Luenell (PSICF Breakthrough Award) and comic/host/actor Selene Luna (Diversity in Comedy Award).
During the inaugural event last year, the festival drew participants from all over the world to Hotel Zozo. Prizes were awarded to Kathy Griffin and Illeana Douglas, as well as the motion picture Book Club, and more than 100 comedians participated in the standup competition. But with the world shutting down, festival director Paul Cruz—after delaying the festival several times—pivoted this year to an all-online version when it became clear that there really was no other choice.
“It was a strange decision,” said Cruz. “First of all, we didn’t know what we were going to do. I had a feeling this was coming, because I have friends who work in the medical field and knew in February this was going to be a problem. We didn’t see any way to do it in Palm Springs in the summer, so we originally postponed the live event until September … and then that started getting closer. By July, so many people had already submitted films to us. Short of refunding their submission money, we knew we had to try to figure out something else.”
Once Cruz decided the festival was going to go virtual, he knew he wanted it to look great.
“As a producer, I’m a little picky about how I want things to look,” he said. “There’s only so much you can control about other people’s production values, but we are going to advise people, especially the standup performers, to look their best, make sure their lighting is good, tell them not to have a mess behind them, hang a curtain, use a virtual background, and check their internet speed.”
Those tips are going to come in handy—because the virtual nature of this year’s festival exponentially increases the opportunity for participants to be seen.
“It’s going to be much easier for major casting professionals to just log on to the festival rather than enduring the weekend traffic from L.A. to Palm Springs,” said Cruz. “We have tons of celebrity judges and comedy club bookers and network casting people participating in the festival this year. That’s going to be great visibility for our artists.”
Cruz said the standup competition will be live via Zoom, while films and industry Q&A panels will be stream online. The schedule had not yet been posted as of our press deadline, but Cruz encouraged interested audience members to go to www.PSICF.org to sign up for the newsletter to receive announcements.
“If you sign up for our newsletter, you can possibly win a VIP pass,” said Cruz. “Plus, you can learn about some tickets that will be sold at early bird prices.” Ticket-buyers will receive a link to access the live or streaming content.
For much of his career, Cruz worked in casting, working on such films as Terminator 2: Judgment Day, For the Boys, The Addams Family and City Slickers, as well as TV shows including L.A. Law, Thirtysomething, Models, Inc. and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. More recently, Cruz produced the critically acclaimed indie film Archaeology of a Woman, starring Academy Award-nominee Sally Kirkland and Tony Award-winner Victoria Clark. He recently produced three soon-to-be-released stand-up comedy specials, starring Tony Tripoli of E!’s Fashion Police; comedian Renaldo Evans, the winner of the inaugural Palm Springs International Comedy Festival; and this year’s Diversity in Comedy Award honoree Selene Luna, directed by Margaret Cho. He also has produced an upcoming comedy cooking show called Something Smells Funny.
As an actor, Cruz appeared in The Soloist with Jamie Foxx, as well as the HBO series Arli$$, and had a recurring role in the NBC primetime series Spy TV, among a host of other theater, commercial and music-video credits. He splits his time between Palm Springs and Los Angeles.
Ironically, Cruz said he would be terrified to do standup comedy, but has always gravitated toward comedy roles.
“I’ve always loved comedy, because it’s gotten me through the tough times in my life,” Cruz said. “Humor has always been a healing thing for me.”
Cruz’s favorite credit was decidedly unfunny: He said he is most proud of the work he did on Voices From the List, a 2004 documentary film produced for the 10th anniversary of the release of Schindler’s List. Cruz was a researcher on the film and got to work with executive producers Steven Spielberg and James Moll, who was one of the first people to encourage Cruz to produce his own projects.
“It was devastating to work on that project, so intense to hear first-person stories from the Holocaust,” Cruz said. “It was extremely emotional but incredibly powerful.”
However, comedy is what’s on his mind now. Cruz is hoping that his first post-pandemic project will be to bring his comedy club back to Palm Springs.
“There should be a more-thriving comedy scene in Palm Springs,” said Cruz. “We were doing comedy supper-club shows at Hotel Zoso. Once this whole COVID nightmare is over, I want to make that a successful ongoing thing for the community.”
The Palm Springs International Comedy Festival will take place virtually from Sunday, Oct. 11, through Sunday, Oct. 18. Tickets range from $10 for an all-day pass to $40 for a VIP all-access pass. For more information and updates, visit www.PSIFC.org.