Louisville’s comedy scene takes another big leap this weekend when the Tim Northern Comedy Festival stands up on a variety of stages around town, bringing 100 comics to venues near you.
Insider spoke with festival organizer Erik Kimbrough about the event’s origins, where the name came from and what it hopes to accomplish. Kimbrough himself got started in comedy back in the early 2000s.
“In 2001, after 9/11, I thought I had something funny to say — not about 9/11 but about flying on an airplane,” said Kimbrough earlier this week, sitting outside Kaiju, one of the festival’s venues.
Kimbrough still remembers the joke that first got him on stage at an open mic at the Comedy Caravan.
The setup is that a friend had invited him to fly down to Dallas for the weekend. Kimbrough’s response?
“As long as Bin Laden is still loose, you won’t catch me flying a kite. The next week I got on the Greyhound.”
As many aspiring comedians discover, Kimbrough found out the joke he thought was brilliant couldn’t rake in the laughs, but it didn’t matter.
“After that, I was hooked … it bit me, man,” he said.
He soon started up a friendship with Tim Northern, who was a host at the open mic Kimbrough frequented. Northern is perhaps the most well-known Louisville comedian on the national scene, having won “Star Search” and been featured on “The Last Comic Standing.”
This friendship would eventually spark the creation of the eponymous festival.
“Me and Tim were talking … and he was like, ‘Man, I’ve been telling everyone I wanted to do a comedy festival for years,’” recalled Kimbrough.
But in that conversation, he says Northern finally found someone who took him seriously.
“Then, one day we were at The Bard’s Town, and we were talking about it, and I was like, ‘Man, let’s just do it. What are we waiting for? Let’s just do it.’”
Kimbrough told Northern to call him in the next week if he was serious about getting a festival started, and sure enough Northern was serious. The two immediately started divvying up tasks and taking care of business.
One of the first tasks was securing venues. The Louisville comedy scene was historically limited to one location: the Mid City Mall club currently called “The Caravan,” which has gone through a number of name and ownership changes over the years. But now, comics are branching out to spaces all over town.
Part of the organizational concept of the festival is to let those venues help plan and execute the festival.
“We reached out to everybody that has things already in place at those venues, and we put them in charge of those venues,” said Kimbrough.
The multiple venues are good for the scene, he said, but the one drawback is the way they diffuse the audience.
“Over here, you’ve got a hundred people who follow Kaiju; over here, you’ve got another hundred people who follow The Bard’s Town; over here, you’ve got 50 or 60 people who do something in Indiana.”
By involving all the different venues in a single festival, Kimbrough hopes the smaller audiences that may be loyal to a particular venue will start to frequent other locations.
While plenty of local comics are getting stage time, the festival also boasts traveling comedians galore.
“They’re coming in town from New York, Louisiana, Nebraska, Ohio, Indiana, St. Louis, Alabama — you name it,” said Kimbrough. “They’re coming from everywhere. It’s a celebration of comedy. It’s the biggest celebration in the Midwest.”
The end goal is to continue growing the festival, turning it into another yearly attraction for Louisville, and like so many great Louisville festivals, Kimbrough hopes one day it ends up at Waterfront Park.
“Like three to five years, make it to the waterfront … and, you know how they have festivals down there, they block it off, they have a main stage, then a medium stage,” said Kimbrough, adding they also want mirco stages perfect for a comedian and a small audience. “Ten different little stages, probably as big as this table, with tents and speakers. That’s our goal.”
It’s all service growing the scene, from cross-pollination to getting new audiences and new eyes on local comedians.
“I want everybody to win, it’s all about the celebration, it’s all about the love,” added Kimbrough.
The Tim Northern Comedy Festival runs June 1-4 at five venues including Kaiju, The Bard’s Town, The Caravan, Play and Wick’s Pizza in the Highlands. Tickets are $10, and a full schedule can be found online.