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North Hills Monthly

Pittsburgh Comedy Festival Focused on Elevating Humor as an Art Form

Jul 31, 2016 08:20PM ● By Vanessa Orr

With everything going on in the world today, there’s no doubt that we could all use a few laughs. Luckily, in Pittsburgh, there’s a burgeoning comedy scene that provides an outlet for audiences as well as a showcase for local talent.

The Pittsburgh Comedy Festival, which will take place from August 25-28, is a major part of this growing comedy community. “Our main goal is to elevate and promote comedy in Pittsburgh by letting people see what’s out there, and giving them an opportunity to get involved,” explained Executive Director and Marketing Director Anna Reilly of the event that got its start in 2014. Started as a grassroots organization, the festival promotes improvisation and stand-up comedy.

“We wanted to take comedy from the image of someone in a dark, seedy bar telling creepy jokes to what it really is—an art form that people work really hard on,” she added. “We believe that comedians deserve a real theater and a real theater stage—as well as the same level of respect that is given to other art forms.”

Overseen by its parent organization, Comedy Arts Pittsburgh (CAP), the Pittsburgh Comedy Festival will host comedians at the Henry Heymann Theater on Forbes Avenues in Oakland, on the University of Pittsburgh campus. The four-day schedule is chock full of both national and local acts, including Quincy Jones, who recently hosted his own HBO special, Burning the Light, and the comedy team Sheldon, made up of Rob Belushi, Jon Barinholtz and Tim Stoltenberg.

“Quincy Jones is a delightfully quirky guy who was diagnosed with Stage 4 mesothelioma last summer, and instead of slowing down, he decided to pursue what he loves to do,” said Reilly. “He’s very funny and very inspiring.

“The team of Sheldon, which is out of Chicago, performs really awesome long-form improvisation,” she continued. “They do a fun, high-energy show; if you’ve never seen improv, this is a great way to do it.”

Local and regional acts were selected by a juried panel and will perform throughout the festival. “Many of the shows are pay as you can, because we wanted to open them up to as many people as we could,” said Reilly. “We want to show off our local talent.”

In addition to performances, there will be numerous workshops to help amateur and even professional comedians hone their craft. “Some are skills-based and many are focused around improv,” said Reilly. “We’re also hosting Open Up PGH, which uses improv and theater games to help people use their imaginations, get moving, and focus on self-expression. This is an all-ages event, which is also a great opportunity for those with special needs.” 

Three local comedy theaters will also offer a Pittsburgh Improv Crash Course to instruct prospective comedians.

And while all of this sounds like a great deal of fun, there’s a serious side to it as well. “Comedy is a way to bring people together,” said Reilly. “People may not think they have anything in common until they find that connection through laughter.

“While ‘laughter is the best medicine’ may sound cliché, it’s also true,” she added. “The world is in a lot of chaos right now, and there is a lot of divisiveness. We’re hoping that by bringing together different communities and representing as many different perspectives as we can, people might hear a perspective that they haven’t heard before, and that could start a conversation.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, visit, or visit the festival on Twitter or Facebook.