Grad Helps Organize Orlando Indie Comedy Festival

From L to R: Nick Pupo, Dave Plotkin (Studio Artist in Digital Arts and Design), Tom Feeney, Matt Gersting (Senior Application Developer, Platinum Creative), Doug McPherson (Senior Enrollment Guide)

There comes a point in the evolution of any cultural movement when a burst of growth can take a scene from underground to mainstream, often seemingly overnight. The Orlando comedy zeitgeist has been experiencing a steady boom in recent years, and now five local comics are poised to bring laughs to the masses with the first annual Orlando Indie Comedy Festival. Set to take place over four days, each night of the festival will showcase a different Orlando neighborhood and feature over 40 national comics. We sat down with Doug McPherson, a local comedian and Full Sail grad, to learn a little more about the scene, breaking into the industry, and what it takes to plan a festival.

Full Sail: A lot of people might not even be aware that Orlando has a local comedy scene. Tell us a little about the history of comedy in Orlando.

Doug McPherson: Comedy in Orlando started off really small. We’ve had national club chains like The Improv in town for a while, but those venues are mainly for established, professional comedians who are already at the point where they’re touring the country with their acts. The independent comedy scene we’re trying to represent began with just a few open mics. Austin’s Coffee in Winter Park has a really long-standing open mic that runs every Sunday night, and that’s where a lot of local comics, myself included, got their start.

The scene has really grown in the last couple of years. Comics took the initiative to approach bars, coffee shops and other non-traditional comedy venues to start up new open mics and showcases. It’s gotten to the point to where a comic can find at least one place to get on stage almost every night of the week, and that’s enabled comics to improve much more quickly than they would have five or ten years ago, when a new comic would be lucky to get up only once or twice a week. As far as where it’s going, it’s hard to predict the future. But I hope to continue to see new places inviting comedy in so that we can expose more people to what we’re doing. There are some very talented people in this city, and the more opportunities we get to showcase ourselves in front of new audiences, the more interested Orlando residents will be in comedy.

FS: How did you get involved in comedy?

DM: I’ve been a fan of stand-up for as long as I can remember. Back when I was a teenager, I’d listen to my Dad’s Bill Cosby records. I was amazed that somebody could be that funny and hold the attention of a crowd with nothing but a microphone. Unfortunately, I drug my feet. I didn’t end up getting up and trying it until I was 30. My first set went well enough that I kept at it. Now, I try to go up two to four times a week.

FS: What inspired you and the other organizers to put on a festival? How did this whole thing come about?

DM: The idea of doing the festival was originally conceived by my friend, Tom Feeney, early this year. He wanted to do a festival to help the scene gain more local exposure, and as a way to help put Orlando on the radar of comedians around the country as a valid market. We decided a few things really quickly. First, it wasn’t a goal of ours to make money off of it during this first year. The main thing we want to accomplish is to provide a bigger stage to comics not only from Orlando, but other scenes like ours all around the country.

Second, we wanted to be able to donate a portion of ticket revenue to charity, which we are, we will be donating 50% of all ticket revenue from the festival to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), a great organization that helps a lot of people through difficult times.

We’ve been blown away by some of the talented people that have submitted to the festival wanting to be a part of it. We’ll announce the full line up soon, but we have young comics coming from Chicago, Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, Austin, TX and lots of other places.

FS: Early on, there was a very public campaign to recruit Maria Bamford as a headliner. It ended up not working out, and instead you’ve booked Kyle Kinane. Can you talk about that process?

DM: First off, I want to say that we are extremely excited to have Kyle Kinane coming in to headline the festival. Since the beginning, he was always at or near the top of our list of dream headliners for this thing.

The idea for trying to get Maria came from (fellow Full Sail employee; Studio Artist in Digital Arts and Design) Dave Plotkin, who is a genius when it comes to publicity. It made a lot of sense to appeal to her. She’s always been an outspoken advocate of issues regarding mental health, so it would have fit in perfectly with what we wanted to do to help out NAMI.

The strategy was to create a website and make a funny video starring local comedians to put on YouTube as a pitch to get her to come do the Festival. We put it up on a Monday around noon and started tweeting about it using the hashtag #orlandowantsbamford. We had a response on Twitter from Maria in less than 10 hours. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to do the festival due to a prior commitment, but she was incredibly gracious in making a very encouraging video reply to us and has even plugged the festival in interviews that she’s done since, so we really can’t say enough nice things about her.

Obviously though this left us with a hole to fill for our headliner so we went back and got in touch with Kyle’s booking agent and found out that the same week of the festival he was already booked for a run of shows in Florida leading up to the day that we needed him so it wasn’t too difficult to make the deal. It’s not necessarily what we envisioned happening when we started our quest to get a headliner but we’re all really happy with how it has worked out.

FS: You graduated from the Entertainment Business bachelor’s program in 2005. How has what you learned at Full Sail helped you in this process?

DM: One of the main things I took from my time in the program was how to come up with an idea for a business and see it through to completion. The pace of the program also necessitates having to learn as you go sometimes. I remember having to do projects that I didn’t feel like I had all the skills to do yet, but as I got deeper in I either had to figure it out or risk failing completely. You start to realize that you have skills that you didn’t even know you had.

Having gone through that in the program has definitely helped in putting together the Orlando Indie Comedy Festival, because none of us have ever taken on something like this before. Everybody that has done work on this thing is very talented in specific areas, which is great in that helps us delegate tasks and work more efficiently as a team.

For a while, it seemed that my role in the group was to hear everyone’s fun ideas and then tell them why it didn’t make sense from a business perspective. I didn’t necessarily enjoy having to always look at those ideas from a “worst case scenario” point of view, but having that background in business has saved us from doing a couple of really risky things.

FS: Including you, three of the five organizers of the festival are Full Sail staff (see photo). Do you think there’s anything about FS as an institution that breeds this kind of outside involvement? 

DM: Because of the types of industries that Full Sail is so closely involved with, we certainly attract a certain kind of person in regard to both students and as staff. Many of the people that I’ve encountered in the 11 years I’ve been around (as both a student and as an Online Enrollment Guide) are some of the most creative and driven people I’ve ever met. They are so great at finding what they are passionate about and then figuring out how to make it happen.

Full Sail is also a place where we get to hear great stories every day about the amazing things that our graduates are doing in their fields.  So many of those stories have inspired us as we’ve worked to put this festival together.

FS: What advice would you give to someone looking to get involved with the local comedy scene?

DM: I know this is far easier said than done, but just take a few days to gather your thoughts and put them on paper, get out to an open mic night and get on stage. Much like running a festival for the first time, you will learn as you go.

Get a voice recorder app for your phone and record every time you go on stage. Listening back afterwards can be really painful if a set didn’t go well, but that’s also the best way for you to see where improvements need to be made. Oh, and don’t steal other people’s jokes unless you want the rest of us to not like you. Also, floss daily. That last one doesn’t really have anything to do with comedy, but it’s still very important.

The Orlando Indie Comedy Festival runs September 25-28. You can purchase tickets beginning today at noon.