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Nashville's Growing Comedy Scene

With national comedy tours, a recent world record, and a new comedy club on the horizon, Nashville has plenty to laugh about.

Written By:  Margaret Littman

Photographers:  Supplied

May 21 — Jeff Foxworthy
Ryman Auditorium, 6 p.m. ($54.50)

Later this month, big names—including Trevor Noah, Jay & Silent Bob, and Miranda Sings—will be playing at venues like War Memorial Auditorium and TPAC’s James K. Polk Theater as part of the Wild West Comedy Festival. The megafest runs May 17-20.

“After doing comedy for 31 years, there are very few things that make you stop in your tracks,” says Jeff Foxworthy, who will headline the festival from the Ryman Auditorium. “But then they said, ‘You can play the Ryman if you want.’ I have been part of bigger shows at the Ryman, but I have never done my own show there.”

Nashville has morphed from songwriting town to all-inclusive creative hub—and a robust comedy scene is part of that, says Christi Dortch, senior vice president of programming and sales at TPAC. The downtown venue hosted David Cross in February and brings Kathy Griffin later this month as well as Jane Lynch in June. Aziz Ansari’s Netflix series Master of None filmed an entire (hilarious) episode here, and Amy Schumer filled the 20,000-seat Bridgestone Arena last year.

>>> Wild West Comedy Fest 2016

Also in 2015, the local Broken Record Comedy Show ran for 184 hours and 16 minutes—more than seven and a half days straight—at The East Room. This is significant in that it set a new Guinness World Record for longest standup comedy show with multiple comedians. It was created in response to the first Wild West Comedy Fest.

“In 2014 [Wild West] was a really cool thing for Nashville, but there wasn’t a lot of stage time for locals,” says Chad Riden, a local standup comic who helps run Nashville Standup, a website that lists standup comedy acts in Music City. “So the idea of creating a show where there’s too  much stage time—and we don’t know what to do with it all—was perfect.” The show plans to top its own record—by five minutes—on May 15, again at The East Room.

For more than three decades, Zanies has been the place to catch standup comedy in Nashville—it’s headed by Brian Dorfman, the undisputed behind-the-scenes king of Nashville comedy who also owns Outback Concerts, which owns Wild West, and is a promoter many comedy acts that barrel through town. Many used to think Zanies was the only option for good comedy in town. Turns out, Nashville has a rich comedy scene not just with standup but improv and sketch comedy, too. Many bars, such as Belcourt Taps and Springwater, open their stages to local comedians.

“Everyone needs to laugh,” Dorfman notes.

Luke Watson, founder of the LOL Nashville improv group, says there’s at least one comedy show every single night somewhere in Music City. He and Scott Field of Music City Improv plan to make them easier to find. This spring, the duo is opening Third Coast Comedy Club in Marathon Village, with a 99-seat theater and full bar. The club’s weekend main stage show is being directed by Second City alum Erica Elam and will give performers from several longstanding Nashville comedy acts, including theirs, a physical home where audiences know to find them.

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