I've asked around—and I'm talking people in the know—about whether there was ever a dedicated comedy club in Santa Fe, and the best anyone can tell me is that a local hotel maybe had something in the early-to-mid-'90s. End of list. Otherwise, there have been pop-up events and special one-offs over the years, but little else. Who among us will ever forget Hannibal Buress at sadly closed Skylight or pre-problematic Aziz Ansari and Dave Chappelle at The Lensic? When since-closed bar El Paseo used to do open mics? Today, local comedy troupe
Wayward Comedy hosts a twice-monthly open mic at Chili Line Brewing, but there's nothing too regular for locals to enjoy.
Not anymore. For now, anyway.
Enter Cloudtop Comedy Festival, a first of its kind and massive celebration of the art of comedy. It's all going down in Santa Fe this week, between Thursday Sept. 12 and Sunday Sept. 15, and it promises to be the kind of thing that changes the city—so long as we can support it now and in the future, y'know, should it become annual.
"I've been secretly obsessed with comedy for about 10 years," says Jessica Baxter, the founder and director of the fest. Baxter's day job is that of director of special events for the Santa Fe Opera, but she's been nursing a comedy crush so intently, she finally had to do something.
"There's nothing finer in this life than laughing," she continues, "and it's been a dark time for people the last few years. I love high art, I love classical music, but Santa Fe has high art figured out, and I think there's room [for comedy].
Baxter tells SFR the idea came to her following a particularly heavy run of events in her personal life. She doesn't want to go into explicit detail, but suffice it to say she's needed a good laugh. With comedy enjoying a bit of a renaissance, or maybe explosion, over the last decade (not that it went anywhere, but you know what I'm talking about), putting together an event with big names isn't so easy—and Cloudtop has some big names.
Most notably among them are jokers like Fortune Feimster, of shows like The Mindy Project and a celebrated standup pretty much anyplace in the know; Maria Bamford, a working horse regularly on the road and who has appeared in shows like Arrested Development; and Kellen Erskine, a writer and comic who's appeared on Conan and in comedy-based shows like Amazon's Inside Jokes. Of course, it doesn't end there even at all—there are simply more comics and events than we could possibly fit in print—and Baxter has put together family-friendly events, like The Children's Comedy Show from Chicago's much loved comedy legends The Second City, no small amount of opportunities for local comics and, one of the most promising events of the fest, the Future Comic Showcase, a rapid-fire series of short sets from 11 comedians culled from over 140 applicants across the country.
"I had a little credibility from being in the classical music world, and I'd built a foundation of support in Santa Fe," Baxter explains. "Meow Wolf wanted to support this right out of the gate. I think there are 27 sponsors who stepped up; the city gave us a grant—we're going to do this right."
All told, Baxter says, it took 13 months of intense planning, a few pulled strings, some well placed phone calls to friends in the biz and the support of a city desperate for some goddamn comedy.
For Albuquerque's Cody Herrera (Navajo and Cochiti Pueblo), it's quite an opportunity in his burgeoning career. Herrera has a slot in the Future Comedy Showcase because Baxter says his audition footage had her selection panel in tears laughing. Herrera says it's the culmination of intense hard work over the last year, long drives to short sets at open mics and a personal drive to learn the art.
"Last year I set myself a goal to try and have five minutes of standup by the end of the year," he tells SFR. "I didn't do it, but I did write a lot of material. I started in January, and I've been performing ever since."
Herrera describes himself as a bit of a comedy nerd, adding that he stays up to date with as many current comics as he can. Still, he says, he's developing a style all his own based in expression, discipline and, he says, maybe a little bit of good old-fashioned honesty.
"It's not really encouraged to be open and honest in every situation, but I've
always had that honesty bone," he says. "It also goes back to structure—there's a structure to telling jokes, you have to work to get it there."
Herrera also has a short opening slot for one of Feimster's sets. Is he nervous?
"I've been working my butt off since I got accepted," he says.
Lastly, and more time-sensitive, Baxter says that those who might be concerned about the cost of some of the fest can visit cloudtopcomedy.com to sign up for volunteer shifts.
"You volunteer one night, then come one night for free," she says.
That sounds like an amazing deal to me. You should probably try to do that.