By Rob Burgess
Bloomington — As I sat in the Buskirk-Chumley Theater on Thursday waiting for the opening show of the inaugural Limestone Comedy Festival, I reflected on my various connections to Bloomington. I was born less than a mile away in Bloomington Hospital. A few blocks in the opposite direction was the site of my higher education, Indiana University. And the last time I was in that particular building, my wife, Ash, and I were married on that very stage. I feel a certain ownership of this place. I sensed that same sort of possession in many of the audience members and 40-plus performers who took part in Indiana’s first and only comedy festival.
“Honestly, I’ve never been big on civic pride or anything like that, but I’m so proud of Bloomington this week,” said Tom Brady, whose Friday opening performance for headliner Maria Bamford proved him to be one of the best local comedians I saw during the three-day celebration. “The crowds have been so fun and warm.”
Headliner Doug Benson both performed stand-up and recorded two of his podcasts at the LCF, including a movie interruption of Hoosier classic “Breaking Away,” with featured performers Graham Elwood, Jackie Kashian and Geoff Tate.
“[It was] one of the best ones I’ve ever done,” said Benson. “I got a little choked up at the end when it said on the screen: ‘Filmed entirely on location in Bloomington, Indiana.’”
Well, same here, Doug.
Local artists, including Brady, could be seen all week around downtown, earning the title of working comedians. During our Saturday interview, he gripped a coffee cup as he sat behind the merchandise table in the BCT lobby.
“There’s like probably 10 local comics who just want to help out,” he said. “They tried to space it out to where if you’re on a show, you don’t have to work too close to it, but like today I did a show and I also worked the door. ... We all want to pitch in as much as we can and make it easy for the guys who put it together.”
One of those guys was Mat Alano-Martin, LCF director. He said comedians who started out at Bloomington’s celebrated venue, The Comedy Attic, formed an invested inner circle.
“We knew that we could trust them without much supervision, which was key as we usually had five different shows going on at once,” he said. “Also, they genuinely wanted to see it succeed as much as we did.”
One of the many things I liked about the festival was the cross-sectional nature of the humorists. Everyone, from the graduates of the Ivy Tech “Intro to Stand-Up Comedy” class to internationally known entertainers, was on hand. As expected, Benson and his fellow headliners stunned and amazed. Tig Notaro kicked things off with a performance that referenced her recent health and family struggles one minute and then pushed the limits of absurdist humor the next. Bamford’s manic performance transcended the limits of what stand-up comedy could be. And Pete Holmes riffed his way through an astounding set.
Growing pains were to be expected. Ticketing and seating issues caused some stress for audience and staff.
“The BCT Box Office had to design a completely new and fairly complex ticketing system to accommodate the way we wanted it to work,” said Alano-Martin. “They did a great job with it, but as it was the first year, we had a few things pop up that we hadn’t thought about.”
But these were comparatively minor hiccups in what was otherwise a superb showcase for my beloved Bloomington and Indiana itself. Anyone in attendance who didn’t find something they liked simply wasn’t trying. I look forward to this gathering emerging next year even stronger than before.
Benson said he hopes to return.
“I [want to] come back for sure,” he said. “And I wouldn’t change anything. Except the movie I interrupt. For next year, I’m thinking ‘Hoosiers.’”
Rob Burgess, Tribune night editor, may be reached by calling 765-454-8577, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at twitter.com/robaburg.