Why should comedy fans from Nashville and beyond attend the Wild West Comedy Festival? “They need to laugh,” insists headliner Trevor Noah. “We’re living in a climate where, as Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have said, people are really angry. And so if ever there were a time to be laughing, for the sake of the nation people should be coming out to comedy shows. This is not an option. It is part of looking after the well-being of a country. So I will be fulfilling my duty and helping people, and I hope audience members will be doing theirs.”
The brainchild of actor Vince Vaughn (his Wild West Productions spearheaded 2006’s Wild West Comedy Tour doc), the WWCF returns for a third go-round this Sunday, May 15, through Sunday, May 22. In addition to The Daily Show star Noah and stand-up headliners Kathy Griffin, Chris Tucker, Jeff Foxworthy, Joe Rogan, Russell Peters and YouTube star Miranda Sings, venues across Tennessee’s Music City will welcome live podcast tapings, a country-music superstar, and even a stand-up marathon running nonstop for eight days straight. Here’s what Paste is most excited about.
1. Maria Bamford
The original Comedians of Comedy member and Arrested Development breakout was already addressing mental illness back on 2007 web experiment The Maria Bamford Show. With fresh material developed since 2013’s Ask Me About My New God!, Bamford will be celebrating the release of her mockumentary-style Netflix series Lady Dynamite. Friday, May 20 at TPAC James K. Polk Theater, 7 p.m.
2. Broken Record Comedy Show
Last year’s inaugural marathon featured roughly 100 comics performing a cumulative 184 hours and 16 minutes. This year Nashville lynchpins Chad Riden, Mary Jay Berger and Ben Jones account for more than 120 performers including Geoff Tate, Ben Kronberg, Stewart Huff, Dave Ross, Myq Kaplan, Tom Simmons and surprise drop-ins from across the Wild West line-up. (The entire show will be recorded for later broadcast by SiriusXM.) “I’d recommend stopping by whenever people have any free time,” says Riden. “Something amazing is happening. Doesn’t matter what time it is…and if for some reason you just don’t like whoever is on stage, there’ll be somebody else up there in 15 minutes.” Sunday, May 15 at the East Room, 5 a.m. start time.
3. Bill Burr at Third Man Records
Bill Burr’s one of the biggest comedians on the stand-up circuit today, and you might be able to catch him at an intimate venue next week at Wild West. An official announcement about a surprise performance and Q&A at musician Jack White’s record store and 100-capacity venue is coming on Monday, May 16.
4. An Evening of Stand-Up Comedy Hosted by Brad Paisley
“Brad is just a huge fan of comedy,” says Wild West booking partner and Zanies owner Brian Dorfman of Paisley, who will introduce sets from Jon Reep, Sarah Tiana and Mike E. Winfield. “He did it last year as well, and knocked it out of the ballpark. That guy’s got the It Factor to the one-thousandth power. For him to go onstage at Zanies comedy Club, I’m sure it’s been forever since he’s performed in front of 300 people, so it will be absolutely amazing.” Monday, May 16 at Zanies, 8:30 p.m.
5. Jay & Silent Bob Get Old
An Evening with Kevin Smith solo discussion/Q&A follow at 9 p.m. both evenings, but the Clerks and Mallrats filmmaker also teams up with partner in cinematic crime Jason Mewes to record live editions of their free storytelling and industry-advice podcast of the same name. Wednesday, May 18 and Thursday, May 19 at Zanies, 6:30 p.m.
6. Kill Tony Live
Monday nights at Hollywood’s famed Comedy Store, host Tony Hinchcliffe and producer/co-host Brian Redban’s Deathsquad podcast seeks newbie stand-ups to perform one minute of material and face a panel of headliner judges. Even off the Sunset Strip, brutal honesty (and empathy) will abound. Guest judges TBA. Sunday, May 22 at Zanies, 5:30 p.m.
7. LOL TBD
When Old Hickory, Tennessee native Nate Bargatze (Conan, Fallon) was asked over a round of golf if he’d like to participate in the festival, he replied, “Lemme call my buddies!” Flash forward to pals Rory Scovel, Nick Thune and Jay Larson gathering to hang together with Bargatze for a weekend, while comedy fans get rare longer sets from four top talents in the process. Saturday, May 21 at Zanies, 7 and 9:15 p.m.
8. Ralphie May
The part-time Nashville resident began performing at 17, released a whopping half-dozen specials in the past ten years and nearly died from health complications in the process. Following his recent death threats and personal issues, the Last Comic Standing runner-up returns to work it all out on his home turf. Sunday, May 22 at Zanies, 8 p.m.
9. Trump Vs. Bernie
Enthuses Bamford, “James Adomian is one of our finest comic minds and impressionists. He’s an incredible stand-up, and the debate is a treat.” The timely and satirical Trump Vs. Bernie pits character comic Adomian (as the Senator from Vermont) against UCB regular Anthony Atamaniuk (as the blowhard businessman) in an improvised back-and-forth that’s spawned a live tour and Fusion series of the same name. And if you need any extra encouragement, remember that this was one of Paste’s favorite shows at Riot LA back in January. Sunday, May 15 at Exit/In, 8 p.m.
10. Wherever Vince Vaughn shows up
Teases Dorfman, “He’s been there every year. The first year he did a podcast with Marc Maron. The second year he got the key to the city and went to shows. Due to his filming schedule, you never know what’s going to happen when he shows up…but he is an active participant.”
Julie Seabaugh grew up on a farm in rural Missouri. She now lives in Los Angeles and covers comedy for Rolling Stone, Variety, GQ, The Village Voice, L.A. Weekly, Vulture, Huffington Post and more. Follow her at JulieSeabaugh.com and @JulieSeabaugh.