This weekend marks Austin’s first People of Color Comedy Festival. But while the fest is brand new, it’s been a dream for founder Leng Wong for several years.
“I mean, I really did want to do a festival,” she says. “I’ve been researching the entertainment business in Austin, especially comedy, [for the] last 12 or 15 years, and this is the first time I’ve seen the comedy scene where the troupes of color, the comedians of color -- there are so many out there [of high] quality. So it’s, to me, the perfect time. This is the best I’ve seen in like the last 15 years.”
This first installment of the festival (Wong hopes it’ll become an annual event) will feature improv, sketch, and more, all performed by comedians of color. The aim is to showcase the good and funny work these performers are creating in Austin and to reinforce and strengthen the feelings of community and family already in place in Austin's diverse comedy scene.
Kim Tran, of the all-Asian sketch troupe Hot Pot Comedy, says her troupe is as much a surrogate family as a comedy team.
“For us, it’s for sure a comedy group, but more than that, it’s a community for us and family for us – outside of our real family – because for a lot of us, I think this is our first time having a community of Asian-American creatives, comedians, together,” she says. “A lot of [our comedy] touches on our Asian-American identity in modern times, but also some of it is just … us as funny people. And I think everyone can hopefully relate to it.”
¡Escándalo!, which is an improvised bilingual telenovela, will also be part of the fest.
“We have all the tropes you would expect, like evil twins and murder and love triangles,” says troupe member Laura Galan Wells. “So we have a lot of fun onstage. For us, it was really a very personal experience. There were honestly a lot of tears when we first started rehearsing, because a lot of us had been made to feel ashamed of our heritage.”
¡Escándalo! is a parody of the sort of Spanish-language telenovelas that many in the troupe grew up watching with family, but it’s a loving parody. “Something we’ve really treasured is people bringing their grandparents,” Galan Wells says.
“We have a lot of people who bring their abuela or their abuelo. And one time after a show, someone brought us pan dulce – like a box full of all kinds of little delicacies, and they were like ‘It’s like roses!’ But it was like the Hispanic version," she says. "And, you know, that’s who we’re performing for. It just means so much to us to be able to perform for the community and give them something they really love. We mostly speak in English, but it’s such a gift to be able to speak in Spanish and for them to see that onstage.”
Kenah Benefield describes his troupe, Sugar Water Purple as “Austin’s most unconventionally attractive improv troupe,” before adding “just kidding. We’re Black. We’re almost to the point of being unapologetically Black. And we’re very… political in the sense where we deal with so much out in our world that we’re just so kind of sick of it, let’s make fun of it. And we want to create a space for people to come in and watch and have a good time.”
Wong and the performers hope to inspire other people of color to feel that they can start performing, too.
“I feel like the best comedy is the comedy that uses your personal experience and your identity,” says Tran.
“And that’s the other part of the festival, is for the audience,” says Wong. “Who one day hopefully will become a performer as well. But at least they know that they can now be included in the audience of comedy. That for me is huge, too.”