Have you heard the one about the Limestone Comedy Festival? The one about the June 4–6 showcase that draws national comedians to Bloomington?
It begins at a cable company. That’s where Jared Thompson worked. But when his job left town, he and his wife Dayna did what any reasonable couple would do during the 2008 recession: They opened a comedy club. The Comedy Attic was the city’s first full-time place for laughs, although it wasn’t the first to feature quality stand-up. Bloomington was already on the map thanks to Comedy Caravan, which ran at Bear’s Place for nearly 30 years and hosted the likes of Roseanne Barr and Ellen DeGeneres. But Thompson believed the Attic—located on the second floor of a downtown building—could take comedy in B-town to new heights.
His approach was simple: Instead of blindly hiring the guys who tour all the comedy-club chains, he scoured clips of unproven comics and booked the best acts he could find. And his staff enforced strict audience rules: no talking, no texting, and definitely no heckling. So comedians knew they would have a good room. “Our audiences let jokes breathe in a way that most places don’t,” Thompson says.
That atmosphere has attracted some big names. Marc Maron, Tig Notaro, Bobcat Goldthwait, and Hannibal Buress have all graced the Attic’s 164-seat space in recent years. Current Comedy Central star Amy Schumer named the Attic one of the 10 best comedy clubs in America in USA Today. Travel + Leisure said it was Top 15. “Jared is one of the guys—and there’s only a handful of these people in this business—who really care about good comedy,” says Jimmy Pardo, a regular on Conan who performs at the Attic.
The Attic was so successful that Thompson, along with comedian Mat Alano-Martin, decided to create a three-day comedy gala in 2012. Now in its third year, the Limestone Comedy Festival applies the Comedy Attic’s comic-friendly ethos to more than 30 shows. Its performers always include a few big names—The King of Queens’s Patton Oswalt, Super High Me’s Doug Benson, and Saturday Night Live’s Sasheer Zamata in past years; Janeane Garofalo and SNL’s Michael Che this year. But up-and-comers also have a chance to shine by opening for headliners, a rarity at these gatherings. Last year, the event drew 1,000 attendees.
“We want to establish it as one of the great comedy festivals in the country,” Alano-Martin says, “which I think we’re well on our way to doing.”
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Moore used the Comedy Attic’s open-mic night as a springboard to tour full-time. He’s a regular guest on Bob & Tom.