Q&A with the Founders of the Crossroads Comedy Festival
The inaugural event takes place October 16–18.
This month, the Crossroads Comedy Festival takes the stage for the first time at the IndyFringe Theatre, Theater on the Square, and other locations. We caught up with two of the founders, Bill Skaggs (right) and Joe Fitzpatrick (above), for a chat.
Indiana isn’t regarded as a particularly witty place by people from outside the state. Search “Indiana” on Twitter, and you find folks calling us “the above-ground pool of states.” How do you attract comics to that environment?
Bill: I think that’s the impression some people have. What we’re doing with the festival and other comedy events we’re working on is trying to change that. Right now, the comedy scene in Indianapolis is pretty fractured. The festival gives us an opportunity to bring everyone in that community together.
Writers often say that their least favorite question is “Where do you get your inspiration?” Do comedic performers have a comparable question?
Joe: People will often ask stand-ups “What’s your style?” or “Who do you compare yourself to?” Luckily, when you say you do improv, no one ever asks any questions about it. Unless it’s, “Yeah? Tell me a joke.”
The stereotype of a stand-up comedian is cynical or even fatalistic. Do you see improv attracting that kind of person?
Bill: Well, I hate to generalize. But I do think improvisers form more of a family. With stand-up, it’s a little more competitive. In my class, I always tell people that they’re there to support others, not to be the star, which I think also helps foster a sense of community.
Joe: I think one of the great things about this festival is that it will give people an opportunity to see … well, let’s call it fringe comedy. So we can talk about improv and about stand-up as separate things, but a lot of what people will see at this festival is kind of stand-up and kind of improv.
Bill: There’s a show at our festival called Doom Room. It’s stand-up, but the comedians can’t prepare a set. They get onstage, the topics are flashed on a screen, and they have to create their bit right there.
It often seems comedy is associated with a sort of liberality. Do you find that to be the case?
Joe: Most of the comedy I enjoy is based on fundamental truths, and those can be expressed by talking about current issues, but they usually transcend the Republican-Democrat binary. Actually, one of our headliners, Stewart Huff, is a great example. He can fill a room full of people with very different political ideologies, and they’ll all leave the show thinking he’s on their side. Good comedy—whether stand-up or improv—can do that, can speak to a higher truth than just party politics.
Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock both said they don’t like doing college shows anymore because the crowd is too politically correct these days. Do you have to be careful about that?
Bill: We definitely don’t want to exclude or violate a group of people. I’m always reminding others to stop playing up stereotypes, because if you are getting a laugh from it, it’s probably not the best laugh anyway—it’s not the laugh you want.
Joe: One of the fun things about improv is that in the scene, you don’t really know if you’re a man or a woman until someone assigns you a role. That’s fascinating because you can go an entire scene without a gender and begin to feel really amorphous. Not having the ability to make a joke about gender or sexuality forces you to be more of a human being.
But if you’re always worried about offending people, how powerful can comedy really be?
Bill: The best comedy can elicit change. If you can relate to a group of people, while also getting that group of people to think about things differently, that’s where comedy gets extremely powerful. Margaret Cho, for instance, will talk about gay and transgender issues. And sometimes, she excludes parts of the conservative community in doing so. But she doesn’t care because that’s not the community she’s trying to help.
Joe: Even if someone is offended, a joke can still start conversations. We’re talking about race and gender and class more than ever before in our country, and we’re also going through the largest comedy boom in at least the last 30 years. I don’t think those things are unrelated. Rape culture got a lot of mainstream attention after Hannibal Burress made a rape joke. Now Bill Cosby’s show is getting taken off television. It started a conversation.