• by Abigail Terres •
We are all familiar with classic “knock-knock” jokes, however at this year’s Nantucket Comedy Festival from July 15-18, there is much more to expect than these simple gags. The Nantucket Comedy Festival, founded eight years ago, is an annual festival that hosts nationally recognized comedians on the island where they showcase and further their talents. These joking geniuses bring their comedic talent to the island in support of Stand Up & Learn, an island-based program providing and educating children with a wealth of skills to be used in the real world.
Utilizing his passion and previous knowledge of stand up comedy, Founder and Executive Director, Kevin Flynn created the Comedy Festival as a way for the community to become connected by laughter. His main outreach was to children and teens whom he thought needed comedy in their lives as a way of empowerment and inspiration in order to engage them in real life situations. Through this annual festival, year-round workshops and the Stand Up& Learn program, Flynn’s life has been impacted by the work and evident progress that has made up the Nantucket Comedy Festival.
In Flynn’s teenage though young adult years, playing soccer was his main priority. After he went professional, playing for teams such as the Dallas Sidekicks, Kalamazoo Kangaroos and Ft. Wayne Flames, Flynn decided to go to graduate school at Boston University where he studied Broadcast Journalism. It was there that he discovered stand-up comedy when he walked into a Boston nightspot on comedy and open mic night. Flynn remembers thinking to himself, “I could probably do that,” and from then on, he started to go on stage Sunday nights and perform.
When he first performed on stage he says, “ I was sweaty and nervous but was told that I did very well for my first time, as far as remembering what it was like, I was just too busy sweating and being nervous!” This talent of his later helped him begin a stand-up career as he performed at the Boston Comedy Riot; a theater that seeks to bring quality comedy to a part of Boston that has a wealth of support for the arts but little in the way of a regular comedy scene. Flynn says his time in Boston gave him the inspiration he needed to bring a comedy festival to Nantucket, where he had spent his summers growing up.
He’d come to Nantucket on Sundays and stay the early week. Flynn worked with the soccer team on-sland, where he got very involved with the community. For many years before he created the comedy festival, he performed sold out shows on Monday nights called “Comedy Night with Kevin Flynn” at the Theatre Workshop.
While working a job one winter in New York City, Kevin read an article in the paper regarding an abnormal level of teen suicides on Nantucket. Immediately he tried to think about what he could do to reach out to kids and help them, “comedy was my first idea” Flynn says, “it’s fun and all teenagers love comedy. ” His next step was to ask friends also involved in the comedy industry to come to Nantucket for a week’s vacation and perform for the children as well as answer questions about their business. They hosted a one-day workshop where the kids would ask questions including, “how do I do stand up.” This was a stepping-stone for Flynn as he then realized he wanted to create a way to teach all of these kids how to do stand up comedy and to have them take part in the festival.
The first Comedy Festival was in 2007, and it featured teenagers performing during the day and adults performing at night. “After we saw the interest in stand-up, I created a curriculum for kids and that’s what Stand Up & Learn is all about” Flynn comments, “that evolved over the years and now there is a three-day workshop that brings kids along for the ride; when it is done they are able to take what they’re learned and perform their stand up act.”
“As a child,” Flynn says, “I was able to talk and joke my way out of most things… I want to teach that life skill to young ones now.” Before every workshop Flynn tell the kids, “everyone has a funny story and everyone has been funny at some point.” I try to mix their story and finding the funny, whether it’s the use of voices, exaggeration, hyperboles, anything. These workshops truly give them confidence and self esteem performing in front of a couple hundred people.” The kids participating in the festival will work on their acts the week before the opening ceremony on Wednesday July 15 from 5-6:30 pm The audience at this event is typically parents, siblings, community members, and anyone who enjoys a genuine laugh or two. Flynn says, “we always have a wonderfully supportive crowd, and the kids send it off to a good start; it’s great for kids to hear other kids’ personal experiences and it’s a very enjoyable thing for people from the community to come watch their youth learn and grow.”
Finding comedians is no stressful thing for Kevin Flynn, “I’ve been in the comedy business for long enough that I can ask my friends to come out. All of the comics who do perform, perform for free, essentially donating their services.” Don Gavin, fellow board member of the Comedy Festival, Jim Gaffigan, and Jimmy Dunn were the first comedians, friends of Flynn, to become involved with the festival, and are still involved today. Flynn mentions “If I’m in Boston, NYC, or LA and I run by comics, I will start to put a list together in my head.” In addition, as a member of the Nantucket community for more than 25 years, he is familiar with residents who will help with the festival. H e says, “ I knew people in the art industry and the business owners, so I know the year-round and summer folk. Everyone loves comedy and the community embraced us right away because people knew me. Since then this festival has proven to have a nice natural growth.”
One aspiring comedian on Nantucket is Brian Glowacki, “he helped me with teaching local kids, which also gave the festival another nice local connection as he went to Nantucket high school” Flynn says. “The comedians are my friends” he adds, “I know their acts backwards and sideways, but it’s great to see the comics all together. Headline comics are on the road alone generally, so its unique at the festival they get to hang out with each other—20 comedians in town is pretty rare” he chuckles.
In addition to the Opening Ceremony Wednesday night, Flynn comments that, Thursday night is the real start of the “professional end of things.” “I don’t like breaking up comedy into segments, comedy is a great unifier and we should at laugh at each other,” Flynn adds.
The festival also has a very strong women’s program: “Women love it because they are able to talk a different talk and walk a different walk at women’s night” Flynn explained. Four women comics will perform on Thursday night July 16 from 6-7:30pm, after the cocktail party for patrons. On Friday night, July 17, Judy Gold will perform. “There is something about women’s night that is very enjoyable, and stands to be great way to start the festival…We have had just as many, if not more, women than men performers over the years, I don’t know that there is another festival that does that, needless to say the NCF well represents women.”
When Flynn is not working on or at the festival, he is a full time comedian and host of a radio show on ESPN called, “Over the Ball with Kevin Flynn.”
Looking back on all the years of successful Comedy Festivals, bringing top comedic performances to Nantucket in support of the local youth community is something Flynn is very proud of, “Nantucket Comedy Festival has been very rewarding and being able to do this, especially watch the Stand Up & Learn program grow has been an enjoyable ride. It has become a much bigger festival than when we first started; there is a lot more work and a lot more moving parts, but it has paid off because now people wouldn’t miss it for anything.” In future years Flynn would like to see a standardized curriculum and online applications so more people can unleash the power of comedy. Until then, this event, in the heart of the summer, remains a perfect fit onto the wonderfully diverse roster of festivals on Nantucket.