Flyover Comedy Festival, St Louis’s inaugural comedy festival, will be in the Grove Nov 9-11 featuring five stages, over 20 shows and more than 50 performers, ranging from comedy and improv headliners like Todd Barry, Henry Phillips and Cook County Social Club, to local favorites.

“This is the festival’s first year and a huge testament to the growing comedy scene in St Louis — now with three comedy clubs in the metro area, a growing improv scene and endless pop-up stand-up acts and open mics at bars and venues across the city,” says festival representative Beth Hoops. 

Below, Kris Wernowsky, co-founder of Flyover Comedy Festival, discusses the need for such a festival in the St. Louis comedy scene and why you shouldn’t miss the fun.

Why is an event such as this important/unique for St. Louis?

For a few reasons: First, St. Louis doesn’t really ever get enough credit for being a great comedy city. It manages to support three comedy clubs, a thriving improv theater and a consistent series of independent comedy shows. Having a festival felt like a way to showcase some of the best people from those three worlds in one event, plus a chance to bring in some comics from around the country who have never been here. Additionally, St. Louis was one of the only major cities in the country that didn’t have a festival. It seemed like a good time to have one. 

What is the backstory of how the festival originated and evolved?

There were several attempts to start a festival that floundered for whatever reason. I think when people start out and say “Hey, let’s put on a festival,” they don’t realize that it’s a pretty big undertaking that requires a lot of management and organization. Zach Gzehoviak, myself and a small group of comics and fans of comedy put our heads together and came up with the idea that eventually became this festival. From there, it was a lot of work cultivating sponsors, booking comics, finding venues and ferreting out money to help cover the costs of running something like this.

How do you select performers?

We booked the headliners. People like Todd Barry, Cook County Social Club, Emily Galati and Sam Tallent are people we wanted (and people we knew would be excited about being a part of something new like this). The majority of the up-and-coming comics were chosen through our submission process, which required them to pay a small fee and send in a tape. The committee watched the tapes and graded the performances. Those numbers were put together and the highest rated comics were selected. It’s a pretty standard procedure as far as comedy fests go. 

What can attendees expect throughout the festival?

I think people can expect to see a lot of REALLY funny people. Some of them they’ve heard of, but a lot of them aren’t yet household names. I think in a lot of cities, there is a hesitance to attend shows where the performers aren’t household names. Festivals like this are a mix of comics and performers who have TV and movie credits mixed with comics and performer whose stars are on the rise. But I almost guarantee if people are willing to set aside the fact that we didn’t get Jeff Dunham and his puppets, they’ll still find something at the festival that will make them glad they came and checked us out. 

Why is comedy such an integral part of the entertainment industry?

When you step back and look at entertainment, comedy’s tendrils are in everything. I can’t remember who said it, but I once heard someone say that it’s hard to teach a dramatic actor how to be funny. Comics and funny people can play dramatic roles in films and TV shows better than dramatic actors can play comedic roles. I think that’s because it’s such a vulnerable art form. 

From the practical perspective, I think there are far more people who come out of the world of comedy who work in the background of the entertainment industry. I think in comedy and improv forces you to learn things about the entertainment business that you don’t necessarily set out to learn when you decide to become a performer. You’re forced to wear a lot of hats.

Some of us end up well-known comics, some of us end up writers on your favorite late-night shows, some of us end up being agents, or producers, or directors, or actors or screenwriters. I never thought I would be helping to produce a comedy festival, or that I would produce a storytelling podcast, but here we are.

Is there anything else you want to add?

I think everyone who has worked on this — our sponsors and everyone set to perform this weekend — are excited about this adventure. We hope that the people of St. Louis will come out and see this collection of some 50 performers who are set to put on more than 20 shows over three days. We guarantee they’ll find something to make them laugh. Or they can just buy a T-shirt. Either way, they’re supporting something that’s homegrown and that wants to be a fixture of the city’s arts and entertainment scene for years to come.

Three-day fest passes are $40 and available for purchase at flyovercomedyfest.com. Attendees can also buy tickets for individual shows spread across four neighborhood venues: the Ready Room, the Improv Shop, the Urban Chestnut Beer Stage at Gezellig, and Handlebar.