Comics Mike Barton and Josh Dunkin—both Second City alums and both founding members of the Pub Theater Company—long struggled to find an audience for a particular brand of humor. Perhaps that’s because the duo doesn’t always gift-wrap its jokes for the audience. Instead, Barton and Dunkin sing them in the comedy-rock band Nashville. “You’re in between being a musician playing at a music venue and a comedian playing during an open mike,” Barton says.
In 2012 the duo started Laughingstock, a daylong festival dedicated to musical comedy. Now in its third year, the festival has grown from a 17-act show once crammed into the now-shuttered Ace Bar into a 26-act, three-stage, 12-hour extravaganza.
Along with traditional novelty-humor bands like folk-comedy group Shock Ts, this year’s lineup includes sly tongue-in-cheek performers like the all-female Beastie Boys cover band She’s Crafty and theatrical (read: over-the-top) groups like burlesque parody troupe Off Off Broadzway. The popular Cupid Players headline.
Dabbling in escapism, this year’s festival will channel the aesthetic of a traveling DIY carnival. Expect strange characters to pop in and out throughout the day, and feel free to partake from the old-fashioned popcorn machine being wheeled around. An RV will serve as the third, more intimate stage, with local comedian Lorenzo Toia interviewing acts after they perform for a special podcast.
Since the festival’s first year, Barton and Dunkin have seen more musical-comedy acts popping up, and they’re excited to find a place where they finally fit in. “It’s refreshing to see a show where people are all doing the same thing,” Barton says. “It’s cool to be a part of this small niche community that is bigger than we originally knew.”