The idea for Snubfest originated like so many others: over cocktails. Comedian Angie McMahon, her husband, Tom, and Robert Bouwman, the cofounder of improv theater the Cornservatory, were a few drinks deep at a Christmas party in 2005 when they drunkenly joked about starting a “fuck you for not picking me” event for comics who’d been rejected by stand-up, improv, or sketch festivals. But unlike most booze-fueled notions, this concept hit the ground running. Three weeks later performers from across the country took the Cornservatory’s stage at the first annual Snubfest.
Now in its tenth year, Snubfest is a place for up-and-coming comics to finally get noticed and be validated after years of being slighted. And based on the eventual successes of past performers—T.J. Miller, Vanessa Bayer, and Cameron Esposito among them—redemption is sweet.
“A few people [running other local festivals] had an objection to it,” Angie McMahon says. “There was some talk of ‘Why would they want to go to your reject fest?'” But thanks to the involvement of a huge local comedy aficionado, Zanies owner Bert Haas, Snubfest had no trouble getting the attention of performers.
“Bert Haas does not leave Zanies,” McMahon says. “He gets talent based on his scouts and videos, so the fact that he was coming out of the club to see this up-and-coming talent, people came out of the woodwork from across the country.”
Hass has acted as a judge ever since, awarding spots on Zanies lineups to the best stand-ups each year. Each night of the festival is a competition judged by prominent figures from the worlds of stand-up, improv, sketch, and storytelling who can provide the best of the snubbed with more opportunities, some of which are bigger than the festivals that originally issued a rejection. This year’s panels include Tim Kazurinsky (Saturday Night Live), Matt Barbera (Just for Laughs), and Lily Be (The Moth).
The festival has grown each year, and now takes place over a span of four days in two different venues: Under the Gun Theater and Zanies. While the expansion is welcome, it leaves Snubfest with an unfortunate consequence: snubbing people. The first year McMahon was able to accept everyone who submitted, but by the third year she had to start turning people away. However, McMahon says that’s no reason to be discouraged—it’s just part of the biz.
“Michael Palascak—he’s been on Conan and Comedy Central and was a finalist on Last Comic Standing—got rejected from Snubfest,” McMahon says. “Everybody gets snubbed from something.” v