Huge Lightning, at least as a name for a comedy improv troupe, was a terrible idea. Jordan Haynes and his group of Chicago-based comedians knew just that.
But resurrected as a title for a comedy festival? It sounds grand. Huge, even.
And it’s with the biggest of intentions that Haynes and other Fayettevillians have assembled the first Huge Lightning Comedy Festival, scheduled to take place May 6-7 at Path Outfitters just off the Fayetteville Square.
Haynes, an Arkansas native, took off to try his luck in the Chicago improv scene. Among other gigs, he landed a spot with the venerable comedy troupe Second City’s group of corporate teambuilding performers. And at the now-defunct Upstairs Gallery in Chicago, Haynes attended a comedy festival that brought together many of that area’s finest improv troupes.
“I thought then, five years ago, that this would be a perfect fit for Fayetteville,” said the University of Arkansas drama department graduate. “People would lose their minds.”
What: Huge Lightning Comedy Festival
When: May 6-7
Where: Path Outfitters, Fayetteville
He wanted to name it something that would stand out, and it drew him to a list of names he and some improv friends crafted for a new – and fake – comedy troupe. Some were viable. Some were foul. Huge Lightning, meanwhile, sounded somewhat plausible.
Using his connections to his comedy friends from Chicago – many of whom are now comedy friends working in New York or elsewhere – he has assembled talent for the festival. It also pulls from the Arkansas-based group of improv troupes, such as Naturally Improvable, Laugh Track and Field and Phunbags. Also taking place will be an edition of the variety show Roughhouse, a monthly event at Backspace coordinated by Haynes.
Covering two nights, Huge Lightning will offer a blend of improv and standup and local and national talent.
Asked to describe how it will all come together, Haynes paused.
It’s an improv festival, and that means anything might happen. Every time slot is different from the next, and many of the performers won’t have scripted material. They’ll just get on stage, ask for audience prompts and attempt to make some funnies. Think “Whose Line is it Anyway?” and “Saturday Night Live” and late-night talk shows as a few points of reference.
“The point is, no one is going to know what will happen,” Haynes said. But, “You’ll buy a ticket, and you’ll have the best time of your life.”
Tickets for the first Huge Lightning Comedy Festival went on sale earlier this week. Prices range from $10 to a single-session pass to $30 for an all-access pass. With as few seats as will be sold, Haynes said that price point demonstrates he and his fellow organizers are not in it for the money. They are in it, Haynes said, to bring a few laughs to Fayetteville.
It’s hard knowing how many laughs and patrons will arrive in year one. Success, Haynes said, “is that everyone comes and has a great time.”
At least as great as the time had by those onstage.
Disclaimer: Article author Kevin Kinder is a member of Phunbags, one of the improv troupes listed here and scheduled to perform at Huge Lightning.