American Black Film Festival founder launches new comedy festival at The Wharf

Hear our full chat on my podcast “Beyond the Fame with Jason Fraley.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews the Because They're Funny Comedy Festival (Part 1)

You’ll laugh so hard this weekend at The Wharf that you might fall into the Potomac’s Washington Channel. The Because They’re Funny Comedy Festival launches in Southwest D.C. this Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Jeff Friday, the festival’s founder, told WTOP the area is “the perfect landing spot and epicenter” for the event.

“If your destination is wrong, the festival is going to be tough to do, so thanks to the support of Events DC, The Wharf, my love of D.C. back to my undergraduate roots,” Friday said. “And one more thing: D.C. has an amazing legacy of comedy, particularly comedians of color: Martin Lawrence, Wanda Sykes, Dave Chappelle, Tommy Davidson, Donnell Rawlings … so it’s the perfect place.”

Since 1997, the Howard University alum has run the American Black Film Festival, as well as the Black Movie Awards (now ABFF Honors) since 2006. He’s honored Halle Berry, John Singleton, Spike Lee, Robert Townsend, Denzel Washington, Isaac Hayes, Regina King, Taraji P. Henson, Antoine Fuqua and Idris Elba, while hosting comics like Tommy Davidson, Kevin Hart, J.B. Smoove and D.L. Hughley. Issa Rae was just named the film festival’s creative director for 2024.

“We have an emerging director competition every year and 11 years ago this gentleman, Ryan Coogler, who happened to direct ‘Black Panther,’ was our winner … For an 11-minute short film called ‘Fig,’ I gave him a $40,000 check,” Friday said. “What’s the aspiration for comedy? The exact same thing. Twenty years from now, if we’re still around, we’re looking to have [people say], ‘Oh wow, ‘so-and-so’ got their start at BTF in D.C. back in 2023.”

The inaugural Because They’re Funny (BTF) Comedy Festival kicks off Friday, Oct. 6, with the Breakout Comedian of the Year Competition, hosted by DC Young Fly of MTV’s “Wild ‘N Out” at The Anthem at 8 p.m. Friday called it the festival’s “comedy version of ‘American Idol'” — he said it received about 400 submissions from around the country.

“The criteria was that it had to be Black, indigenous, BIPOC comedians … we had a semifinal round in Los Angeles and we’re bringing the top six to D.C. who are competing on opening night,” he said. “The winner gets $20,000 and gets signed by the Innovative Artists talent agency out of Hollywood, so the winner will get $20,000 and an agent.”

The laughs continue Saturday, Oct. 7, with a screening of the documentary “In Amanda We Trust” at Union Stage at 1:30 p.m. with a Q&A by Amanda Seales, followed by the “Socially Funny” panel at Union Stage at 4:30 p.m.

“We’ve brought together three of the top social media influencers who happen to be comics: B. Simone, Ha Ha Davis and KevOnStage; collectively, they have about 15 million followers on Instagram,” Friday said. “It’s a panel discussion talking about how they built their empire as comics who got their start on social media platforms.”

Later that night, check out the “Hey Ladies Fierce Female Comedy Show” at The Anthem at 8:30 p.m.

“We’ve got Luenell on that lineup, Aida Rodriguez, Ego Nwodim and Nicole Byer,” Friday said.

Sunday, Oct. 8, brings the D.C. premiere of the documentary “The Mecca of Comedy” at Union Stage at 5 p.m.

“Parrish Smith is a local filmmaker out of D.C. and he directed a film about the history of Black comedy in the DMV area,” Friday said. “I knew the people that came out of D.C. like Martin [Lawrence] and others, but I never knew what inspired the stories and who they looked up to, like who did Dave Chappelle look up to when he was a young comic coming up in D.C.? That movie fills in the gap of how we got the Wandas, Martins and Dave Chappelles.”

It all culminates Sunday with the “DMV Black Comedy Homecoming Show” at The Anthem at 8:30 p.m.

“That show I’m really excited about because we’re reuniting some of those top names: Pierre, Joe Clair, Donnell Rawlings, Tommy Davidson and Red Grant,” Friday said. “That night is going to be hosted by Yvonne Orji, who is an incredible young comic and she’s also starred in ‘Insecure’ with Issa Rae. … A lot of the O.G.’s in Black comedy that have come up through the years will also be in the house, so we have a special surprise at the show.”

Beyond the headliners, the festival company, Nice Crowd, hopes to educate the next generation of comedians with daytime workshops at Pearl Street Warehouse, which will also host nighttime concerts throughout the festival.

“Though we’re a live event company, we call ourselves an event company that does purposeful work in entertainment, so our whole mission is about diversifying the entertainment landscape,” Friday said. “We’ve been doing it for film and TV for almost three decades and now we’re gonna do it for comedy. We want to see Black and brown comics get as much opportunity as their mainstream counterparts and this festival is going to do that.”

Find more information here.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews the Because They're Funny Comedy Festival (Part 2)

Hear our full chat on my podcast “Beyond the Fame with Jason Fraley.”

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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