San Diego may be dealing with some May gray this year, but things are looking bright at The Comedy Palace in Kearny Mesa with the arrival of the San Diego Comedy Festival.
The nine-day event returns tonight for its sixth year, featuring a schedule jam-packed with contests, panels, workshops, live podcast recordings and showcase performances. Some featured events include “Rotten Comedy,” a lineup featuring sets from “dirty” comics on May 10; “Ya Feel?!” on May 15, where comedians spin a wheel of emotions and perform their sets using the emotion the wheel picks; and a late night Lip Sync Battle hosted by MTV’s Matt Rife on May 18.
One of the main draws of the festival is the week-long competition — the SDCF Contest — where comedians battle it out for the 2019 San Diego Comedy Festival (SDCF) crown. More than 80 national and local comics are in the running, with a wide range of styles, backgrounds and experiences.
After eight preliminary rounds May 14 through 17, the winners will advance to the three semi-final rounds on May 18, culminating with a final show on May 19 to close out the entire festival. Six winners will be honored, and first place takes home $1,000.
Once each round’s comedians complete their sets, the judges will deliberate while a non-competing performer entertains the crowd, like “Big Irish” Jay (aka comedian Jay Hollingsworth), who headlines the last preliminary round on May 17.
Hollingsworth grew up in the Pacific Northwest and moved to Boston 11 years ago to start a career in comedy, a craft he approaches in a storytelling fashion.
This year marks his debut at the festival. Though he’s not competing this year, Hollingsworth has done his fair share of contests. His advice to SDCF contestants?
“Anytime I’ve done a contest, I just go with the mentality that I want the audience, judges to ‘get me’ and my comedy,” Hollingsworth said, adding that he recommends comedians look inward to perform a set they personally enjoy and that reflects their style.
San Diego comic Adam Connie is one of those SDCF participants. The Point Loma resident has been performing for nine years and can be seen at venues like Comedy Heights in University Heights and Valentin’s Bar & Grill in Jamul. Connie describes his style as anecdotal.
“I’m a bit off-putting, whether it’s being a single dad, divorced and dating, or just trying to understand what everyone’s so upset about,” Connie said. “It’s my attempts at trying to pass as normal that influence my comedy.”
Connie is no stranger to the festival — he participated last year and won 2018’s Best of General Comedy showcase award. Despite the victory, which yielded him a $250 price, Connie said he was discouraged that he didn’t advance past the first round for the main contest, so he decided to return to the mic.
“I was more disappointed in the loss than I was excited about the win,” he said. “I signed up for 2019 not just in the hopes of winning the main contest this year, but also because it’s a great chance to see and perform with comics from all over.”
Although he participated last year, Connie’s pre-show jitters haven’t quite dissipated — but he isn’t letting them stop the show.
“I’m most nervous about performing; whether it’s performing in front of other comics, or a new audience, being nervous means I’m excited and being excited means that I’m going to have fun and do my best,” he continued.
And to the many participants who won’t be taking home the winning title? Hollingsworth adds that there’s more to any comedy contest than the crown.
“Someone told me a long time ago about comedy competitions, ‘You can’t win them all, but you can get booked at them all.’ I’ve been in contests I haven’t won, but the connections I’ve made from that contest have gotten me so much more,” Hollingsworth said.
When: Friday, May 10-Sunday, May 19
Where: The Comedy Palace, 8878 Clairemont Mesa Blvd., Kearny Mesa*
*SDCF Clean Comedy Contest on May 11 will be held at Comedy Heights, 4590 Park Blvd., University Heights and Josh Nelson & SDCF Showcase will be held at El Prez, 4190 Mission Blvd., Pacific Beach. See online schedule for details.