Laughter is often regarded as the best medicine, and Glendale-based comedian Richy Leis is building his life around that principle. Together with his Florida-based brother Benjamin, he created the organization Comic Cure in 2015 with the mission of using the unifying power of laughter to engage communities around important causes while developing promising local talent.
Their latest endeavor, after starting popular comedy festivals in Miami and Philadelphia, is the Glendale Laughs Comedy Festival, which will be presented Monday through Wednesday at prime venues across Glendale. All told, more than 100 comedians of all experience levels will perform at the Alex Theatre, Stars on Brand and the Pierre Garden restaurant, filling the city with an impressively diverse supply of humor.
“If laughter is the best medicine, we’re the pharmacy,” says Leis. “We support local comedians and local charities wherever we run shows. We give local comedians great stages and audiences and networking opportunities then bring in people from local charities to get onstage and talk about the mission they provide for the community. We help them recruit support from the audience, and we’ve raised thousands of dollars and recruited hundreds of volunteers for 30 charities now.”
The festival kicks off with an impressive double-header of shows Monday night, as a Black Laughs Matter showcase of 20 African-American comedians, hosted by comic Rami Youssef of MTV and Nickelodeon and headlined by Al Jackson of Comedy Central and NBC’s “Last Comic Standing” kicks off the evening at 6:30 p.m. at Pierre Garden. But the follow-up show is a 13-act “Celebrity Headliner Showcase” topped by Brody Stevens of “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and “The Hangover” fame and featuring such national stars as Ryan Stout (“Conan, “Chelsea Lately”), Jamie Kaler (star of TBS sitcom “My Boys”) and “Two Broke Girls” star Jonathan Kite.
Tuesday night features the “Funny & Foreign Born” showcase headlined by “Tonight Show” comic Kira Soltanovich and hosted by comic JJ Whitehead of the Edinburgh Comedy Festival, along with a whopping 23 other foreign-born comics starting at 6:30 p.m. at the Alex Theatre. Then, the 8:30 p.m. “Holy Hilarity” showcase features 22 comics who focus on what’s funny in their diverse religious faiths, including headliner Matt Kirshen of “Last Comic Standing” and host Shondalia White.
Before anyone gets overwhelmed by the size of the lineups, be aware that comics other than headliners and emcees are doing three-minute sets each, offering funny bite-size samples of their work but giving audiences a chance to experience a ton of comics in one sitting. At the Alex Theatre, the fest is going to take the unique step of having members of the audience sit on stage with the comics, as the comics stand with their backs to the theater’s usual seating.
“So many people want to know what it’s like to be up onstage, and have that perspective, but always wonder what that’s like,” says Leis. “So we’ll put the audience on the stage with the lights on their face like the performer normally would, yet they still perform facing you of course. You get the experience of not exactly how it is to perform on stage but how it feels, at one of the best stages in the country.”
Finally, on Wednesday night the festival kicks off with the all-female, 21-act “Ladies of Laughter” showcase headlined by Erin Foley of “Conan” and “TruTV” fame and hosted by Cindy Shields at 6:30 p.m. at Stars on Brand. It’s followed by the fest’s closing show, the 8:30 p.m. showcase “Rainbow of Laughs” featuring an epic lineup of 21 LGBT comics, headlined by Dana Eagle of “Last Comic Standing” and Comedy Central and featuring Mattio Martinez as host.
“Richy’s been living in Glendale awhile now and it’s near and dear to him,” says Benjamin Leis. “Wherever home is, that’s where your heart is, and it’s just a natural place to do something in, especially with all the great venues and what the city is trying to do to bring awareness and activity downtown there.”
The Glendale Comedy Fest runs with shows at 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. from Monday through Wednesday at three venues in Glendale: Monday at Pierre Garden, 145 N. Maryland Ave., Glendale. Tuesday at Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale. Wednesday at Stars on Brand, 417 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale. All shows are for ages 18 and up. Tickets are $20 in advance, $30 at the door. Use the code PW to receive a special discount. Visit glendalelaughscomedyfest.eventbrite.com.