There will be stand-up comedians, sketch comedy, improv groups and lots of laughs at the first-ever Savannah Comedy Fest on Jan. 27-28 at McDonough's Restaurant & Lounge.

Brianne Halverson, who refers to herself as "a big comedy dork," helped organize the festival.

"I've lived in Savannah close to five years," Halverson says. "One of my biggest wishes is to do something like this. It has taken me five years to do."

There's no reason not to have a comedy festival in Savannah, she says.

"I think Savannah is such a creative community," says Halverson, who is a member of Front Porch Improv. "Comedy is part of that.

"Look at Stopover, the Savannah Music Festival and all those kinds of great performances," she says. "I want comedy to be on that par."

There is a comedy scene in Savannah, which Halverson says is great.

"But it's always good to be inspired and see what other communities are doing," she says. "This is our first year for a festival.

"Some is a little experimental, dark but funny, with a mix of improv, sketch and stand-up," Halverson says. "Sketch is more like 'Saturday Night Live.' Improv is made up on the spot using the audience as inspiration. We have some tremendous performers."

Long-form improv

Front Porch Improv has been around about a year.

"We're the only group in town using long-form improv, more like a play," Halverson says. "It's funny, weird and cool.

"It's not like 'Whose Line is it Anyway?' but is more theatrical, a little more adult. It's what the cool kids do in New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago.

"For people who like Comedy Central, alternative comedy like David Cross and things like that, that's the kind of comedy we're having," she says. "We wanted to get a cool vibe like what you see in bigger cities."

John Brennan is an organizer of the festival and also of Front Porch Improv.

"I would like to find a Savannah audience for comedy," he says. "I used to live in Charleston and lived in Brooklyn for many years. I met Bri, who also lived in New York.

"I feel there's an audience here for cutting-edge comedy. Hopefully, we'll find the audience is interested in live comedy shows like they're used to seeing in bigger cities."

In addition to Brennan and Halverson, other members of Front Porch Improv are Alex Carey and David Stork.

"I met those three and that's when we started joining forces," Brennan says. "We came up with that name by living here. About six months in, when my wife and I were on a walk, people were saying, 'Come on in, come to my front porch.'

"One of Savannah's styles is storytelling and the front porch is very Savannah," Brennan says. "It has to do with the culture of being able to drink outside where the front porch is kind of a big hangout."

Comedy from tragedy

The festival headliner, Michelle Buteau of New York City, started doing comedy as a result of tragedy.

"I've been doing comedy about 15 years," Buteau says. "It started three days after Sept. 11.

"I was working at a news station in New York and the attacks happened on my schedule. I stayed another 12 hours and by the end, I was delirious.

"The news director offered us therapy," she says. "I said, 'I'm going to do stand-up' and I haven't stopped, although I should have gotten the therapy, too."

Comedy was a strange direction for Buteau to go, but it has led to appearances on "Key & Peele" and "The Eric Andre Show."

"I didn't think I was funny," she says. "I was a happy person and people enjoyed being around me.

"I was an only child and totally scared of my parents. I didn't want to disappoint them. I couldn't even ask for a packet of ketchup without blushing.

"I didn't see a lot of females at comedy shows," Buteau says. "But I knew I like to talk and when my friends were tired of hearing me talk, this would be a great outlet."

So she tried it, and Buteau realized that against all odds, she was funny. She doesn't limit herself to any one style of comedy.

"It's kind of like music," Buteau says. "It's what I'm in the mood for.

"Sometimes people like to watch reality television because it takes their minds off stuff. Sometimes, an audience will like a really good toilet joke if it's really well written.

"With the political landscape, I'm really enjoying political humor," she says. "I kind of like all of it. I like a sassy, mindless joke."

Once, Buteau was described as "everyone's older sister and best friend."

"Another said, 'She's like a mean, sassy life coach who tells you where to go and how to get there with a smile," she says. "I love writing jokes about my experiences.

"I feel everything at the end of day is universal. At the end of the day, I want to be happy.

"I don't consider myself a writer, but here I am with two albums and a body of ideas," Buteau says. "The creative process is fun and interesting.

In Savannah, she will talk about lots of things.

"I just get a kick out of performing," Butreau says. "It's so fun when I make people laugh."

Sketch comedy duo

The comedy duo Nameless Numberhead started in Chicago but is now located in Charleston. Members are Henry Riggs and his fiancée, Maari Suorsa.

"It's anything, anybody," Riggs says. "It focuses on short, written pieces that we kind of self-describe as 'voyeurism of the mundane.'

"We take fairly mundane topics or routine scenarios and try to find the comedic angle to it. If we are in public, we encounter something and start taking a second look.

"We've been Nameless Numberhead about two years, but we've been writing and performing years beyond that," Riggs says.

Both share a comedy theater background. Originally from Charleson, Riggs moved to Chicago to do comedy and met Suorsa.

"A lot of pals left Chicago and chose New York and Los Angeles," he says. "We didn't know if we wanted to do the rat race angle.

"I have connections in Charleston. I said we could build a show there at a more leisurely pace and rally the community around us, so for the last two years, we've been building an alternative comedy scene in Charleston."

Riggs learned about the festival through Brennan.

"We've been producing shows together forever," Riggs says. "When he went to Savannah, we said it would be fun to go back and forth to build an underground network of comedy traveling around the Southeast."

At the festival, Nameless Numberhead will do original sketch comedy pieces.

"We do all our own lights and sound from on stage," Riggs says. "It's a fringy vibe that's almost post-apocalyptic."

Music and laughs

Squirm and Germ is a musical comedy duo based in New York City with Tim Girrbach as Squirm and Rodney Umble as Germ.

"We were in a recording studio working on a song about neti pots and we didn't have a name yet," Umble says.

"The sound engineer asked what our emcee names were, and the first thing out of my mouth was M.C. Squirm and when he asked Rodney, he quickly replied, 'M.C. Germ,'" Girrbach says. "I am Squirm because, I don't know why, but I had the inspiration to be a rapping character with a 'squh' sound in his name."

"I am Germ because I'm infectious, and I rhyme with Squirm," Umble says.

They've been doing the act since 2010.

"We met taking improv classes at Second City when they had a training center in New York," Umble says. "A mutual teacher asked us to join a sketch comedy troupe."

"Then we discovered the characters of Squirm and Germ while in that group and never looked back," Girrbach says. "Aside from when checking our blind spots when driving down I-95 to comedy festivals."

Umble grew up singing in church and school choirs and playing trumpet.

"My love for comedy began when I was in a recurring student council sketch playing a mad scientist who infuses school spirit in the cafeteria chicken-etti," he says. "My comedic chops were forged in the fire of suburban Lancaster, Penn."

Girrbach appeared on Broadway in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" with his entire middle school choir and - no joke - Michael Damian, best known for his role on "The Young and the Restless."

"I studied musical theater in college, but quickly realized comedy was my real passion - comedy and sketches about chicken-etti," Girrbach says. "We get the crowd to sing and dance and impregnate each other - well, figuratively, but there was that one show in Norfolk."

The two learned about the Savannah Comedy Fest through Halverson and Brennan.

"Brianne was a big part of the New York City sketch comedy scene," Umble says. "We met John at the Charleston Comedy Festival. Serendipitously, they found each other in Savannah, started a festival and invited us to perform."

"Savannah can expect a raucous, feel-good comedic concert with witty banter, hysterical catchy songs with words that rhyme and stuff," Girrbach says.

"You will have to show up to find out what the stuff is," Umble says. "That is usually the audience's favorite part, the stuff."


What: Savannah Comedy Fest

When: Jan. 27-28; doors open at 7:30 p.m.

Where: McDonough's Restaurant & Lounge, 21 E. McDonough St., Perry Street entrance

Cost: $10 per show, $15 each day for a festival pass


Lineup: Jan. 27

8 p.m. Mobb Line Improv, award-winning SCAD MainStage Team; Storck & Carey, long-form improv duo; Selfie Schtick of Charleston, S.C.

9 p.m. Stand-up comic Michelle Buteau and musical comedy duo Squirm and Germ

Lineup: Jan. 28

8 p.m. Big Dicktionary, long-form improv; Front Porch Improv, Savannah's improv ensemble

9 p.m. Sketch comedy groups Nameless Numberhead and Vernon Moses