Please Welcome to the Stage: a Comedy Festival on Twitter

BY Colleen Shalby  April 30, 2013 at 12:47 PM EDT

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Nowadays, you don’t have to go very far to find some decent live comedy. You don’t even have to leave your house. Check into your Twitter feed and you’ll find a show. Writers like Kelly Oxford and comedians like Jenny Johnson have launched their careers out of Twitter, and other professional funny people use their 140 character tweets to practice their routines or offer insight into their lives.

So when Twitter and Comedy Central reps met back in October, the idea to launch a comedy festival solely on Twitter “snowballed in the middle of the table,” according to Fred Graver, head of television at Twitter (which is a department that actually exists).

Graver knows comedy. He’s written for National Lampoon, David Letterman and Jon Stewart among many others.

“With comedians, there’s a new golden age on Twitter,” he said.

The week-long #ComedyFest will include live-tweeting from more than 50 comedians, including Key and Peele and the creators of “South Park.” Comedy Central’s resident roastmaster Jeffrey Ross will roast people based on Twitter profile alone. And 86-year-old comedy giant Mel Brooks tweeted for the first time, nudged along by Carl Reiner and Judd Apatow, during Monday’s opening event.

“The 2,000 year-old man is going to get on Twitter!” Graver said, referencing Brooks’ and Reiner’s 1961 skit.

Mel Brooks’ first tweet:
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Comedy Central has been a part of this evolving landscape of comedy from the get-go. Walter Levitt, the head of marketing at the cable channel and one of the organizers of the festival, points out that Comedy Central was the first to incorporate a hashtag on the television screen, via a Donald Trump roast in 2011(#trumproast, in case you were wondering).

“By definition, social media is a two-way conversation,” Levitt said.

It’s a conversation that Nikki Glaser, one of the festival’s featured comedians, is trying to embrace. Glaser, who stumbled into comedy during her freshman year of college, got one of her first big breaks during the fourth season of “Last Comic Standing.” She’ll join 17 other comedians this week to live tweet during her Comedy Central special, “The Half Hour.”

“I think jokes, for me, start as one-liners. It’s a way for me to get it down to the funniest elements, which is 140 characters,” Glaser said, adding that she likens Twitter to an “open mic.”

We’ll be following the festival this week on Art Beat and will be updating this post with some of our favorite routines. Follow the events using #ComedyFest.