Comedians aren't known for being the most organized people. The hours for getting up on the standup stage run late, and the jokes about performers sleeping through their day jobs just to get to the next open mic have at least a little bit of truth to them. However, those involved with the Flyover Comedy Festival
are the most dedicated comics in St. Louis.
Co-founder Zach Gzehoviak was performing standup comedy in 2012 and befriended a lot of fellow local comedians at the time. Then, he noticed the number of comedy festivals in other cities around the country and asked himself a question: "Why don't we have something?"
"I was kind of looking around and was like, 'Man, St. Louis could use a comedy festival.' We didn't have anything," Gzehoviak says. "I was, at that time, doing some standup in the independent comedy scene in St. Louis, and I'd made friends with [comedians] Emily Hickner and Kenny Kinds and various other people. It was part of the conversation. It would be cool if we had this because we knew these other cities, like Albuquerque or wherever, did. Why don't we have something, you know? It was a lot of dreaming at that point, but I got a little serious for a minute. I had a logo made and a business card, but it never really took off. It kind of went out the window because I was so busy."
The ball finally got rolling in 2016 after Gzehoviak got a call from his friend Kris Wernowsky.
"[Wernowsky] said, 'Hey, you know, some people are talking about this; are you still interested?’" recalls Gzehoviak. "I was like, ‘Yeah, if we're gonna do this, I just wanted to keep it to people who are actually dedicated and want to get the work done.’ So it was me, Kris and people like Emily Hickner, Kenny Kinds … Rafe Williams was there from the beginning. We decided we wanted this [to] be a labor of love."
When initially forming the festival, it was essential to Gzehoviak and the other organizers that they represent all facets of comedy. Therefore, the Flyover Comedy Festival committed to featuring a mix of standups, improv groups, variety shows and sketch comedy. And after a year of planning and hard work, the first Flyover Comedy Festival had comedian Todd Barry headlining in 2017.
"We promoted it. We did all we could. We were like, ‘I hope St. Louis shows up,’" Gzehoviak says. "I [was] looking at the presales for one of the smaller venues that hold like ten, and I see like ten [tickets] presale, so I'm thinking I'm gonna have to go around and apologize to these people that came in from out of town [to perform]. Then I'm at the venue, and I'm getting texts saying, 'FULL, FULL, FULL.' Wow, St. Louis showed up!"
Now in its fourth year after a pandemic-related hiatus in 2020, the festival is set for this Thursday through Saturday, November 11 to 13, in the Grove. Venues include Hot Java Bar & Music Bar (4193 Manchester Avenue, 636-888-5282
), the Improv Shop (3960 Chouteau Avenue, 314-652-2200
), Handlebar (4127 Manchester Avenue, 314-652-2212
), Urban Chestnut Brewery (4465 Manchester Boulevard, 314-222-0143
) and the Dogwood (4308 Manchester Avenue, 314-349-1242
). Proof of vaccination will be required at all venues.
Flyover has secured some big names in the comedy world since its inception, and this year's three-day festival is no exception. The lineup includes comedians Eliza Skinner, Adam Cayton-Holland and Kiry Shabazz and improv group The Big Team (the all-Black, all-male group formerly known as White Women), just to name a few. Gzehoviak gave a rundown on who else he's excited to see.
"We've got Rachel Feinstein. A lot of people know her from the Amy Schumer stuff. "One reason why that's cool is she's working on her new hour [of comedy]. As far as I know, I think that's a fun one for the whole family. Like, she gets a little dirty or whatever, but I think the kid to [the] grandma will appreciate a lot of those jokes.
“Doug Benson [Doug Loves Movies, Getting Doug with High
]. He gets this kind of stoner persona, which is true. I've always loved his standup. I think his jokes are really smart. He has this endearingly aloof thing. I don't know if that's the right way to describe it, but he has this whole stoner persona that he definitely plays into. He's hilarious, and he's been around since the late ’80s. Even if you don't know Doug, you should go to that.
“Jeremiah Watkins [Jimmy Kimmel Live
] — I'm recommending his show pretty hard because I saw him at a Kansas City comedy club not long ago, and I haven't laughed that hard in a long time. He has an awesome improvised, physical standup style.
“Mike E. Winfield [The Office
and The Late Show
]. He's got kind of a goofy, high energy and kind of feel-good and so funny. That's gonna be many people's favorite show of the weekend if they go see that."
Among the many national acts, St. Louis will be well represented. The Dogwood will host The STLMADE Showcase on Thursday, featuring local standup favorites: Ronaldo Mercado, Angela Smith, Meredith Hopping, JC Sibala, Max Price, Brandon Taylor, Tina Dybal, Kenny Kinds, Aaron Porter, Charlie Winfrey, Chris Cyr, Will O'Donnell and Bobby Jaycox. Other St. Louis shows can be found on the schedule, including Texts From My Family with Emily Hickner and Alexis Winford, a reunion of the improv team Ted Dangerous, The One Four Fives!, Sorry Please Continue and sketch comedy group Shitshow.
Gzehoviak has one piece of advice for anyone attending who isn't familiar with the names of the performers.
"If you don't know a name, just go see something,” he says. “I guarantee [it] will be a good show. This is the one weekend where I would like it to be where you go into these multiple rooms, and it's like going to the Comedy Cellar in New York, or wherever, because the level of talent is that high. Most of these names people will not know. Just go out and see them."
A festival schedule, three-day wristbands ($55) and single tickets to each event can be viewed and purchased at flyovercomedyfest.com.