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The Early Draft: HELL YES FEST 2014: Watch Like a Comedian (Part 1)

Sophie Johnson

Comedian/writer/editor Sophie Johnson performing at The New Movement.

To the rest of the world, the concept of of New Orleans as a rising, thriving comedy city still exists as somewhat of an insider secret. However, this secret won’t last long thanks to large scale comedy events like Hell Yes Fest. Produced by The New Movement every November, the festival turns New Orleans into a playground for comedy lovers with a week of stand up, sketch and improv from top-level local and national acts. To help folks navigate the packed schedule of shows running Nov 12th - 16th, I’ve asked three local comedians to give us their top picks. More importantly, I’ve asked them to give us a taste of what they look for when watching comedy. From today through Friday, The Early Draft will feature these interviews.

First up, meet local stand-up and storytelling maven, Sophie Lucido Johnson, editor of online literary magazine Neutrons Protons, a project dedicated to three things: the power of true and honest human stories, the importance of smart and purposeful humor and the role great writing plays in both. In addition to being a writer and editor, Johnson is also a stand-up comedian, and you can catch her in her at Hell Yes Fest on Friday, November 14 at 8:30pm at the AllWays Lounge, as the opener for Giulia Rozzi's one-woman show, Bad Bride.

Johnson's Hell Yes Fest picks:

1) Hell Yes Fest Opening Night: Wed November 12, 8 p.m. at Cafe Istanbul (2372 St. Claude).
This show will exclusively feature local performers. "We just have some truly amazing comedians in this city," notes Johnson. "I'm excited to come out and support genius comedians like Andrew Polk" who, alongside Joe Cardosi, has built the wildly successful monthly stand up and video night Karate Fight . "New Orleans is becoming a comedy hotbed, and this show is going to prove that for the world." The show will also feature Molly Ruben Long, Cyrus Cooper, Leon Blanda, Mickey Henehan, Dane Faucheux and others who spend their weeknights battling the cigarette smoke, the din of the bar and that drunken chattering group of bachelor party bros - all to carve out a bigger home for stand up in New Orleans.

Brito/ Cook/ Falcone: Sat November 15, 7:30pm at The Allways Lounge (2240 St Claude).
"This is the perfect show for those who like smart comedy," Johnson says. The performance features Janine Brito (FX's Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell), Bryan Cook (The Nerdist Network) and Alex Falcone (Read it and Weep Podcast). The humor of these three comedians "so clearly comes from the top of their intelligence. They take you on a ride and when you arrive at the place they were bringing you; the payoff is so high."

At Hell Yes Fest events, Johnson says she watches for:

Comedians who are trying to say something.

"I like comedy that walks the line of being political -- seemingly accidentally so," says Johnson. "Comedy offers a way into conversations -- about race, gender, the things that make us uncomfortable -- that people would otherwise resist."

As a writer, Johnson pays attention to comedic voice. "Sometimes you'll see a comedian so refined and comfortable in their own comedic voice and that take on the world in such a way that they will make you feel like you know them already. Like you are sitting in their living room just shooting the shit." When that happens, Johnson believes "we are tapping into a type of empathy that actually brings strangers closer together." Johnson truly believes this. "And I think other comedians believe that too. They just don't say it out loud 'cause it's hard to make that sound cool."

Hell Yes Fest 2014 runs Wed Nov 12th - Sun Nov 16th. Find a full schedule of shows at Hellyesfest.com.
Tickets and all-festival passes can be found right here.

CJ Hunt is a comedy writer and performer living in New Orleans. His NolaVie blog and personal brand, The Early Draft, is dedicated to comedians-in-the-making. It’s a look into the career decisions and creative processes of funny people chasing the dream. You will hear from comedians with big names. And those with names you haven’t heard of…yet. Check back each week for a look into that weird cluttered back-room workshop where comedians are made. Watch CJ work at GOcjhunt.com. Follow him on Twitter @gocjhunt.