Is Santa Fe the next destination city for live comedy?
That’s the question Jessica Baxter and the team behind CloudTop Comedy Festival are hoping to answer when their inaugural event kicks off next week. Featuring over 50 comedians, CloudTop (Sept. 12-15) will showcase everyone from locals — like our own Carlos Medina — to future stars of stand-up and well-known headliners like Maria Bamford, Fortune Feimster, and Second City!
As founder and director of this nonprofit comedy festival, Baxter has spent countless hours outside of her day job as Santa Fe Opera’s Director of Special Events on this passion project. “I studied classical music,” she explains. “I went to a conservatory, and of course I’m passionate about classical music, but comedy has been in the background for me as sort of this perfect antidote to the seriousness and the pressure of the classical music world.” Baxter’s dream is that a successful festival will jumpstart a comedy movement in Santa Fe based on what she sees as an increasingly youthful community.
“Santa Fe is an incredible place,” Baxter says. “The cat’s out of the bag, and there are all of these people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s moving here, and I feel a city like Santa Fe deserves something fun like this, meaning a comedy festival of this caliber. Santa Fe has high art figured out. Opera, sculpture. . . we’ve got fine art. It’s plentiful. But comedy is an art form, too, and there are a lot of young people here who are suffering from a lack of fun things to do.”
(*She has a point, but we do have a Victorian house full of hamsters, deep sci-fi, and appliances — y’know, things kids love — that would beg to differ.)
Referencing the recent ubiquity of stand-up comedy specials on platforms like Netflix, Baxter notes that the demand for stand-up is undeniable. Yet, so many comedy fans in Santa Fe may have never even seen an act of this quality in their own town, let alone this many comedians at once. “My thought is, if you like watching it at home, wait ‘til you see it live! We’re really ready to bring the scene to life. I do think what this is going to do is make it ‘top of mind.’
With over 50 comedians performing during the four days of CloudTop, it was necessary for Baxter to secure multiple venues across the city. Although some better-known acts will be performing at the more spacious locations like the New Mexico Museum of Art and the Scottish Rite Temple, VIP passholders will have the opportunity to see the likes of Fortune Feimster (Chelsea Lately, The Mindy Project) and Naomi Ekperigin (Broad City, 2 Dope Queens) — among others — in the intimate venue at Meow Wolf Santa Fe.
“We want to show off everything that is Santa Fe. . . weird, old, special, beautiful, all of those characteristics,” says Baxter. “I think this festival is as much about Santa Fe as it is about comedy. We have 25 local sponsors, 25 local businesses that gave to this. Meow Wolf is chiefly among those, as well as the City of Santa Fe.”
As much as CloudTop is going to be a gift for local comedy fans, it has also been designed to help up-and-coming comedians gain exposure. “Every major act has a local comedian that’s opening for them,” Baxter explains. “They have an opportunity to be seen and heard.”
A strong industry presence includes a top talent scout from Just For Laughs (the largest international comedy festival), representation from at least one major agency in Los Angeles, and guests that include comedy club owners, all of whom hope to find the next big thing in comedy. Outside of the headliners, Baxter received submissions from 140 comedians, ultimately choosing 11 for CloudTop’s Future Comedy Showcase.
“The group is super diverse, super funny. It’s this rapid-fire showcase. You see all 11 of them in a single hour, and they are going to blow your mind. It’s an embarrassment of riches. We’ve got really funny people from Santa Fe, from Albuquerque, from Santa Fe Improv, Danger Varoz. . . there’s an incredible scene that already exists that’s just very small. Someone could get discovered at this festival.”
When putting together the lineup, the festival organizers placed an emphasis on inclusivity and diversity, a task that Baxter says came easily and organically. Among the 11 performers selected for the Future Comedy Showcase, there are five women, five men, and one comedian who identifies as genderfluid. Persons of color and persons with disabilities are also represented.
“This is a festival with a lot of heart,” Baxter states. “I’m very happy to include as much diversity as possible. You can look at our festival and see that we’re putting women on top. We’re very proud to have so many funny women on the festival. Women are slowly, but surely making up the gap, but for a long time it was a boy’s club.”
The emphasis on inclusivity and community outreach also extends to attendees. CloudTop is offering a free workshop with The Second City improv troupe for the public (It’s already full, but there’s a waitlist!), a program where you can volunteer for one night and attend another night for free, and an all-ages comedy show on Sunday that’s for — and includes — kids.
“We definitely wanted to make sure we had something for children. We saw The Second City in Hollywood. Their children’s show is the cutest thing you’ve ever seen. We’re doing that at Meow Wolf because that’s the most fun space ever.”
Heck, this festival is so welcoming that amateur stand-ups might even get their chance at being noticed at one of two open mic shows (See schedule for details)!
Despite everything that’s gone according to plan for Baxter and the CloudTop team, though, there’s still the matter of whether or not the festival will be successful enough to make Santa Fe a major player in the stand-up comedy scene.
“My hope is that this is going to grow into something bigger and spark something here,” says Baxter. “It would be great if Santa Fe had its own comedy club one day, and I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t part of my secret plan.”
Oo, we love secret plans. . .