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Block party: Girl rules at diverse comedy fest

The biggest pianist at the fest: Bedford-Stuyvesant musician and comedian Camille Harris will play the Cinder Block Comedy Festival, which charged women less to apply than male comics.
Brooklyn Daily
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This fest is sending a concrete message.

A brand new comedy festival will flood the bars, clubs, and streets of Williamsburg with a deliberately diverse lineup of comedians starting Sept. 15–18. The Cinder Block Comedy Festival famously charged straight white male comedians $25 to apply, and everyone else $19.25 — 77 percent. The nod to the wage gap between men and women was a joke that successfully attracted a more diverse crowd, said one organizer.

“It was a tongue-in-cheek message letting minorities know they were welcome — and of course it worked. Comics pick up on jokes that way,” said organizer Coree Spencer. “You always hear bookers say there’s no women out there applying to festivals. You have to wonder why that is and find ways to welcome different voices.”

The funny festival got hundreds of submissions — 64 percent from women, said Spencer, and settled on more than 100 performers for its four-day run, with white dudes a distinct minority. The festival’s message of diversity was a breath of fresh air, said one of the chosen comics.

“It really is true that all the line-ups [at other festivals] tend to be the same people. So I think a festival focused on creating diversity in comedy is important,” said Camille Harris, a Bedford-Stuyvesant comic and musician who will perform at three venues during the fest.

The self-proclaimed “silly jazz singer and pianist” fuses bubbly lyrics and jazzy rhythms in songs like “Kindergarten is for Communists” and “Spock Is Hott (A Vulcan Love Song).” She also does stand-up, hitting topics such as science-fiction, word play, and music. But singing funny songs is an entirely different animal from performing a monologue, she said.

“Stand-up can be like an unknown beast — you’re not guaranteed a laugh the way you usually are with songs,” she said. “It definitely turns the room.”

Harris favors joyful tunes on kooky subjects, sometimes inspired by her life in Brooklyn. Her song “Baby on the Subway” chronicles the brief but intense bond that transit riders can form with cute babies, and she is currently working on a tune devoted to the feathered scourge of Brooklyn sidewalks.

“I’ve developed an extreme hatred for pigeons. I think that’d make a great song,” she said. “It’s just really silly, I’m an energetic and silly person and that translates on stage and into the music.”

Cinder Block Comedy Festival, Sept. 15–18 at various times and locations in Williamsburg (www.cinderblockcomedyfestival.com). $15 (one-day pass $30, four-day pass $111). Camille Harris at the Champagne Toast Variety Show at Muchmore’s (2 Havemeyer St. at N. Ninth Street in Williamsburg, www.muchmoresnyc.com). Sept. 15 at 9 pm.

Reach reporter Caroline Spivack at cspivack@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2517. Follow her on Twitter @carolinespivack.
Updated 5:56 pm, July 9, 2018
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