2nd Best Comedy Fest Delivers Top-Tier Entertainment!


Hello reader! The weekend of June 6-8th, Richmond is set to erupt in laughter with the 2nd Best Comedy Fest, featuring a dazzling array of talent from major comedy hubs like LA, Chicago, New York, and beyond.

Taking place at the Coalition Theater and The Basement, the festival spans three days packed with improv, sketch, and stand-up comedy. Headliners include LA’s improv sensation Asian AF, Chicago’s unique Hitchcocktails, New York’s acclaimed Trike, and stand-up performances by Emmy-winner Sara Schaefer and NYC’s Matt Barats.

Our Gabriel Santamaria catches up with the organizers to dive into the festival’s evolution, its standout acts, and what makes this year’s lineup especially fun.

2nd Best Comedy Festival Richmond VA Interview by Gabriel Santamaria_RVA Magazine 2024

Gabriel Santamaria: Hey, how’s everybody doing? Nick? Kim? Blue? Thanks for doing this.

Josh Blubaugh aka Blu: Yeah, thanks for doing this! 

Kimberly Nario: Thank you for chatting with us!

Gabe: Of course, I’m glad to do it, happy to do it. So let’s just get into the 2nd Best Comedy Fest. What’s up with it? What can we expect from 2nd Best? What year is this actually?

Blu: I think seven, seven years.

Gabe: That’s awesome.

Blu: It’s hard to count because we took those years off for COVID. But I think it’s seven.

Gabe: Okay, well, that’s awesome, though. So you’ve been doing it for seven years now? How did it start exactly? From the Richmond Coalition Theater, obviously.

Blu: Yeah. The coalition founders, Matt, Katie, and David – we were doing a lot of festivals back then. And we decided we wanted to do our own, so we started 2nd Best Fest with the goal of having a festival that was a great experience for the performers coming to it, in an effort to make a festival that has the best shows because people want to do it. So that was our original goal when we started. 

Nick Leveski: Yeah, I personally think we’ve got a lot of great groups. Following along with the festival from its inception, I think we’ve always been trying to bring a nice balance of established performers but also young groups that are trying to get their footing. If you’re young, you love to go to a festival because it’s fun; you get to see a bunch of other groups, but also we want to make sure that we’ve got good headline acts for them to see. So yeah, I mean, I’m pretty excited just about this festival and who we’ve got slotted to perform. 

Gabe: Awesome, like anything you could tell us about who’s performing?

Nick: Yeah, we have a favorite from last year, a group called Angel Bones. It’s made up of a group of performers from Chicago and one LA performer. But they all kind of went through the Chicago training grounds. That’s kind of where I got to know them. I lived in Chicago for almost 10 years and did improv out there for a long time. So, Angel Bones is great. And then Asian AF from LA. They do Sketch Fest, and they’ve been ramping up their shows, but they’re sending the same four people that came last year. They’re doing two sets on Friday night at seven. Then we have Sarah Schaefer and Matt Barats.

On Saturday night, two stand-ups. Sarah Schaefer has been doing this for a while and has done shows for Netflix and has been on late night talk shows and stuff like that. And Barats has been doing the independent thing. He’s done a couple of documentaries and is involved in that Brooklyn comedy scene. So he’s got a nice sort of palette for comedy, I’d say.

And then from Chicago, we’ve got this show called Hitchcocktails, which is like an improvised drinking game inspired by the films of Alfred Hitchcock. Yeah, and then they’re also doing another show called Clued In, which is an improvised mystery show, and that’s Saturday at nine o’clock. 

Gabe: So this is all at the Coalition Theater or are there going to be two locations?

Nick: Yeah, two venues. We’ve got The Coalition Theater and then The Basement, which is right up the street.

Gabe: So it’s been a good variety of a good balance of local and out-of-town people and then improv and stand up.

Nick: Yeah. Improv, stand up and sketch too. We’ve got some sketch groups coming in from DC and Raleigh, North Carolina.

Gabe: Awesome. So you all have different jobs at the Coalition Theater – or are you all teachers and stuff too, because I know you all perform.

Nick: Yeah, Blue and Kim are the artistic directors, the co-artistic directors of the theater.

Gabe: Kim, tell me what you do at the theater.

Kim: [laughs] Oh, golly, wow. Well, together with Blue, I just try to make sure that the things that end up on our stage are really effing awesome. We have a really big community right now. And I think like when we first stepped into this role, it was when we were coming back from the pandemic. So it was kind of like, okay, let’s build it back up. Let’s bring the people back. Let’s remind people how fun this place was. And it’s kind of shocking to think that when we started it felt like begging people to get back up on stage. And now we’re booked like months in advance; it’s hard to get people on the calendar for the rest of 2024 because there’s not a ton of room. So we have a ton of teachers there, and they’ve done a really awesome job at fostering the community. And so there’s a lot of hungry talent, and it’s really awesome to see.

Gabe: Do you think there’s been a pop in sign ups for classes? I think a lot of people are interested in comedy now; they want to know more about it and how to do it and how to approach it and everything.

Kim: Yeah, I think there definitely has been. I feel like we’ve had three sessions a year, I think. And our educational director, Connor Doyle, added a fourth session, and they consistently sell out. So yeah, I think comedy is here to stay, folks. 

Gabe: Awesome. Return comedy, baby! Yeah, me and Blue. We used to be on a show at Blue called RVA Tonight. At the Coalition Theater back in the day. Yeah. Blue was an amazing performer. I think you were voted Best Stand-Up in like 2016?

Blu: Yeah, it was like a contest.

Gabe: You won. You wear that badge! [laughs]

Blu: [laughs] I always feel oddly ashamed of it. For some reason, probably because I don’t do stand-up anymore. 

Gabe: Well, that was awesome. That show was one of the best. I mean, I’ve had never seen local comedy, especially something written out like that in my life. And so it was cool to see that and to be part of it even though we were just the band, you know. But, you know, we got to I think we got the best seats in the house because the band was on stage with all the comedians and stuff. So I love that show, one of the best times in my entire life.

Blu: Honestly, that show would not have been the show it was without the band. So don’t sell yourself short.

Gabe: Funny thing that people would say to me sometimes they’re like, Yeah, this is a great show. But really, like, I didn’t because do anything. Y’all wrote a bunch of stuff, y’all wrote it, y’all performed, and there was a lot of time that went into all that stuff. And I like the band we like because we were playing like walk-on music. We played like 10-second ditties, you know. So it wasn’t a lot of rehearsal that we had to do. But for some reason, we got a lot of credit for like, we know it’s a real show because there’s a band there. 

Blu: But really adds a layer of polish that you just can’t get otherwise.

Kim: Yeah, we’ve been trying to convince Beau Cribbs to bring that back. So maybe if you print it… [laughs]

Gabe: Bring it back. Bring it back! [laughs] All right. Well, that’s awesome. Let’s see what else we got here. What got each of you into comedy first, like, how did you start?

Blu: I started in high school when I was 16, doing improv. Then I just never stopped and now I’m 34. [laughs] When I went to school in New York, I studied at The Magnet and the UCB. And, yeah, when I came back, I joined up with the Coalition and I’ve been doing stuff with them ever since.

Gabe: Awesome. Okay, Kim, how about you? How’d you get into it? How long have you been doing it? How’d you get into comedy?

Kim: Damn, I really hate telling this story. Around nine years ago or so, I went through a breakup. I was like, I need to do something for me. And I just wanted to do something where I didn’t really know people. And somebody was like, oh, you should do this improv class with me. And I was like, that sounds wild. So I took a stand-up class and then like a year later took the improv classes and I was like, I’m never leaving you guys.

Gabe: That’s probably a pretty healthy answer to a breakup because I’ve seen to be able to really down that okay.

Kim: The Coalition Theater is my boyfriend now. [laughs]

Gabe: [laughs] Awesome. Nick, you come from Chi-Town like you got your start in Chicago.

Nick: Yeah, I’m from Lynchburg, Virginia originally. And so after I graduated college, I was like, I didn’t know what to do. And so I was just, I was looking at bios for the SNL people. And they all just kept saying, Chicago somewhere like it was like iO or Second City. And so like I just was like, Well, I guess I’m going to Chicago.

Gabe: I guess like, let’s say, Groundlings, Second City – all those people came out of Chicago. 

Nick: Yeah, it was like that the time it was like Amy Poehler and Tina Fey were big iO. They were super proud of their time at iO. And that’s kind of how they got their start. But that was all like in their bios, I just went to Chicago, I just moved to Chicago and started taking classes and doing everything that everyone was doing. And once you get plugged into it, then it’s kind of like, yeah, you gotta go over here. So I took all the classes and then moved back to Richmond in 2013 and then I was actually added to a house team coached by Blue.

Gabe: Wow.

Kim: You know, it’s funny Blue was the TA of the stand-up class I took. Well, Blue, you’ve been instrumental —

Blu: Yeah, in your comedy careers. [laughs]

Nick: So humble. [laughs]

Gabe: Hey, 2016 Best Stand Up in Richmond and never forget! [laughs] Okay, is there anything else you could tell me about the festival? 

2nd Best Comedy Festival Richmond VA Interview by Gabriel Santamaria_RVA Magazine 2024

Blu: We haven’t talked about my favorite act. Most excited about Trike, which is currently the longest running show at the Magnet Theater in New York City. When I was an intern at The Magnet I teched. Like I worked every Saturday night so I could see their shows and they are going to be at the festival. I am so excited to see them. Like I am genuinely giddy about it. [laughs]

Gabe: So you have people coming in from LA and New York and DC – and Nick you coordinated most of this you?

Nick: I had established relationships. Last year’s festival with Angel Bones, and Asian AF – kind of got the ball rolling but yeah, Blue knew the guys from Trike. And then we did submissions, too. So some people we reached out to and like said we’d love for you to come perform. And yeah, we called in some favors to kind of just get in the door with some people and then the submissions helped fill out the schedule. 

Blu: We had over 60 groups submit for the festival down there. So yeah, we had a huge team of people watching video after video of improv, stand up and sketch.

Gabe: Like you’re gonna have the after party again? I DJ’d the after party one of those years at the Canal Club. I remember that. 

Blu: Yeah, there will definitely be after parties. Maybe you can tag along with some performers and find out where they are. [laughs]

Gabe: Alright, guys so much for doing this. Thank you so much for taking the time.

Check out more on 2nd Best Fest HERE

Gabriel Santamaria

Gabriel Santamaria

Band leader of The Flavor Project, Co Owner at La Cocina Studios, Cast Member on The Hustle Season podcast.

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