Building on previous year’s experience, SXSW continues to bring a tiny thread of comedy to the mega threads that are Music, Film, and Interactive. With eight nights of 90 minute slots (line-ups to be announced), and a number of comedy podcasts set to be recorded all is well with the stand-ups coming to Austin.
The value for many in coming to SXSW is in the contacts that can be made and the potential deals to be had. They might not happen in Austin, but the first meeting and the “your people should call my people” is what SXSW thrives on. “My people” are only going to turn up if there is some talent that’s ready to break out into the mainstream and become a big name.
And without meaning to upset the performers coming out to SXSW, Austin is just not one of the key festivals in the comedy circuit that attracts the virtuous cycle that Interactive, Music, or Film, can muster. Comedians, promoters, television producers, commissioning panels, and everyone else will head to Edinburgh, Montreal, or Melbourne long before they make the trip to Texas unless it’s for the Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival in April. And while there might be the occasional big name works out their geek demographic and tour plans cross over and allow a quick stop in Austin (such as John Oliver’s appearance last year), the stand-ups working the regular circuit are not going to break a leg for the $100 fee, housing assistance, and the experience of SXSW.
While we’ll check the nightly line-up as it is announced, just because stand-up is the new rock and roll doesn’t mean it can be nurtured in the same way as the 2000+ performers descending on Austin. Comedy is a serious business, and if SXSW really want a comedy strand, then they need to change how they work to fit the landscape, and not expect the comedians to bend to their view.
Hopefully we’ll see the business around comedy get some traction at SXSW this year. It certainly deserves to be more than a bullet point on the evening entertainment schedule.