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Another Spree To Come?

Despite financial challenges, organizers of the Laughing Spree Fest say they intend to produce the comedy festival again next year.

by Chuck king
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(UPDATED: Dec. 19, 2021) BOCA RATON – As exhausting and costly as producing Laughing Spree Fest proved to be, its creators are expecting to produce a sequel.

“I think we definitely would like to do it again,” co-producer Warren Scott said.

Billed as “Florida’s Biggest Comedy Fest,” the Dec. 3-4 festival packed plenty of laughs into Sunset Cove west of Boca Raton – bringing more than a dozen top comics, including headliners Andrew Schulz, Jim Norton and Bryan Callen, to South Florida.

Scott and co-producer Minda Long intend to meet later this week to review all aspects of the festival and develop a plan to move forward.

“I think we’re just excited to look at what was successful and build on that,” Long said. “There’s a lot of things to build on.”

Both Scott and Long point to Saturday’s night show headlined by Schulz as proof that the concept can work. In the neighborhood of 1,000 comedy fans saw that show.

Attendance for the Saturday evening second show built throughout the afternoon, and by the time Norton took the stage to close that show, many of the ticket holders for Saturday’s late show headlined by Schulz had already arrived.

“At the time I went on there was a decent sized crowd, which was nice,” Norton said on his Sirius XM radio show a couple days later. “I would definitely do it again.”

Unfortunately for Scott and Long, ticket sales for the other two shows failed to meet expectations.

“We didn’t need three headliners,” Long said. “I could have just done with one big draw.”

Paying three headliners prompted overall costs to soar into the six-figure range. Despite sponsorship from multiple companies, the low attendance for the first two shows made it almost impossible to recoup all investments.

Complicating matters, producers believe they needed to pay top dollar to convince the headliners to take a chance on the first-year festival.

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“We couldn’t leverage everything we wanted to leverage because the bottom line is, it’s hard to get top-name, top-billing comedians to sign onto something they’ve never heard of before,” Long said.

Scott and Long declined to divulge how much they paid the comics or provide a total price tag for the festival.

“Obviously neither of us walked out of this comedy millionaires,” Long said.

Competing against Art Basel in Miami, the Audacy Beach music festival in Fort Lauderdale – both of which announced their dates after Laughing Spree had booked theirs – and overall COVID chaos, promotions for Laughing Spree struggled to gain traction amid a crowded weekend of South Florida entertainment.

“If I could do things over again I would have started promoting the festival a year out, not six months out,” Long said.

     

Setting aside the disappointing ticket sales, the festival impressed fans by delivering three strong comedy shows that included excellent audio, video screens and great lighting. And the weather cooperated, providing two perfect outdoor evenings.

Long and Scott, both also comics, performed short comedy sets on Saturday.

“Part of me almost doesn’t believe it happened – that we had Andrew Schulz, Jim Norton and Bryan Callen – not to mention all the other people, Jeff Dye and Yamaneika and Leah [Lemarr] and Esther [Ku] – all in one spot,” Scott said.

Local comics Jackie Sanchez and Dan Long also performed during the festival. And while Palm Beach and Broward County comics weren’t as prominent on stage as some within the local community would have liked, the backstage area was packed with local comics helping behind the scenes.

“I appreciate all the comics who either volunteered, who worked, who bought a ticket and who showed up,” Scott said. “I just want to thank all of them for supporting in the way they did.”

During their upcoming meeting, Long and Scott will attempt to determine whether they still share the same vision for the festival moving forward.

One aspect that could change for next year is the venue. The remoteness of Sunset Cove likely limited what turned out to be a surprisingly good amount of walk-up ticket purchases on Saturday. The venue also lacks permanent stage lighting and video production tools, forcing producers to rent that equipment and the personnel to operate it – adding significant costs to the production.

“I would probably want to do the next thing at a venue that already has light and sound built in,” Scott said. “Having to bring all that in just increased the order of magnitude of difficulty.”

And while the weather worked in the festival’s favor this time, Scott realizes that a rainy Saturday would have rendered the night a washout.

A smaller venue might also be a better fit the next time around.

“I still take pride in producing a really good show, bringing really good talent to South Florida and hopefully making South Florida a place they want to come to, as well, for those who normally aren’t coming here,” Scott said. “They told us it would be very difficult to be profitable the first year, but we saw the definite possibility of it all.”

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