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Hell Yes Fest

Will Coviello previews the annual comedy festival and talks to comic Sara Schaefer



Comedian Sara Schaefer, along with cohost Nikki Glaser of MTV's Nikki and Sara Live, is waiting to hear if the network will renew the series for a third season. She says she tries not to get her hopes up because the nature of comedy gigs and the entertainment industry is so unpredictable. In the meantime, she's joining other standup, improv and sketch comics at New Orleans' Hell Yes Fest (Nov. 12-18). It's a sort of homecoming to the city where she got her first meaningless job after graduating from the College of William & Mary in 2000.

  "The people in the office were so nice and patient with me," Schaefer says. "They taught me how to answer a phone. When you get out of college, you don't know shit. ... The ad (which ran in Gambit, she notes) said, 'Intelligent team worker wanted.' I was like, I don't know what this is but I am f—king calling it. I went in and they made me take a test — basic math, write a paragraph about where you are from. I guess they hired some real idiots."

  Schaefer got the job with an investment and estate management firm, but a year later she decided to try to make it in the comedy world. She had worked with a small theater company that performed in a Lower Garden District pizza restaurant, and decided she need to move to New York City to pursue comedy.

  In New York, Schaefer tried stand-up, sketch and improv comedy and landed several new types of jobs that all turned out to be rewarding risks. In the early days of Internet videos, she took a job creating short pieces for AOL. Later she blogged for VH1's Best Week Ever, one of the first TV shows to have a blog with separate original content. That made her one of the few candidates with experience when Late Night with Jimmy Fallon launched and needed comedians for its blog.

  "The first year was one of the best years of my life," she says. "It was like summer camp. It was like a honeymoon. Everyone was friends. Everyone was hanging out every night of the week. It was really good because I was going through a divorce, so I had no one else to talk to. These are my friends now."

  While she was working at the Late Night show, she met Glaser, and they started a series of podcasts and later pitched a show to MTV.

  While Schaefer chose not to start her comedy career in New Orleans, that's a much more viable option now. Hell Yes Fest is the creation of comedians Chris Trew and Tami Nelson's The New Movement, a comedy theater in Faubourg Marigny. They have increased bookings of touring national comics and given downtown a dedicated comedy space.

  In its fourth year, Hell Yes Fest features an array of local and visiting comics at several downtown venues. Todd Barry is another headliner making the trip from New York to perform at the festival. He's a familiar face to Comedy Central fans, and he recently taped an appearance on an episode of Inside Amy Schumer and will appear in Jerry Seinfeld's web series. Also performing are the Lucus Brothers, Eric Andre, Sean Patton, Los Angeles sketch group WOMEN and many others.

  Schaefer is excited to return. Her former co-workers attended her last standup show in New Orleans.

  "Everybody that I had worked with came," she says. "It was kind of a mess. It was a good show, but it was a little rocky. I think I was intimidated. I was like, 'My old boss is here, am I going to talk about my vagina in front of him?'"

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