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Lessons Learned Behind the Scenes of the 2009 New York Comedy Festival - Part 2 | By: Michael Grinspan

Hi. Michael Grinspan again. I'm a comedian, a producer, and I have one of the best gigs in New York - working in the publicity department at Carolines on Broadway. Now, Carolines produces the New York Comedy Festival, which took over NYC November 4th - 8th, and as the editor of Carolines new blog, it was my job to go to every show and record anything and everything for internet posterity. Over the course of five days, I saw a lot and, more importantly, learned a lot--lessons which the Apiary has been kind enough to let me share with you.

Lesson #4 - The Bootleg Industry Is Recession-Proof

While Mike Epps' certainly did bring it at the Beacon Theatre on 11/7, the real show seemed to be outside the venue, where it was a veritable bootleg extravaganza! In addition to the regular pre-show scalpers, a few enterprising entrepreneurs reminded us all that while the American economy may be down, it will never be out. The bootlegs seemed to be divided between electronics (CDs and DVDs) and clothing.

Apparently, the hottest commodity in bootleg electronics right now is Michael Jackson's This Is It. There were at least three different guys hocking copies outside, a funny phenomenon I mentioned to Mike Epps when I saw him inside. One of Epps’ entourage chimed in that Mike should be getting a cut of the bootlegs. As a journalist, I decided it was my duty to go outside and broker a deal. "What if I told you that Mike wants 30% of all your sales tonight?" I asked one middle-aged guy selling DVDs.  His response? "Sure Mike can have 30%... I ain't sold shit!"

As for bootleg clothing, a patriotic American was selling Obama Sneakers out the back of his busted GMC. These Obama Sneakers (pictured) were actually just regular old K Swisses with glow-in-the-dark engravings of what looks like Barack Obama (but might also be Lou Rawls or Sherman Hemsley). Either way, people were totally buying them. Like, sold-out-in-under-30-minutes buying them.

Lesson #5 – Burqas Are Like Snuggies

Bill Maher closed out the festival on Sunday night with a performance at Avery Fisher Hall on the Upper West Side and I've never seen a crowd so totally in agreement with a performer. Maher wasn't so much "preaching to the choir" as he was "giving the choir 100,000 megaphones and leading them in a 12-hour rendition of Battle Hymn of the Republic. While Maher dropped some killer routines (my favorite was on Obama's stimulus plan: "Thank God we have a recovery plan that doesn't involve Jesus coming back."), I think the bit the audience liked the most was the Burqa fashion show.

Originally a sketch from Real Time with Bill Maher, the Burqa fashion show has become the highlight of Bill's live act.  In the bit, model after model struts out on stage wearing identical black burqas and Bill proceeds to treat these Fallujah fashions as very different, haute couture pieces. Normally two random local actresses walk down the runway, but this time, the producers' girlfriends played the part of the models.

I followed the girls around as they learned their lines...

Bill starts the bit, calling it "Saudi Arabia's Next Top Model."

The girls strutted their stuff on the catwalk, dressed for a night on the town--if that town is Mazar-e-Sharif--and the audience absolutely died.

Right after they got off stage, I asked the ladies, “What was it like? How’s the burqa?” I was expecting "horrifying" or "objectifying." One revealed, "This burqa is great. It feels like my Snuggie!"


While there were many more life lessons I learned over the course of this year's New York Comedy Festival, these five stand out as my favorite. They weren’t all easy to learn and they definitely taught me a lot.  And just think, only 50 more weeks 'til I learn all new ones at the 2010 New York Comedy Festival.

Until then, check out for more backstage and in front of the mic stories.

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