Comedy fest

From left, Mary Holland, Claire Mulaney, Jason Mantzoukas and Lily Sullivan perform an improv set during the 2018 Telluride Comedy Festival. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Schwab)

While Presidents Day Weekend historically draws large crowds for spring skiing, it also ushers in the Telluride Comedy Festival, which celebrates its 20th anniversary Thursday-Sunday at the Sheridan Opera House.  

Since 2004, Festival Director Jeb Berrier has recruited some of the country’s funniest comedians for four nights of world-class comedy in the historic and intimate venue.

“The original core group of comedians has stayed the same, all people I knew in New York from the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater,” Berrier said. “A lot of people come each year like Brian Huskey, Seth Morris and Jason Mantzoukas.”

Lily Sullivan, who grew up in Telluride, will return to the festival for the third time. Sullivan first attended the festival when she was a Telluride High School student. Jen Nyman-Julia, who was then director of the local children’s theater, brought Sullivan to the show, sat her in the box by the soundboard, and told her to watch and learn.

“It’s really cool to come full circle and have Sullivan as a professional coming back to perform with everybody,” Berrier said.

Sullivan will perform with her fellow Second City-trained comedian-boyfriend Tim Baltz, who will perform in Telluride for the first time.  

Nick Kroll, who has been a part of several comedy fests, is one of Berrier’s favorite stand-up comedians. Also a talented actor and improviser, Kroll will host the Sunday night show.  

For 10 years Berrier has been trying to snag Matt Braunger to perform in Telluride. This year Braunger will co-headline the Friday night show. Braunger has performed stand-up on the “Late Show with David Letterman,” “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien,” “John Oliver’s New York Stand Up Show” and “Live at Gotham” on Comedy Central, as well as on his own “Comedy Central Presents” special.

Rebecca Kohler, who Berrier explained is one of the most famous stand-up comedians in Canada, will also perform in Telluride for the first time, co-headlining the Friday evening show. With a 15-year career in comedy, she was named Toronto’s Best Female Comic (NOW Magazine) and has had her own special on the Comedy Network. Kohler also writes for CBS’s hit comedy series “Happy Together” and was nominated for the 2018 Juno Award for Best Comedy Album.

Thursday evening’s kick-off performance — hosted by Mantzoukas and Huskey — is Local’s Night (tickets are discounted).

“Over the years the same comedians have come back and they really love Telluride and understand it more and more and that translates into content,” Berrier said. “There’s always a good fight in Telluride, going back to the Valley Floor and before. It’s fun to be able to laugh at it, especially when people take it so seriously.”

“Each night is a mix of improv, sketch and stand-up,” explained Maggie Stevens, opera house PR and marketing director. “Which means you get a nice balance of talents and people respond to different things.”

In honor of the 20th anniversary, Stevens ordered beanie hats — something the opera house has never done before — emblazoned with the Telluride Comedy Festival logo.

“It’s a big accomplishment to survive 20 years in Telluride and still be really successful,” Stevens said.   

Over the years, Berrier said, the comedians who have returned to Telluride have cultivated admirable careers and yet they still choose to come back. And, he added, you never know which other famous comedian may drop in for a night.  

“There are many comedy festivals, but this one is special because you get these best people in comedy who come out to Telluride and perform shows at a 220-seat opera house for four nights in a row,” he said. “It’s not a high-gloss industry deal. It’s really about the comedians having a great time performing in a really cool place. It’s a great, happy vibe.”

All shows begin at 8 p.m. All-reserved seating are $40 and $50 per ticket ($35 and $45 on Local’s Night). Children are allowed to attend, if accompanied by an adult since all shows are rated R. VIP cocktail tables (seating four) are available in the front of the theater, each with a bottle of wine, at a cost of $125 per seat. Tickets are available online at sheridanoperahouse.com or by calling 970-728-6363 ext. 5.