A weekend of comedy kicks off Thursday in Morgantown. Now in its second year, the Red Eye Comedy Festival not only highlights the state’s nascent comedy community but is also attracting national talent to the region.
Reporter Chris Schulz sat down with festival organizer Cody Cannon to discuss the event.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Schulz: What exactly is the Red Eye Comedy Festival?
Cannon: Just basically a celebration of everything the comedy community has done over the past few years here in downtown Morgantown with a couple of lead up shows across the state. The festival itself is held in downtown Morgantown, multiple venues bringing some of my favorite nationally touring talent starting Thursday, March 30. Friday, Saturday, April 1 is the all-day comedy and beer festival just like we did last year at Morgantown Brewing Company. Eddie Pepitone is doing a late-night show at 123, closing out the whole festival. I did my best to make it a really great deal and experience for those who want to attend.
Schulz: This is your second year doing this now. What goes into an independent festival?
Cannon: Everything I’ve done has been super independent and also my first time doing anything like this stuff. I’m just kind of piecing things together as I go along and figuring out what works.
I need to first reach out to potential headliners and lock those in, try to find a diverse group of people. I also do my festival submission-based. All of the local and regional I try to give them a little more favor because they put a lot of work into the community and stuff. But I also want to highlight people around Appalachia and the country in general. If people are interested in flying out for a weekend festival, then I’d love to have you, but definitely want to focus on local and regional talent. This year, I think we probably had a good 100, maybe 80, submissions, something like that.
Schulz: That’s primarily from West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, or…?
Cannon: Yeah! But we got some people from like Colorado, St. Louis. We have a couple of comedians, like coming from Louisville, and, you know, Florida and stuff like that.
Schulz: What did you learn from last year?
Cannon: I need to get so much more done in advance. I’ve done a little better this year. But next year, I’m planning on stepping it up even further. I’m definitely going forward hoping to reach out to and potentially get grants so I can potentially bring in bigger names and things like that. I just have no experience in that matter, and so I’m just kind of figuring all of this out as I go along.
Schulz: The festival isn’t just local comedians, as you alluded to there, you’re bringing in some pretty big names. Why is it important for you to obviously highlight local comedians, but also to bring in some of those bigger names?
Cannon: Well, for me, I’ve committed to staying here. I have a kid here, I want to stay here at least till he’s old enough to travel. So I want comedians to want to come to the state since I’ve committed to staying here. Also I just really love the state. I’m hoping this summer to take a couple of comedians on whitewater rafting trips. And every time a comedian comes through town, always the morning after a show I take them to Tudor’s Biscuit World. I try to make it an experience.
For me, it’s cool because I’m hanging out with people I look up to and aspire to be like one day. But it’s also because I get to introduce a community, the comedy community, to a place that I love very much. Since I started producing shows after things opened up in 2021, most of the comedians that I’ve had through have told me that it’s the first time they’ve ever been to West Virginia, other than maybe driving through but never like stopping for shows.
I would love to see the state thrive. I would love to see more tourism. The music scene is pretty great, and you get a lot of pretty fantastic touring bands. I just saw an opportunity, a vacuum, for touring comedy and decided to open up those roads and have more stops for comedians to potentially make money.
Schulz: Talk to me a little bit about, you know, the local scene and how that’s been progressing since you started this last year.
Cannon: I’m so grateful that I am surrounded with so many talented and excited and enthusiastic comedians because everyone’s pulling their own weight. Everybody’s kind of doing little things here and there to try to make the scene more exciting and interesting to people who might not normally think to come to a show in Morgantown, West Virginia. I’m just so proud of where everyone’s at and how hard everyone is working. Everyone’s constantly coming to the stage with fresh and exciting material and trying to work on new stuff and I’m really proud of everyone that I work with.
Schulz: Why do you think it’s important to set up a festival and not just focus exclusively on your set, your show and yourself?
Cannon: For one I wouldn’t be where I am without the community I have. It’s a chance for me to show off to this great community. So many of these nationally touring comics that you mentioned, have been like, “Wow, you have a great thing set up here. These people are really supportive. These venues are really cool.”
I like to give back. I’ve always enjoyed festivals in general. Wine and Jazz is one of my favorite weekends of the year. I love a good music festival. I’ve always wanted to do something like that. And so this is kind of me making something happen out of what I love. I don’t know, I just want to keep growing the scene and want people to keep wanting to come to West Virginia. 123 is a magical venue. Every comedian that’s performed there, it’s like “This place is something special.” So, I want to keep that going.
More information, including a list of featured comedians and participating venues, can be found on the Red Eye Comedy Facebook page.