Small Town Boy Makes Good!
Funny people and comedy producers can come from anywhere. Take Mr. Joel Fry for instance, he was born in Iowa City, IA and raised in the small small town of Keswick IA. According to Joel, Keswick is a "town of 300 about an hour west of Iowa City. The town has no stoplights, about 10 stop signs (that is being generous), and a startlingly low number of people I am not related to."
Mr. Joel Fry comes from a proud hardworking Catholic family and early in life family pride and a work ethic was instilled in young Joel. "It made me very focused and driven as an entrepreneur to expect nothing but the best of myself and my product and put forth whatever efforts necessary to make it a success. All I know how to do is work hard… I have seriously never been taught or seen it done any other way."
Joel's father Dale modeled hard work for his son and told him to do the work he loved because then it would not be work. According to Dale, "the funniest person in the Fry family was Joel's grandfather but he could never tell a full joke as he got excited to get to the punch line and just started laughing."
As we all know hard work does not mean a lack of fun and humor. The Fry family was and is a family that loves to laugh. Joel's father's extended family just loves to laugh and Joel sharpen his comedy chops during his formative years at family gatherings. Mr. Fry describes his comedy education, "I have never been around people who share the same blood who are more blatantly predisposed to a "funny" gene. There was a certain amount of pride you got from being the first person to spit out a funny line when at least four other people in the room are trying to fire off the best zinger of the bunch. It sharpens your awareness about what is funny, the different directions a joke can be taken, and it forces you to think outside the box."
At age 4 young Joel saw a video of Steve Martin on SNL [April 23rd, 1978 edition] and a stand-up comic was born. Long before Joel's professional debut as a stand-up comic in December of 2005, he was the go to guy in Keswick IA for any MC work at the American Legion, Lions Club or a Variety Show. Joel Fry's stand-up act today is based on what he thinks is funny "jokes that just come completely out of left field and take you by surprise, or the first part and second part of a joke not having any real connection on the surface. I don't know if I excel at that type of comedy, per se, but it's the type that appeals to me the most."
By 2007, Joel was relocated in Des Moines Iowa and making a name for himself in the Quad Cities comedy community. And the seeds of the Iowa Comedy Festival were explored by Joel Fry and another local comic. According to Joel, "Greg Althoff, a very talented Des Moines comedian who mentored me and greatly helped my career when I was starting out, approached me with the idea of the Des Moines Comedy Festival back in 2007. He wanted to line up all the open mics in town (there were three or four, I think) and have them all on consecutive nights. I thought this was a really cool, idea, and Greg and I pursued the feasibility of such a thing, but for some reason or another, it sort of dissipated and ended up not happening. I never let go of the idea, though, and certainly wanted to give it another go in the future."
In 2008, Joel and fellow comic Jerad Cherniss attended a conference on organizing your own concerts, events, festivals, etc. The initial idea was to have a competition and then a show with a national headliner involved, and that was it. Two or three shows to test the waters!
However, when the inaugural 2010 festival information hit social media it exploded and the concept had to be revised. As Joel states, "I threw the information and dates out on Facebook, Twitter, etc. right away. Immediately, comedians from all over the country started emailing me with inquiries about how they could be involved. We hadn't anticipated this, and were figuring on it just being an Iowa-only festival, so we decided to adjust the format to include a couple of showcases as well. Soon a few local boys done good got in touch with us and said they'd love to come back and do the festival too. All in all, we had 7 shows over 5 days set up when we formally began sending out press releases to local media."
Today the Iowa Comedy Festival includes the Iowa Comedy Festival, C4: The Cross Country Comedy Competition, CornStar Comedy Records, and several other projects that will be coming up over the next several years. All this is under the umbrella of Comedy Guy Entertainment, LLC. The Iowa Comedy Festival is now primarily focused on becoming a launch pad for up-and-coming comedians across the Midwest. Bring the important people in the comedy business from Los Angeles and New York to the Midwest instead of the comics going to Los Angeles and New York.
One thing that is exciting in 2012 is a live streaming component to the Iowa Comedy Festival. According to Joel, "you will be able to watch the entire Iowa Comedy Festival at (most of it for free), meaning people from all over the world can enjoy the high caliber comedy we are bringing into Des Moines without having to leave their home."
Mr. Joel Fry has become the ambassador for the Iowa Comedy Festival and while not performing regularly anymore he works tirelessly helping young comics reach their goals in the competitive comedy industry. As Joel says, if you're willing to work hard enough and match my enthusiasm, I'll work harder for your career than my own."
At the core of all this success for Joel Fry is family, and his wife has been supportive of how much time running a comedy festival takes and is a great sounding board for ideas. Family values is why the Iowa Comedy Festival grown and been successful in a short time. Mr. Fry pinpoints all his success to his upbringing in the small town of Keswick IA, "I always want to make my family proud, and the way I can do that is to work hard, take care of my wife & kids, and be funny. My father and his father were the two greatest influences on my life: blue collar men who worked every day, all day, and didn't take a moment off. They expected me to do that as well, and though I'm not blue-collar like them, their work ethic sticks with me."