The cast and director of "Tell Your Friends! The Concert Film!" at the Paley Center in NYC.

"Tell Your Friends! The Concert Film!" (left to right: Kurt Braunohler, Leo Allen, Rob Paravonian, Kristen Schaal, Liam McEneany, Victor Varnado, Christian Finnegan). Photo credit: Lindsay Aikman/Michael Priest Photography

Last night, Sketchfest NYC presented the New York premiere of Tell Your Friends! The Concert Film!, a documentary about the indie comedy scene in New York City and the long-running comedy show “Tell Your Friends!,” which is hosted each week by Liam McEneaney on the Lower East Side. McEneaney and director Victor Varnado (The Awkward Comedy Show) say their goal was to create a filmed document of the current comedy movement — like Woodstock or The Last Waltzdid for music — by combining live performances with insightful interviews and candid backstage footage to create an overall sense of the scene.

The film was shot at a live “Tell Your Friends!” show at The Bell House in Brooklyn last summer and features performances by Reggie Watts, Kurt Braunohler & Kristen Schaal, Christian Finnegan, Leo Allen, Rob Paravonian, and McEneaney. The documentary also includes interviews with comedians Janeane Garofalo, Jim Gaffigan, Colin Quinn, Marc Maron, Paul F. Tompkins, Eddie Brill, Wyatt Cenac, Hannibal Buress, and Kumail Nanjiani.

Tell Your Friends! The Concert Film! premiered at SXSW earlier this year, and has also screened at Just for Laughs in Montreal and Chicago, as well as other film festivals. Watch the trailer for the film below, then check out my video interviews with the creators and cast:

Venues such as rock clubs, coffee shops, bar basements, and the like now offer working comedians a chance to hone their skills and work on new material in ways they may not be able to accomplish at a traditional club with a cover charge and two-drink minimum (and different expectations from an audience). The romantically shot performance footage from The Bell House shows these artists at their absolute best, and should be an eye-opener for anyone who’s only been exposed to comedy club lineups or Comedy Central half-hour specials, but it’s the ongoing debate about the difference between “alternative” and “mainstream” — if there is any at all — that gives the film its unique purpose and point of view.

Finnegan, for example, contends that a comic will be able to improve their writing by experimenting at alternative venues and small rooms, but they won’t become a better performer until they can tame the comedy club crowd. Meanwhile, Colin Quinn argues that alternative comics may actually take their art more seriously than professional club comics. And Eddie Brill warns that comics who stay in the underground scene for too long without coming up for air at a club tend to be more interested in their own idiosyncracies than in pleasing an audience. Most of the other comics simply said that comedy is comedy, stage time is stage time, and it’s only the outsiders who feel the need to label any performer or venue “alternative.” (Or, as McEneaney says, “Alternative is mainstream.”)

Before the screening at the Paley Center, Liam McEneaney explained the origins of the film and the significance of the current comedy landscape:

Varnado, Braunohler, Schaal, Allen, Paravonian, and McEneaney shared their thoughts about the film and the term “alternative comedy”:

This story and videos were posted online Sept. 23, 2011 at Blog Stage.

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