For one night only, the Mahaiwe becomes a comedy cabaret

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GREAT BARRINGTON — Forget about mediocre emcees, low-experienced comedians, and french fries orders. The Berkshire Comedy Festival promises a night full of high level comedy without the downsides of your average city comedy club.

Comedy clubs gained major traction in the latter half of the 20th century, popping up on nearly every street corner in big cities. The formula was simple: people could drink beers and feast on some nachos and tune in and out of the desperate joke-making by an aspiring amateur comedian. Lucky club-goers would witness a single headliner act at the end of the night. It was informal and cost-effective. No one could argue with that. Except Paul Anthony. A professional stand-up comic and official host of the Long Island and Berkshire Comedy Festivals, Anthony argues that the business model of comedy has changed for the worse, mostly for economic reasons. Through these comedy festivals, he hopes to bring comedy shows back into theaters, where they originated.

"The level of comedians in many comedy clubs has been scaled back to save money. It's often like amateur night. Stand-up started in theaters with vaudeville and comedy clubs didn't catch on until the '70s, '80s and '90s. Everything changed and we're trying to reverse that trend, because the best comedy occurs in a theater venue," said Anthony.

After nearly a decade of success with New York-based comedy production company, Long Island Comedy, Anthony decided to bring the shows to new venues outside of New York. Now in its third year at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington, the Berkshire Comedy Festival exposes local area residents to prominent and experienced comics without the informal atmosphere of a comedy club. Kicking off at 8 p.m. on Saturday, the one-night show features approximately 20-minute routines from Anthony, Andy Pitz, Rich Walker, John Santo, and Carie Karavas, all of whom have enjoyed successful careers in stand-up. Spectators will be treated to 90-minutes of fast-paced and nonstop action with a rich variety of styles and perspectives from the performers.

"The way we produce and package a theater show is at a different level from your standard night at a comedy club," said Anthony. "These comedians are the best of the best and play top venues all over the country. All of them have been featured on AMC, Comedy Central, and HBO. It should be an incredible night of fun and laughs."

The official headliner of the show, Karavas is known for her wise-cracking, hard-hitting delivery style. Having enjoyed increasing popularity in both the New York and national comedy scenes, she was voted one of Long Island's 10 "Most Fascinating Women" in 2014. She has also performed at the world famous Montreal Comedy Festival. Thanks to her versatile style, Karavas can adapt and captivate almost any audience.

Hailing from upstate New York, Pitz currently resides in Brooklyn but travels all over the country to perform his routine. Among his accomplishments are appearances on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, The Late Show with David Letterman and CBS's Star Search. According to his personal website, Pitz' material often focuses on marriage, fatherhood, and technology/social networking in addition to random everyday things.

A longtime veteran of stand-up comedy, Walker has shared the stage with the likes of Ray Romano, Kevin James, Bobby Collins, Joey Kola, Jimmie Walker, and Johnny Maestro & the Brooklyn Bridge. In 2011 and 2012, the Long Island Press voted him as "1st Place Winner" of Best Comedian on Long Island. His routines often make fun of common everyday predicaments.

John Santo most notably performed his impressions of President George W. Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger on WABC Radio during the 2008 Presidential campaign. His impressions of famous politicians and movie/television celebrities include Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Barack Obama, Dick Cheney, Bill Clinton, Tony Soprano, Morgan Freeman, and Hannibal Lecter among many others.

In addition to consistently performing at comedy clubs in New York City and on Long Island, Anthony is the host and driving force behind the popular Long Island Comedy Festival. Currently in its 12th year, the festival runs from July through August every summer with 12 different shows. After vacationing with his family in the Berkshires for several years, Anthony felt compelled to bring top notch comedy to the area. Based on the first two editions in Great Barrington, Anthony likes what he's seen.

"Previous shows at Mahaiwe have been excellent. It tells me that there's an interest and demand for high quality comedy in Berkshire County," remarked Anthony. "I'm hoping to expand the festival in Berkshire County in coming years with three shows or more in surrounding towns with a flagship show at Mahaiwe."


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