To say that the local organization Comic Cure cares is an understatement.
Over the past year or so, the group has made important progress across South Florida, supporting both local comics and the community. Founded by brothers Benjamin and Richy Leis, Comic Cure organizes events year-round, with its specially curated festivals forming the foundation of its philanthropic endeavor.
The latest event, the Coral Gables Comedy Festival, will be held on the University of Miami campus this Thursday, March 31. As with all Comic Cure's fests, this one concentrates on not only brightening spirits but also enriching the lives of UM students. Two showings with two sets of comics will feature as many comedians as possible.
New Times spoke with Benjamin about the serious side of a funny business.
New Times: Tell us about Comic Cure and its aims.
Benjamin Leis: If laughter is the best medicine, then Comic Cure is the pharmacy. Our mission is to support local comedians and local charities. Our vision is to create a comedian ecosystem here in Miami and on a larger level, South Florida. We have primarily three functions to support local comedy. We provide performance, professional development, and educational opportunities for local comedians. We have two sides to our business. We have our booking side of business, where we book comedians for private events, galas, and fundraisers; and then we have our production side of the business where we’re best known for our community comedy festivals.
What’s the setup of those festivals?
Those feature anywhere between 20 to 40 comedians, mostly local. It’s a big showcase; we have a professional host and headliner, and then in between we have lesser-known comedians perform three minutes of their best comedy. The audience gets to choose their two favorite comedians, and then the winner gets a prize and oftentimes an opportunity to perform in one of our special events where we bring in a celebrity headliner.
Do they win anything else?
There’s always prize money, and depending on who we’re bringing in next as the celebrity headliner, that individual might get to open for that person.
What nonprofits are you working with?
For Brickell Comedy Festival, we worked with Habitat for Humanity. That was amazing. We donated a thousand dollars to them that night... For Wynwood [Comedy Festival], we partnered with Guitars Over Guns... We just did the Latin American Comedy Fest to benefit Amigos for Kids. We just worked with the Lighthouse for the Blind for our St. Paddy’s showcase. Coming up for Coral Gables, we’re working with the UM School of Communication. For Palmetto Bay Festival, we’re working with the Everglades Foundation. And then we’re working with the LGBTQ Initiative for our Pride Comedy Festival on April 24... And then we have Florida’s Funniest Female on May 14 that is going to benefit the Women’s Fund of Miami-Dade.
It’s crazy — we’re doing a lot of stuff.
That’s an amazing collection of charities, but why did you become so involved in the comedy scene in the first place?
If you go back about 15 years, Richy started in standup comedy. As an aspiring professional comedian, he had to take the next step. He moved out to L.A., and now he is the booker for one of L.A.’s largest comedy clubs. My brother books 12,000 comedic spots each year. When he was in Boca at the Funky Buddha, he started the Boca Raton Comedy Festival. He took that model out to L.A. and started the Burbank Comedy Festival, now in its third year, which spans six days… That’s what we want our festivals to expand into: multiday, multiformat.
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Did you ever do standup yourself?
Never done standup. My brother is the comedy side of things, and my side is the nonprofit and the business.
How do you select the comics?
All comedians have to submit to perform. There’s a form on our website they have to complete and enter a three-to-five-minute video submission.
What do you tell a comic who bombs onstage?
It’s a learning process. You need to bomb onstage. You have to bottom out at some point. It’s cathartic for a lot of comedians. They’re going through something. It’s a process. It takes years, if not decades, to hone this skill, this art form. So you gotta go through everything — you gotta go through the highs; you gotta go through the lows. The thing a comedian needs the most is stage time and an audience, which is what we’re trying to deliver.
Coral Gables Comedy Festival
Thursday, March 31, at the Cosford Cinema (5030 Brunson Dr., Coral Gables). Tickets cost $20 to $30. Doors open at 6 p.m., with showtimes at 7 and 9. Visit coralgablescomedyfestival.com.