Festival 411: Bert Kreischer Changes The Game With Comedy’s Lollapalooza
Comedian Bert Kreischer has fond memories of the original Lollapalooza festival, the traveling caravan of rock bands curated by Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell and, after spending a summer outdoors practically inventing the drive-in comedy show in 2020 as the COVID pandemic raged, wondered why comedy can’t do that, too.
Well, if you want something done, sometimes you have to do it yourself. And Kreischer did. The “Fully Loaded Comedy Festival” took its inaugural road trip to mostly outdoor venues including minor league baseball stadiums and racetracks in secondary markets in June.
With comedy’s biggest stars moving from the clubs to theaters and performing arts centers, to arenas and, with some of its top names now moving into stadiums, the “Fully Loaded” tour could very well present a new model for comedians to bring the funny to the masses.
“I did the drive-in shows during the pandemic, and they were so much fun and made me think about ways to take comedy outside and making it something people talked about and got excited for,” Kreischer says of the inspiration for “Fully Loaded.”
“We should get a grill. We should have a pre-party. We should all meet up in the parking lot before the show. I loved that energy,” Kreischer explains. “Then I thought, what about trying to do something a little bigger? I’m old enough to remember the first Lollapaloozas. I thought it was so cool that Perry Farrell put that together and crafted his own festival. We could have done a minor league stadium tour and make it just me, but I thought, no, I want to bring out a bunch of my favorite comics that make me laugh the hardest.”
Kreischer talked to his agent, United Talent Agency’s head of comedy touring Nick Nuciforo and manager, Levity Live founding partner and president of talent Judi Marmel about it, and put the “Fully Loaded” tour together in eight markets, with a cast of comedians including Dave Attell, Joey Diaz, Fortune Feimster, Taylor Tomlinson, Shane Gillis, Nikki Glaser and about a half-dozen more on most dates.
Promoted by Outback Presents, “Fully Loaded” sold out every stop, averaging 6,883 tickets and a gross of $478,544 per show. The tour will return in 2023, with venues and lineups already in the works.
“Bert understands his brand and dreams big, so it is always fun spitballing ideas with him,” Nuciforo says of the genesis of “Fully Loaded.”
“This was all born from the outdoor shows that Bert was doing in 2020 at drive-in movie theaters and in parking lots. People would pull up in their cars and pickup trucks to watch comedy. They brought beer, grilled, played tailgating games, and it was a huge party,” Nuciforo adds. “We talked about how that vibe could be extended into a comedy-lifestyle festival in outdoor venues like ballparks. Bert fans are also sports fans, so it naturally made sense.”
Marmel looks to not just the drive-in shows as an indicator of how successful an outdoor tour might be, but Kreischer’s show at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado Sept. 8, 2021, a sellout with 9,161 tickets sold for a gross of $505,564.
Comedy doesn’t always play well outdoors. When routing a tour, there’s no accounting months in advance for weather – rain or shine, hot or cold, the conventional wisdom is that audiences might suffer blazing sun or pouring rain for music, but not for comedy.
Kreischer may have borrowed Spinal Tap’s mantra of “have a good time, all the time,” but it’s working to flip the script when it comes to outdoor comedy.
“The Red Rocks show was so successful for Bert,” Marmel says. “The drive-in shows combined with that was really the basis for ‘Fully Loaded.’ I’ve always felt that Bert’s comedy really is a lifestyle brand, and I say that with all due respect. He’s so exuberant about his life and how he’s living it.
“He lives his life that way every day, and it’s contagious. People want to be his best friend. They want to go have a beer with him. They want to swap stories over the fire with him,” Marmel continues. “And so I think this whole outdoor adventure lifestyle that he has lends itself to having a good time and it’s always been having a good time, no matter what day of the week it is. You live every day to the fullest.”
Nuciforo agrees about the branding aspect; as organic and authentic as his comedy is, it presents limitless possibilities for Kreischer to just be Kreischer.
“‘Fully Loaded’ is a lifestyle,” he says. “It’s working and playing hard. It’s being a great parent, and still being able to hang out with friends. It’s permission to live your best life. It’s a state of mind! Bert is the Jimmy Buffett of comedy.
“‘Fully Loaded’ could turn into restaurants, resort casinos, and retirement communities. Who knows? He’s already got his own brand of flip-flops. He’s on his way!”
Kreischer credits his wife with the idea to make “Fully Loaded” an annual event.
“My wife said something really smart. On our very first Zoom call, she said this is only successful if you can do two like that. If this happens year after year, and you produce 12 or 15 shows, that are a blast for every comic, and every comic goes back to New York, L.A., Nashville, Boston, and says, ‘Man, you should have been on that festival,’ the next year everyone’s like, ‘How do I go to that festival?’”
Marmel says she sees ‘Fully Loaded’ as a brand that will continue to build year after year.
“I think there’s going to be amazing expressions that come off of it,” Marmel says. “Bert is an incredible, entrepreneurial businessman, wildly smart and wildly in touch with what his fans are looking to discover. They trust him and his recommendations. And I think having that trust with your fans, that this is a huge thing with a lot of responsibility that he takes really seriously. And I think keeping his ticket prices reasonable and giving people a lot of value for their money has been the secret to success as well.”
Kreischer says his dream is that “Fully Loaded” becomes the comedy version of Lollapalooza, and Marmel adds that it only makes sense, as comedy continues to explode from its club and theater roots to newer platforms like Netflix and HBO specials adding to the exposure of new generations of comedians. Whether comedy becomes the new rock ‘n’ roll remains to be seen, but Kreischer’s team is certainly reading the tea leaves – with caveats.
“In the next five years, the number of comedians capable of playing arenas and stadiums will double,” Nuciforo says. “However, stadiums may not be the right fit for everyone. They can lack the intimacy and focus that is sometimes required for certain styles of comedy. We always discuss different options with our clients to ensure we curate the right experience for each show and tour.
“What will the fan experience be like at every step of the journey? How will the fan engage with the artist and fellow fans, even long before arriving at the venue?
“Playing a stadium is a flashy statement that works best for an artist that has a strong lifestyle community. It’s important to make sure that the fans sitting close to the stage have as much fun as the fans partying on the lawn or in the cheap seats,” Nuciforo says.
While Kreischer is happy to leave the strategy, booking and routing to his team, he is acutely aware of giving his fans what they want and having fun doing it.
“People look forward to Lollapalooza, they look forward to (New Orleans) Jazz Fest, people look forward to these big events,” Kreischer says.
“If you create the big event and you take the circus and run around the country, you give people something to look forward to in their lives. If I have a brand at all, it’s a party and everyone has a good time. This fits right into that, and I would be the first one in line to get my ticket and send out a text to my favorite people about it and say, ‘Let’s get mushrooms, let’s go get a minivan and let’s have the time of our lives.’”