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Hell Yes Fest 

Brad Rhines on the five-night celebration of all things comedy in New Orleans

click to enlarge Joey Greco of the TV show Cheaters is a guest speaker at Hell Yes Fest.
  • Joey Greco of the TV show Cheaters is a guest speaker at Hell Yes Fest.

Comedian Dave Holmes knows what to expect from a weekend in New Orleans. The Los Angeles-based performer has spent time here as a tourist, as a friend of locals, and most recently as an actor in the upcoming horror comedy Hell Baby, written and directed by Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant from Reno 911!

  "I've been down a number of times and always had a good time, always had a couple of regrets," Holmes says. "Every time I've been there, I walk outside at 10 in the morning intending to go for a jog and somebody puts a Bloody Mary in my hand."

  Holmes returns with his improv group iO West to New Orleans as a headliner at Hell Yes Fest, a five-night comedy festival featuring national performers and local talent. The event was founded last year by comedian Chris Trew from The New Movement, a comedy theater with outposts in Austin, Texas, and New Orleans. This year's fest brings even more acts to more venues around the city.

  Holmes got his start on MTV in the late '90s, has appeared on VH1 and hosts FX's DVD on TV. On Friday, he co-hosts the Friday Forty show at Cafe Istanbul along with Scott Gimple, a writer and producer for AMC's The Walking Dead. Holmes describes Friday Forty as a "sketch comedy, current affairs, drinking game show" in which contestants answer questions while drinking 40-ounce bottles of beer.

  Holmes and Gimple also perform in the iO West All-Stars show Saturday at the Shadowbox Theatre.

  "We just want to stay sober until the show is over," Holmes says. "Honestly, that's the No. 1 concern."

  Also appearing at Hell Yes Fest is Joey Greco, the former host of Cheaters, a hidden-camera show that purports to show people catching unfaithful partners. Greco delivers the keynote address during Wednesday night's opening ceremonies at The Republic. Given his work on Cheaters, people may be surprised to see Greco involved in comedy, but he got to know Trew after acting in the Studio 8 short film The House That Drips Blood on Alex, which aired on Comedy Central.

  "I'm not a serious guy," he admits. "I'm just a dorky knucklehead. I like to have fun and goof around."

  Hell Yes Fest gives Greco a chance to show off his fun-loving side Saturday at The New Movement theater when he hosts The Megaphone Show, a house staple that involves a special guest sharing stories that inspire improv scenes.

  "Knowing New Orleans and knowing these cats, this could be a 'perfect storm' situation," Greco says. "Who knows what could happen, but I'm sure it's going to be a blast."

  D.C. Pierson headlines the Wednesday stand-up show at The Republic. Pierson is a member of the New York sketch comedy group Derrick Comedy, along with Donald Glover from the NBC sitcom Community. He worked in New Orleans last year as co-producer of the MTV movie Worst. Prom. Ever. His stand-up is influenced by his sketch work, and he says the format allows him to connect better with audiences.

  "Feeling that moment where they're with you, it's a very unifying, fun experience that you wouldn't necessarily get in other art forms," he says. "It's fun to have that very direct interplay with an audience for half an hour or an hour."

  Friday and Saturday night, The New Movement features some homegrown talent at two Hell Yes Homecoming shows, both headlined by Theo Von, a Mandeville native who appeared on MTV's Road Rules and NBC's Last Comic Standing. The opening acts include local comics and comics who recently left the state to pursue comedy ("which, for the record, I don't approve of, but I understand," Trew says) and comics who have returned home to join the growing New Orleans scene.

  Also on this weekend's bill are two shows that first took shape at New Movement's New Orleans theater. Shipwrecked! and You Don't Know The Half Of It were conceived by New Movement performers and have evolved into polished shows. Shipwrecked! includes a rotating cast of guest storytellers sharing personal stories based on a central theme, and You Don't Know The Half Of It puts scripted actors onstage with improv performers to create unexpected scenes. Holmes and Trew also are featured Shipwrecked! storytellers.

  Comics from the theater's Austin satellite get a chance to shine at the Austin Invasion show Friday at Cafe Istanbul. "It's a show that people should go to knowing that some of these people are going to make it pretty big within a couple of years," Trew says.

  Organizers expect bigger crowds but there also are agents and managers in search of new talent. But Holmes admits the trip to New Orleans won't be all business.

  "We're hoping to hold it together and act like grownups until we're finished with the show," he says. "And then all bets are off."

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