By Ken Stone
A Brazilian Jew, a San Diego substitute teacher and a black British ex-model walk into a bar.
What do you get?
Set for Oct. 12-14, the international yuckfest (“Bringing the world together through comedy”) is the brainchild of Gary Wolf, a stand-up comic himself who belongs to be in our opening line — as a South African who came to San Diego in 2008 and never left.Wolf recruited fellow Jew Fábio Rabin (the Brazilian), former San Diego Comedian of the Year Steven Garza (the teacher), Chris James (the UK native) and Hungarian-born Zoltan Kaszas, a winner of San Diego’s Funniest Person Contest.
The humble goal is “establishing the San Diego World Comedy Jam at a comedic level on par with such giants as The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the Montreal International Comedy Festival and the Melbourne International Comedy Festival,” says Wolf, CEO of Gary Wolf Entertainment LLC.
“The truth is, San Diego has everything necessary to become the fulcrum of the international comedy circuit,” he says. “San Diego has great weather, beautiful beaches, an international airport and, of course, a highly efficient border crossing.”
He jests (about the border crossing).
But Wolf says he’s “dumbfounded” the United States has no major international comedy festival (although regional events are common.)
“The time has come for the greatest and most socially diverse country in the world to have the greatest and most diverse comedy festival in the world,” he said in a statement.
So is Gary crying Wolf? Who he?
Born Gary Wolfson 45 years ago in Johannesburg, South Africa, Wolf [his stage name] graduated from the University of the Witwatersrand with a bachelor of commerce degree (with majors in accounting, marketing and information systems).
He first came to America in 1995 as a tourist.
For six months, he explored North America, beginning with a two-month stint in Mexico then up to California, Arizona, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York State, Maryland, D.C., Connecticut, Vermont and then Canada.
“It gave me a deeper understanding of American subcultures and better understanding of why people choose not travel by Greyhound bus,” Wolf said in a recent interview.
The University Town Center resident says he’d been doing comedy in South Africa for 10 years and felt he had hit a ceiling there, “so coming to the States was the next logical step. After leaving South Africa, I traveled [to] Southeast Asia and China for a few months and then arrived in July 2008.”
He came to San Diego for a family wedding and had a chance to stay.
“San Diego definitely was the best city weather-wise and it has a large South African community,” he says.
His comedy roots?
While living in Israel, Wolf taught English at a Berlitz college — but says he found the curriculum so boring that he decided to infuse the lessons with humor.
“I got fired,” he says. “So I decided to just to the real thing. I started doing comedy professionally in Johannesburg and have done tours in South Africa and the UK. I have also done some shows in L.A.”
He produced two comedy shows in San Diego: “No … I’m not Australian” in 2013 and “Surf and Turf — Best of San Diego Comedy” in 2017.
Wolf is single with no kids, but his uncle has been in the area for 30 years and his mother for 12.
“I also have cousins here, which means we should have a minimum of at least 10 ticket sales,” he says. “I don’t have any [pets], but I do like to visit the San Diego Wild animal retirement home (by South African standards).”
Wolf was interviewed via email earlier this month.
Times of San Diego: Do you belong to a local temple?
Gary Wolf: I belong to the Jewish Chabad synagogue downtown. But to be clear, I am only in it for the food. Seriously though, I have always had a secular spiritual orientation, and three specific experiences shaped my view of the neutrality of religion. 1) I lived in Israel for a year, 2) I taught English at an Islamic school in Indonesia and 3) I worked as a volunteer driver for the Christian organization Meals on Wheels in Johannesburg.
I believe our lack of connection and separation is what causes fear and suspicion. The more we can connect and learn about one another’s cultures and backgrounds, the more the world will move to a state of harmony.
How did you get the idea for SDWCJ? Who is helping you on the project?
Travel and entertainment are my passions. So I am combining the two with this project. I believe this country is suffocating from nationalism and parochialism and could use a healthy dose of ongoing exposure to world cultures through comedy. I have a help from a close family member here in San Diego who has business and marketing experience and provides me with logistical and planning support.
Why did you pick WorldBeat Center for the venue?
We have the same social goals. Their main agenda is to create unity within diversity. We seek to do the same by raising cultural awareness through the medium of comedic arts.
How many comedians expected at WCJ? Five if you decide I am funny. Otherwise, just four.
We reviewed a number of female comedians. Honestly, those whose material we really liked were either too costly to bring over or weren’t available during our event dates. Having a balanced gender ratio is a major priority for next year’s Jam.
We don’t have any Israeli comedians this year, but we have two in mind for next year. We would love recommendations for next year. In fact, we encourage anyone with recommendations to post them on our Facebook page email firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet them to @san_comedy.
Any possibility of landing one of the America’s Got Talent comedians, such as Oceanside’s Vicki Barbolak?
I did catch one of Vicki’s shows in Hillcrest; she was hilarious. Next year we will be having a local stage and I would love to have her on the bill.
Most of your advertised comedians appear to be millennials. Any older or younger comedians booked?
We did a lot of research on this. According to the latest U.S. Census data, San Diego has the third-largest concentration of millennials of any major population center in the United States behind Providence, Connecticut, and Austin, Texas. When you add ages 32-36, we have a group representing over over 40 percent of the county’s population. For a successful kickoff event we felt it was important to appeal to them first and foremost. As we grow, it is clear we will need to broaden our array of artists.
Except for Fábio, your comedians appear to be the “clean” kind? Will you have other R-rated comedians — those who use “bad” language?
I prefer to work with clean comedians. I feel that when promoting cultural tolerance, obscenity and profanity can lead to contradictions in our goals. That being said, we know we have to be flexible as we grow.
Have you had any contact with South African Trevor Noah? Did you see his Del Mar show in June 2017?
Yes. I did see his show last year, and he was brilliant. I had talks with his agent, but he is out of our current budget. Should we experience the growth anticipate, we believe we will attract comedians of his stature.
How do you rate the quality of KAABOO Del Mar comedians? Any of those coming to your festival?
KAABOO puts on a great event and have a solid model for a festival atmosphere. They have some big quality names but only one out of their 14 comedians [was] foreign, that being Craig Ferguson. However, they are clearly targeting a more affluent and older demographic. Moreover, while there is a comedy component, KAABOO is known more for a music festival.
Your festival comes at height of campaign season. How might this affect the comedy and the audience numbers?
I don’t see any issue with this. It may encourage some social relief. And if it helps bring some awareness to social tolerance among potential voters, that is certainly something we would be happy about.
How did you choose the dates of the festival?
With major international comedy festivals already established in the Spring and Summer (Montreal, Edinburgh, Melbourne), it seemed like this would be the perfect finishing point of an annual comedic circuit.
Have you been to other international comedy festivals — as a spectator or participant?
Yes. In South Africa, we had a large Smirnoff Comedy Festival, which had South African, Australian, British and American comedians.
Have you been to other American comedy festivals? Which ones?
I have not. And there certainly isn’t any sort of International Comedy Festival in the United States to rival those in Canada, Scotland and Australia. So hopefully, we will become the hub for that here in the U.S.
You have an indiegogo site. How are you using crowd-funding for the festival?
We started there, but we found some private financing so have not been pushing that approach.
What’s your strategy for marketing the festival?
Social media, press, TV, radio, fliers and word of mouth. We are building a social media following on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and working with our artists to leverage their followers as well.
Any other well-known San Diego-based comedians in your festival?
Zoltan Kaszas is our headliner. He has twice been voted San Diego’s funniest comedian of the year. He also has a podcast (This Week in Zoltan) and a strong local following.
How will WorldBeat Center be set up? One comic at a time, or several areas? How long are their sets? Will they appear more than once?
For this year, we’ll just have one traditional format show, repeated four times. Each show features all the comedians and lasts two hours.
Will the $35 ticket pay for all three days? Or is it $35 per day?
The price is $35 per show. If people like the material so much they want to see it again, they are welcome to purchase tickets for another show. Show times are Friday, Oct. 12, from 8 to 10 p.m., two shows on Saturday, Oct. 13, from 6 to 8 p.m., and from 9 to 11 p.m. Then our last show on Sunday, Oct. 14 from 5 to 7 p.m. We will also have food and beverages, along with a DJ prior to all shows.
Will festival be live-streamed? Have you sold TV or other broadcast rights? (Will any acts be taped for YouTube or Vimeo, etc.?)
We have had talks with a production company who works with Netflix but have decided to see how this year goes before taping or streaming the whole show. The Saturday 9 to 11 p.m. show will be filmed but only for our promotional video next year.
Is City of San Diego helping with promotion, or any local agency or chamber?
The San Diego Tourism Authority is giving us some marketing support, which we very much appreciate. We are exploring other avenues of local support as well.
Will you perform? If so, what kinds of jokes will you tell?
Yes, I will be hosting all the shows. A combination of new and established material.
Will any comedians do their acts in languages other than English?
All performances will be given in English.
What will determine whether you have a second annual SDWCJ?
If we have a positive response and favorable feedback, we will produce a bigger event with more comedians next year. Of course, much of our plans depend on our ability to generate sufficient interest within the venture capital community. We are working on those plans already.
Anything else readers should know?
We believe that through comedy, the San Diego World Comedy Jam can help restore social tolerance, understanding and respect by humorizing the absurdity of common stereotypes and cultural distortions.
Updated at 4:10 p.m. Sept. 19, 2018
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