Asheville native Petey Smith-McDowell hosts annual Laugh Your Asheville Off comedy fest

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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laugh_your_asheville_off_2_2015By Jonathan Rich

What You Need to Know: The What: 9th Annual Laugh Your Asheville Off Comedy Festival

The When: Wednesday, August 12th- Saturday, August 15th

The Where: Highland Brewing Company (8 p.m., Wednesday); Diana Wortham Theatre (8 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 7:30 & 9:30 p.m., Saturday)

The Cost: $20 per show

The Links:

Comedy is a relative thing. What makes one person laugh may offend another, and vice versa.

Asheville native Petey Smith-McDowell has been a regular on the local comedy scene since 2008 when he was just 19 year old and the stage veteran has not only the quick quips but the friendly personality to walk that humorous line when he serves as host for all the events at this year’s Laugh Your Asheville Off comedy festival.

“How I describe my act is stupidly witty, most people say what sets me apart from other comics is my stage presence,” said the Asheville High graduate of his allure for audiences who want to chuckle. “Growing up my influences were Eddie Murphy and Richard Lewis. Now it’s the people I do comedy with, I get inspired watching my friends do well.”

Many of those friends will be on stage this week as more than 50 comedians from across the country showcase their giggly goods at Highland Brewing Company Wednesday night and the Diana Wortham Theatre Thursday through Saturday. Smith-McDowell has performed at the event previously four times, but now is stepping out of the spotlight to host all of the shows and let others get their chance at stardom.

“This festival is really big on seeing up and coming comics before they make it,” said the now 26 year old comedian of the event now in its 9th year. “Coming to LYAO is your chance to see the future of standup comedy.”

There is no official thematic grouping of the diverse comedy acts for each night of the festival, just funny people trying to make others laugh. The event was recently previewed by Paste Magazine as one of the top two comedy festivals in the country to see this summer and that national attention can only benefit the performers and Western North Carolina’s growing comedy scene.

“Just how big the festival has gotten is impressive,” he said. “I’ve seen and heard people talk about the festival outside of NC and WNC. Hearing people talk about it in New York is really cool. This scene has grown to create some amazing local comics with impeccable writing skills. It’s time for people to come out and see it and be a part of it.”

Smith-McDowell has opened for some of the hottest names in comedy (the new host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” Trevor Noah, Hannibal Burress and Rory Scovel, just to name a few) and hosts a Saturday night comedy show at The Southern in downtown Asheville called “Petey’s Playhouse,” so his comedy credentials are anything but in question. As someone who has moved to New York City to make a career out of comedy but returns to WNC to keep in touch, he hopes events like LYAO and the weekly Disclaimer Comedy Lounge Wednesday nights at The Southern will continue to keep Asheville in the national comedy conversation.

“I come to Asheville to keep make sure the scene is still thriving because this is my hometown and I got started in my backyard,” he explained. “I want to keep it like that. I go up to New York every chance I get, because it’s New York and fun to run around the city just telling my jokes. It’s great to have the festival so local comics can see how a comedy festival works and see the ends and outs of the business side. It’s great to have Disclaimer Comedy. They are the nest for the scene. Most, if not all, local comics started out at a Disclaimer Comedy open mic and then got comfortable enough to go start their own open mic or their own comedy shows. Without Disclaimer Comedy there wouldn’t be a local comedy scene.”

In terms of this year’s LYAO festival, Smith-McDowell said he could not pick one headlining act or comedian to see: he advised those interested in a good time to see them all, enjoy the laughter, and maybe even be inspired to grab the mic and giggle for an audience of their own one day.

“I just want people to enjoy great standup comedy,” he said. “Stand up is art form. I want them to walk away having a good time and appreciate stand up and come out to more Asheville comedy shows.

My main goal is to always love doing standup. It’s brought me so many great moments in my life and so many great people in my life. For people who want to do it, GO DO IT. The hardest time is your first time, so just knock it out the way and come be a part of a cast of characters who do the same thing.”

Jonathan Rich writes about entertainment for

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

  • 1

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  1. White Lightnin August 10, 2015

    It really is a great festival. See you on the bus Wednesday, Blue Dragon?

  2. James Fisher August 10, 2015

    Can’t wait! Been to every LYAO and always walk away impressed by the level of talent!


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