John Dick Winters is a multi-hyphenate: stand-up comic, clothing designer and, with the Burning Bridges Comedy Festival—now in its fourth year—comedy producer, festival founder and night owl.
“Comedy doesn’t really happen until the sun goes down,” he says.
The Burning Bridges Comedy Festival runs from March 21 to March 24, with all shows happening after 7 p.m. The fest spans all across Pittsburgh, from Pitt’s campus to the Strip District, and features more than 50 performers.
Winters noticed that the Steel City did not have its own comedy festival around 2014.
“I did a couple of festivals and they were just an incredible amount of fun,” he says. “Pittsburgh didn’t have a festival and I wanted to bring it to Pittsburgh.”
There was a catch: The first Pittsburgh Comedy Festival was announced around that time, and Winters thought there wasn’t room for another. However, that soon changed, he says.
“It just kind of occurred to me that I thought there was room for two festivals,” Winters says, planning his in the beginning of the year to not interfere with the Pittsburgh Comedy Festival’s August schedule.
Now, the Burning Bridges Comedy Festival also has a namesake comedy club in Hambone’s, producing stand-up shows and open mics every week.
Unlike other comedy festivals in town, which feature improv and sketch comedy, Burning Bridges focuses solely on stand-up comedy, bringing some of the best local talent and new, up-and-coming comics from around the country.
According to Derek Minto, a local comic and longtime Burning Bridges performer, this helps expose people to comics they haven’t heard of. And, considering the festival received 500 performer submissions, the audience is truly getting the best of the best.
“It’s just really cool to be able to showcase people around the country who are working really hard. It might not be a TV name yet but they’re hysterical,” he says.
The festival also features themed shows, like “Hotdog!”—a hotdog eating contest-meets- comedy show—and “One Liner Madness,” a bracket-style one-line joke contest, to ensure fest-goers are getting a wide variety of stand-up shows.
Helen Wildy, a local comic who also performed in last year’s festival, says that, as a performer, the fest’s focus on stand-up is refreshing.
“It’s so great to be surrounded by so many other people who share that passion and that love and people who want to celebrate that,” she says.
This year’s headliners include Todd Barry, Ramon Rivas II and Kyle Kinane and Dave Stone, who bring their “Boogie Monster” podcast to the festival.
Barry and Rivas have been featured on Comedy Central, and the “Boogie Monster” podcast has about 600 patrons on Patreon. According to Winters, this is a sign of the festival’s growth, in both audience size and legitimacy, which he says will only improve in the future.
“I’m just excited to see it continue on as a natural progression of just becoming a better and better festival,” Winters says.
All tickets are less than $20, and the festival spans six locations, making the festival easy to attend, according to Winters.
“If you’re a comedy fan at all, there’s no reason not to see at least one of these shows ,” he says.