Gatlinburg Improv Festival – INTERVIEW – Meet The Founders

This week is the Gatlinburg Improv Festival in Tennessee, it runs between the days of March the 1st to Saturday the 2nd and is the home to a number of great improv acts and workshops! There are 60+ performers and 17 troupes performing including Shenanigans, Nashville Improv, Einstein Simplified and Wordplayers Playback just to name a few. If you are in the area the Festival is held at Sweet Fanny Adams Theatre, all shows are $10 and weekend passes are $25.

gif fest

Over the next week we are going to have a chat with just some of the great acts that are performing. To kick things off we meet James , who co-founded the festival with his wife Krisha, I caught up with him to find out all about it.

Hello Can you tell us a little bit about the Gaitlinburg Improv Fest and the people behind it?

My wife Krisha and I used to perform with Sak Theatre and also at Sak comedy lab in Orlando, Florida. we moved to the Knoxville area in 2005 and started organizing the Gatlinburg improv fest in 2011 for a 2012 early march performance weekend. 



How did you guys start the festival? 

I hadn’t performed in a long while because i have multiple sclerosis and was a stay at home dad for our two young daughters. Krisha had been performing at Sweet Fanny Adams Theatre in Gatlinburg. She and I thought it would be fun to invite our old improv comedy friends for a weekend of shows at the theatre. The Sweet Fanny Adams owners, Chris Macpherson and Jen Evans, agreed and we put it all together pretty quickly. It’s great to have friends who perform improv and also friends with their own theatre. 🙂



 How did you come up with the name?

Not much of a story but we opted for the location in the name, “Gatlinburg”, in the title as most improv festivals do and also to give the town a little credit. Gatlinburg is great! 🙂


What style of Improv happens at this festival?

Long and short form and beyond my goal is to “yes, and” all the groups and whatever they want to bring. sometimes it’s awful (not too often;) ) sometimes it’s brilliant (a lot!). It’s always fun. 🙂 Performance slots for each group are 18 minutes this year and we’ll have up to four groups per show. 

We’ll also have a couple of improv jams for mixing the different groups of performers together which is always a big favourite of performers and audiences.



Tell us about your line up this year!

Our 8pm Friday opening night show is a Knox-centric block w/ Knoxville’s Cumberland Striptease, WordPlayers PlayBack, and ISP Involuntary Sports Party, as well as a short-form long-form Soap Opera Jam with Cincinatti’s The Middle Child’s director, Missy Whitis!

Our 10pm Friday show brings Columbia, South Carolina’s Tomorrowquest Theatre, Orlando, Florida’s Four First Names, Nashville Improv  from some town west of here, and new to GIF this year, Cincinnati, Ohio’s Two Sketchy Dames!

The 6pm Saturday show welcomes our friends from Lee University and beyond, Shenanigans, The Maybe Pile, My 4 Dads, and Knoxville’s Full Disclosure!

Our 8pm Saturday features Murfreesboro’s M-Prov, Chicago’s Underhanded Improv, Knoxville’s Einstein Simplified and an Improv Jam!

The 10pm Saturday night show closes us out with more improv from Orlando’s Lowkeybush, Atlanta’s The Cardigan Party and the Tri-Cities’ Blue Plate Special, and another Improv Jam!



What advice have you been given by others about hosting a festival? 

Patience, acceptance, trust, flexibility are key. it’s basically like any relationship. 😉



What will make you different to other improv festivals out there?

We are pretty small and the Sweet Fanny Adams Theatre is really a beautiful and intimate space to perform improv in. The audience is small, 160 seats, and close and the vibe is a special sweet mix of the wonderful olde vaudeville style theatre space and the diverse fun energetic joy-bringing improvisors we have.



You are based in Tennessee! What is the improv scene like there?

It is pretty limited. Einstein Simplified is a long time group in Knoxville (that Krisha worked with for a short time). They are great super energy short form and have been to every Gatlinburg Improv Fest. They were the only ones around long before us and I‘m sure will outlast us all. they do a weekly show at scruffy city hall in knoxville. other than that there wasn’t much else when we started.  I’m happy to say several groups have sprung up since we started gif in 2012. happy to have them join us this year, too. 



What other improv festivals  and shows are you a fan of and why?

All the ones at Sak theatre in Orlando in the 90’s and early 2000’s because i ran them. 😉 Also dad’s garage in Atlanta does great festivals. Comedysportz is where i started doing improv in Washington DC in the late 80’s,  and i have always enjoyed CSZ’s Milwaukee festivals.


What advice would you give for people thinking about starting an improv troupe? 

Do it. it will make your life better. Dooooooo iiiiiiiiiiittttt! 



If people want to find out more about you where can they find you on social media?

Gatlinburg improv fest on Facebook

@gatlimprovfest on twitter

James newport, Director, email at


In three words why should people come  to your festival?

joy joy joy.

It’s an improv festival! it’s $10 a show, $25 for a weekend 5 show pass, and live comedy in a beautiful and fun little vaudeville style theater  in Gatlinburg, Tennessee in the great smoky mountains!


What is the best thing about being at Gaitlinburg Improv Festival ?

Friends, laughs, more laughs, omigod so many laughs!


What is the most challenging thing about hosting a festival?

Organizing an improv fest (any fest really) is very similar to herding cats. improvisors are not always the most organized folk some are but some  aren’t. 



How do you decide who to have as a guest at each of the festivals?

Previous performers get first ask and then we fill slots as they are available mostly first come first serve. If someone is interested i try to get them in., it doesn’t always work but so far good. There’s always several new groups we’ve added extra slots this year to accommodate the 17 groups we’re having perform.


Who would be your dream guest to appear and why?

We don’t need no fancy guests! ha! I would love it if any famous improvisors showed up and wanted to jump in somewhere. Feel free to let them know. 😀



Tell us about the sort of rehearsals you do to get ready for a show?

I mostly just host these days. I teach a free improv workshop on Saturday morning during fest though. 


Describe the feeling you have when you host a show and people specifically turn up to see your festival that you have organised? 

Oh, cmon that’s pretty awesome, but honestly what i love the most is standing in the back of theater and watching and listening to the audience laugh at the show. That sound and energy is the absolute best. it makes me so damned happy to see and hear the audience so joyful and happy. That’s what really makes me feel good about it all. everyone should make and spread more joy. it literally makes the world a better place. 🙂


We are a UK based website and there is a huge UK improv community – for anyone who is interested is there a way they can apply for future festivals?

Absolutely! Just  send me, James Newport, an email at then keep sending them. i am actually one of those disorganized improvisors  i mentioned earlier. heh, but really if interested just email me and we’ll see what we can work out. Key part of the equation to consider, i have no budget. 😉




What is the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?

Sardine and onion sandwiches with mustard on toast. still like them from time to time. 


If you could trade lives with anyone for a day who would it be and why?

A better dancer, I love to dance. 


If you could paint anything what would you paint?

Portraits of people the way I see them so they could see what i see.


What is the most delightful word you can think of?



Favourite song?

Too many, instead i picked a great random song from my iphone library:

Thunderstruck by 2cellos



Who is your comedy hero and why?

Steve Martin, he’s such a renaissance man of comedy also, I was 12 in 1977 so…


What is your favourite movie quote?

“no matter where you go, there you are.” – buckaroo bonzai


Who is your favourite cartoon character and why?

Bugs Bunny. another renaissance man of comedy. ha! Also i was 8 in 1973, so…

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