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In ‘Gowanus Idol,’ Ira Glass will judge singing comedians

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This is not “American Idol.”

The Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival returns to Brooklyn Sept. 18–22, and the festivities will kick off with a twisted take on the once-popular reality show, in which comedians will subject themselves to the scrutiny of celebrity judges Ira Glass of “This American Life,” the eponymous Eugene Mirman, and author and comedian Julie Klausner.

“The three celebrity judges will be like, counterparts to Simon Cowell, Ruben, and Paula Abdul,” said Kevin Townley, who organized the show along with his friend Elna Baker, a storyteller. “Ira will probably be the Paula Abdul equivalent.”

Gowanus Idol, which will take place at the Bell House on Sept. 18, is the latest installment of Townley and Baker’s the Talent Show, a comedy variety show where the night plays out following a given theme. Past shows have included “truth or dare,” in which comedian Kristen Schaal had to hold a boa constrictor for as long as it took her to name the first five presidents, and “12-step drinking game,” where Ira Glass got so drunk he threw up and one contestant had to be taken to the hospital, according to Townley.

In Gowanus Idol, each competing comedian will introduce themselves in an “America’s Got Talent”-style biographical video, and then sing a cover song with accompaniment from wedding band the Engagements. Performers will include alt-cabaret star Bridget Everett, comedian Giulia Rozzi, and comedy writer and actor Bobby Tisdale. For a group of people used to the scrutiny of audiences, Townley said many of the professional funny folk have been surprisingly nervous about singing in front of a crowd.

“These people do stand-up all over the country to varying degrees of ridicule, and they’re pretty hard to rock,” said Townley. “But something about singing really brings out their childish vulnerability. People have been like ‘But what if they’re mean?’ ”

This is the seventh year of Mirman has held his fest in Brooklyn. The Park Slope comic, who is also known for his roles in “Bob’s Burgers” and “Flight of the Conchords,” said the comedy carnival originally developed from a joke he made about having a festival named after himself, but the idea stuck. And while much of the festival is intended to poke fun at the orthodoxy of traditional festivals — one show is titled “5 Comics To Watch Get On Variety’s 10 Comics to Watch List,” and if you purchase a $500 VIP pass, Mirman promises to personally make you a custom gift basket — all the shows are genuinely funny, with the result being a mixture of “ironic-and-sincere,” as Mirman describes it on his website.

In addition to the comedy events, the festival will also include a licensed Certified Public Accountant in clown makeup who will be giving financial advice from a booth, and a real therapist who will set up office inside a bouncy castle.

“Part of it is teasing, but we don’t do it just for that purpose,” Mirman said. “It’s just a fun thing.”

Gowanus Idol at the Bell House [149 Seventh St. between Third and Second avenues in Gowanus, (718) 643–6510, www.thebellhouseny.com]. Sept. 18 at 8 pm. $20.

Reach reporter Noah Hurowitz at nhurowitz@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow him on Twitter @noahhurowitz
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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