Comic Paul Anthony, who is the founder of the Long...

Comic Paul Anthony, who is the founder of the Long Island Comedy Festival, performs this weekend at Port Jefferson's Theatre Three. Credit: Long Island Comedy Festival / Robert Cioffi

After a year off due to the pandemic, the Long Island Comedy Festival returns with a series of weekend shows lasting throughout the summer and, for the first time, into autumn, at theaters in both counties.

"One of our goals this year is to help these incredible venues across Long Island reopen, and bring people back to live performances," says promoter Paul Anthony, 57, a Massapequa stand-up comic who founded the festival in 2006.

"There's nothing like being in a theater where you're seeing a professional production on a big stage, you're seeing top comic talent and you're surrounded by 300 or 400 other people," he enthuses. "We also wanted to remove the whole concept of the two-drink minimum and bar service and food service," he adds, explaining why the festival throughout the years has mostly avoided comedy clubs.

The 15th annual festival — "It takes time to explain" the skipped year, "so we say 'annual' " — opens Friday and Saturday at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson, with an 8 p.m. show each night featuring Anthony and Deer Park's Rich Walker, Bethpage born-and-bred Carie Karavas, Brentwood's Joe Starr and Stevie GB (né Steven Gianturco), of Holbrook.

Venues for shows on subsequent weekends include The Argyle Theatre in Babylon, the Gold Coast Arts Center in Great Neck, The Madison Theatre at Molloy College in Rockville Centre and Studio Theatre of Long Island's BayWay Arts Center in East Islip. Other comics set to perform include such local favorites as Richie Byrne, Mark Demayo, Joe DeVito, Rob Falcone, Eric Haft, Leighann Lord, Vinnie Mark, Christine O'Leary, Steve Rocco Parrillo, Chris Roach, Peaches Rodriguez, Marla Schultz, Michael Somerville and Maria Walsh.

The festival also brings in younger comedians who are then "able to say, 'Wow, I got to work with these national headliners,' because a lot of networking takes place behind the stage, in the green room. It's a tight-knit community," Anthony notes. "And months later I'll get an email saying, 'Hey, I'm going to be opening up for this comedian,' or 'This comedian helped me get into Atlantic City.' So that's a whole other aspect of the comedy festival, in terms of giving these younger comedians exposure."

This year's "comics in their 20s and 30s, which in comedian years is young," he says, include Talia Reese, Dennis Rooney, Scott Schendlinger and Aiko Tanaka.

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