The Lady Behind the Laughs
Bonnaroo’s comedy lineups are a thing of legend. Everyone from Aziz Ansari to Zach Galifiankis has taken the stage (er, circus tent) at The Farm, collaborating in one-of-a-kind showcases and creating unforgettable memories. Of course, it wouldn’t have been possible without our ringleader and comedy consultant, Rachèle “Rocky” Benloulou-Dubin.
She entered the world of comedy after making the big move from Montreal to Los Angeles, where she worked as a PA on specials like Comic Relief and American Comedy Wars. When she landed in New York City, she began working her way up through comedy clubs with a knack for building relationships and an eye for talent. These days she books for a number of festivals and venues, including Bonnaroo and Outside Lands.
We caught up with Rocky to learn more about how comedy at Roo went from humble beginnings in a 500-person wedding tent to attracting world-class talent and thousands of fans for each set.
Let’s go back to the beginning. How did you get involved with Superfly?
About twelve years ago I got a phone call from Rick Farman (Superfly co-founder) and he said that he had this idea; that he wanted to start booking comedy for Bonnaroo. There were all of these questions about how to make it happen and someone gave him my number, so we started talking and just clicked.
Even though there are more and more non-musical offerings every year, most people still primarily think of Bonnaroo and Outside Lands as music festivals. What role does comedy have at these fests?
For me, it’s a dream having my love of music and comedy mashed together. Rick had such a forward thought, offering something else to the audience other than just music. It’s a chance to provide them with entertainment they enjoy throughout the year. They go to clubs. They listen to podcasts. They watch the specials. Comedy is more accessible now than it’s ever been.
Of course, comedians and rock stars have always wanted to be each other. It’s always fun to see an artist like Eddie Vedder sneak in the tent to watch a few sets.
What’s going through your mind when you’re booking a comedy lineup for such a diverse group of fans?
In the beginning, I just knew who was good. A circus tent on a farm really isn’t your normal comedic environment. When I book Bonnaroo, I do it completely differently from other events. I want to find artists who will offer something new to the audience. The best part is introducing the fans to someone up-and-coming and seeing them years later when they’re like “Oh my god, I can’t believe I saw Aziz Ansari at Bonnaroo in 2005!”
What advice do you give performers? This has be a little intimidating for them.
I tell everyone “Don’t try anything new.” Just keep your set strong, short and high energy. It’s a tough room, because you’re trying to keep the attention of people who have a lot of other stuff going on. But the audience shows so much love to the artists, it’s clear that they truly want to be there. It’s not just because the tent is air-conditioned. (laughs)
But, you know, I booked Steven Wright, which is someone who doesn’t have a lot of energy. He’s not loud. I knew it was going to be a challenge, too. He was so nervous! “Oh my god, these kids aren’t going to know who I am!” He went onstage and got a standing ovation. It was unbelievable! He killed it!
What have other performers said about the experience?
Oh, they love it. If being on a farm is something you can’t deal with, this isn’t for you. That’s why I only try to book people who genuinely want to be there, experiencing the festival and hanging out with the crowds. The performers get so much energy from the fans when they see these people waiting in line for hours.
Of course, you’re always going to be quirky moments and hecklers that you don’t encounter at clubs. There was one guy who said he was Jesus Christ and went up to Lewis Black, who was just absolutely tickled by it. (laughs)
Now that you’ve been booking for Bonnaroo for over a decade, what are some of your highlights?
It’s always a great time when we have Lewis Black. One of my favorite shows that I’ve ever booked was John Mulaney, Reggie Watts, and Zach Galifiankis. Because it’s a special gig, I get an opportunity to put together shows that you’re never going to see on the road. The comedians really appreciate being around their buddies for the weekend, too. After that set, Zach told me it felt just like summer camp.
Chris Rock and Conan O’Brien doing their sets on the main stage was another amazing and intense experience. Watching an entire audience hang on every word for a solid 45 minutes was just unbelievable.
Now that we’ve covered the past, let’s talk about the future. What excites you the most about this year’s lineup?
There’s a lot of really strong emerging talent. I was able to book a lot more of them by doing classic showcases instead of only a headliner and one or two opening acts. They’re recognizable, but I’m sure we’ll be introducing them to the audience and spreading the love a little bit.
How would you like to see live comedy continue to grow?
I’m thrilled to see The Barbary at Outside Lands continue to grow. Festivals are an amazing place for all styles – stand up, alternative comedy, raunchy puppet shows… It’s great to see the art form flourish and reach people who might not go to a typical comedy club. Once they’ve had the live comedy experience, maybe it’ll get them to support some of these artists when they’re on the road.
I’ve got one last question, and it’s a tough one. Who’s your all-time favorite comic?
Oh, there isn’t just one. There can’t be! Which generation? I love Richard Pryor, Mel Brooks, Greg Giraldo…
There were so many great women, too. Lily Tomlin, Carol Burnett, and Bridget Everett had such an amazing impact on where we’re at today. Seeing great women come out and finally getting recognized for being comics – not just as female comics - is amazing.
Some of them aren’t traditional comedy or classic stand-up, but it’s funny and liberating. I guess that’s what comedy’s supposed to do, though. It frees you from holding all of that stress and darkness.