Laughing Skull Comedy Festival Announces Changes to Improve the Diversity of Future Lineups

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Laughing Skull Comedy Festival Announces Changes to Improve the Diversity of Future Lineups

The Laughing Skull Comedy Festival has released a new update regarding the controversy over this year’s lineup originally featuring no Black women. This latest statement clarifies a few points that were left unclear during the festival’s communication last week. Among the new details, three, in particular, stand out: Far more Black women submitted than were claimed initially, there are only four judges, and the judges are almost exclusively men.

According to Skull Fest’s statement, the originally reported number of only 10 submissions from Black women was an unauthorized and incorrect post from an employee. In actuality, there were 31 submissions from Black women comics. While that number is still staggeringly low considering the number of Black women working professionally in comedy today, let alone in Atlanta’s scene itself, it’s much higher than only 10.

As for the judges, the festival has shined some light on who makes up their panel. According to the statement, of this year’s four judges “87 percent white and 75 percent male.” The new Skull statement expresses that in the future, their panel will be at least 50 percent people of color, with at least one Black judge, and 50 percent women. Also, they will be reaching out to headliners, bookers and show producers to refer rising comedians from underrepresented communities for consideration in the festival. That’s 12 days of watching videos for seven hours per day.

One revealing fact about the submission process is that there are only four judges for a festival that received over 1,000 submissions. Submission videos for the fest must be five to eight minutes long, meaning if every judge watches five minutes of every submission, they’re each on the hook for 83.3 hours viewing submissions. If they only watch the first two minutes, that’s still 33.3 hours apiece, four full, eight-hour days. And that’s just if they’re scoring while watching the videos. If the judges take a few minutes after each clip to consider the performance, the process is even longer.

Laughing Skull will be holding an online forum for members of the comedy community Friday afternoon. We’ll be sitting in on the call and will report back if new information becomes available. You can read the Laughing Skull Comedy Festival’s new statement in its entirety below.

A letter from Marshall Chiles, Owner, and Operator of The Laughing Skull Comedy Festival.
To Our Beloved Comedy Community:

In an effort to draft a more productive response to the numerous emails, calls, and online comments we have recently received, I have written this letter as a follow-up to our official statement regarding the challenges faced in organizing this year’s Laughing Skull Comedy Festival. I would first like to make clear, that this letter is a sincere apology to anyone who we hurt, offended, or dismissed by any previous communication. Your feelings do matter to us. We are a small operation, made up of a team of passionate individuals who truly love comedy. We have not employed a professional PR agency to address this issue for us. Instead, I felt it was important to take the time to speak one-on-one with industry professionals and comedians for feedback on how to properly address this serious concern, understand our failings and develop a meaningful strategy for change.

When concerns were first raised in our social media channels about the Festival, a member of my team posted two initial responses without authorization and without notifying me first of the issue. These responses were insensitive and inaccurate. The exact number of black female submissions was 31. The makeup of our four judges is 87% white and 75% male. We know this is not an inclusive group of judges so in future years the make up our judges will be at least 50% female and 50% people of color with at least one black person.

I take full responsibility for the actions of my staff and we are working together to learn and grow from this experience. We are all truly sorry. While we continue to reflect on how the booking of this year’s festival could have been handled better, we have recognized a few areas that will see immediate attention in order to improve our selection methods. Some of our ideas in this regard include, but are not limited to the following:

- We will expand and diversify our submission review committee to include more females and people of color to ensure all Festival video submissions are evaluated by a panel that better reflects the comedic sensibility of our larger community.

- We will invite additional industry professionals who have yet to experience our festival, with an emphasis on diversity, to provide feedback about both our festival and talent selection methods, and who will be excited to engage with all submitting comics.

- We will organize panels during the Festival for the industry to share their knowledge, and answer questions, in a public forum. We recognize that one of the big reasons comedians apply to The Laughing Skull Comedy Festival is to get exposure to our invited industry guests. We want to make it a priority that even after comedians are at the festival there will be additional opportunities to ask questions, be heard, and be seen.

- We will be asking a diverse set of headlining comedians, bookers, show producers and other industry professionals to refer under-represented and rising comedians in their given communities.

This has been a very challenging past few days that has offered the unique opportunity to re-evaluate our business model and rebuild it so that we are stronger and more inclusive than ever. We know we cannot fully remove the pain we caused in the community, but we hope you will grant us this opportunity to exercise positive change through listening to your input and applying what we learn.

Lastly, I have personally reached out to four talented and deserving black women to extend them an invitation to attend the Festival. As soon as we have official confirmations, we will make a formal announcement. We hope to share this exciting news with everyone prior to the upcoming virtual Town Hall we are hosting on Friday, March 15, 2019 at 2:00 pm EST. If you’re interested in participating in this virtual Town Hall, please send an email to with the subject line, ‘Town Hall Participation.’ During this conversation we hope to hear from everyone on how to make these changes possible. We cannot do it without your help and ideas. We are ready to listen, and hope to see you there.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter, and for your continued support.

Marshall Chiles