Now is the Time. Memphis is the Place.

Latoya Tennille Sets the Stage for Memphis Urban Laughs Comedy Festival

Photo by Catherine Evans.

The Memphis Urban Laughs Comedy Festival is back for a second year beginning Thursday, October 12th. The four-day festival kicks off with the Memphis Urban Laughs Comedy Awards honoring standouts in the urban comedy scene, followed by three days of showcases featuring local and nationally known comics at venues across the city.

The schedule includes an LGBT showcase, an all female showcase, a collaboration with Black Nerd Power Comedy, and a You Look Like A Comedy Show Memphis Urban Laughs edition. Tickets range from $10 – $50 and you can get them here.

Festival CEO and founder Latoya T. Polk is a mainstay of the Memphis comedy community who earlier this year was selected to be featured on the Kevin Hart Comedy Central project Hart of the City. During that experience, Latoya, who was performing under the stage name MzVivacious, received some advice from one of the show’s producers who reminded her that all of the comedy greats used their own names. As a result, the aspiring and already pretty accomplished comedy mogul is moving into the next phase of her career as Latoya Tennille.

Photo by Antoine Lever.

Latoya is well connected within the Memphis comedy community and maintains open and honest dialogue with comedians of various backgrounds. She acknowledges that while Memphis already had a comedy festival, she founded MULCF because she noticed a void.

“I felt there wasn’t a festival that fully embraced the Memphis urban comedy culture. There weren’t aspects that appealed to the urban community. Also I wanted to give an opportunity to comics who normally wouldn’t get a chance to perform in a festival.”

So, what separates urban comedy from other comedic genres? Shared understanding of things like certain cultural references. She says you can expect festival comics to offer “hilarious perspective to the urban way of life.”

Latoya’s own comedic style is blunt, unapologetically tackling subjects that may make you ask ‘Is it okay for me to laugh at this?’ — for instance, what it’s like to raise a child diagnosed with autism. The short answer per Latoya is yes, it’s okay to laugh.

She says that growing up in Memphis shaped her comedic style and what she’s willing to bare to audiences. “Not always having the best makes you find the best out of every situation. I grew up around Memphis checking…for that you must have thick skin.”

In addition to showcasing talent, there’s also a training component to Memphis Urban Laughs. Latoya is simultaneously hosting a youth comedy camp, Young Funny. The festival is also an opportunity for urban comics to gain valuable experience and make connections with out-of-town comics that could lead to increased exposure. It’s all part of her personal commitment to the quality and growth of Memphis comedy.

“I believe in the Memphis comedy scene. Memphis has talented and hilarious comics but unfortunately Memphians don’t know that.The festival puts the city on notice. The festival is a platform for everyone to be seen and heard but also the chance to get better through the classes. The festival also includes the hometown comics from other cities. Networking is very important in the comedy world. I do believe as a community we are on the cusp of really showing just how great the comics here are.”

Get to know Latoya better in Episode 77 of the Creative Memphis Podcast hosted by Billy Nation & Katrina Coleman. Learn more about the festival and other programs at the MULCF website.