Doug Key, Founder of Rogue Island Comedy Festival

Rhode Island’s only stand-up comedy festival is just a few short weeks away from returning to Newport!

Now in its 5th year, the Rogue Island Comedy Festival will bring local and nationally known comedians to Newport October 10th – 14th, 2019.

Rogue Island Comedy Festival

What’sUpNewp is a proud sponsor of the 2019 Rogue Island Comedy Festival. We recently caught up with Doug Key, founder of the Rogue Island Comedy Festival, to find out more about this year’s big event.

What’sUpNewp: Tell us (maybe again) how you came up with the idea for this festival.

Doug Key: “In 2012, I started producing a monthly stand-up show called “The Wasted talent Show” at Firehouse Theater where I’d book 5 comics, each with different styles of comedy to give the audience a nice little variety pack of stand-up. The show sold out nearly every month for a few years, and I realized there was a market for stand up comedy in Newport. I reached out to a few friends with the idea of doing multiple shows across an entire weekend and calling it a festival. Newport is no stranger to festivals, with some being dedicated to music, art, food, beer, so I figured a legit comedy festival would round out the pallet”.

Did you ever think five/six years ago that this Festival would be what it is today? Where do you see it in five or ten years?

“The festival began as an experiment with no definite intentions to make it an annual thing, but we had no idea that it would get the overwhelming positive response from locals that it did in 2015. In 5 years, I hope to make the festival statewide, running shows all over Rhode Island. My main goal is to turn more people on to live comedy and gain the attention of comedy fans all over New England and beyond”.

What’s new, different, or exciting in this 5th year? Is the festival growing, changing, or expanding each year? Anything or anyone you’re super excited to see?

“Each year, we up the ante a little bit. With the addition of 2 live podcasts, we’ve expanded into 16 shows with 70 comedians across the 5 nights, which is a lot of comedy. I’m super excited to see Sean Patton at Jane Pickens Theater on Saturday Oct 12th! I’ve seen him a few times in NYC and at SXSW, and he just kills every show! Also our festival kickoff show on Thursday, October 10th is stacked! We have Rosebud Baker from Comedy Central, Corinne Fisher from the GWF’d podcast, and Newport’s own Bridget Phetasy, who’s recently garnered the praise of Joe Rogan. Every show is going to be killer in its own way”!

Can you tell us how you go about putting the lineup together? Have you gotten to the point (like, say, the Newport Folk Festival) where you have more people wanting to perform/have more fans asking for certain people to perform than you have the room for?

“First we talk about which headliners we want and start sending emails to them directly or to their agencies. Then we open up our submission period for any comic who wants to perform to send us their tapes/credentials. We watched about 400 tapes this year and could only accept about 45! It was very competitive but we narrowed it down to the some of the strongest and most unique voices out there. Of course we get locals asking us to book superstar comedians, and I always tell them that we like to keep our shows small to moderate in size to preserve the intimate comedy club feel, and more importantly, that the comics we book are so much funnier than some of the huge mainstream names out there today”. 

What’s the “current state” of stand-up comedy in Rhode Island? Places you recommend for people to catch the comedians they may see on the lineup?

“The Comedy Connection in East Providence is the home club of RI. They really book some great nationally headliners there while incorporating local talent into the shows. A few Rogue Island comics, Brian Beaudoin, Dennis Mello and R.A. Bartlett run some shows and open mics in Providence that helps to keep the local scene afloa”t.

It’s a very diverse lineup, how much does that speak to stand-up comedy in 2019?

“We’ve always kept our lineups diverse, but not just for the sake of diversity. Each comic has a different style or perspective they bring to the festival, and that’s what we pride ourselves in. We’ve always booked funny women, but truthfully, we did see more talented women submit to the festival this year, which is why we have more women in 2019. It was more of a probability thing than intentional. Funny is funny”.

Tell us a little bit about your team and the folks that put this together and make this possible…

“Well I certainly couldn’t handle this festival without the marketing genius of my partner Katie Latimer. She handles all the website and graphic design, digital marketing, and holds down the fort at every show, checking people in. She’s the full package. During the festival, we have a bunch of volunteers that we’re so grateful for. They help set up the shows and hand out fliers on the street, getting people to the shows, seating them, and just making it a smoother overall operation. Though we don’t put them to work, we like to think of our local sponsors as part of the team. They really help support the festival and give it that small town, community vibe”.

Anything that we haven’t mentioned that you would like to share?

“Locals should buy tickets early! Being a holiday weekend and all, shows fill up very fast with tourists. I can’t tell you how many of my friends and family I wasn’t able to squeeze into some of the sold out shows because they waited too long! You have plenty of time now, and there’s SIXTEEN shows to choose from! Tickets are only $20 to regular shows and $30 to our special event shows at Jane Pickens Theater. Check the schedule on our website“.

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit

Ryan Belmore is the Owner and Publisher of What'sUpNewp.  Belmore has been involved with What’sUpNewp since shortly after its launch in 2012, proudly leading it to be named Best Local News Blog in...