Ian Douglas Terry and the Death of Crom | Q&A

[Editor’s note: The following interview previews the final Crom Comedy Festival, which happens in Omaha on April 21-23. It features headliners Adam Cayton-Holland, Amy Miller, Andy Peters and Eric Dadourian as well as 40 comedians from around the country. Friday and Saturday take place at O’Leaver’s, Sunday at Lookout Lounge. RSVP here.]

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When I called Ian Douglas Terry (IDT) he was in the middle of building a party tent outside Ratio Beerworks in Denver, CO. Since moving from Omaha to Denver in 2014 Ian has fallen in love with Denver and Ratio where he books events and assists with social media management. Aside from hosting regular comedy nights in the loading area of the brewery that is converted into a performance space most evenings, Ian has also been hosting a monthly themed pub quiz that often boasts up to 40 teams, and he’s helping bring in musical acts like Tim Kasher to play intimate acoustic sets before their scheduled performances at other venues around the city.

Though Ian moved west three years ago he’s still a well-known figure amongst Omaha comedians and comedy fans alike, as a founding member of OK Party Comedy and the creator of the annual Crom Comedy Festival, which is in its fifth and final year, despite going international (to Toronto) in 2017 and featuring headliners such as Denver native Adam Cayton-Holland (Those Who Can’t on truTV) and Amy Miller (Last Comic Standing).

Full disclosure: IDT is a long time friend of mine and the person who got me involved in stand up by giving me a chance to get on stage five years ago. I have performed on Crom Fest every year and have even helped with its production, although in a minimal capacity. In other words, this isn’t a hard-hitting exposé, but rather two pals talking about a festival they love in its final days of existence. Comedy can be sad sometimes too!

Ryan de la Garza: I have to ask, do you foresee staying in Denver?

Ian Douglas Terry: Oh yeah, once Ratio brought me on as a salaried employee it’s like why would I ever leave? I’m a salaried comedian. That’s like the dream.

RdlG: Ratio seems very supportive of your whims.

IDT: Yeah, I’m on Medicaid right now, but I have to switch to normal health insurance soon and they offered to help me out with that. Ratio is run by two punk dudes and they’re real chill.

RdlG: Is salaried comedian your official title?

IDT: I got to make my own. It was originally “Hell Yeah Dude” because we thought that was funny, but I wanted it to sound like something important in case I ever need to get another job so it’s Entertainment Czar, like Omaha’s Bicycle Czar that they fired.

RdlG: All right, let’s get serious. Why is this the last Crom?

IDT: Oh, that’s an easy one. Crom has basically reached a point where we have to end it or go legit and make it an LLC, which sucks. That’s what killed the Comedy Expo in Chicago. It’s like a full-time job that loses you money. It’s a bummer. We talked about making it an LLC before last year’s Crom, but we don’t get a lot of money coming in. We get submission money, sure, but most of that’s spent before the festival even rolls around on flights for headliners, hotels, and things like that. We were just having the worst time getting sponsors — money sponsors. Plenty of people wanted to give us energy drinks and shit like that, but there were very few places that wanted to give us money.

RdlG: You can’t pay your headliners with Red Bull.

IDT: Exactly. A lot of senior comedians have said there’s a comedy bubble that’s about to break. In my opinion, there’s a festival bubble too and it already broke. It’s not a unique thing anymore. When we started [Crom] five years ago there were the big festivals and we just wanted to do this weird DIY festival with our friends. There was nothing like that. Now Iowa has five comedy festivals. They’re all over, just tons. A festival credit isn’t going to mean anything anymore unless it’s Bridgetown and apparently that’s ending soon.

RdlG: This year is the last one.

IDT: Yeah, only the big festivals that bring in a lot of money will be able to keep going and even some of those are going away. It seems like people kind of just don’t give a shit. We had Bobcat Goldthwait in Omaha last year and thought that would skew to a different crowd and bring out not just the normal young people, but it was brutal. We planned for the same audience as the year before and we pulled in about half.

RdlG: You’ve booked all the comedy acts at the Fest in Gainesville, FL for several years and recently Hear Nebraska’s Lincoln Calling, both of which focus mainly on music. How do those compare to festivals that deal strictly with comedy?

IDT: Now that I’m getting involved with music festivals that will pay me to book good shows I don’t have to worry about shit. I just have to book good shows. That’s my strength. I’m a dummy when it comes to business, I’m a dummy when it comes to money, but I can put together some really good shows. Fest is the easiest job I have. I love Omaha, but I don’t think Omaha can support a comedy festival anymore. They’ll still get good shows with comedians that want to do O’Leaver’s all the time, though.

RdlG: In addition to Omaha and Denver, Crom is in Toronto this year as well. How did that come about?

IDT: Through Fest, through Gabe Koury who is very similar to me — and you too — where he used to be in punk bands until he moved over into the comedy world. His job in Toronto is he’s a booker and promoter for a bunch of venues for punk shows so he already has a bunch of ins with cool venues and wanted to work together to bring Crom up North.

RdlG: Regarding the festival bubble, do you think more comedy festivals will try to get themselves absorbed into music fests?

IDT: I think so. There was a festival in Atlanta that just did that and now they’re part of the PBR Fest. It just makes more sense to attach to a music festival.

RdlG: Like Maha [Music Festival]?

IDT: Yeah, look how well Maha is doing. It’s great every year.

RdlG: The comedy tent is always packed.

IDT: Yeah, it’s unfortunate that comedy can’t be its own big ol’ thing but there’s just so much comedy. The market is saturated.

RdlG: As a comedian in Omaha, I feel like the only people you’re advertising to sometimes are other comedians.

IDT: That’s the nice thing about Denver. I don’t care if Denver comedians come to a show because at Ratio we have a built-in audience for every show and it’s great. There’s regular people here who love free comedy. Smaller markets are just a real challenge.

RdlG: Do you have any more thoughts on the comedy bubble?

IDT: Comedy across the board is in trouble. So many comedy websites are firing their people who write and make content and are bringing on people who will write for free or just the experience. Conan [O’Brien] is on less often now — weekly maybe. It’s just looking bleak for a lot of people involved in comedy right now since there are fewer opportunities.

I’ve been doing comedy for eight years and I’ve seen it grow from nothing to being a scene with cool shows that’s not just the old club out west. It seems there are people who are interested in being comedians and love comedy and there are other people who are just looking for a hobby or something to do and don’t appreciate putting the work in and building a scene. They just want to do something. There are a lot of hobbyists.

RdlG: Do you feel that way about the people who view it as therapy?

IDT: Yeah, to me — and you’re from the same punk band background — it’s about building a community. That’s the big part about all of this. You build a community of like-minded people where everybody’s welcome, all ideas are welcome and you support each other and build up from there. I’m not in Omaha anymore, but I felt like we had a strong community and then unfortunately people moved away and that took away from it. But I think building a goal should be the main community, not doing it as a hobby or therapy or to just have something to complain about on Facebook.

RdlG: You don’t like the drama involved with comedy?

IDT: One of the biggest reasons for me wanting to be done with [Crom] is that I’ve become a cartoon villain because of it. There are people who do not like me because they didn’t get onto Crom. That’s going to happen with anything. I book a lot of shows. People, instead of understanding, “Maybe i need to work harder, maybe I need to try something new so I’m not just like every other straight white guy wearing a plaid shirt,” there are people who are like, “Oh that’s stupid, this person hates me.” The people who realize they aren’t ready for something and need to put in more work, their voices aren’t nearly as loud as the people who are butthurt and mad at me.

RdlG: Well, not every person can get on every festival because spots are limited. How many submissions were there to Crom this year?

IDT: Our peak was 500. We had to watch 500 videos. The other part people don’t understand is that it’s not just me watching the videos and deciding. It’s not me just picking my friends. A lot of my friends, we don’t talk as much because I didn’t put them on Crom or Fest. It created weirdness because I wanted new voices, new people involved so it wasn’t just me and my buddies goofing around with the same lineup year after year. I have a panel of people who I don’t name because I don’t want them to catch any shit. There’s a person heavily involved with SXSW booking, High Plains Comedy Festival, people who are running much bigger festivals were helping me decide who to put on Crom. I could show you the software we use; I pulled for so many people; I was like Paula Abdul just drunk and being nice to everyone, but then the people who book the bigger things who are more serious about people having chops and being good at stand up rejected a lot of people I really wanted, but I can’t go online and be like, “I was pulling for a lot of you people who hate me now for no apparent reason.”

RdlG: It sounds like you brought on professional consultants to get the best performers.

IDT: What I would tell people is, “Look at that lineup and tell me who doesn’t belong there. Who’s the person that’s not good?” Every lineup is killer. They’re all awesome comedians. There are people who aren’t that great that I’d love to throw up, but I can’t do that. It’s always been about having the best lineups with really good shows and also the most diverse lineups we could put together, which that gets harder every year too.

RdlG: So it’s not just the lack of money that’s killing Crom?

IDT: I don’t want to be a gatekeeper anymore. Here’s a rough truth about comedy: If you’re a standup comedian but you also do something else that comedians find valuable you become that thing instead of a comedian. Like, with me booking Crom it reached a point where I was like, “I think 50% of the people who add me on Facebook just want me to book them on something,” because they think, you know, “If I’m nice to this person I get something,” and then that drove me crazy forever. It’s toxic. I like positivity. I don’t like not being able to trust the people around me.

There’s a dude here, Geoff Tice, that makes posters. He makes the dopest posters and he loves doing it. He was doing it for a lot of shows but he realized, “People don’t see me as a comedian. They know me as ‘the poster guy’ and they aren’t booking me on these shows I’m making killer posters for.” He made it onto San Francisco Sketchfest. He’s a killer comedian.

RdlG: What posters has he made for you?

IDT: He did my show when I recorded here. He did the Rory Scovel poster for O’Leaver’s and he did all three posters for Crom this year and they’re all beautiful. If you have something else, comedians are going to see that before they see you as a fellow comedian. And then there’s the bullshit hierarchies people create where it’s like, “This person doesn’t hang out enough at this place so they’re not a real comedian.” Just make people laugh. This is a very silly hobby to have, just go and make people laugh. That’s all.

RdlG: Comedy is weird in that it’s something silly, but you also have to take it seriously on some level. Do you think too many people lean one way or another to a fault?

IDT: Yeah, I basically hit a wall where I decided I would no longer be involved in internet arguments or drama so the people who were into that, I cut them out of my life. I just want to have fun and make other people money. I want to go in the mountains and do edibles. I want to relax. I don’t want to get upset about someone getting something I didn’t. I don’t care. I’m 36. I live in a beautiful place with legal marijuana. I’m creating a community here that I love and that’s the best thing you can do. As a comedian you have goals and things you want to achieve. For most people they want to get on TV and move to L.A. and get a writing job or whatever. I just want to make a cool scene and have a cool place that will help other people. The things I’m most proud of aren’t things I’ve personally done in standup. I’m most proud of building up Crom. Very proud of it, it was a huge pain in the ass, but man, we did something. Now it’s in Canada. That’s insane.

RdlG: If you were to sell one thing about Crom in each city, what are you most looking forward to?

IDT: Omaha: I’m very excited for Eric Dadourian. I think he’s a genius. He’s one of the most effortlessly funny people and he’s just so unique and different. He’s a good dude.

Denver: Being able to do things at Ratio and working with Brooks Wheelan. He loves the mountains and has a beautiful Instagram account. How could we not bring him out here? Also, the Puterbaugh Sisters, Solomon Georgio and Allen Strickland Williams will be here as well.

Toronto: Toronto is beautiful. It’s like if New York didn’t suck. It’s friendly and I get to hang out with PUP. That’s why I got Dave Ross involved because he’s friends with PUP. Let’s all hang out. Overall this whole thing is about friendship and putting on good shows.

At the end of our conversation Ian had some closing advice for comedians looking to further their careers:

“If you’re funny and nice and you show up on time you’re going to get good things. Just be funny and be cool. That’s it.”