Coney Island comedy festival debuts one-liner joke competition

Irina Ginzburg (Upa Inspace) performs at last year’s Coney Island Comedy Festival.
Irina Ginzburg

Cooped-up comics will finally have some reprieve from the grim days of quarantine when the Coney Island Comedy Festival hosts the first ever “One Liner” Competition on June 1 — when they’ll solicit the funniest zingers from Brooklyn and beyond to lighten the city’s tense mood, said the festival’s founder.

“We want to keep the laughter going, we want to get everyone involved, and we want people to think about something else,” said Irina Ginzburg, a stand up comedian who goes by Upa Inspace. “I think laughter is just good for everybody.”

Participants can submit a joke under 30 words to the competition’s website anytime between June 1 and Sept. 1, and a panel of judges — including stand up comedian Leighann Lord, David Letterman, comedian Eddie Brill, and Miss Coney Island 2020 Laura Lee Anderson — will vote for the winner, which be announced on Sept. 12, Ginzburg said.

Prizes include tickets to stand-up comedy shows, music from a Brooklyn record company, and the festival’s merchandise — including cups and a poster — among other goodies, Ginzburg said.

Ginzburg decided to host the competition not because of her love for one-liners, but rather because she hates them and hopes the contest will teach her to love short jokes.

“I really don’t like one-liners,” she said. “I’m a comedian myself, so I’m hoping I’ll find one in this competition.”

The competition comes one year after Ginzburg founded the annual Coney Island Comedy Festival — a two-day stand-up comedy festival at Ruby’s Bar and Grill. Ginzburg said she began the festival after realizing how few stand-up opportunities there were in southern Brooklyn. 

“We started the festival because there’s no comedy in south Brooklyn, there’s no stand-up comedy,” said Ginzburg, a refugee from the former Soviet Union who grew up in Coney Island and Bensonhurst. “But historically, there is a lot of comedy there, so we wanted to bring it back.”

Ginzburg thought that Manhattan’s increasingly corporate atmosphere meant that the underground stand-up needed a new home — and that southern Brooklyn’s no-frills attitude made it the perfect place for young, up-and-coming funnymen. 

“I feel someone has to be really strong when they [perform in] south Brooklyn — they’re rough,” she said. “They don’t laugh when it’s not funny.”

Ginzburg had planned for the Coney Island Comedy Festival to run for four days this year. But when the coronavirus outbreak preemptively cancelled those plans, Ginzburg decided to replace the stand-up show with an online one-liner competition and turn many of the festival’s would-be performers into judges.

Participants, Ginzburg clarified, can submit any type of short joke they want to the contest, as long as they follow one rule.

“It’s just got to be funny,” she said. 

The “One Liner” Competition isn’t Coney Island’s only creative online contest hatched during the days of isolation. The hosts of the Mermaid Parade are hosting a face mask design contest that welcomes photos of original, handmade face masks from around the world. Designs must be submitted by May 24, and winners will be announced around June 1.

Submit your one-liner to the Coney Island Comedy Festival online at coneyislandcomedyfestival.nyc/one-liner-submission anytime before Sept. 1. Free.