New comedy festival coming to Atlanta's historic West End neighborhood

West End Comedy fest poster
The West End Comedy Festival takes place Feb. 10-12. (Courtesy of Ariel Kaplan)

The founders of the West End Comedy Festival believe comedy has a way of tricking people into listening through laughter, almost like accidental empathy. The festival will be held in the Lee and White complex on the West Side this weekend, Feb. 10-12. Comedians and co-founders of the festival, Joe Pettis and Ariel Kaplan, joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to talk about the origins of this assembly of humorists and its subversive agenda to create unexpected connections through comedy. 

Pettis and Kaplan have organized comedy shows in the Atlanta circuit for some time and eventually realized that many of the shows they produced took place within a relatively close network of venues on the West Side of Atlanta, including Wild Heaven Brewery and ASW Whiskey Exchange. Pettis credits his friend and fellow comedian Ian Aber with planting the idea to get the area’s venues onboard for a weekend comedy festival. Kaplan added, “I thought that it would be a way to highlight a really wonderful neighborhood … It’s going to bring a lot of people into this neighborhood that would otherwise not be able to experience it.”

In the spirit of showing the West End neighborhoods some love, the comedy festival partnered with the West End Neighborhood Development (WEND) a group started by area residents in the 1970s to revitalize the neighborhood, give tours and maintain local historic landmarks. “We’re donating some of our proceeds from the festival to WEND,” said Kaplan. “That was important for us to make sure that we gave back to the community that we were holding this in.”

The West End Comedy Festival also stands as an example of the rarest breed of comedy event, one with more women than men on its roster of producers and featured acts. Four out of five producers are women, as are four out of six headlining comedians. 

“We have Maddie Smith coming in from New York. She is on the last couple of seasons of the show ‘Wild ‘N Out’ with Nick Cannon,” said Pettis. “We also have Joyelle Nicole Johnson, who actually got started here, but then went on to move to New York, and since then, she’s been on ‘The Tonight Show’ …. She just released a special on Peacock that was nominated for a Critic’s Choice Award. She’s a great representation of comics who have come out of Atlanta who have gone on to do bigger and better things.”

Atlanta’s first West End Comedy Festival takes place Feb. 10-12 at participating venues in the Lee and White Development on the West Side. Tickets, event schedules and other information can be found at