John Dick Winters. Photo courtesy the artist.

Pittsburgh has its second major comedy festival.

Over 40 local and national comedians will participate in the first-ever Burning Bridges Comedy Festival, April 15 and 16 in Allentown and South Side.

The event is organized by comedian John Dick Winters, host of the popular monthly Comedy Roulette show at Club Cafe, and co-presented by Epicast Network.

Why did Winters decide to start a brand new comedy festival?

“I don’t know,” he says. “I’m just bored and I like to do dumb stuff.”

He’s only partially kidding.

Winters, the man behind Race to the Coffin Comedy collective, along with four other local comedians, began performing stand-up four years ago. A short time later he and fellow comedian Jesse Irvin started touring “just for the hell of it.”

“We were both in punk bands together years ago,” he says. “When you’re in a punk band, it doesn’t matter how good you are. You can just hop in a van and go. So we decided to do that with comedy.”

This DIY approach carries over to Burning Bridges. The entire festival is being run by local comedians, who will perform, work the door at shows and even house comedians from out of town.

“There is a little bit of money to be made,” says Winters, “but that’s not the point of it. The point is to produce a good show and to grow. That’s happening in every city because that’s the only way for it to happen. It comes out of necessity and love. It’s a pretty good combination.”

The event comprises 13 shows over two days. Twenty local comedians will be joined by over 25 national touring comedians, from cities like New York, Chicago and New Orleans, but only one comedian, Geoff Tate, is the actual headliner. Winters said that was a deliberate decision; he wanted to spotlight up-and-coming comedians from Pittsburgh and further afield.

John Dick Winters. Photo courtesy Epicast.
John Dick Winters. Photo courtesy Epicast.

“I can vouch for every one of the people,” he says. “They’re so goddamned funny. No one knows who they are, but people will know them at some point.”

The event is centered around Winters’ monthly Comedy Roulette show, which has quickly garnered a local following due to its unpredictable nature. One month, comedians roast a fictional character; the next it’s comedians performing both a sober and drunk set.

“It provides a certain level of intrigue and marketability to an otherwise dull comedy show,” he says. “Comedy shows are great, but they can be monotonous.”

True to form, there will be a number of themed shows in addition to straight comedy performances at Burning Bridges. There will be a nearly-nude set, a set for Zone 3 Pittsburgh police officers, and a worst tattoo competition where fans will vote on the comedian with the worst tattoo, and the winner (loser?) receives an ugly tattoo onstage that they will only see after it has been inked. (There are already eight comedians signed up for that one.)

Winters believes the Pittsburgh comedy scene is more than large enough to accommodate another major comedy festival, especially considering Pittsburgh Comedy Festival doesn’t happen until August. (DVE Comedy Festival, now in its fifth year, is largely a one-day event comprised mostly of top-tier national touring comedians.)

“Cleveland, which is a similar size market, they have the Cleveland Comedy Festival and the Accidental Comedy Festival, which is kind of what Burning Bridges is. Burning Bridges is my version of that independent festival in Cleveland.”

Mostly, Winters is excited to put on a show by Pittsburgh comedians, for Pittsburgh comedians, that will showcase the Pittsburgh comedy scene to the Pittsburgh community.

“[The scene’s] biggest strength and its biggest weakness is that it’s very young. It’s a strength because a lot of people are wide-eyed and enthusiastic; it’s a weakness because a lot of people aren’t polished. And I put myself in that too.”

“I think five years from now the Pittsburgh comedy scene will rival any other mid-market.”

Burning Bridges Comedy Festival happens April 15 and 16 in venues across Allentown and South Side. 100 festival passes are available for $20, and single event tickets will be available. A complete list of comedians and venues will be posted soon to

Brian Conway is a writer and photographer whose articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune and local publications. In his free time, he operates Tripsburgh. Brian lives in the South Side.