Reece Cotton likes a good theme show. Both in person (in pre-pandemic days) and online, she has produced shows under the banners of queer comedy, Black women in comedy, and Black men in comedy. But she would say there has been a common denominator with all of them, and that’s “Love for Humans,” which also happens to be the name she has attached to the inaugural Comics Rising Comedy Festival, a four-night virtual stand-up show that kicks off Wednesday.
“We were just celebrating different areas of that overall theme” in those earlier shows, she says. “At the end of the day, it’s all about love for humans.”
The festival lineup features comedians from Boston and around the country. Many, like Lady Vain, Lloyd Legacy Sharp, Nick Baskerville, and Joanna Briley, are veterans of Cotton’s “Comics Rising” shows. They are joined by an impressive list of Boston comics including Kelly MacFarland, Kathe Farris, Emily Rukowski, Peter Liu, Laura Severse, and Jess Miller.
As with many shows early in the pandemic, “Comics Rising” had a steep learning curve in moving to a virtual format. Cotton even tried to replicate a live audience by performing in front of her family, which added to the charm of the show but made those moments when the jokes didn’t land that much more awkward for a comic used to working a club crowd. “Now that I think back on it, it actually was pretty funny,” she says. “In the moment, it didn’t feel funny.”
But she and the other comics persevered through the surreal aspects of performing stand-up comedy on Zoom and have put on an entertaining series of shows. That’s the mentality Cotton is hoping to foster. “It’s about coming together and community building,” she says. “We always just kind of want to keep our eye on that.”
Cotton hopes to get back to Boston venues for in-person shows under the “Comics Rising” banner again soon, and she plans to keep producing the festival with a different theme every year, depending on the shape of the world at the time. “The theme this year being ‘Love for Humans’ may not be the theme next year,” she says, “but the direction and the spirit of celebrating empowerment will remain the same.”
LOVE FOR HUMANS: COMICS RISING COMEDY FESTIVAL
May 5-8, 8 p.m. $10-$25. www.comicsrising.com