Lee Keeler isn't so green anymore.
On the eve of the second Green Gravel Comedy Festival - which will be held on Feb. 27 and 28 - founder Keeler said he and his team have only progressed since the debut event last year.
"It's been insanely rewarding to be able to watch Green Gravel grow," Keeler wrote in an email to Hoopla. "We have become stronger as a staff and have definitely learned a great deal more about how to operate a festival that will deliver the goods to central Iowa."
Continuing Green Gravel's dedication "to curating premium comedy events in Iowa," as stated on the event's website, has meant changes. This year, the festival will only be two days instead of three and will be based in Iowa City, not Toledo.
"While we will be building a home base in Iowa City, we don't want to be confined to just one place in terms of overall events," Keeler said. "There's far too much comedy and too many awesome places in Iowa to party in. We want to explore Sioux City. We want to hit Ames. We want to make some noise in Moville."
Keeler referenced an October 2014 Pete Holmes performance in Des Moines, under the Green Gravel banner, as an example of his team's mission to expand beyond "the traditional fest model" while reaching audiences throughout the state.
"We want to bring comedians that have never been seen in Iowa before, and we don't want to just book them on their way through town," Keeler wrote. "We want to BE THE TOWN THAT THEY STOP IN. Furthermore, we don't just want to book comedians that you can see otherwise."
This year's headliner is Eddie Pepitone, a stand-up comic known from his appearances on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien," "The Sarah Silverman Program" and his appearances on fellow comic Marc Maron's "WTF with Marc Maron" podcast. As an act who hasn't logged a lot of time in Iowa, the man known as the Bitter Buddha is right in Green Gravel's sweet spot.
"I traveled cross country and spent half a day in Des Moines. I really haven't hung out (in Iowa) at all," Pepitone said. "I hear good things about Iowa City . I always like to be around people learning. It seems to be more civilized."
Pepitone just released a special, "In Ruins," on Netflix. He said his festival performance, scheduled for 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 28, at Riverside Theatre, will include some of that material.
"I like to say some of that stuff is evergreen," he said. "I can do it but put new twists on it."
Pepitone, who articulated his comic intent "to rage against the machine," was pleased to discover Iowa City's political reputation.
"It's funny preaching to the converted, but I feel like the unconverted doesn't want any part of me," he said. "I try to combine making fun of myself and then making fun of the society at large."
Keeping in line with Jackie Kashian, one of last year's Green Gravel headliners, Pepitone will record a live edition of his podcast "Pep Talks" during the festival.
This year's lineup includes a mix of improv and stand-up comics as well as acts from Iowa and throughout the country. Audiences also have access to a forum featuring "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" co-creator David Willis and Casper Kelly, writer and director of the viral sensation "Too Many Cooks." Both works appear on "Adult Swim," Cartoon Network's Millennial-focused block of programming.
The duo will also perform during "Too Many Cooks Live!" on Friday, Feb. 27, before the Air Sex World Championships. Both events are new to Green Gravel this year.
"We'd like to offer some variety and truly delve into some of the weirder influences of comedy, and 'Adult Swim' has been the preeminent voice in weird comedy for over a decade," Keeler said. "We want the comedians of tomorrow in Iowa to have their chance to learn from true alternative masters."
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
WHEN: 5 p.m. Friday through Saturday
WHERE: Various venues, Iowa City
COST: Passes range from $22 to $60, tickets to individual events are also available
DETAILS: Find a list of all venues, times and performers here