Four years ago, buoyed by a few dozen friends, I stood on stage at Joker’s Wild Comedy Club downtown and tried my hand at telling jokes on stage.
I still don’t know what my intent was. To scratch something off my bucket list? To try my hand at something I’d been thinking about for years, but never had the courage to do?
My heart was racing. Am I going to die, metaphorically or physically? Maybe I’ll just pass out on stage. Or throw up. Or realize I’m not funny at all and this was a huge waste of time and what am I even doing.
I barely remember the five minutes. I think I blacked out a little up there. And yet. I survived. I was still alive. Still breathing. Yet something was different.
There is this feeling. When you make someone laugh. When you find something weird or absurd or strange in this world and poke a little bit of fun at it.
And when you do it to a whole room of people. It magnifies times a million. There is no feeling in the world like it. It’s addictive. Chasing that feeling, that you can makes people just burst out laughing.
So I began to go to Joker’s Wild, trying to work on new jokes. All of which were quite bad. We did some shows there. We had a good time. Maybe you even went!
Then, Joker’s Wild closed, and New Haven comedy seemed to be in a death knell.
Liffey’s Fills a Comedy Gap
Joker’s Wild was the heart and soul of New Haven comedy. It featured touring comics who were not quite at the Theater level of comedy. New York comics would regularly come down on the train and kill for like $10.
Once it closed, New Haven comedy didn’t have anywhere to go. Luckily, I found out there was a secret Facebook group called “CT Comics.” (Clever, right?)
There, you could find out about all the open mics in Connecticut. And I found out that a new open mic had been started by local comic Dan Kalwhite at Anna Liffey’s every Wednesday.
The mic was brutal. Half the time it was just comics. I would fail miserably and often. I don’t even know how I managed to keep going.
But Liffey’s remained a home for comedy, and even let me put on some comedy shows there. In fact, some of my best comedy memories are of packed houses at Liffey’s. Heck, the way Aly set it up sometimes, it was almost like a real comedy club.
Then, of course, Liffey’s closed.
Scratching and Clawing
With Liffey’s closed, New Haven comedy was once again in an ugly place. Kalwhite started running a bi-weekly mic at Pacific Standard Tavern, but a bi-weekly open mic is not a comedy scene.
Dan Rice runs a sporadic monthly Cafe Nine mic. And… that was it. Nowhere to put on shows, unless you’re Aziz Ansari or Kyle Kinane. Then you can perform at College Street or Outer Space or whatever.
So I was like, fuck it, I’ll put on an open mic. I messaged the owner of JP Dempsey’s and was shocked they were like yeah let’s do this! So every other week we did a mic and y’know what? It was a good time. We had some regulars stop by, comics regularly stopped by. It was a surprisingly good mic.
Then, the owner had a health scare and sold the restaurant. And the new owner was all, “Your open mic night doesn’t bring in customers,” as opposed to, y’know, the usual bustling Wednesday night East Rock partygoers.
But that’s okay.
Cause in the meantime, local comic Kendra Dawsey has started a weekly Lyric Hall mic, which features music, poetry, and comedy. The Pacific Standard Tavern mic is alive and kickin’ and as sad as ever.
Hop Knot has been producing shows. Lyric Hall has hosted some shows. The new venue, the State House, has even let me produce a show.
We are scratching and clawing and creating something.
That’s New Haven.
I think that’s the New Haven spirit in a nutshell. Creating something any way you can. Tonight, I’m hosting a comedy show at a new venue, the State House. Which is the dream of two other people — Carlos Wells and Slate Ballard. And my connection was simply knowing Carlos from drinking heavily at Firehouse 12.
I said hey man you should let me do comedy there and forgot about it. Fast forward six months, and here we are. A dream realized.
Meanwhile, Fistful of Jokes is now doing a monthly show over at The Space Ballroom which I’ve been lucky to be a part of.
Despite the ups and downs, I’d say the New Haven comedy scene is… thriving? Surviving? Maybe a little bit of both.
And that’s okay. We’re not New York. We’re something else. But we’re driven by people who love comedy and want to create a scene here. We’re willing to do whatever it takes to get there.
So come out and support some local comedy and the dumb dreams of yours truly. And go out there and create your own dreams. Even if it’s comedy and you’re gonna steal my spot on a show.