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Funny Business

What’s the deal with empty comedy clubs?

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Next month, Comix, the city’s latest comedy megaclub, will open in the meatpacking district, but there may not be enough laughs to go around. Carolines on Broadway, which pioneered the “headliner” venue, has been in a grim game of one-upmanship to keep talent away from its rivals. The L.A.-based Laugh Factory opened a five-stage complex (including a 280-person room) on Times Square two years ago, and Gotham Comedy Club expanded from 140 to 300 seats earlier this year. Of course, you have to fill those chairs, which the Laugh Factory has had a hard time doing. “It’s become a crapshoot room,” says an industry insider who’s heard complaints from performers playing to a dispiriting number of empty seats. “Things are starting to get better,” says Factory owner Jamie Masada. But going up against Caroline Hirsch of Carolines isn’t easy. “She put out an edict that if you headline at the Laugh Factory, you can’t book at Carolines,” says a well-placed source. Regarding Comix, Hirsch says, “I’m not worried. These clubs have the acts that they work with and I have the acts that I work with. Let them try it out and see how they like it, okay? Because there are headliners who appeared here and then went on to another club and are now begging to come back.” Comix is clearly serious: Veteran Long Island funnyman Bobby Collins is a co-owner, and it hired Wende Curtis, who runs Comedy Works in Denver—“one of the best clubs in the country,” according to Lewis Black—to book it. “Lewis Black, Dave Attell, Dave Chappelle. They’re loyal to me,” Curtis insists. But they’re also loyal to Carolines, and Gotham, and to some extent Laugh Factory and the smaller Comedy Cellar. “Comics are free agents,” says George Sarris, head of the New York Underground Comedy Festival. “They’ll go wherever pays the most.”

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