Eastern Michigan University students, under the direction of Dr. Sadaf Ali and Patrick Campion, were given the opportunity to create a reporting project as a final project in their CTAT 334 class. This is the work of Alejandro Rodriguez, who reports on the Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase and the influence it has had on rising comedians.
CURRENTLY TUCKED AWAY UNDER A HALLWAY OF EXPOSED CONSTRUCTION SCAFFOLDING IS A HIDDEN GEM OF DOWNTOWN ANN ARBOR: THE ANN ARBOR COMEDY SHOWCASE.
STAND-UP COMEDY, IN SOME RESPECTS, IS MORE POPULAR THAN EVER. NETFLIX PRODUCES COMEDY SPECIALS PRACTICALLY WEEKLY, THERE ARE MORE LATE NIGHT TALK SHOWS THAN EVER, AND THE POPULARITY OF PODCASTING HAS TAKEN HUNDREDS OF COMEDIANS FROM RELATIVE OBSCURITY TO NEW HEIGHTS. THERE HAS NEVER BEEN A BETTER TIME TO TRY COMEDY AS A CAREER.
SO, THIS BEGS THE QUESTION: WHERE ARE THE COMEDIANS COMING FROM? WELL, CLUBS LIKE THE ANN ARBOR COMEDY SHOWCASE ARE THE ANSWER. COMEDY CLUBS SERVE AS THE EPICENTER OF LOCAL COMEDY SCENES AND AS BREEDING GROUNDS FOR FUTURE TALENT.
IN ORDER TO BUILD UP TALENT, YOU FIRST NEED PEOPLE WILLING TO BE OPEN MIC’ERS, AND FOR THOSE WHO DON’T KNOW, AN OPEN-MICER IS SOMEONE IS ESSENTIALLY AN AMATEUR, OR RELATIVELY NEW COMIC. ONE OF THE MOST FASCINATING THINGS ABOUT COMEDIANS IS THAT THEY COME FROM ALL WALKS OF LIFE AND SOMEHOW END UP IN A COMEDY CLUB.
"I got dumped by my boyfriend. He did improv. And I was very angry. I was like, 'Anyone can do comedy. It's so easy. Blah blah blah. So I auditioned for a bunch of improv groups on campus--didn't get into any of them. And then I was like, 'I can do a cappella.' I auditioned for those--didn't get into any of them. And I was like, 'OK, what I can do that doesn't require an audition?' So, stand-up was there. And then I realized I really enjoyed. So I kept on doing it."
THAT WAS ELLA HORWEDEL, A UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN STUDENT AND ANN ARBOR NATIVE EXPLAINING WHY SHE DECIDED TO START COMEDY. HER JOURNEY INTO COMEDY IS A UNIQUE ONE, SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT THAN EMU STUDENT AND COMEDIAN JACOB BARR.
"Originally, I wanted to, like, act and stuff. But, since I look weird, it wasn't gonna happen. You know, I was going to be typecast as the hand guy. I started when I was 17--so, like, the classic. I would do the set, and I really had to leave--they really don't want a child there. But I love it. It's my favorite thing."
ELLA AND JACOB ARE TWO LOCAL STAND-UPS TRYING TO MAKE A NAME FOR THEMSELVES, AND THEY SEE THE ANN ARBOR COMEDY SHOWCASE AS A WAY TO LEGITIMIZE YOURSELF IN THE LOCAL SCENE.
JACOB: "But you try and call to get on the open mic list, and I would do that over and over. And, eventually, I got on probably in January of 2016, I think."
ELLA: "It was so cool. It kind of looked like Second City--a little smaller than Second City. And I was like, 'Dang, I really want to perform here.'"
PERFORMING AT A CLUB MEANS SOMETHING TO A COMIC BEYOND JUST A CREDIBILITY. THERE IS A PAYING AUDIENCE. IT’S NOT OFTEN AN UP-AND-COMER GETS PROPER STAGE TIME AT A CLUB.
JACOB: "Because most comedy for people at my level is at bars where no one cares. So going to a place where people care was really humbling."
THE ANN ARBOR COMEDY SHOWCASE INFLUENCE IS WIDE-REACHING, IN PART BECAUSE OF HOW FEW COMEDY CLUBS THERE ARE.
"...or like Michigan in general. It goes Dodger Grins, Mark Ridley's, then the Showcase."
THAT WAS TANNER OLIVER, A FEATURE ACT AND A WELL-REGARDED COMIC IN THE AREA.
"If you're just asking me best audience and most fun to perform for, Showcase hands down!"
TANNER AS I MENTIONED, IS A FEATURE-ACT, WHAT IS ESSENTIALLY THE STEP IN BETWEEN OPENER AND HEADLINER. AND HE EXPLAINS THAT THE SHOWCASE NOT ONLY GAINED HIM RESPECT FROM HIS PEERS BUT HELPS GIVE COMICS STRUCTURE. YOU START AS AN OPEN-MIC’ER AND HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY TO MOVE UP, BUT YOU HAVE TO GO THROUGH SOME RITES OF PASSAGE.
"What sets the Showcase apart is that Roger will--if you're looking for work--Roger will make you work for it. With Roger, it is basically like, 'Can I like you for a year? Don't run the light. Don't piss me off. Don't tip my bartender.'"
THE NAME TANNER JUST MENTIONED WAS ROGER, AND, AS I CONDUCTED INTERVIEWS, HIS NAME KEPT POPPING UP IN CONVERSATION. SO I DECIDED TO HEAD TO THE CLUB MYSELF AND SIT DOWN FOR A CHAT WITH THE INFAMOUS ROGER.
"I'm actually one of the founders back in 1984."
THAT WAS THE VOICE OF ROGER FEENY, CO-FOUNDER AND CURRENT TALENT BOOKER FOR THE ANN ARBOR COMEDY SHOWCASE.
ROGER AND I SAT IN THE GREEN ROOM -- WHERE PERFORMERS HANG OUT BEFORE THE SHOW BEGINS -- ON A WEDNESDAY NIGHT AS THE CLUB PREPARED TO PUT ON THEIR OPEN MIC NIGHT.
WE DISCUSSED A LOT AS THE WAITSTAFF FINISHED UP THEIR LAST SECOND PREPARATIONS FOR THE SHOW AND ANXIOUS COMICS HURRIED BY THE ROOM. I ASKED ROGER ABOUT THE SHOWCASE’S HISTORY
"And we called it Main Street Comedy Showcase--that was the original name. And then we were there for 27, almost 30 years."
ROGER HAS OPERATED A COMEDY CLUB IN TWO SEPARATE CENTURIES. IT’S FAIR TO SAY HE’S SEEN A LOT. HERE’S WHAT ROGER HAD TO SAY ABOUT SELLING LIVE COMEDY IN TODAY’S MEDIA LANDSCAPE.
"Well, you know, I think it works both ways, because, first of all, the comics are getting exposure. So, people are exposed to them, and they go, 'Hey, we saw that guy on Netflix! Let's go see him!' And the other way, it kind of hurts. There is a lot of overexposure. But we did go through that, I would say, through the '90s. We had 'Must-See TV.' We had Friends on Thursday night. We're pretty much shot. Everyone's at home watching TV, right? And the advent of Comedy Central."
AND WHILE ROGER IS NOT A PERFORMER HIMSELF, HE IS AWARE OF THE REPUTATION THE CLUB AND ITS OPEN MIC NIGHT HAS WITH COMICS ALL ACROSS THE STATE.
"But what I hear, like even from second-hand stuff, all the comics think this is the best open mics in the state."
HE WORRIES LESS ABOUT HOW UNCONTROLLABLE FACTORS, LIKE THE INTERNET, AFFECT TICKET SALES AND FOCUSES MORE ON GIVING LOYAL AUDIENCE MEMBERS GOOD SHOWS.
"And the ones that I'll book and re-book here are the ones that continuously rewrite material. So, they always got something new when they come back."
THE VIEW OF THE COMEDY CLUB CAN BE UNCLEAR WHEN YOU’RE UNDERNEATH THE SCAFFOLDING, BUT THE ONE THING THAT IS VERY CLEAR TO ANYONE WHO’S BEEN HERE BEFORE: THE PEOPLE HERE CARE. FROM THE BARTENDERS TO THE AUDIENCE MEMBERS. THIS STAGE AND ITS SHOWS ARE TREATED WITH RESPECT AND THOUGHTFUL CONSIDERATION.
AFTER MY INTERVIEW WITH ROGER, I SAT IN THE CROWD AND SAW A FAMILIAR FACE: NONE OTHER THAN JACOB BARR. AS I WATCHED HIM TAKE THE STAGE WITH A SMILE PLANTED ON HIS FACE, I REALIZED THIS ESTABLISHMENT IS MORE THAN A PLACE.
"Put your hands together for Jacob Barr!"
WHETHER THERE’S CONSTRUCTION OUTSIDE, OR IF THE SHOWCASE MOVED TO A NEW VENUE, WHAT MAKES THE ANN ARBOR COMEDY SHOWCASE SPECIAL ISN’T THE ARCHITECTURE. IT’S NOT A BEAUTIFUL MARQUEE. WHAT MAKES THIS PLACE SPECIAL IS A FEELING. IT’S THE MEMORIES THAT LIVE INSIDE THE MINDS OF THE PEOPLE. IT’S THE APPLAUSE AND LAUGHTER ETCHED INTO THE WALLS. AN UNQUANTIFIABLE SPIRIT, CONNECTING AUDIENCE MEMBERS TO COMICS TO KATE, THE BOX OFFICE MANAGER TO THE CLUB OWNER. FOR MANY PEOPLE, THE ANN ARBOR COMEDY SHOWCASE IS NO LAUGHING MATTER. FOR MORE INFORMATION ON HOW TO BUY TICKETS, GO TO AACOMEDY.COM OR VISIT THEIR BOX OFFICE ON 212 SOUTH 4TH AVE.
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