“I love coming to this club,” says stand-up comedian Jesse Joyce from the stage of Carolina Comedy Club at Broadway at the Beach. “I love it because the owner Jeff Martin calls me and asks if there’s anything special I need for the show. No other club owner does that.” But then he continues, “I told him I’d love to play for a half-empty audience every night. So far, he’s delivered.” (Insert rim shot here...)
In all fairness, Carolina Comedy Club recently opened its doors in April, surprising many frequenters of Celebrity Square past and present, by replacing the long-standing pub, Stool Pigeons. The club, which was slightly rebranded (Stand-Up Carolina) and relocated from the Garden City Beach/Murrells Inlet area, has been gaining steam ever since.
And as summer ramps up, we see more and more opportunities to forget about reality, decompress and take in a side-splitting comedy show, no matter your tastes or location, without breaking the bank, and without leaving our sunny, seaside paradise otherwise known as the Grand Strand. That point can be furthered evidenced by the recent surprise booking of the eccentric Dave Chappelle at the House of Blues for two shows Tuesday. And in the same parking lot but totally on the other side of the taste spectrum is the return of the iconic Bill Cosby to The Alabama Theater in October.
But Chappelle and Cosby are two of the higher profile comedy events on our local scene – the one-time comedy shows with big ticket prices that pop up and make a splash for a couple of weeks, then fade into history. But these shows could be held as examples of how popular live comedy can be if it’s done right.
And it’s done right around here all the time. More than that, it’s done affordably – a person can go out to a great night of dinner and drinks and laughs and not have to take out a second mortgage. These local comedy club owners and operators start months in advance, sometimes years, building a solid schedule with quality talent for the summer and beyond. But a lot of Grand Stranders are unaware so much energy has been dedicated to the art of making people laugh.
Bill Whitaker is the promoter for The Comedy Zone, a Tuesday night happening where the Indigo Room at the House of Blues is converted into a stand-up club every summer. Whitaker has a lot of percentages handy and knows it can be an uphill battle to grab the public by the ear. “Eighty percent of the nation has never been to a stand-up show,” he says. “But there’s an upside to that number, 20 percent of the population is really into going out and watching live comedy.”
But Whitaker wasn’t done hamming it up about numbers and really funny statistics. He tells us that during the last five years as the country was in an economic nosedive, “Comedy clubs, country-wide, had four of their most successful years.” He says, “If you think about it, 15 bucks is a great price point to go out to a two-hour show designed to make people laugh and be happy.”
That’s the real point isn’t it? Laughing as a means of coping, of learning, as a natural response of your body to make itself happy, no matter the circumstances. The economy is still quite shitty, and discontent seems to be rampant in the populace, but comedy clubs and theaters keep popping up all over the place. Since the mortgage bubble burst back in 2008 and our fiscal system went bust, our comedy market has more than doubled. Stand-Up Carolina/Carolina Comedy Club has opened and reopened. The Carolina Improv Company at Uptown Theater has spent the last five years drawing crowds in by making the ordinary funny. And the new kid on the Strand – The Big Laughs Theater mind-melds audiences with hypnosis comedy on a daily basis. And we can’t forget Myrtle Beach’s comedy institution, Comedy Cabana and the reoccurring aforementioned Comedy Zone at the HOB.
We’ve often been told that laughter is the best medicine. And as a Grand Strand resident or visitor, you have plenty of opportunities to get your remedy. So, here’s a glimpse at the comedy clinics around town to get your prescription filled.
What | Dave Chappelle
When | 7:30 and 10:30 Tuesday
Where | The Music Hall at the House of Blues, 4640 U.S. 17 South, Barefoot Landing, North Myrtle Beach, 272-3000; www.houseofblues.com
How much | $55; both shows are sold out
Why you should go | He’s Dave Chappelle, bitch! Most of us know Chappelle abandoned his Comedy Central show and millions of dollars back in 2005 to live a reclusive life with his family in the boonies of rural Ohio. He has performed stand-up here and there since, but this year it seems he has embarked on a statement comeback with a new comedy tour.
Chappelle’s stand-up has always been strong; he once set the record for longest on-stage stand-up routine at more than six hours. Apparently, this time the tour is going pretty well because he’s adding dates and bringing his raunchy and raucous brand of storytelling to the House of Blues on Tuesday.
Tickets sold out in less than an hour for the early show, making disgruntled Chappelle fans say, “What!” This made House of Blues say, “Yeah!” And this made Live Nation and HOB add a second show and say, “OK!” Disgruntled Chappelle fans responded by saying, “Yeah!” Then, the disgruntled fans bought all those tickets which made Chappelle’s procrastinating stoner fans say, “What!”
What | Bill Cosby
When | 8 p.m. Oct. 19
Where | The Alabama Theatre, 4750 U.S. 17 South, North Myrtle Beach; 272-1111 or 800-342-2262; www.alabama-theatre.com
How much | $60 and up
Why you should go | On the flip side of Chappelle, Cosby’s half-a-century in the business has been pretty devoid of controversy, aside from some opinionated lectures and some family issues that are none of our business anyway. He’s an actor, a producer, a bestselling author, an Emmy and Grammy winner.
Cosby’s on-stage storytelling is far from raunchy and raucous. His style has been replicated and dirtied up thousands of times over, but nobody tells a story like The Cos. His second comedy album, recorded in 1964, “I Started Out as a Child” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2012. His return to The Alabama Theatre on Oct. 19 is more than worth jotting down in your calendar.
What | Comedy Cabana
When | Shows nightly for the summer with Open Mike Mondays
Where | 9588 North Kings Highway, Myrtle Beach; 449-4242; www.comedycabana.com
How much | Tickets start at $15 ($12 for open mike) and vary for special events
Why you should go | Along the disposable and recycled Grand Strand, it’s almost unheard of for anything fun or outside of the usual tourist bubble to survive for 17 years. On top of that, this cabana has survived the Grand Strand’s seasonal, stormy economy in the same location. Comedy Cabana is a staple of Restaurant Row. The club has consistently brought in top touring comedians, including big names such as Lewis Black and Jimmy “JJ” Walker. Also, a host of names most people have never heard of, but are hilarious, professional performers none the less.
“We became Myrtle Beach’s comedy headquarters because we specialize in tailoring our comics to different times of the year and special events,” says Jennifer Lynn, Marketing and Event Coordinator at Comedy Cabana. “It’s worked well. The same tourists come back year after year, and we have tons of regular locals.”
Just a few of the highlights from the summer schedule are musician/comedian Michael Mack and the Faces of Rock this weekend. The week of July 4 features six nights of the self-deprecating Pete Lee, who has a long list of credits including his own special on “Comedy Central Presents.” And at the end of July, the club is bringing back a local favorite, the old school comic legend, Bobby Collins.
The Summer Club
What | The Comedy Zone
When | 8 p.m. Tuesdays
Where | The Indigo Room at the House of Blues, 4640 U.S. 17 South, Barefoot Landing, North Myrtle Beach;272-3000; www.thecomedyzonemyrtlebeach.weebly.com
How much | Tickets start at $16 and vary for special events
Why you should go | For the most part, Tuesday night comedy belongs to The Comedy Zone, with the exception of course of Dave Chappelle’s show in the HOB Music Hall trumping The Comedy Zone headliner Shaun Jones. But hey, that’s showbiz. And The Comedy Zone certainly understands the business. This summer marks The Comedy Zone’s 13th season at the House of Blues.
You might think Tuesdays are a bomb of a night for comedy. But promoter Whitaker tells us Tuesdays are booming. “Historically it’s been a great night for people on vacation to get out and enjoy an affordable show,” he says. “Comedy is perfect for that.”
The club’s Barefoot Landing location and the time of year brings plenty of tourist traffic which accounts for most of the audiences being non-locals. “I personally greet and seat all the guests. I see the same faces every summer,” Whitaker says. “Only about 10 percent of our audience is local.”
The Comedy Zone recently added two big dates to its schedule – Carlos Mencia of Comedy Central’s “Mind of Mencia” on July 31 and Pauly “The Weasel” Shore on Aug. 20. More details on the shows will be released in the coming weeks.
The Resurrected Club
What | Carolina Comedy Club
When | Shows nightly for the summer
Where | 1318 Celebrity Circle, Myrtle Beach; 839-2565; www.carolinacomedyclub.com
How much | Tickets start at $15 and vary for special events
Why you should go | Owner Jeff Martin changed the name of the club from Stand-up Carolina to Carolina Comedy Club and transplanted it into the hub of Myrtle Beach’s nightlife, Celebrity Square at Broadway at the Beach. Since the ribbon cutting ceremony on April Fool’s Day, Martin says, “I’ve sold more tickets in two-and-a-half months than I did the whole time in our last location.”
That’s saying something because these guys made quite the splash down in Murrells Inlet, bringing in big artists right away – Tom Green, Seth Green, Hal Sparks, Pauly Shore, Ralphie May, Tommy Davidson, Gallagher and those are just the big name comics. There were bundles of great touring comics you’ve never heard of, pouring it out on stage every night to make a name for themselves.
Martin is still in the process of putting everything together but he already has big plans. “We’re planning to get a sketch comedy troupe in here, we’ll be starting up open mike night soon and we’ve thought about adding a balcony for more seating,” he says. “We also want to start doing annual roasts of local celebrities and donating half the proceeds to a charity of their choosing.” He also brought over a menu that he touts as, “Not your typical pub fare.”
Some of the highlights of the venue’s summer schedule are:
Todd Yohn, performing July 2-6. Yohn is a veteran of HBO, Showtime, VH-1 and Comedy Central. Not only is he doing his stand-up show, but after, he’ll retake the stage with his band, The Time Flyers, to play into the wee hours.
On Aug. 1-2, Josh Wolf will perform. Wolf is not only a stand-up comedian – he’s a regular on “Chelsea Lately” and a “New York Times” bestselling author.
You Are Getting Very Funny
What | Big Laughs Theater
When | Shows nightly for the summer
Where | 2696 Beaver Run Boulevard Suite A, Surfside Beach; 750-0514; www.big-laughs.com
How much | Adult tickets are $20 for Mild shows, $21 for Fusion shows and $22 for Wild shows.
Why you should go | Rich Wylde and Elizabeth Wylde opened the Big Laughs Theater in April, with the capacity to seat more than 250 people, but so far, things have been slow. Located off S.C. 544, the show features high energy performances from the Wyldes, a husband-and-wife hypnosis duo. And their shows come in three flavors – mild, fusion and wild.
The mild shows keep it tame, containing material suitable for families. Audience volunteers feel like they’re on a roller coaster or eating cotton candy. There are some fart jokes involved. “It’s never the same show twice,” says Elizabeth Wylde, one half of the hypnosis/comedy duo. “This is a show where you can see a four-year-old laughing with their older siblings and their parents, as well as their grandparents and great grandparents.” The fusion shows amp-up the content but don’t get too wild. Teens are allowed in both type shows without an adult. Both of these shows are about 90 minutes.
Then there are the wild shows – the theater is a BYOB affair where anything can happen. When asked to elaborate on how wild the shows can get, Elizabeth Wylde says, “Well, we were the official hypnotists on the ‘Jerry Springer Show,’ if that helps.” She goes on to tell us during the wild hypnotic skits, men could be convinced they’re giving birth or they’ve just gotten breast implants. The wild shows might stretch to two hours and volunteers get their mind so boggled that they may forget their names or believe they’ve developed talking genitals – yeah, anything goes.
“The wild shows are great for date nights or groups,” she says. “But it’s always more fun if you experience it as a volunteer or with people who volunteer.”
The Wyldes used to perform their hypnosis comedy in Wisconsin and came to Myrtle Beach ten years ago on vacation. They decided to retire here and so far they’ve kept themselves pretty busy in retirement. “We don’t consider this work. At the end of our shows, our sides will ache from laughing.” Wylde says. “We laugh with our volunteers and not at them. And we don’t ever drag people out of the crowd, they all volunteer. This is the show where the audience can be the star.”
And Now for Something Completely Different
What | Carolina Improv Company
When | Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday
Where | Uptown Theater at Myrtle Beach Mall; 272-4242; www.carolinaimprov.com
How much | $14
Why you should go | The Carolina Improv Company (CIC) came into being back in 2008 and bounced around, acting a fool on various stages all over Horry County before finding a home at the Uptown Theater, inside the Myrtle Beach Mall (which most locals still call Briarcliffe Mall), in 2009. It’s a distinct entity in that most of the performers were once students of the improv classes.
So, not only do these performers entertain by thinking fast and making stuff up, they also teach others how to think fast and make stuff up. Founder Gina Trimarco Cligrow lives by the improv credo of saying, “yes” to every situation. And Cligrow knows what it’s like to be a pupil of improv. She was once a student of Second City in Chicago – an institution of improv and sketch comedy since 1959. Cligrow shares this background with some legends and current superstars in comedy – Alan Arkin, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert and more members of “Saturday Night Live’s” alumni than you can shake a Vaudeville hook at.
The improv troupe alternates between two "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" type shows, an adult show and an all-age show. Whose Beach Is It Anyway? has something for everyone from ages four and up. The players take audience suggestions concerning anything potentially funny about Myrtle Beach. Almost instantly, they’ll take those suggestions and throw them back at the crowd as hilarious scenarios and scenes about the Redneck Riviera.
The adult show is for ages 18 and older. They call it Whose Night Out Is It Anyway? because it’s designed for people to come out and have a good time. Anything within reason can be thrown in the pot for this one and you never know what the gang is going to cook up. It can get ridiculous or hilarious or embarrassing or all points in between.
In July, the two-man improv team of Jokers Wild returns to the Uptown Theater. The dates aren’t set in stone yet but Cligrow is excited. “It’s a long-form improv comedy show, the foundation of sketch comedy, like ‘Saturday Night Live,’” she explains. “They completely improvise an hour-long show without a script, playing many different characters that they create in the moment.”