I would follow the template that owner Mark Klampe has at Goonies in Rochester, Minnesota. Let me begin by saying Mark is a standup guy in every definition of the word. He works hard and has a small, but quality restaurant/bar on the first floor, with the club on the second floor. It’s hard to make comedy work on any night besides the weekend, so to maximize your space, it really helps to not just have to count on the weekend to make your complete nut. Mark’s wife, Jasmine is also part of the management team and even his feisty, comedy-loving mother-in-law is working the door on Saturday. By being there all the time you not only save on paying someone else to be the manager, but you can keep an eye on your employees not stealing from you. (I think the Goonies staff is great, so this isn’t a shot at them. I’ve waited tables, bar-tended, been a kitchen manager, so I know what most restaurants are like and employee theft is part of the biz.)
I would be wary of opening a club in a major city for these following reasons. The rent is too high. It is really expensive to advertise in a metro area of a million or more. Most importantly, you are competing with too many other entertainment options. In a smaller city you are usually the major show in town on the weekend, as the major music acts hit your town on off-nights from their big shows.
This next reason isn’t too try to drive the price down for comics, but it is a simple fact. When you bring in big name headlining acts, you are taking a bigger risk hoping to capitalize on a bigger reward. If you are the only comedy club in town, you don’t have to bring in draws, as people who want to laugh and see a show have just you to visit. Some clubs bring in comics who have been on comedy central and expect that will draw people. That seldom works as the Comedy Central acts who really draw like Jim Gaffigan, Daniel Tosh, etc., play theaters . The majority of comedy central presents acts just aren’t going to draw you many more people than a comic without these credits. Not saying they aren’t funny and worthy of being seen, just commenting on why pay more for these acts when they aren’t going to bring you any more money than someone like me? It used to be getting that spot on the Tonight Show was a guaranteed star-making event, but in the world of 300 channels, Netflix, and You Tube, it just doesn’t give you the bang it used to. Don’t misunderstand me, I would love to be on a late-night talk show or a comedy central special, but I doubt it would do much in regards to making me a draw. I’ve had a number of comics open for me who have comedy central credits and there was a reason that they were opening for me.
There are a few markets currently out there that currently don’t have any standup comedy, but seem ripe for a club like Goonies. (See the Quad Cities, Buffalo, Evansville, South Bend, Eau Claire (WI), Lincoln (NE), Springfield (MO) and these are just the one’s in the areas that I can think of.) While these cities might not all have the same type of audience intelligence and economic prosperity that Rochester has to offer, they all have had successful comedy rooms at one time and seem to be ripe for a new attempt. I know it’s more prestigious to start up a comedy club in some major city bringing in the talents of comics from each coasts, but that is a tougher road than zeroing in on a under-served market where you instantly get attention from the local media because they don’t have an IMPROV troupes, touring theater productions, and lots of big time comics and musicians performing at the local theater to publicize. Now I want comedy clubs to thrive in every sized market, I just know where I think the best chance of that happening is. Ultimately it takes more though than just opening a comedy club in the right place, it takes someone like Mark Klampe who works hard and has good instincts for the business. After a weekend of playing in front of sold-out crowds at Goonies, it sure reinvigorates you about the business.