Indiana has always been behind the curve in standup comedy versus most of the other Midwest states. It has always seemed like every town larger than 10 thousand people had a one-night show at one time in Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota, etc, but outside of a few places, standup shows were in short supply in Indiana. Some of this I’m sure is because when the modern standup age kicked up in the late 80’s, Michigan was the home of John Yoder, Minnesota was the home of Tom Hansen, and Ohio was the home of Keith Gisser (major booking agent at time). While Tom Sobel (Louisville) had some market penetration in Indiana, the state never matched most of it’s Midwestern counterparts for comedy rooms.
I believe it reached it worst point, 3 years ago. At that time, there was no standup in South Bend or Evansville, as both Funny Bones had bitten the dust. Morty’s Comedy Club in Indy was on its last legs. Bears Place was hanging in there in Bloomington, but showing it’s age. No comedy in Muncie or Lafayette. Outside of the 2 Crackers clubs and Snickers in Fort Wayne, the state scene was weak. Since this point, there has been a revival of standup stronger then I believe has happened in any other state.
Here are the changes since…
- The Bloomington Funny Bone, which is now the Comedy Attic opened. Not sure anyone would have said it was a sane business move to open a 3 night club in a place that Comedy Caravan has been in for the past 3 decades, but owner Jared Thompson has seemed to made it work. Jared has brought in many of the top alternative comics to the clubs comedy calendar. Just as important is the club has cultivated a group of really smart young local comics who have grown in the warm cocoon of its hipper audiences.
- Morty’s was sold to a group of investors who actually love standup comedy. They changed the way they booked it and most weeks they are better off for it. Most importantly is they have been great about helping their local comedians get stage time and reference them to other clubs and festivals.
- With Morty’s being more aggressive, Crackers has brought up its game and I think its schedule of comics is as good as any independent club in the Midwest by bringing in a wide variety of standups. Having 2 clubs in the city gives Crackers unique advantages, plus its long-time relationship with the Bob and Tom Show is also a great bonus for comics performing there.
- South Bend has had 2 different clubs open in the past year. The city is a great market for standup, so I’m hoping one of the clubs takes hold with the public, as the Funny Bone was a success there for a long time.
- Merrillville Wisecrackers has become a really fun room to perform in since they moved it to a different location in the Radisson.
- Muncie now has a great open mic/occasional pro room at the Mosh Pit. (see my last blog entry.)
- My buddy, comic Mike Gardner, has over the past couple of years created a lot of opportunities for comics to hit the stage in Indy. The best of these regular gigs has been his Beer Cellar room in Castleton, which my friend Jacky Pawlich is doing a great job of running. Mike also has also done monthly shows in places like Kokomo and Richmond, that have been forgotten cities for standup.
The latest room in the state is the Sinking Ship in Indy. Open since late summer of last year, this weekly Sunday show gives local comics a good stage to work on its material. The model is a good one, as like the Beer Cellar, they pay a headliner to close out the show, so the audience leaves feeling like it’s worth coming back next week. The room is booked and run by Cam O’Connor, a local comic who has worked hard to make the room a success. Knowing how hard it can be to keep a one-night, weekly room alive in a city with multiple clubs, I respect what Cam has managed to do.
The Sinking Ship has a younger audience, who for lacking a better word are hipsters who won’t accept anything hacky. This type of audience is why Kyle Kinane has made it the place he performs at in Indy. One of my favorite challenges about being a standup is performing in any type of room for any type of crowd. As this blog has demonstrated, I take on almost any audience, as long as the check clears. Here is my review of my performance at the Sinking Ship.
Cam opened the show and then local comics Conor Delahanty, Brent Terhune, and Gerry Gobel followed. Good lineup. Then Cam brought me up. In my intro Cam wanted to mention that I write for the NFL on FOX, but instead said I write for FOX news. He corrected himself, but when I hit the stage, it needed to be address. In front of this room which is very liberal, being introduced as being connected to FOX news is akin to being Jerry Sandusky’s wingman. I used it to my advantage, though, saying it was the all-time worst introduction I have ever been given. Cam must be trying to sabotage me. I then added that I am far from being part of the 1 percent. I’m totally one of the 99 percent. If you don’t believe me, why would have to be performing at a place like the Sinking Ship? Mock anger and ripping the place you are performing works well as an opener, if it seems warranted by the audience. Off to a good start.
I was informed that the comedian the week before had a trainwreck show, as his material he chose to do didn’t fit the audience. He was from Seattle and he took an approach like everyone from Indy were a bunch of Fly Over State yodels. Comics from the coasts–take the following as a lesson. Many of us have a chip on our shoulder when it comes to being seen as stupid or uncool. As someone who has performed in most major cities in the US, I can promise that every place has its share of dimwits. The Real Housewives of…(fill in the blank) and the Jersey Shore are great examples.
The dismal performance the week before set up to 2 scenarios among the regulars. We are a little on edge because we got burned last week–Negative. Hey you aren’t the douche from last week–Positive. I had one feisty bitch who was a little judgmental about a few of my jokes, but I put her in my aggressive/passive style of response, which spun her my way. (As I’ve outlined here before, this style features me ripping the heckler, then I tell them they deserve better from me.) The show went really well, as I weaved in between edgy material and neurotic comments about how I was doing at each moment of the show.
After I got off-stage, I had a lot of regulars tell me it was the best show they had seen there in awhile. That is my goal when I perform, especially at a room like this. I go into every show believing I’m going to succeed and I’m pissed when it doesn’t happen. My current set of standup is very raw and dark, but doesn’t have anything in it that isn’t relatable. Having these ingredients together might not make me someone’s favorite comic, as it’s not narrowcasted for rednecks or hipsters, but it helps me do well with all audiences. This is no accident. I am constantly adding and editing to this set, as when I finish I plan on having a headliner set totally consisting of this personal material. The culmination will be my one-man show that I’m doing at the Indy Fringe Fest this August.
In summation, I’m really happy to say that Central Indiana has a thriving comedy scene. Never in my 20 years doing standup could I have said that before. It might not be as artistic as Minneapolis’ or as hip as Chicago’s, but it’s probably made more progress than any other area in the country. Nice to be part of a new wave. Now if someone can get a regular room happening in Evansville and Lafayette…
NOTE: I would like to thank Katie Wagner for the new cool action shots. She took them at the Sinking Ship. I plan on using more of the one’s she took in the future. Check out her art projects at www.artifolio.com/missionart/gallery