The local Boston comedy scene has, somewhat ironically, a lot of drama. Granddaddy clubs are closing or relocating; newbies are opening in their stead. Comics are moving, feuding, gossiping, scheming, ripping each others’ clothes off and clawing each others’ eyes out. It’s the nature of the hilarious beast, all part of the blood, sweat, and tears-of-a-clown nurturing process of the schizophrenic Boston stand-up community.
PUNCH-LINE PUNKS: As the local laugh landscape changes, Boston’s funnymen (and women) are adopting a do-it-yourself approach to supplement gigs at both new and established (The Comedy Studio, pictured) comedy clubs.
Obviously, stand-up has deep and gnarly roots in Beantown, boasting legendary native luminaries like Steven Wright, Paula Poundstone, Barry Crimmins (an occasional Phoenix contributor), Denis Leary, and Jimmy Tingle, as well as contemporary dynamos Mike Birbiglia and (for better or worse) Dane Cook. But a cache of rawly talented and overlooked locals are driving the comedy train now, and a slew of major changes to the scene will either derail it or else do something that involves a positive transportation analogy that I can’t think of right yet.
Those changes include the disappearance of Tingle’s Davis Square comedy theater, the up crop of a gazillion random open-mike nights across the city, and a general comedy brain drain, as some of the key players in our thriving local comedy community have up and abandoned us for the brighter lights of d’big city, New York. (Jerks.) And significantly, it includes the move across town of Faneuil Hall’s Comedy Connection.
A city without a carrot
When The Comedy Connection recently schlepped from Faneuil Hall to the 1200-seat Wilbur Theatre in the Theeeeatah District (presumably just so they could say ‘theeeeeatah’ on a regular basis), its owner decided to trim stage time for local comedians in the process, choosing instead to focus on big-name national acts. “The state of local comedy is pathetic right now,” says Connection pooh bah Bill Blumenreich. “Back when I opened up at Faneuil Hall 19 years ago, Boston had so many good comedians who could sell out a room. That trend started to reverse, and over the years it just died. I’d be first to admit that local comedians are probably funnier than many national acts — but they do no business.”
The Connection’s geographic and philosophic shift has created a domino effect, prompting local comics to seek out and, in some instances, create, new places to perform, like the much-buzzed about Mottley’s Comedy Club, which opened this week in conjuncture with the Boston Comedy Festival (which has its big finale this weekend, honoring the Smothers Brothers). “Boston comedy is in a transitional phase,” says comedian Jon Lincoln, who owns Mottley’s with fellow comedian Tim McIntire and non-comedian (but still funny) Jeff Fairbanks. “In the ’80s, comedy here was huge. But, suddenly, in the ’90s, it wasn’t a mainstream thing. Clubs died out because they’d never had to think about developing before. Out of that, the alternative-comedy scene developed. Now, we’re on the cusp of the whole scene growing. We’re in the early stages of a new generation of comedy.”