Comedy central?

By SARA FAITH ALTERMAN  |  September 17, 2008

“What’s happening at The Comedy Connection definitely affects the local scene,” says Rick Jenkins, owner of The Comedy Studio in Cambridge. “There’s no longer that big carrot — the goal of playing for that big name. But comedy is changing like all media is changing. It’s more do-it-yourself, it’s about local people doing interesting things.”

It’s the punk-music aesthetic, adopted by comedians. And, hungry for places to play, they’re starting to create their own venues. Self-produced week-night shows at seemingly random bars are sprouting rapidly. Perhaps the most notorious is Monday nights at Sally O’Briens in Somerville, which began about two years ago as a shitty open mike, featuring terrible one-liners and a row of angry barflies who would stare sullenly into their beers and visibly try to avoid strangling nervous amateur comics as they sputtered butchered punch lines. Nurtured by then-hosts Myq Kaplan and Dan Hirshon, and now hosted by Josh Gondelman, Sally O’s has blossomed into a vibrant comedy hub that is a must-play on the circuit, as have the multi-locale and titillating (tee hee) shows produced by Anderson Comedy troupe.

Following suit in the “unlikely comedy venue” trend are Faneuil Hall’s Green Dragon and McFadden’s and The Alley’s Sweetwater Café. “There are a lot of smaller nights opening,” says comedian Lamont Price, who produces the shows at Sweetwater, “which might help comedy, because it’s making it more like New York, where you have a lot of intimate clubs. Plus, you get more of a feel of the audience when it’s a smaller crowd. You can connect more with more people — you get more of a feel of what stand up is meant to be.”

Speaking of New York, that urban bastard is stealing our comedians. In the past year, a substantial chunk of chuckle kings and queens have taken off for smellier and more expensive horizons. Kaplan, Hirshon, Micah Sherman, Giulia Rozzi, Dan Boulger, and Joe List are among the Boston ex-pats scraping it together in the Big Apple, while the Walsh Brothers took off for Los Angeles, leaving behind a branch of their Great and Secret Comedy Show, now hosted by Renata Tutko, one of the many absurdly talented Boston comedians who, thankfully, aren’t leaving us. Yet.

“Anytime people move, or places close and new places open, it’s always awkward,” says Tutko. “Not in a negative way, but as in being unsure. Right now, the scene is fraught with excitement, because anything can happen.”

And don’t count the old dogs out of the buzz. Dick Doherty’s Beantown Comedy Vault on Boylston Street, a long-time go-to for local stage hounds, has added more weekly shows, jam-packing its cavernous room with comedy seven nights a week. Nick’s Comedy Stop is still alive and kicking, even if it does morph into a Eurotrash dance club after the last punch line has fizzled. And, over in Harvard Square, the Studio is still the nexus of local comedy, reveling in its role as a breeding ground for cutting-edge acts.

With all of these shake-ups, shut-downs, and sayonaras, how can new comedy platforms survive in this artistically wobbly town?

“It’s like raising a kid,” says Fairbanks. “You love him, support him, nurture him — ”

“But if he’s gay,” adds McIntire, “we’re gonna kick him out.”

Sara Faith Alterman is hilarious. She can be reached at salterman@phx.com.

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