“In two years, if there isn’t a solid improvement in attendance and overall response from the media and the public, then everyone is just going to leave. And that’ll be it. That’ll be the end of everything we’ve worked to build and create. That’ll be the end of our comedy sandwich.”
That’s Columbus comedian Justin Golak speaking. I wish it were possible to emphasize the passion in his voice. You see, Justin is not a person to whom I would ascribe much in the way of “passion.” He is very funny. Like really really, amazingly talented, crazy funny. And he’s not even the funniest person in Columbus.
However, he is the only person I can think of who is more passionate about building an independent comedy scene in Columbus than me. People like Justin and I love Columbus. We’re still very young. And yet, I think we’re both certain that long term, Columbus is the place we’d like to call home. That’s why we’ve been busting our asses trying to make comedy click with the rest of the arts and entertainment scene here.
Why else would I be writing this article? It was probably a month ago that Walker asked if I’d like to write about “what needs to happen for comedy in Columbus to go to the next level.” And I jumped at the opportunity. But to be honest, I really I have no idea what needs to happen. I’m completely stumped. Or as Justin put it, “I know what we need to say. We need to encourage people to come to shows more often. Not like every week, but at least once a year. Unfortunately, I can’t think of a way to say that without sounding like total b@#$%.”
I suspected that Justin would help me find the right words. That’s why I called him and asked for his help. What he doesn’t know is that I recorded our entire conversation, and basically let him do all of the thinking and talking for me. It was comedy sandwich.
Here’s one of my favorite quotes: “It’s like, either you come see us now, or we’ll quit, and that’s that. Or we’ll leave and go to another city. Or worse, we’ll leave, get big, and then you can pay $50 to see us the next time we’re in town, instead of the $5 we’re asking for now.” Comedians are nothing, if they aren’t over-confident, cocky, and arrogant. Even in a place like Columbus. But he has a good point. Columbus comedy is very good right now. Why not come see, while we’re both good and our comedy is custom tailored to a mid-western, central Ohio audience? That is the central question.
Let me give you a little more background on Justin and myself. Justin runs the most important website associated with the Columbus comedy scene, www.ColumbusIsFunny.com. If ever you want to go to a comedy show in Columbus, but don’t know where to look, “Columbus Is Funny” is the place. Every month Justin updates the site with everything a potential comedy audience member would need to know about shows, open mics, and each and every person doing comedy out of Columbus.
I’m on the other side of that ticket. My role in the scene is basically to create more shows, and promote the sh*t out of them. I do this through my company, Organ Grinder Productions. After two years of running shows, I’ve personally come to the conclusion that what’s really holding us back is the fact that there is not a down town comedy club in Columbus. Or more simply, there is no recurring weekly comedy show anywhere downtown.
Now there’s a very good reason for this. Comedy is (and always will be) the lowest of the arts. Or as Justin put it “Comedy in the arts is like hockey in the United States. Every time I go to a game, you know, I enjoy it. But it’s never really going to take off. It’ll never be like number one. And that’s cool. Because I don’t really feel like we need everyone. Not immediately. It’d be great if they come. Right now, we just need to let the comedy nerds know. The people who do nothing but sit on YouTube and watch comedy all day. Those are the people I’d like to see coming out. We just have to find a way to let them know.”
I’d like to find a way to rectify this too. Currently, I am running a weekly Thursday night show at Kafe Kerouac, but that’s mostly catered to OSU students. College crowds tend to be a little more open to trying new things. Of course, everyone is invited. Indeed, any non college aged participants who are interested in coming can trust me, these shows are going to be comedy sandwich.
If you’re not interested, Justin and I totally understand your reticence. Columbus comedy hasn’t always been this good. It took us a longtime to get here. We owe a lot of our success to Surly Girl, and the Wednesday night open mic Sean Somerville (the unofficial god father of Columbus comedy) runs there. Surly Girl is a fun place, with a very friendly staff, that is known for supporting the arts. It’s the perfect spot for new ideas to be tested, perfected, or totally trashed.
However, now we are at a whole new level. We have the people. We have the material. We have the stage presence. What we need is a venue. (Yes there is the Funny Bone, but that’s a corporate operation, and they have obligations to book the well known folks you see on Letterman. It’s not a place for up and comers.) So let it be known, if anyone has the necessary resources to make an independent comedy club (like Go Bananas in Cincinnati), Justin and I would love to do business. It’d be comedy sandwich.
However, be warned. One thing a lot bar and venue owners don’t understand about comedy is that audience participation is as, if not more, important to the show than the actual comedian is. Surly Girl has been a successful open mic, that created local comedy juggernauts, because the back room is far separated from the bar, and its atmosphere encourages people to take the service seriously. If a venue is going to host a comedy show, they have a responsibility to create an atmosphere where people are encouraged to be quiet and attentive.
More than any other art, comedy relies on constant feedback from the audience. That doesn’t mean the audience has to laugh at unfunny stuff. The comedian just needs to know that if you’re not laughing, it’s because you don’t like his material, not because you’re playing Sally Spa on your iPhone. In fact, just as much as a comedian’s role in a show is to make an audience laugh, that audience’s role is to form that comedian into that much funnier a person next time they get on stage.
The folks who have been coming to the Surly Girl open mic, and who watched me bomb itinerantly for the first 3 years of my career are truly awesome patrons of the art. They are the ones who created the top notch comedy scene that exists in Columbus, and nobody else. All they had to do was show up, drink, think, and listen. I ate a lot of bad comedy sandwich back in those days. So I’d like to thank the open mic crowd profusely for forming me into the performer I’ve become today.
So for comedy to go to the next level, I still don’t know… If anyone can help us find a downtown venue where we could run a weekly Friday or Saturday night show – that would be great. If any of you are first timers, willing to give comedy a chance, we really hope you do. Check out ColumbusIsFunny.com. Or come to Kafe Kerouac on Thursday Night at 10pm (with $5). Tell your friends. As far as pretty words that will entice you to come to our shows, as you can see, we don’t have anything to say that music, art, and every other group in Columbus hasn’t already said before. Just come out.
That’s my piece. However, I’m going to let Justin close out this article with probably the greatest thing he said during our entire conversation: “The analogy that I want to use is the movie Stand and Deliver. The math class is like the comedy audience. Right? They just think everyone has given up on them. So they don’t care anymore. And then I come in as Edward James Almos, and I say ‘I care. I will give you calculus. I will teach it to you, if you want it.’ Right? And right now we’re at the climax, where it’s hard. We’re getting good. But we don’t have the best means of communication. But we do at least have Columbus Is Funny. And we have the shows at Kerouac, which we know are consistent. And this is the point where Edward James Almos says ‘Look. You don’t have to come to any comedy shows if you don’t want to. But it’s not going to last forever. And if you want it. I’m more than happy to give it to you. But pretty soon, the test is going to come, and then it will be too late.’ Because when you think about it, what we’re asking people to do is come take our AP Comedy Exam, before we have to leave and do other things. You know? Try our delicious comedy sandwich. We think you’ll like it.”
I would recommend not trying to make sense out of the whole “comedy sandwich” thing. It’s just this dumb inside joke. It’s kind of like saying something is “comedy gold.” But really, we’d all rather have a sandwich. Like I said, it’s dumb. I just wanted to let you in on the joke if you ever heard us saying it. Thanks for reading everyone.