The room is not close to full at Tir Na Nog on this particular Monday, the night after Easter Sunday. But there are still a few people at the downtown Raleigh pub checking out the comedians trying to tell jokes that'll make this small, predominantly inebriated audience chuckle.
While some succeed (one female comedian got a few laughs by making animal noises), others don't. One young, green comic started his set by saying people should be nicer to homosexuals, which incited several audience members—including one guy in a kilt—to heckle him by calling him gay. (The comic later confirms that he has a girlfriend.)
This weekly comedy night, which began six months ago, is just one of many such nights that have popped up around the Triangle lately. They're helping to supplement longstanding outlets such as the Wednesday open mic at Goodnight's Comedy Club in Raleigh and two weekly standup nights presented by the DSI Comedy Theater in Carrboro.
"Basically, the rooms that are popping up are just great practice rooms—rooms that are there to build us up for the club shows that we do when we go on the road and stuff like that," says Cary comedian Mello Mike Miller, a nine-year veteran of the local comedy community. "I call those the 'boot camp rooms,' because if you can get any of those people to listen, then you've done something good. That's twice as easy in the club, because people go to listen."
Many of these nights are being organized by comedians themselves. Durham comic Caroline Monday has put together standup nights at Kings Barcade, and during last year's SPARKcon, she helped launch that arts fest's new comedySPARK shows. "Ever since the beginning, when I started doing comedy, there were the set rooms like Goodnight's and DSI," says Monday. "But comics always made an arrangement with this or that bar to have an open mic. But it definitely has grown in the past few years."
Raleigh comedian Shane Smith, who co-organizes a monthly standup outing called The Dangling Loafer in the performance space above the Morning Times in Raleigh, believes the increase in rooms reflects an increase in people trying to break into comedy.
"I think it probably has a lot to do with the economy," Smith says. "Everyone's looking for something new to do. But I also think, like, almost three years ago when I started, there were just a few rooms. And then there have been so many people taking standup classes at DSI that there's been a huge amount of comics flooding the area."
Monday (who, along with Smith, has taught standup classes at DSI) thinks that standup shows at more offbeat venues can give comics more exposure than they would get at a standard comedy club, as well as a whole new audience. "There are audiences who are loyal to a venue, and so you reach them," says Monday. "The first show that I ever did at Kings, after that, when I was out and about in downtown Raleigh, there was a significant increase in people who had just seen me and said, 'Hey, I just saw you do that show.' And less than a mile away, I've been performing at Goodnight's for years."
Of course, all this raises the question: What do the folks at Goodnight's think of all this?
Owner Brad Reeder is glad there are other spots out there where local comics can get more time and exposure. "We run our show tight, so you're not going to be able to get on our stage more than, probably, twice a month," says Reeder. "But I think some of the amateurs go out there and some of the open-mic-ers go out there and want to create an open mic so they have more stage time. Which is good; that's quite frankly what they need."
On the other hand, Reeder continues, "The part that's lacking there is, they're not getting any direction at any of those other places. They're not learning the craft properly and getting any guidance. They're learning from other people that don't really know what they're doing."
Nevertheless, what it all comes down to is comics finding places where they can work on their craft and get noticed. Raleigh comic Mike "JM" Baldwin knows this, which is why he started the open mic at Tir Na Nog. "When you go to a place like Goodnight's and you fight for three or four minutes, you fight for that spot and it's like, 'Wow, three or four minutes—whoo-hoo!'" says Baldwin, who usually gives his comics 10 minutes of stage time.
"I just decided to create my own route," he explained. "There's a market for it, and you just gotta go out there and knock on doors and find it. And once you get it, you have to promote the crap out of it."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Rooms to grow."