After several months of rumors and rumblings, Goodnights Comedy Club, Raleigh's long-running home for stand-up comedy, has been sold to the owner of Helium Comedy Club, a three-club chain that operates out of Philadelphia.
"I love the city of Raleigh," says Marc Grossman, the new owner of Goodnights. "It's a growing city. It's got a great demographic.
"I know that Goodnights has an excellent reputation, and it's the only comedy club in town," he continues, speaking on the phone from Philly. "Rather than opening a competing room, why not just buy the room that's there, that's got a following and a history and a good reputation?"
The change in ownership takes effect Friday, Nov. 1. Outgoing owner Brad Reeder, who will remain as a consultant, says Grossman approached him eight months ago about operating the West Morgan Street establishment. "He wanted to go after one of the big boys," says Reeder. "We finally came to an agreement that we're both very happy with. I think he'll continue on and keep the quality that we've always had."
In addition to Philadelphia, Grossman's Helium clubs are located in Buffalo, N.Y., and Portland, Ore. In Raleigh, Grossman plans to retain the Goodnights name.
This regime change at Goodnights comes at the end of a month spent celebrating its 30th anniversary with a slate full of favorite acts. It also comes after a summer where there seemed to be some tumult going on in the local comedy community. In July, Reeder briefly banned several comedians after he caught them outside the club talking to Cary comedian Mello Mike Miller, whom he had permanently banished previously.
That same week, one of those briefly banned comics, Greensboro's Eric Trundy, got into it online with Frank King, director of marketing and live shows at the new Live Laughs series at the Longbranch, when King announced on a Facebook comedy page that he was planning to organize niche stand-up nights at different venues, going after certain audiences—black, gay, Latino—by only spotlighting certain comics. (Grossman says he isn't worried about going head-to-head with Live Laughs, a weekend series. "I don't know these guys, but from the looks of who they're bringing in, it's not going to be someone I'm really competing with," he says.)
Some area performers say that local comedy venues haven't properly supported local comedy. The major complaint about Goodnights has been that Reeder, a stand-up himself, was restricting comedians' creativity, dictating guidelines that hometown comics had to follow if they wanted time onstage.
"Brad has that 'If you don't do this, you're not gonna come into my club' thing," says Chapel Hill-based comedian Steve Brady. "But what happens is, if you don't just adapt to the ecosystem, then guess what? I'm going to go start a couple of rooms and have it feel the way that I want it to feel."
That's exactly what's been happening, as several comics have started up stand-up nights in different Triangle venues. Earlier this month, Brady, along with fellow comic Ryan Higgins, launched a monthly stand-up show, called Atomic Comedy, at the Atomic Empire comics/games store in Durham. Other nights, like Adam Cohen and Shane Smith's monthly The Dangling Loafer showcase at Raleigh's Morning Times, continue to thrive.
Still, some N.C. comics have moved on to greener pastures. Tyler Meznarich and accordion-wielding Boris Bearclaw, both from the Triangle, are now living and performing in Los Angeles. Greensboro's Jenny Chalikian, who has often driven down here to do stand-up sets, recently declared that she'll be moving soon to Boston, a town legendary for breeding the likes of Denis Leary, Steven Wright, Marc Maron and the late Patrice O'Neal.
But as Grossman promises to bring in younger, edgier comics (Myq Kaplan will be the headliner this weekend), he also says he wants more locals. "I look at it as like a farm system for a baseball team," says Grossman. "If you don't have anyone in the minor leaguers that you're keeping an eye on and you're helping them grow and get better, then you're not gonna have anyone grow on the team.
"So, without local talent, we don't have any hosts and we don't have a bunch of features—and that's a problem. I don't want to have to bring people in from other cities, if I don't have to, to host and feature for shows," he says.
Grossman says it's important for Goodnights to work with local performers and "really try and help them hone their acts. Because we need them just like they need us."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Stand up and be counted."