The East Village and Lower East Side have provided a home for the independent comedy scene in New York City since before I moved here.
Luna Lounge. Rififi. Mo Pitkin’s. All since closed. The Slipper Room is under construction. There are venues such as Pianos or Lolita Bar that host comedy in addition to music. The UCBeast is the latest to give the area a full-time try in comedy, although the Upright Citizens Brigade is becoming large enough now that it’s much closer to a mainstream comedy club than it is an “alt” or “indie” venue.
And then there’s Luca Lounge. A group of comedians and comedy lovers, led by Carol Hartsell, Sean Crespo, Kambri Crews and Mindy Tucker, have taken over the back bar/showroom of Luca Lounge at 222 Avenue B and put on more than a dozen regularly scheduled live comedy shows each week. But the place is, well, more than a bit of a fixer-upper. So they’ve taken to Kickstarter with the hopes that friends and fellow comedy fans will help them pay for extensive roof repairs, the installation of stage lights and a revamped sound system, production equipment and backline essentials, as well as new tables and chairs, all in the hopes of creating an independent comedy space that fills the void left by places such as Rififi or Luna before that.
I put the question point-blank to Hartsell, whose day job is Editor of the Huffington Post Comedy channel: Why go to Kickstarter for this and not to a bank for a loan — or to investors for investment — like a regular comedy club?
First of all, this isn’t going to be a comedy club. It’s not a business venture so much as a collaborative project. We don’t own or even rent the space, we’re contracting with the owner to use it for comedy five nights a week. We want to create an environment that welcomes comedians, encourages experimentation and mutual support, and doesn’t stifle creativity with quotas or discourage audiences with high cover prices and drink minimums. But some renovations have to be made in order for us to make the space more hospitable, which is why we approached Kickstarter. It’s a finite project: fix the roof, put in lights and a sound system, get better chairs, put up an awning, done. They responded to the idea that we’re artists, not business people. Our goals aren’t about how much money we’ll make, but about how many comedians and comedy lovers we can bring together under one roof. But to accomplish that, you have to make sure the roof doesn’t leak.I’m sure it sounds like I’m splitting hairs or being disingenuous but I’m not. Do I hope that eventually I have a little bit of money in my pocket at the end of the night, sure, but if that were the primary goal, this wouldn’t be happening. We wouldn’t have stuck with this space for as long as we have if money were the goal. But we have an opportunity at Luca that is unique. You can’t find a venue in Manhattan that — even before we decided to do the Kickstarter project — was delighted to give their space over to comedy almost every night and didn’t talk about kicking us out anytime we had a small audience who didn’t drink.But more importantly, there’s a huge segment of the comedy scene in New York that is wildly creative, but not famous and/or ultra-hip. When Luna Lounge, Rififi and Mo Pitkins were around, there was a more inclusive comedy community, it was easier for people to meet each other and discover new voices. We don’t have that in the city right now and what’s taken over is scattered, super-cool shows where you go to be seen but not really interact. There’s no creative, group force that moves a lot of people forward, you just have individuals trying to outdo each other. So that leaves you the route of five-minute-showcasing, being super Internet savvy and, if you’re lucky, being hip-pocketed by a manager who has no interest in planning your career and just expects you to deliver for them. It diminishes creativity and focuses artists on being better at marketing than they are at comedy. But if you have a space where comedy doesn’t have to be slick, and the stage doesn’t have to be industry-ready and you perform for the work of performing not to record your five minutes, then you’ve got something that can build careers worth having (and watching).At Luca, we’ve got open mics, we’ve got shows that famous people drop in on to work new material, and we’ve got everything in between. I have been outright gobsmacked by some of things that have already happened on our stage. For me, right now, it’s the most creative place in the city in terms of comedy.And it will be 100% less dank once we fix that damn roof.