Assessing the Rififi/post-Rififi scene

Whether you call it the "alternative" comedy scene or the "downtown" comedy scene, and either of those labels doesn’t quite fit when describing the particular crop of New York performers who tend to eschew the traditional comedy clubs — and even that tag doesn’t apply to those stand-ups who perform in comedy clubs as well as the dive bars, burlesque halls and basements of the city. Nevertheless, the main clique finds itself wondering if this is the last gasp for the current East Village scene. Mo Pitkins closed suddenly last year, and several shows migrated to Ochi’s Lounge below Comix. It’s a great use for that basement bar space, but not large enough for the more popular alt-shows. And now the fate of Rififi seemingly hangs in the balance. Again. Rumors of its demise have popped up every few months or so, and though the property’s real estate broker assured me last fall that the club had a buyer and a closing date, that date came and passed, and earlier this month, performers were told that at the lease’s end, Leap Day really would be a monumental Leap Day. If so, come March 1, where will Invite Them Up be inviting them up? What about Greg Johnson and Larry Murphy? Are they Totally J/King us? And where would all of these comedians and their friends and fans just generally hang out?

Or not so fast? Some comedians have told me that it’s not all quite so finite, finis and finito just yet.

In February, then, Rififi’s survival becomes a can it, should it, will it proposition. Can it survive? Certainly. Someone just needs to assume the lease and book additional popular comedy shows, and supplement with more events that attract an audience, whether it be live music, burlesque or something else entirely. Should it survive? For sentimental reasons, obviously. If you take a look at the place, though, or better (worse) yet, smell it, you wonder when this dive will at least fix the bathrooms, and then you think, isn’t this place a little small? Will it survive? Perhaps. When the latest reports of Rififi’s demise surfaced, a thread on A Special Thing’s message board suggested (jokingly or not) that all of the comedians chip in to save it. If Rififi really is that special, that’s not a foolhardy suggestion. The comedians don’t need to buy the joint. But they do have to buy into the notion that Rififi is not only a performance space but also a business, and needs as much revenue as it gets in sentimental value to continue to function. Comedians do need to invest financially in the place in that respect, from getting fans and themselves to buy more drinks and even pay to see more shows there. If not…

Then where? The Green Room at 45 Bleecker could be a comedy contender, what with Drink At Work hosting its "Extended Family" there tonight, and Shoot the Messenger moving its Monday night morning-show parody and comedy series there beginning next week with guest Rachel Maddow.

But why not Brooklyn! That’s where several of the scene’s comedians already live and perform comedy. At some point, wouldn’t be natural and even more so then to call it the Brooklyn comedy scene? (And no, I’m not going to consider Astoria just because comics live there, too) Here are those contenders, all of which are competing with music and other entertainment options for bookings:

Sound Fix. If you’re on Bedford, you’d think it’s just a Williamsburg record store. But walk through the store and the back door, or around the corner, and you’ll find a beautiful open bar and performance space. Max Silvestri’s I Like Attention debuted there last week to a packed hall, a solid lineup and great success. Even Fred Armisen took it in and smiled. Other comedy shows are on the schedule, as well. Next up: The Bump on Feb. 4 will have stand-up and improv.

Hugs. Gabe & Jenny’s New Experience debuted in this submarine-shaped bar on North 6th Street in Williamsburg two Thursdays ago. It’s got funky furniture near the stage, more traditional booths in the back of the bar, and skee-ball even farther back near the front door. Anyhow. They’ll be there every other Thursday, which means tonight. So go check it out! It’s free.

Union Hall. Park Slope neighbor Eugene Mirman and fellow Brooklynite Michael Showalter certainly have made comedy a regular feature of this bar, for folks willing to walk past the bocce and downstairs for Tearing the Veil of Maya. If they’re there every week, why aren’t you?

Magnetic Field. A Brooklyn Heights dive that mostly books music but also has monthly live game show re-enactments and the Pant-Hoot comedy show. Plus, if you book a show there, I’m almost guaranteed to see it due to its proximity to my apartment. Still a fairly hidden jewel, though, for comedy.

Spike Hill? The Archers of Ha free weekly comedy show just moved out of there, so that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Do you have a better idea? Suggestions welcomed in the comments. Thanks.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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