ACME Comedy Co.’s survival as beloved Minneapolis venue threatened by developers; other regional comedy clubs not so fortunate in past year

ACME Comedy Co., a beloved Minneapolis comedy club by comedians worldwide since it opened 25 years ago, believes it’ll have to close before celebrating its anniversary this November should a planned apartment developer get its way.

The club sent out an email alert this week to fans urging them to sign a #SAVEACME petition, and “Acme Comedy Co. must stay in Minneapolis! Protect the charm & character of the North Loop!” has generated 3,859 signatures on as of this morning.

Owner Louis Lee said: “I have owned and operated Acme Comedy Company for nearly 25 years. I love the substantial growth that I have seen in the North Loop and welcome new neighbors openly, but the bottom line is this proposed apartment complex will drive my guests away. The people who want to see comedy and see shows at Acme Comedy Co. here will no longer come because the parking situation will be a nightmare.”

Lee (shown in the above photo from a 2014 Star-Tribune article with some of his clubs regulars), claims that plans submitted by Solhem Companies to build a complex at 721 First Street North Apartments, breaking ground in July, would eliminate 130 parking spots directly across the street and force Acme — at 708 First Street North — to close up shop and hope to find a new location.

I first heard how great Acme was from other stand-up comedians when I started getting involved in comedy myself back in 1996, from thousands of miles away in Seattle. Everyone raved about playing Acme. Great club. Great crowds.

Here’s a clip from MST3K founding member J. Elvis Weinstein’s upcoming documentary, I Need You to Kill, which features Lee and some past and present Acme headliners.

Acme is urging supporters to attend the Minneapolis City Planning Public Hearing on June 27, 4:30 p.m. at 317 City Hall.

While Acme’s current dilemma seems contained to this one development issue (and perhaps greater development within its neighborhood), and whereas the growth of comedy festivals has skyrocketed exponentially over the past decade, the economic situation on a week-to-week basis across America’s comedy clubs is reporting backward trends from the boom.

Just yesterday, longtime Go Bananas manager/booker Michael Kurtz put out an ABP of the Facebook variety, calling on friends to “help out anyway they can” for the Cincinnati comedy club where he has worked for the past 21 years. Kurtz wrote Wednesday: “As most of you comedians know a lot of the smaller clubs around the country are closing their doors. We are not at that point yet but if things don’t turn around we may be. I am asking my “friends” on Facebook to help out anyway they can. Please let people know the gem we have in this city by sharing posts from Go Bananas Comedy Club or any other way you know how to get the word out. I don’t know what I would do if this place closes but I know I would miss most of you!”

The Improv at Harrah’s in Las Vegas is closing after this weekend’s shows. Laughs Comedy Spot in Kirkland, Wash., is closing after next weekend’s shows, but plans to reopen late summer in the old Giggles spot in Seattle, so that’s something!

The Comedy Stop in the Tropicana closed last summer in Atlantic City from financial pressures after 31 years in business there.

The Atlanta Improv closed after New Year’s Eve. On the bright spot in Atlanta, The Punchline, though, did manage to find a new location after a seven-month gap last year after it had to close its original location

Seattle’s Parlor Live (an extension of its suburban brand in Bellevue) closed in October after only being open for 17 months. Laffs in Toledo, Ohio, closed in January, less than two years after it had opened. The Laughing Gas in Winston-Salem, N.C., closed in February almost three years after opening.

In Florida, Belushi’s Comedy Bar in Ft. Myers closed on New Year’s Day 2015 after lasting just more than a calendar year. The Joke Factory in Daytona? Done. Snickerz Comedy Bar in Fort Wayne, Ind., has stopped satisfying. The Funny Bone outside St. Louis went away without telling me or tickling me. Bonkerz locations have closed in Indianapolis and Jacksonville. The Comedy Zone locations in Miami and in Fort Mill, S.C., have surrendered.

And the Newport Funny Bone in Kentucky just closed, although its site claims it’ll reopen in September after renovations. It redirected fans to another location in Liberty Township, where the general manager there told the Cincinnati Enquirer this month: “We would like to get that club to make it up-to-date, make improvements in the club. Business is still going good. The club is staying busy. There’s no question about that. It has been a staple in the community. It needs to be renovated and reinvented.”

What’s the comedy club situation like in your area?

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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