It’s no joke: Economy hits comedy clubs
Dave Mencarelli, a Reno-area comedian, recently took a second job as club director for the Catch a Rising Star comedy club inside the Silver Legacy Resort Casino.
“It is not a great amount of money, but it’s steady, and I don’t have to be in Pocatello, Idaho, on a Tuesday night,” Mencarelli says. “It is difficult to make it on the road.”
As Mencarelli’s experience demonstrates, making a buck in the comedy business is no laughing matter.
Mencarelli and other comedians and comedy show promoters have struggled to sell tickets during the recession. Locally, Catch a Rising Star benefits from deals on tickets and attendance by hotel guests, but locals just aren’t attending comedy shows as much as they did in the past, he says.
Special two-for-one pricing, for instance, brings the cost of a ticket to Catch a Rising Star to less than $9 a seat for one of the club’s eight weekly shows. The 212-seat club leases space at the Silver Legacy, and the casino keeps all proceeds from drink sales.
Mencarelli, who has performed at Catch a Rising Star for five years, now handles managerial duties and social medial outreach in addition to a 15- to 20-minute standup routine each night.
Catch a Rising Star, which opened in the late 1980s, has outlasted all other comedy clubs in Reno.
“Catch, because of its name, has survived here while most others have fallen by wayside,” Mencarelli says. “There was a comedy boom in the late ’80s and all through the ’90s, but by 2002, 2003 we began to see a slowdown in comedy. Catch has survived all of that. Having that history and a name people recognize has carried us through tough times.”
Catch a Rising Star has 10 locations across the county, and the longevity of the Reno club makes it one of the company’s premier locations, says Suzy Yengo, owner and producing director of Catch a Rising Star.
Yengo, who lives in Jersey City, N.J., says the club’s name brings a certain cachet comedians who credit the club for their initial success include Dane Cook and Chris Rock and performing at Catch is an important addition to any up-and-coming comic’s body of work.
“It was a big deal for me when I got to perform at Catch,” he says. “We try to get some guys locally when the time is appropriate because I know it is a big deal to have Catch on their resume.”
As comedy clubs have closed over the years, lesser-known comics are getting less work and taking less money for performances, Mencarelli says. Comedians typically are paid a flat fee for their work or split a take of the gate, much like musical acts. Well-know acts usually are paid more for their services.
“Once they have credits, their fees go up,” Mencarelli says. “They get and deserve a little more money. But a lot of headliners we get are still excited to put Catch A Rising Star on their resume as a headliner.”
Bootstrapping a successful comedy venue can be just as hard a making a living telling jokes.
Wayne Wright, owner of Reno Tahoe Comedy, is slowly building a loyal following at the Pioneer Underground, a small venue in downtown Reno attached to the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts.
Wright formed the comedy promotions business in February of 2011 after booking acts at Lake Tahoe mostly at the Crystal Bay Club since 2007.
The big challenge, Wright says, has been spreading the word about weekly acts at Pioneer Underground. Reno comedian/hypnotist Dan Kimm has been headlining shows on Friday nights.
“The main thing is for people to find us we don’t have a large venue with signage on top of the ground,” Wright says. “We are a venue that is underground, but a lot of people are beginning to find us, and they love the location.
The 175-seat theater formerly was a museum and also was used for storage.
Wright leases the venue and draws revenue from a share of ticket sales, which range from $13 to $16. Reno Tahoe Comedy is approaching the break-even point, he says, after a large initial investment to secure a venue and get a modest advertising campaign off the ground. He expects an increased local draw at Pioneer Underground to push him into black ink.
“We are looking at real good things on down the road,” Wright says. “Because of our location, we have a lot of great restaurants by the Riverwalk District, and that really helps for exposure and bringing people downtown.”
“It is one of nicest small venues in Reno, and we have got a lot of loyal customers who enjoy the venue and the shows.”
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