New rooms and fresh faces are driving a stand-up comedy revival in Detroit
Is Detroit a mess? No, not even close. But when it comes to getting up in the area, most of the comedy spotlight seems to be on suburban clubs like Mark Ridley’s Comedy Castle in Royal Oak and Joey’s Comedy Shop in Livonia. Recently, however, a number of new comedy events have appeared in the city, adding extra energy to an existing scene that is already living and breathing in local bars and music venues.
One of the most headstrong of the young upstart is Mothra. It’s a monthly show that takes place every second Monday of the month at PJ’s Lager House. Mothra’s host and creator, Stretch Adam, also works as a local chef. He describes his event as “a mutation between a shop window and an open microphone”.
Anyone can sign up to tell jokes, and comics have the option to play for longer than the usual five minutes. After that, Stretch, who has set up a desk and couch behind the microphone, invites them to sit down and asks them a handful of ridiculous questions.
“We have people who step up in eight minutes and we have a Letterman / Johnny Carson-style interview after everyone hangs up,” says Stretch. “It makes the show a little fun and people can make fun of themselves and show off their written material.”
To liven things up, every show has a gag. In January he rented a helium tank and had actors recite famous lines of film in high-pitched, squeaky voices. He’s also kept a masseuse to massage the comics during the interviews and hired a marching band to roam the bar.
Mothra’s lanky host has only been sharing his hilarious pun and wild anecdotes via local microphones since last October. During that time, however, he has become a grinder, a familiar face at Hamtramck events such as the New Dodge Comedy Night Open Mic and 7 Brothers Standprov, as well as open on-site microphones in the New Way Bar in Ferndale, the Cellar Comedy Club in St. Clair Shores and LaffTracks in Novi.
As a newcomer to the scene, Mothra’s host looks to more established comics like Ken Witzgall, a Chicago racetrack veteran, and local favorite Ron Taylor, who is part of a comedy group called the Motown Laugh Kings. Stretch is also part of a crew of Detroit comedians that include Brett Mercer, Zech, Lauren Booza, Travis Grand, and Andrew Sheldon.
Mercer and Zech recently hosted their own event, Chuckie Finster, named after a Rugrats cartoon character, at Detroit’s Recycle Here! Recycling center they hope to do a monthly thing.
Sparring on the open microphone
As the presenter of New Dodge’s open microphone, Esther Nevarez is very familiar with Stretch and his disrespectful group of friends. She admires his drive, played Mothra herself, and says the space he set up is representative of how the Detroit comedy scene works.
“Detroit doesn’t really have a comedy club. In Detroit, a lot of people put cabinets and rooms together,” she says, “so it’s more of a DIY thing in the city of Detroit.”
Nevarez, a seasoned local comic, began taking comedy classes at Mark Ridley’s Comedy Castle a few years ago. Her comedy is a mixture of observation and experience based on her Mexican background. She has performed at Ridley’s and Joey’s in the suburbs and the Detroit Comedy Underground, Nonsense Night at the Tangent Gallery, and Crack Em Up Comedy at Detroit’s Jazz Café Music Hall, as well as Lansing, Ann Arbor, and Grand Rapids. In addition to the New Dodge, she works as an audio engineer for a marketing firm in the area, co-hosts the Jester Comedy Showcase in Waterford, where she lives, and performs with a cabaret comedy / vocal group called Laugh Riot Dolls.
The busy comic compares the open microphone circuit with training.
“They don’t watch the concert,” she says. “You look at the real world and it’s still interesting, but it’s hard to judge as a finished product from anyone.”
New Dodge’s open mic has a certain amount of gravitas that draws in comics from Canada, Lansing, Grand Rapids, and Toledo. Nevarez keeps an eye on local talent and praises many of these comedians.
“Jeff Horste is really good. Brett Mercer. Bret Hayden. Zech – just Zech. He’s like Madonna.
He’s just really good. Wes Ward is always there. Sam Rager is really talented. She recently opened for Cameron Esposito in Indiana and she’s really good. “
Special praise goes to the presenter of Crack Em Up Comedy, Josh Adams, who is something of a star in New Dodge.
“They adore him,” she says. “He’s blowing the air right now. When he’s there I usually let him close the show and have as much time as he wants.”
The future should be mentioned funny
Another local comic that has the respect of her peers is Heather Jay H.
She has just started a new show called Midtown Comedy Blend at the Majestic, which aims to restore the diversity of Detroit’s comedy. As in many cities, African American and white comics in Detroit are set in front of audiences with their own background, sometimes referred to as white or black rooms. H finds it particularly pronounced here and wants to liven up the scene with a room where blacks and whites, gays and straight people, women and men and all kinds of other people are welcome. The only sticking point is that the comedians have to be really funny.
“We haven’t seen this in town since Bea’s Comedy Kitchen closed and All Jokes went Aside, which was over ten years ago,” she says. “So we have what’s called a separate comedy. We’ve been doing this in Detroit for far too long. It really is time to end this.”
H jumped into stand-up about a decade ago. As a film critic who wanted to pick up her script, she saw comedy as a quick ticket to the entertainment area. As a Tenderfoot comic, she began playing in clubs with her boyfriend Clayton Thomas, who is now making a name for himself in LA and has a show in production with Playboy TV.
Her first gig took place in an East Side bar called 486. She describes the experience as both “terrible” and “intoxicating”. In her first year, she wrestled about 200 open microphones. Eventually she began performing with Joey and Ridley, refining a style that she describes as “intellectually obscured”.
“I’ll talk about ignorant things … I’ll talk about blowing up the club,” says H. “I’m talking about men and women. I’m talking about motherhood. I’m talking about these crazy streets, about what happens when we leave our homes. I think there’s a split with a lot of America’s. They don’t want to accept what is real. ” Event.”
Nowadays she is touring the Midwest and taking her show to hot spots like New York, Chicago, Atlanta and LA. She expects to be on the road for around 25 weeks this year.
For H, the newer spots in Hamtramck, Midtown and Downtown, which she attributes to gentrification, are exciting. She is impressed by the new wave of comedians: Nicki Wright, Josh Adams and Laura Witkowski, who run the comedy showcase at Small’s in Hamtramck with Ray Hollifield Ray and Lauras.
The veteran comic says that Detroit veterans – people like Coolaide, Dave Landau, Connie Ettinger, Mike Stanley, and Bill Bushart – strive to look after the younger folks in ways that didn’t exist when they were climbing in the middle of the ropes – 2000s. To be clear, that doesn’t mean pampering yourself. It means hard love and good comedy values by keeping the newcomers by the fire in an honest way.
H sees this mix of enthusiastic new talent and community-minded veterans as a powerful combination that is good for the local stand-up scene.
“In the late 90s and early 2000s everyone came to Detroit to recruit,” says H. “BET came to Detroit. Showtime came to Detroit. Everyone. Comedy Central. Everyone made showcases here.”
“I think we’ll come back to that,” she adds. “We are able to improve one another. As soon as our comedy scene gets going, we can do it.”
David Sands is a Detroit-based writer. Follow him on Twitter @DSandsDetroit.