Tom Brown’s behind the popular, new(is) show at Apotheosis Comics & Lounge, a South Grand venue that’s found a surprise Saturday night hit by hosting standup comedy. We’ve asked Brown a bit about how the South City Comedy Series came to life and quickly came to find an avid, weekly audience on Saturdays.
How’d you come into the knowledge of Apotheosis as a potential venue? Are you a comics guy, who happened in and conversations emerged? What was the process?
I am very much NOT a comics guy. I had like two comics growing up: a copy of Count Duckula and a issue of Beetle Bailey that I am pretty sure was older than me. Though, if it is Star Wars related, you can probably grab my attention. How this came to be: I thought it would be a cool venue for a show. It is a comic book store, but it also has a bar. When I pitched the idea to the owners of the store, and they were immediately on board. Originally, this was going to be about once a month, but decided that it might actually be better weekly. It’s not a traditional bar that could replace us with a Karaoke machine or a cover band or a DJ. It’s good two-fold: for comics, a place to perform on a Saturday night; and additional revenue for the shop through the bar.
Had you previously run any shows? If so, what were they? If not, what made this a good opportunity?
I have been running a show at 66 Cigar out in Sunset Hills. The June show got cancelled, and that actually led to me deciding to pitch the idea to Apotheosis. I do have at least one more show booked at 66 tonight on October 12th; we will see (if it continues) after that. That has been a fun show that the comics have enjoyed being a part of. Also, way back in 2011, I was the host of a weekly improv show at Lemmon’s.
How do you go about curating a night’s event, in terms of who to ask? And let’s take a step back here and tell folks what they might expect, in the vein of how the show’s structured?
Right now my goal is to book three comics to do 15-20 minute sets. A few of the more “established” St. Louis comics and people who I believe deserve more opportunities to perform. I have also included two guest spots that are a little shorter, comics that I would like to see a little more of before getting them some more time. The show format is pretty basic. As host, I’ll do 5-10 minutes upfront to try and warm the crowd up, then stagger feature, guest, feature.
What makes the room special in your mind? Is there anything gained having a comedy show take place in a colorful, creative environment like this? Also, you’re doing a show in front of large, street-side windows; any interesting interactions with the passing public because of that?
I love the fact it’s on South Grand. There are a lot of great places to go and enjoy a great meal, but not that many forms of live entertainment. I’ve literally pulled people off the street and into the show. I’ve heard a lot of, “Well, maybe after me and my friends finish our meal.” And, shockingly a lot of people have followed through on that! The most interesting interaction was Ron Finger arrived in the middle of my set… dressed as TV’s Batman (the Adam West version). I thought I was killing for a second, turned my head and it was Ron.
Are folks using this venue as a place to try out new material, or work with some of their battle-tested stuff? Any early highlights, so far, where you thought, “wow, (Performer X) really brought their A-game today?”
It has been a combination. Like I said, Ron Finger showed up as Batman and did his set as Batman. While you’re getting a lot of the battle-tested stuff from features, we’re getting some great sets out of the guest spots. John Green really killed it a few weeks ago. Coming to this show, you’re going to see something you’ll tell your friends about at work on Monday.
What else should people know?
The show is $5 cash at the door. It is 8pm every Saturday. There isn’t any drink or comic book purchase required (though it’s highly encouraged).
A couple of months back, the Webster University Film Series announced plans to move its long-running Strange Brew cult film showing from the Crown Room at Schlafly Bottleworks, though a new home was undetermined. At the time, the Schlafly space (long a hub to lunch meetings, internal Schlafly promotions and community events) was about to undergo a size-reducing renovation, due to brewhouse needs.
As it turned out, Strange Brew, long presented by film enthusiast Jon Scorfina, would run a couple of more months at the space, with May’s “Django” the final showing.
In June, everything’s changing for Strange Brew, save for the fact that a brewery will still be involved; “Mallrats” will be the first screening at Strange Brew’s new home in the Grove, at Urban Chestnut Brewing Company’s sprawling facility at 4465 Manchester.
“Schlafly has been incredible in hosting Strange Brew for over a decade,” Scorfina says, “We’ve had so many fun screenings at the Bottleworks and hated to move the venue, but they recently remodeled the Crown Room and it is now too small to meet our needs. Were exited to recreate a similar environment at Urban Chestnut, less than 10 minutes away from the old venue, with a awesome barroom and great beer. Plus, we’re no longer competing with live music at the same time.”
(In full confession mode, my own attendance at the event was always immediately followed by a trip into the main barroom to watch Miss Jubilee for a set, or two, but the sound bleed-through was always there, true enough.)
Scorfina doesn’t quite date back to the days when the then-Cinema in the City was hosted at Beatnik Bob’s in the City Museum. But he has been “hosting the event since 2007 (and it’s) still one of my favorite things to do. We take chances on cult films that you don’t see pop up as often at the Tivoli midnight movies and it is always exciting to see the audience who show up for the movie, especially if they’re super fans.”
As for the selection of “Mallrats”: this time it’s personal.
Scorfina, “as a former Crestwood mallrat, I couldn’t be more excited to relive this part of Gen X culture that is slowly fading away with the rise of Amazon. The malls are soon to be ghost towns. As far as ‘Mallrats’ I also suffer from never being able to figure out those stupid Magic Eye posters so this movie ‘gets me.’”
Editorial Note: in coming months, stlcomedy.com is going to push content outward a bit, still covering standup, sketch, improv, storytelling and variety shows, but also touching on cinema and and theatre, when appropriate. So, basically: don’t flip out. Back to regularly-scheduled programming tomorrow, via Fatal Bus Accident.
The Southtown Pub, or more specifically, the affiliated Nano Pub (located just one door down on South Kingshighway), is now home to a weekly comedy event, compliments of We Are Live. The radio show, podcast and production company is featuring a blend of styles and approaches to the weekly, Thursday night gig, with a classic, three-standup lineup the rule over the first couple of weeks.
Ala this Thursday, May 10, when the WAL Thursday Night Comedy lineup will include: Larry Greene, Bobby Jaycox and Angela Smith.
We typed back-and-forth with one of the We Are Live principals, Chris Denman, who hosts the daily WGNU program with Travis Terrell. He gives us the scoop on the event, itself, the scope and mission of We Are Live and, to conclude things, a doggone long list of his favorite local performers.
What’s your elevator pitch about We Are Live, as an overall brand? To what degree do you feel that live shows are a needed component of that overall brand?
We Are Live! is a growing entertainment and media brand that includes morning radio, podcasts, event management, content creation, promotion, and regular live comedy shows. Live shows are important for growth, I believe. We’re not big enough to just hang our hat on being a morning radio show in Saint Louis, and we are fans of a live experience being part of who and what we are. We are so lucky to have a great group of listeners, friends, and regular attendees that spread the word when we’re involved with something. If that didn’t exist, I would feel much different about the work, stress, and financial backing live events require. I feel like its a tangible way for us to say thank you to people for enjoying our radio show or podcasts. Once things settle down a bit, we’ll be doing more regular live performances through live podcasts and comedy shows, outside of putting them on. I was told by an executive, who formerly worked at Williams Morris Endeavors, that his client has grown from live shows that people enjoy, I’ve taken that to heart. The particular conversation I’m referencing really gave me faith in some of the shows we’d done and plan on doing for live audiences.
When planning on producing a new, standing, weekly showcase, what are your needs, exactly? Obviously, a room with chairs and access to beer, but, beyond that, what types of elements are you looking for, re: vibe, feel, etc.?
Honestly, for me and where we are at as a business, location is vital. Southtown Pub is somewhere people that like us and like to have fun will go if you provide them with something interesting to do; maximum effort is still required, but its less of a sell to someone. In Saint Louis your event, show, fundraiser, etc. isn’t always competing with some other show that is similar, you’re competing with a professional baseball team that draws 40k people downtown on a Tuesday or even competing with their neighborhood bar’s specials. Creating something that people feel is worth their time is really important. Additionally, working with a partner like Sam Ruby at Southtown, who is genuinely excited about using the space as an exciting piece to expand their offering to the public is super important to me, personally. If you have someone who half-asses their commitment to you, doesn’t do their end of the promotion necessary, or does not truly believe in it themselves, I do not have time to waste on something that isn’t being given the proper attention. So, it’s important to establish upfront that although we’re putting something together, the bar has a few things that are important they’ll need to accomplish also. We’re putting our best effort out there to make sure the show is well attended and staking our reputation on the comics that are booked, may sound cheesy, but its tough to beat a good team effort.
Going weekly: that’s ambitious. Who is curating this series? Yourself? Yourself and others? Any worries having a deep enough bench here to keep each show fresh and varied?
It definitely is! It’s a ton of work, but I think once everything is lined out, we’ll have four different shows, potentially with three different folks running them. We will maintain two Thursdays out of the month with two slightly different show concepts. Chris Cyr and JC Sibala will be taking one of the Thursday’s for what will surely be a very entertaining regular gig. I’m contemplating a few different show ideas with a couple of others that we’re not quite sure on just yet. So far I have put most of everything together, but my co host/business partner Travis Terrell will be taking on more of a creative role as we roll out the final set of shows, and a few other folks pitching in. Its really impressive how much everyone wants to help; I’m looking forward to it. As far as worried… no, I am not; this is something we’re really passionate about, and I tend to get pretty hard-headed about things I really care about, so there won’t be any lack of trying thats for sure. I do think its important to keep things fresh, but I also think there is such a growing pool of comics and comedic talent here that if we work hard and stay creative ourselves, we’ll be more than fine. Additionally, I’m proud of the network we continue to build. While The Nano Pub is a smaller space, the right-size talent that has an off day, or is looking to book a last-minute show, we’ll be that home as well. After doing two nights of our roast tournament there last year with full crowds both nights, I really think we have the ability to keep it unique and eventually a bit of a destination.
And not to make this piece a collection of worries, but is there any sense of saturation in the market? In essence, when planning something like this, how aware are you of the other indie shows taking place around town?
Comedy feels like its booming and if it bursts; St. Louis won’t feel it until five years after, right? There are several clubs, countless bars, and so many great venues that allow people to get up and do their thing. I think the way to avoid saturation is to know who you’re asking to come to your shows. While we are small compared to a large FM radio station or even a traditional powerhouse AM radio station, we still have an audience we bring to the table that enjoys our events and isn’t necessarily familiar at all with the comedians we will book. If I was attempting to get the same 100 people to come out each Thursday, I feel that would end up being a failed venture. Opening up the doors to new audience members each week is key and will continue to be our goal. Asking people to bring a friend who’s never been and making sure everyone has a fun time so they come back, that’s the key. Reminding people who tune into our radio show when we have a popular athlete or columnist on them in the morning, that “Hey we’ve also got this cool comedy show we’re putting on, you trust our judgment, you listen to us for three hours every morning, oh and hey you get discounts on Urban Chestnut Beers… come out and kick it for a bit.” I think ultimately, yes, we will have regular visitors who just enjoy the vibe of the place and the quality of comics that are there. But, I’ll constantly be marketing to new sets of eyes and ears to make sure we have a fresh turnover of new people enjoying Thursdays in South City.
Without getting you into trouble through omissions, who are some of your favorite STL-based comics right now? What about them catches your attention?
I’m gonna list too many for you to use, but man I’m being honest. I love seeing all these people just get better and better; 99% of people I’ve had the pleasure of booking on our shows, I’m fans of in some capacity. Here’s a way-too-long list of talented people.
* Libbie Higgins, the way she makes people realize they have an aunt or a neighbor that does exactly what she’s describing is priceless. * Duke Taylor, who makes me smile really really big when he’s on stage. The dude is just up there enjoying it. * Rafe Williams, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen versions of his sets, and I laugh every damn time. I want him to be a huge star, I think he’s an amazing representative of the comedy scene and what’s good (and highly talented) about it. He can work a room full of corporate folks from West County or a small room with a more indie rock feel to the crowd. * Bobby Jaycox, he tricks people. They’re like hey there’s this guy I’d like my daughter to date on stage, he’s not gonna say anything surprising… then bam!, you’re doubled over because he’s making fun of children from Jefferson County. * Tim Convy, he puts his writing talents and stage ownership to amazing use. He’s got this smug look on his face and hits you with just the right amount of obvious with a well thought out joke. * Chris Cyr, the man has the perfect amount of faux pas that almost makes you cringe, he adds that into a meandering story that keeps everyone super-interested. I said this before we worked together, I think he gets 20% funnier every time I see him. * Tina Dybal, she has gotten so effective at being descriptive and tells you exactly how the night is gonna go. You’re gonna laugh and think about the exact situations she describes as it pertains to your life, friends, and experiences. * Nathan Orton, easily one of my favorites. Self-deprecating tone while you’re still looking at him like “this guy thinks he’s smarter than me, doesn’t he?” I genuinely love how he can work a white or black room. He does such a great job of getting an audience to enjoy him and I respect that as someone who enjoys different types of rooms or comedic experiences. * Angela Smith, she targeted me with a joke where she flipped a Ghandi joke into my sexual preferences with women. She can write the hell out of a joke. * Larry Greene, I’ve seen him twice, he reels you in and you feel stupid if you’re not enjoying the hell out of what he’s saying. * Matt Wayman , so calm on stage and he uses that to his advantage, I love his delivery and he almost walks the audience to a big laugh. They’re like ‘”hey we’re here!!’ * Kenny Kinds, who makes everyone laugh, all he has to do is shake his head in disappointment at himself. He’s the perfect “too tired to deal with your BS” comic. * Jon Venegoni – I mean this in the best way possible, he’s like Michelangelo from the Ninja Turtles just bonged a beer and is here to eat pizza and make you laugh, and he’s all out of pizza. * Spencer Tegtmeyer, his style is great. Really enjoy his timing. Also, when he makes the crowd realize they’re being hypocritical or ridiculous for groaning at one of his more biting one liners.
America’s birthday week! You better believe America celebrates its birthday for a whole week and tells everyone that it’s coming up months in advance. Fire up the grill, drink a beer, colonize a country and celebrate Independence Day as it’s told in history books. If only we could’ve been there when George Washington, tired after defeating the xenomorphs took a swig of a cold Bud and proclaimed July 4th Independence and Chill day. St. Louis comedy is taking the 4th off it looks like, but there’s lots of shows to see throughout the week. Some might have fireworks! Continue reading “St. Louis Comedy Shows 7/3-7/9”