Grand Rapids’ comic
Russell Barnes does his stand-up routine
at Dr. Grins Comedy Club.
For the love of
comedy, timing is everything. And the timing
has never been better for local comedy..
by Johnny Quirin
The best seats at the Sunday Night Funnies
are near the bar in the back.
stand-up comedians congregate in The Landing
Lounge, even if they aren’t scheduled to
perform on stage. The comics evaluate each other’s
performances, offering positive reinforcement
for good sets or good-natured ribbing when things
The Funnies started
more than a year ago, when a seasoned comic approached
the owner of the Radisson Hotel in downtown Grand
Rapids about putting on a Sunday comedy show.
At the time, Sunday nights in the hotel’s
lounge were slow and staffed by a skeleton crew.
But as word spread about local comics performing
their stuff, The Landing started attracting new
Now Sundays tend to be at or near capacity,
demanding two bartenders and three waitresses.
All for the love of laughter.
Despite Michigan’s depressed economy,
or perhaps because of it, Michigan is proving
a fertile ground for up-and-coming performers.
Almost any night of the week, nightclubs, bars
and restaurants in the Grand Rapids area feature
local stand-up comics.
at Dr. Grins.
scene is better than it has ever been,” said
Stu McAllister, house M.C. at Dr. Grins, a comedy
club inside The BOB that features national touring
comedians Thursday through Saturday nights. “With
new venues like The Social Exchange, Shots Bar
and Grill and the Crazy Horse, it’s going
really strong now.”
Dr. Grins features an “open mic” set
at the beginning of Thursday night shows, giving
local comics a three-minute chance at glory.
Known as one of the hottest clubs in the Midwest,
Dr. Grins gets so many requests for its open
mic slots that comics typically can only secure
a spot once every several months.
Grand Rapids’ comics perform varied styles,
such as observational comedy, musical comedy,
one-liner jokes and cringe humor. Despite the
differing styles, the performers share a common
devotion to the craft.
The depth of Grand Rapids’ talent has
not gone unnoticed. Eric Yoder, of national comedy
booking agency Funny Business, describes Grand
Rapids’ comedic talent as “intelligent,
relevant and dynamic.”
“Booking comedy all over the country has
shown me that different regions in the country
produce different styles of comedians,” said
Yoder. “I’ve found that comedians
from Grand Rapids represent a unique style. Their
comedy is intelligent, well written, but not
condescending. They provide a good mix of blue
collar material — that is, (they are) able
to stay relevant and interesting.”
Sterenberg, Bob Dekker and Joe Anderson
perform an improv act at Dog Story Theatre.
Last October, Allen Trieu, Trevor Smith, Adam
Degi and Matt Lauria put on a “TwentySomething
FunnySomething” show at Wealthy Theatre.
“This is something we talked about almost
as soon as we all met,” said Trieu, winner
of Grand Valley State University’s “Last
Laker Standing” stand-up comedy contest. “The
four of us really wanted to do something together
because we had all become fast friends, respected
each other’s comedy and felt we had styles
that complemented one another.”
The young comics, who shared a common background
of winning various collegiate and metropolitan
comedy competitions, established a packaged show,
like the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, but marketed
to their own demographic.
Lauria, 2007 winner of Western Michigan University’s “Last
Bronco Standing” competition, found a media
sponsor and worked to book the Wealthy Theatre.
“We met for breakfast on the morning of
the show and talked about how great it would
be if we could fill 250 of the 400 seats,” Trieu
That night, the show
“We had to
delay the start of the show by nearly a half
hour because there were still people trying to
get in,” he said. “Looking out from
the back and seeing the line and people putting
folding chairs in the aisle, we realized we had
exceeded our expectations by far.”
to stand-up. Improvisational
comedy also has a strong local presence. Veteran
troupes River City Improv and Fishschtick, the
entertainment troupe of Fishladder Inc., as well
as upstart groups Notable Sawyer regularly bring
laughs to Grand Rapids audiences. Unlike stand-up,
which typically uses prepared material, improvisational
actors create a live, unfolding story on stage,
taking suggestions from the audience as the actors
play off one another.
D.K. Hamilton performs
his stand-up comedy routine at Dog
Again, local entertainment
opportunities are increasing. One new forum for
improvisational comedy is Dog Story Theater,
1115 Taylor St. NW. It’s a “black-box” theater — a
large rectangular room with no fixed stage or
seating. This set-up allows flexibility for performers,
and a casual, intimate and inexpensive entertainment
experience for the audience. The venue hosts
Monday Comedy Night, which features local improvisational
actors, such as Second City alum Joe Anderson,
and caps off every Monday show with an open improv
jam, allowing participants of every skill level
to get into the act.
Area comics and improv
performers have a running argument over which
art form is more difficult. Anderson, who does
both professionally, gives the nod to stand-up.
they both fall under the comedy ‘umbrella,’ they’re
so completely different,” he said.
if you say or do something that’s only
kind of funny, the audience usually still responds
well because they know you’re making it
up on the spot. With stand-up, they know, or
at least assume, you came up with the idea, wrote
it down and practiced it, so by the time they’re
hearing the joke, it should definitely be funny.
No grace.” GR
Freelance writer and local comic D.K. Hamilton
will perform at this year’s Detroit Comedy