HomeNewsBusinessComedy abounds in Augusta if you know where to find it

Comedy abounds in Augusta if you know where to find it

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Local stand-up comedian Rhonda Leigh Jones. Photo courtesy of Jones.

By Charmain Z. Brackett

It’s not easy making people laugh on demand.

Rhonda Leigh Jones knows.

Her worst comedic moment didn’t make anyone laugh.

“It was bad,” said Jones, one of several area stand-up comics who love to make people laugh.

At the time of her worst bomb, though, Jones wasn’t in front of the home crowd; she was performing in Marco Island, Fla.

“People were worried about me,” she said of what happened after she came off the stage. “They were coming over and asking, ‘Are you OK?’”

Now, if a joke bombs, she incorporates it into her routine, and if she busts on herself or the audience for bombing, people tend to laugh.

Then there are times that comedians experience what they call “hell rooms.” Those are the places they have to try harder than most because the people just aren’t there to hear a comedian.

Foster Scott knows that one well.

“It was Jan. 14, 2017,” he said of the precise moment he entered that hell zone.

He was the opening act for the NFL playoffs in a sports bar — not exactly the spot for a comedian.

When the emcee asked if anyone was there to hear the comedian, no one said a word. It would be almost two years before Scott would try again. Christmas Day 2019 was his next appearance.

Despite those rough times, area comedians provide plenty of laughs at open mics around town. Fox’s Lair and Joe’s Underground are a couple of places where comedians evoke the laughers, but their one lament is Augusta doesn’t have its own comedy club.

And people like to laugh.

Krys Bailey of Le Chat Noir knows Augustans want a place where they can laugh their cares away.

Schrodinger’s Cat is Augusta’s only improv comedy group and has the longest running comedy show in the area, said Bailey. The group has been around for more than a decade.

Every First Friday, the players put on two shows – one at 8 p.m. and the other at 10 p.m. The shows are usually sell-outs. Tickets are available through https://www.simpletix.com/e/extreme-theatre-games-by-schrodingers-cat-tickets-98120

Since the pandemic, Schrodinger’s Cat has been the only constant at Le Chat Noir. Other productions have been halted.

Bailey said it’s easy for the group to still put on a show because if one person is sick or can’t perform, then they can switch the troupe up with no one the wiser.

Being able to make people laugh and to have a voice are a couple of the reasons comedians put themselves out there for every open mic nights.

“Even dying on stage, the same light is on you,” said Frank McCurry who is one of the newer members to the area comedy scene.

He got hooked on comedy after hearing Andrew Havok, who runs the open mic at Joe’s Underground. Hearing Havok made McCurry want to try it.

Local comic Andrew Havok performs stand-up comedy at the Soul Bar on Broad Street. Photo courtesy of Havok.

Havok said he was tricked into performing comedy.

“I got divorced, and I was looking for a new group of friends,” he said of how he became introduced to the area’s comedy scene.

He’d written some comedy, and one night, one of his friends put him on the open mic list without Havok’s knowledge. The rest is history. Not only does Havok run Joe’s Underground’s open mic, but he has his own podcast.

Joshua Good, who goes by the stage name of Olo, often travels to Atlanta to perform.  

One of his goals is to “build a comedy community,” he said.

At 3 p.m. Jan. 9, Good and the Augusta Comedy Cooperative will host its first weekly comedy workshop at Le Chat Noir.

Good said performers will get 10 minutes — five to perform and another five to get feedback from fellow comedians.

Also in January, Bailey will bring in a former Augustan who is working on the West Coast as a professional comedian. Billy Andersen will be at Le Chat Noir at the end of January hosting a workshop on how to become a professional comedian.

Where to find comedy:

9:30 p.m. Thursdays at Joe’s Underground, 144 Eighth St.

Comics Wit Attitude, free comedy show, 6 p.m., Jan. 15, at Joe’s Underground.

Live Laughs at IKONZ Sports Bar, show hosted by Saseddrick Washington, featuring local and out of town comedians, once a month, the next one Jan. 22.

Weekly Stand Up Workshop at 3 p.m., Jan. 9 at Le Chat Noir, 304 Eighth St.

Comedy Class: Open Mic to Headliner, by Billy Anderson, professional comic from Augusta, at 2 p.m. Jan. 29 at Le Chat Noir.

Schrodinger’s Cat Improv Show, every First Friday at 8 and 10 p.m. at Le Chat Noir.

Upcoming: monthly comedy shows at Soul Bar and Fox’s Lair, Best Medicine Comedy Show (featuring local features and nationally-touring headliners) at the Elks Club, dates and details to be announced go to Augusta Comedy and CSRA Comedy on Facebook for updates.

Charmain Z. Brackett is the features editor for The Augusta Press. Reach her at [email protected]

Column: Behind the mic with Skyler Andrews

Skyler Q. Andrews performs stand-up comedy at the Soul Bar downtown.

By Skyler Q. Andrews

It’s a Thursday night at Joe’s Underground Café downtown. That means it’s open mic night. It welcomes just about any and all performers willing to get up on its humble stage and offer their wares to the crowd. That crowd may be a mini-throng of curious Broad Street wanderers, or a skeleton crew of barflies, most of whom will scatter after their next beer; or it might be “family night,” consisting of fellow-travelers who are waiting for their time to go up.

My buddy EJ Mac, a former personal trainer who started doing stand-up about six months ago, is up on stage now, resisting a glance at his notebook while he goes through his latest material. He’s killing, and he wants to keep going.

The mic’s host is Andrew Havok, another friend and colleague; an electrician by day who wears his hair down past his shoulders, is always garbed in a crop-top on stage and has a hilarious, irreverent act that’s often dark as night and as blue as the moon. Tonight, he’s trying jokes we’ve heard a million times before but with different voices—Andrew Dice Clay, Rodney Dangerfield, even Mickey Mouse—to make them funnier. This has no business being as effective as it is.

While the mic welcomes all types of artists, from musicians and rappers to poets and spoken-word artists, even jugglers (though I don’t recall a juggler ever signing up, but we’d be totally down for it), it has become home to a particular breed of performance artists striving to make its mark in Augusta: stand-up comedians.

This is my breed. These are my people.

I started stand-up comedy on Monday, Sept. 24, 2018. It was an open mic at the Playground on Broad. I was already a writer, and I had no problem performing in front of people. I had been part of the spoken word and poetry scene—another underestimated crowd in the area—for a few years, reading flash fiction, short stories, snippets of plays or novels I had been working on and spoken word pieces. I knew how to be on stage.

But stand-up comedy was something of a different animal, one that I had not tamed yet, one about which I was more than curious, and one that I had admired since I was probably far too young to be watching it.

I didn’t do too well. I don’t recall the jokes I told, though I remember a bit where I sang and for too long. I can’t sing, and that was part of the joke, but it was also part of what didn’t land. Nonetheless, I caught the bug, and I went up again the following week. Then I went to the aforementioned Thursday night open mic at Joe’s. Back then it was hosted by Marcus Gantt, another funnyman from the area. I’d thought just a little harder about constructing jokes. I discovered that it wasn’t really such a different animal after all. I had decided to do comedy to begin with to explore a new creative outlet, and once I had connected with it as an artform, I realized that it’s essentially another form of writing.

And according to some, I got pretty good at it.

The comedy scene in Augusta is small, at least compared to the scenes in nearby cities like Columbia, Savannah or certainly Atlanta. But it’s also notoriously close-knit. At least that’s how I experienced it when I first got involved with it. Almost everyone knows each other, everyone is pretty much friends. Everyone pretty much supports each other. And we’ve had to. We had to be there for each other to remind each other that there’s more of us here.

Stand-up comedy, as a hobby, a culture, a community and an industry, has its own terms of art. An open mic is an event, usually recurring, where anybody off the street can come sign up and perform. This type of event is usually where comics striving to get to the professional level, or might already even be there, practice and work out their material. This is differentiated from a show, which is a coordinated event where specific comics are booked (and, ideally, paid) to perform.

Individual units or sections of a comedy set are called, of course, “jokes”; but they’re also called “bits,” and sometimes a bit may be comprised of several smaller jokes.

Non-comedians are called “civilians.” When a comic sits in the audience and watches another, more experienced comic perform, observing and analyzing and mentally taking notes, it’s called “taking class.” A space where you perform, as well as its audience, are known as a “room.” A particularly difficult room with an unenthusiastic or even hostile crowd is called a “hell room.” When a comedian does really well, and a set earns several consistent laughs from the crowd, that comic has “killed,” “destroyed” or “murdered.” When the opposite happens and one mostly hears crickets, or perhaps even boos, then a comic has “died” or “bombed.”

And everybody bombs. It’s part of the comedy game. All the great stand-ups, all your favorites—Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Jerry Seinfeld, Robin Williams, Dave Chappelle, anyone you’d want to name—they have all bombed. It’s how we learn, it’s how we grow as artists, it’s how we discern, mine and hone what’s funny, and it’s how we get thick skin.

“I did a church gig,” said Augusta-based comedian Saseddrick Washington, describing his worst time on stage. “I told an Eddie Long joke in an Eddie Long church. I hadn’t known it was an Eddie Long church. It was a little tight in there.”

Washington has been doing stand-up since 2009, when he opened for the late Atlanta-based comic Tyler Craig. He has done, and continues to do, plenty of shows in and out of the area since then. He even opened for Steve Harvey in 2012. Currently he hosts Live Laughs, a monthly comedy show at Ikonz Sportsbar & Grill featuring out-of-town and local comics.

Washington’s material often makes use of old-school and new-school contrasts and music. He notes the importance of reading the room, as an audience of mostly 20-somethings are not as likely to appreciate bits about music that was popular years before they were born. Once one reads the room, one must adapt delivery, cadence, diction, to make sure the crowd can relate to and receive the humor.

“I want everybody to be able to enjoy themselves, I want it go smooth,” said Washington. “I’m like the snake charmer. My job is to get them there.”

While all of us comedians in Augusta welcome the challenge, “getting them there” is easier said than done, largely because it can be difficult to bring a “them” to be there. Years ago, Augusta had the Comedy House Theater and Somewhere in Augusta, both on Washington Road. But nowadays, not many people know there’s a comedy scene largely because there are only a handful of venues that regularly feature comedians.

Fox’s Lair at Olde Town Inn has had several comedy shows in the last few years, as has Joe’s Underground. Throughout 2021, local comedy booker Jackson Brown brought nationally-touring comics with local openers to his monthly Best Medicine comedy show held at the Elk’s Lodge off Furys Ferry. Chevy’s Nite Club on Washington Road hosted a 10-week competition for local comics in both 2019 and 2020. I’ve even hosted a monthly comedy night at the Soul Bar on Broad Street for a year.

We go where we can, and where we’re welcomed—and sometimes where we aren’t. Crowds can be very unpredictable because of this. Audiences can be eager or skeptical, curious or suspicious, persnickety or laid-back, or all these things at once. It can be hard to know when to work clean, and if so, how clean; or if more the raunchy side, how far is too far. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We all have a process.

“I can barely breathe,” said Gantt about what he usually goes through before hitting the stage. “I can’t talk. I’m almost about to die; it feels like I’m sick.”

I can sympathize with Gantt. I know this feeling shifts dramatically, because I’ve seen him on stage. He’s opened for Mark Normand at Le Chat Noir in early 2020. For the past year, he hosted and booked the bi-monthly Friday night comedy show at Fox’s Lair, alongside fellow stand-up Willard Putnam. The guy always has me in tears. But getting people there always entails a struggle.

Gantt started about six years ago, after separating from his now ex-wife.

“I never got to do the things that I wanted to do,” said Gantt about his feelings before deciding to start comedy. “What if I die and I’d never done it? So I did it, and I became addicted to it, immediately.”

Common themes pop up in these stories, such as “always wanting to do it,” and “getting hooked” right after trying; as well as starting stand up as a way to process painful moments in one’s life. Havok also started after a divorce. Many of us have struggled with depression and anxiety and various other issues.

I don’t believe that one has to be “messed up” emotionally or psychologically in order to be a good comedian. I do believe that being a good comedian requires being especially in tune with one’s inner workings: your pain and sorrows, anxieties and traumas, addictions and fears; as well as joys big and profound and petty and mundane; dreams, daydreams and deepest reflections.

The scene at the beginning of this column is one that repeats itself every Thursday evening. Some iteration of it has happened again and again, at Joe’s Underground, at shows at Fox’s Lair, at Chevy’s, at Ikonz, at Soul Bar. Over and over, for over three years, like some mythic cycle. The material has grown, some of the faces have changed, and certainly the crowds have.

What hasn’t changed is our commitment to the craft, to the laugh, and to each other—whoever that “each other” consists of.

There has been plenty of bombing to go around in Augusta. Plenty of killing, too (this is starting to read like a crime report, with all the killing and murdering—but I digress). But we’ve all supported each other. One particular area where we are unified is that we would like more support from the community. And ultimately, a comedy club would be nice.

“I want people to want to have more spaces to perform,” said Gantt. “Because we deserve it. There’s a lot of talented people in Augusta. I used to hear people always complain that there isn’t anything to do in Augusta. There really is. There’s stuff to do and I’m right there and I’m good. And just like let me be funny wherever you’re at wherever your venue is. Because it’s going to be be a good time.”

I have no notes for that. I have to agree. Oh, sorry, I’ve got to go… I’m about to go on.

Skyler Q. Andrews is a staff reporter covering Columbia County with The Augusta Press. Reach him at [email protected].

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