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May 13, 2010

Why isn't Baltimore more of a comedy town? Part 1

bmorecomedyfactory.JPGWhy isn't Baltimore more of a comedy town? It's a question I've heard tossed around for years -- but never properly answered. Maybe there is no answer. I'm going to try and find out.

This is the first in a multi-part series which tries to get to the bottom of it, by asking comedy fans (that's you), local comedians and comedy club owners why Baltimore is second-rate comedy town.

In this part, I want to know -- why do you think Baltimore's comedy scene isn't on the map? And do you even care? ...

When I started covering local entertainment five years ago, Baltimore had three dedicated comedy spots: The Improv, which got high profile comics and the Baltimore Comedy Factory and Tracy's at the Bowman, which hosted a mix of local and nationally touring comedians.

The Improv closed several years ago, and was briefly replaced by Rascals before going dark completely. Tracy's morphed into Magooby's Joke House, which was a step up for the basement club -- it got a redesign, a better lineup and improved marketing. Meanwhile, the Baltimore Comedy Factory, a gritty little space above Burke's downtown, has kept chugging along, same as it ever was.

What does Baltimore need to do to attract major talent? If another club like the Improv opened, could it sustain itself? Would you go see comedians there if it brought in mid- to major-level talent?

Or are you content seeing A-listers in arenas and large theaters and going to the DC Improv,  Baltimore Comedy Factory and Magooby's for everything else?

(Comedian Larry Lancaster performs at the Comedy Factory. Baltimore Sun archive photo)

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:38 AM | | Comments (18)
Categories: Bars & Clubs


Sam....there is a strong group of local talent in the Baltimore area for comedy just waiting to be discovered. And yes, you are correct that there aren't many places in Baltimore to be seen or heard, which is the main issue. Thats why many people, like myself, have taken matters into our own hands and have booked shows in bars and restaurants around town. A great spot is Hightopps in Timonium every Sunday. It's an open mic with a headliner every week for free with great local talent, and is run by one of the Baltimore's best comedy promoters T. Brad Hudson. As far as Baltimore City goes, I have been booking shows in Federal Hill and Canton over the past months. If you want to experience what Baltimore comedy has to offer tonight...come to Castaways Bar & Grill (2206 Boston Street) at 8pm. It's a free show with 7 comdians performing...heres the facebook link...!/event.php?eid=118255444863870&ref=mf

Comedian C.J. Stottuth

Hi - I'm originally from Baltimore and highly active in the Applied Improvisation Network.
We were looking to possibly hold an annual conference there as my mom, Rebecca Hoffberger, is founder/director of the American Visionary Art Museum (which would make a great venue) but we're worried too about the lack of improv around. How can we all unite?

First, a solid venue like what The Improv was is sustainable in Baltimore. Drawing strong comedians to Baltimore is no problem for the right venue with the right management/booking agents. The reason The Improv closed has much more to do with Cordish's kung-fu grip on the Power Plant space then it does with anything else. I implore you to find someone who worked there during the last night it shut down and the management/staff tried to roll out. I only know the story secondhand. I'm sure the firsthand account is much better.

The reason why Rascals was opened was that the Cordish company had a space and the parts left over from The Improv. No one in the Cordish company knew how to run a comedy club and the company had no interest in learning or hiring someone to do it.... and then it closed.

The Baltimore Comedy Factory, though it does have its busch league charms, is just that, busch league. It fulfills it's goal of booking d-list, washed-up, and up-and-comers who are still polishing their acts, not strong acts.

Magooby's Joke House isn't in the city, and is too far out into the county for me to make the trek for the level of talent they draw. And for the love of Mitch Hedberg, who the hell came up with that hack name???

My bottom line on this one, Baltimore can sustain a high level comedy club and god do I hope we get one.

Good call on this one, Sessa. I hope it stirs the pot enough to get us a decent place to see nationally touring comedians on a regular basis.


Baltimore is an improv town! I'm the ED of the Baltimore Improv Group, which in its sixth year has produced the annual Baltimore Improv Festival, produces about 2 shows a month around the city, and sends troupes to festivals around the country such as the Chicago Improv Festival.

Mark Sutton, the artistic director of the Chicago Improv Festival, was recently quoted on the CIF site: "Baltimore Improv Group is really becoming a player in the national scene..."

We're also a nonprofit with an artistic mission here in the city, and we teach classes to adults and kids, as well as do outreach in schools and offer corporate training. I'd love to talk to you.

Check us out:

Catharine Robertson
Executive Director
Baltimore Improv Group

Baltimore's got a great improv comedy scene, if I do say so myself. As part of the now six-year-old Baltimore Improv Group, we're about to hold our 4th annual Baltimore Improv Festival (August 12-15), we have shows at least twice a month featuring our 5 house troupes and other great improv troupes from around the region and US - and more!

Our audiences continue to grow, as does the interest in our improv comedy classes - which fill up days after they're announced. Baltimore loves improv comedy, and our troupes have even been invited beyond Maryland to improv festivals in Chicago, NYC, Boston, NC, Philly and more.

Sam - send me an email - we'll talk more! Baltimore is a great comedy city, for stand-up and improv comedy.

Heather Moyer
Baltimore Improv Group
heather AT bigimprov DOT org

Baltimore is so into comedy that two members of the Baltimore Improv Group respond at the same time! There's some comedy...

I bet the reason is just that there are too few good comics out there to drive a business model. I can probably count on on one hand the number of good ones who have emerged in the past decade.

And I apologize to anyone who posted here who might be offended by this, but improv is almost never funny. There is a bit of a "gee whiz" factor, and I applaud the skills it takes to do it. But do I laugh... not really.


Ok, it's been a while you've come to a show - and I truly thank you for the review you did for us - I think it was completely accurate:

"If I had to drink till some of these guys were funny - I'd go blind" (or something close)

Bottom line as you said - You would have paid to see my headliner (Lawrence Owens) and that if you are a fan of comedy, my show is a "can't miss"

So the show has moved to Hightopps Backstage Grill in Timonium - It's still on Sunday nights at 9 and it's still FREE!!

This week (May 16th) We have NATIONAL HEADLINER Matt Baetz - He was just on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson last Friday night and is a regular on the USO Tour - Most Domestic Beers including Blue Moon are just $2.

Upcoming headliners include Justin Schlegel on Memorial Day Weekend and Rob Cantrell from Comedy Central and a finalist on Last Comic Standing on August 15th.

As for Baltimore, it IS A HORRIBLE town for standup comedy - always has been - and no matter how you slice it, if you can't keep an Improv open? Your town sucks for comedy.

Magooby's and The Comedy Factory occasionally get some great headliners in - they really do. Nick Dipaolo from just about every roast on Comedy Central is at Magooby's tonight and that will be a great show. You just have to follow their calendars.

I think one of the problems is that the big clubs charge too much. They are not paying attention to the economy around them. I realize they have bills to pay, but they aren't going to do that with no butts in the seats. The average ticket price is $17 and there's a two drink minimum at most - and comedy club drinks START at $5 - so for a couple to hit the comedy club, it's 17+17+10+10 - that's 2 tickets and 4 drinks for $54 - no dinner included - that's a hefty chunk of change for a comic most people have never heard of unless they happen to be REALLY avid comedy fans which follow a lot of the headline talent out there.

I am trying my hardest to establish a nice little comedy scene - the big clubs pay no attention to me - which is fine. My group "Drink Till We're Funny" on Facebook (See Link Above) is almost 200 strong - and that's 200 real fans of standup and my show - We have anywhere from 30-60 people at the show on any given weeks and comics like Justin Schlegel, Matt Baetz and many others often fill us to capactiy with 100+ and standing room only. Come out for yourself this Sunday and see where we've come since you saw us 3 years ago at Damons.

Thanks for the topic Sam - Hope to see you soon!

-T. Brad Hudson, Comedian, Founder "Drink Till We're Funny"

*Hightopps Backstage Grill, Baltimore, MD*
*Clare & Don's Beach Shack, Falls Church, VA*
Coming Soon - *Cleveland, OH,*
*Tamarind Reef Hotel, St. Croix, USVI*

...what Catharine and Heather said.

I've performed with the Baltimore Improv Group in front of 200 strong at a sold-out Patterson Creative Alliance. Baltimore audiences are AWESOME.

seriously, is there anything better than Victor von Doom doing standup at Golden West?

There IS a teeming community of improv in Baltimore. Not only is there BIG, but Baltimore has been the home of such troupes as the Early Monday Morning Show, The Flying Tongues, Your Mama's Cookin', the Buttered Niblets, and my current troupe, Drop Three. Drop Three has been performing for a few years now, and while we might only be able to swing one performing troupe at a time, we have a good time with what we do, and the audience does, too.

And as far as stand up goes, I know from experience that comedians like Jared Stern, Jim Meyers, Mike Storck, Dorian Gray, and Will Carey (among others) are going out there and trying to make noise and take names. You should definitely check out Bar Bacon, a monthly (or so) comedy show organized by Mr. Meyers that is held in Hampden. I have yet to not be entertained when I have gone to one of those.

"W" is for "World's Worst"

Baltimore has both comedy audiences and performers; the trick is matching them up! A venue should have a beer and wine license, parking, and primetime hours - and few if any of the places in Baltimore have them all. Add in the fact that some groups like their comedy a little more refined or a little more vulgar, and it can be hard to match up everybody in Baltimore. I recommend people go out to see the troupes like Drop Three or the stand ups like Jim Meyer or Mike Storck; that's what gets better venues and better shows.

I totally dig improv, just like I dig improv jazz, and collecting navel lint.

Comedy is art not effin' finger-painting! Craft your style! Be real!

I really do not enjoy Improv comedy. It is stupid and annoying. Stand up comedy is much better. Improv is for Drama Geeks who are snobs and think they are super intelligent. They are all like OK I am going to act like Superman if he was a redneck or I am going to pretend to be a turtle taking a crap on someone's shoe. All in all and I can't say this enough Improv is crap!

Can anyone figure out what Bernie is trying to say?

Hey Bernie -



Baltimore isn't an improv or a comedy town. I ran a show out of the Austin Grill in Canton for a couple of months and also have seen a significant amount of the Improv circuit here as well.

I'll start with the comedy scene. The bigger national comics who I have worked with, a few of whom have had their own tv shows find none of the local venues and owners to be desirable to work with. They view this area as over run by the guys who didn't make it, but have the attitudes like they did from Def Jam's big run a few years back. They actually refer to the Comedy Factory, which contrary to specifically spread rumors isn't where Dave Chappelle started, as the Comedy Factory Outlet because of how "cheap" it is.

The talent in Baltimore is slim to none. There are about 4 really good comics, but by applying the principle of supply and demand; they spread themselves so thin at EVERY open mic around the area that they have very little to no draw from an audience. It's different when you work open mics in New York where it is more expected and crowds of tourists come to see comedy. It is a shame, because those few people are original, hilarious, humble and willing to work their asses off in a bad town for comedy to make a break for themselves.

The one exception to the rule of comedy in Baltimore is Bar Bacon Comedy, who plays to the smaller 'hipster-esque' demographic, but is original, not overdone, puts on a great show and truly knows it's audience.

Baltimore Improv Group shows seem over-rehearsed and contrived...which takes away from the fun and the...improv. More than one of my friends have questioned whether or not there are ringers in the audience for their interactive pieces.

Stoop Stories is the hidden gem in town...because it is unintentionally comedic...real people and real stories, mixed with an occasional struggling actor with a fake story, who are honest and bring out the true humor of the world. Whether or not stoop stories is a Baltimore original or a stolen concept from multiple other towns is another argument, but if one is going to spend money in Baltimore to laugh, it should be here... or Bar Bacon...

Everyone wants to laugh and so there really is an audience for comedy in every town...but other than what I have mentioned before, I don't believe there is a "home base," nor will there be in the near future, for big stars to perform and local folks to develop a following.


I know that my post is relatively late, but I feel like I have to address some of the criticisms of the Baltimore scene that are flat-out untrue. Standup comedy is a hard road to travel, and anyone who has read the posts thus far can see that some level of bitterness is often part of the territory. Anyway, here we go:

"The Baltimore Comedy Factory, though it does have its busch league charms, is just that, busch league. It fulfills it's goal of booking d-list, washed-up, and up-and-comers who are still polishing their acts, not strong acts. "

Not true. Sure, people to fit that unflattering description often do perform there, but truthfully, there are a good amount of really strong local and traveling comics that come through. The MC's tend to struggle a bit, but it's the toughest gig of the night. Headliners almost always have TV credits, HBO, Def Jam, or Comedy Central.

The "Comedy Factory Outlet" comment is just flat-out wrong, It was called the Comedy Factory Outlet by the owners themselves, it's what was on the flyers and signs, not a mocking nickname. The "Outlet" was dropped later.

I hit many of the open mics, and I know that by any mainstream standards the talent in Baltimore is not "Slim to none." I know it's getting warm out, but try vitamin water. MUCH more refreshing than Haterade.

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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