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The San Diego Comedy Scene

November 7, 2011 1:08 p.m.


Robert Lariviere, owner and manager of Mad House Comedy Club. He's also a stand up comedian.

Gary Kramer, artistic director of the National Comedy Theatre.

Related Story: The San Diego Comedy Scene


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: If there was ever I time a community could use a good laugh, it's probably right about now. A good chuckle with smooth over a lot of troubles and help us get through some pretty bad times butch turning laughter into a successful business takes some serious planning. Mad house a new venue for stand-up comics opening tonight at the top of Horton Plaza. It joins a multitude of improv groups. My guests, Robert Lariviere is owner and manager of mad house. Welcome to the show.
LARIVIERE: Hi, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: And Gary Kramer is artist director of the national comedy theatre in San Diego. Welcome.
KRAMER: It's good to be here
CAVANAUGH: How would you both describe the comedy scene? San Diego? Let me start with you, Robert.
LARIVIERE: I think I can speak for stand-up comics for sure, there's kind of an explosion going on right now. There's more stage time for local comics than there's been in, maybe 15†years
CAVANAUGH: And for your improv group?
KRAMER: Pretty much the same thing. We've been running 12†years now. And it's bigger now than it has been ever.
CAVANAUGH: How do you explain that? There are a lot of businesses that are really struggling in this economy.
LARIVIERE: I think in a bad economy, stand-up comedy has always been traditionally successful. You take a regular restaurant that's having a hard time getting by, they might turn to having a stand-up comedy show to bring people in, and that sort of creates more stages, then you put somebody in me in there who's just, like, I'm just gonna open my own club. 7-days, comedy all the time
KRAMER: It's like what happened during the depression when move bees did really well. The misfortunates of the conserve are our profit. It's great!
LARIVIERE: If you can laugh at it or flush it, it's going to work.
CAVANAUGH: I know, Ronert, you worked at the comedy store? La Jolla. What about that experience made you want to open up your own club?
LARIVIERE: I don't know that it was actually working there that made me want to open up a club. I've always been business-oriented, I've always worked for myself. And I think when I was in stand-up comedy, I saw T. I sort of always had it in my head that I was going to take a shot at it some were down the road. But it did teach me a lot. Just from being -- by osmosis, seeing comics coming in, and booking bigger name comic, and up waking the local guys, the getting to know the local guy, and seeing a show that doesn't have a really big headliner, how it works, it sort of taught he how I could open seven nights
CAVANAUGH: How tough is this to do? To go into lenders and saying I'm opening this new comedy club, and get all the permits that you need and so forth?
LARIVIERE: Tough enough to make you consider jumping off the Coronado bridge. It is crazy. It is bizarre. It took a year. And I didn't know I was going to be open until, probably, like a week ago. It was one of the most challenging things I've ever been through in my life
CAVANAUGH: What was it is hardest part?
LARIVIERE: The permitting, the permitting. I think we're a comedy club, and it has the word club in it, so when you're dealing with the different permitting agencies, they latch on to that word club, and they think dancing and fights and drunk people, and we're really just telling jokes in a mall
KRAMER: Plus the drunk people.
KRAMER: When we opened in sanda Barta, there was no permit for comedy. It wasn't on the books. They wanted us to be a cabaret, which is topless dancing. And we're, like, well, we could do that, but I don't think you would to see it or pay for it.
CAVANAUGH: You've been running here for 12†years?
KRAMER: 12 years San Diego.
CAVANAUGH: What kind of venues have you been?
KRAMER: In the same theatre in San Diego for 12†years. The national comedy theatre, marquee. On India street. We've done the show everywhere, taken it overseas, done four USO tours, performed in the sand in Iraq, and in banquet halls and restaurants and boats and living rooms and what not.
CAVANAUGH: And tell us how improv is different than stand-up for both the audience and the performer are.
KRAMER: Improv, there's no one person doing preprepared jokes. So we don't have to rehearse it, write it. It's a lot less work. So much easier for us. It's interacting with the audience. So the audience will give us suggestses, and we develop the show based on that.
CAVANAUGH: This is kind of a rude question, but I'm thinking in term ofs of --
KRAMER: I've got a rude question for you. Do you think that scarf really makes that blouse?
CAVANAUGH: It does! The whole idea of being an actor and improv group in San Diego, can you make a living doing that?
KRAMER: There are some that do. Y most of our performers are part time and have other gigs. It's really a pyramid scheme is how I look at it. I'm at the tope, so I mack a huge, fantastic living. And as you go down to the low-level performers not so much
CAVANAUGH: What do we know about the circuit for stand-up comics and venues for comedy across the country? Are they also thriving in this economy?
LARIVIERE: I think that in Seattle, Seattle has had kind of a comedy explosion. I think in Arizona, Phoenix and Tucson has more clubs. I think the same thing that's happening here is happening all the way across the country
CAVANAUGH: Is the mad house going to be a venue for local comedions? Or are you expecting to see a lot of people come in who are doing the circuit across the country?
LARIVIERE: We are doing a mix of both. We'll have national headliners in on the weekends, Jeff Richards from Saturday night live is coming to do the new year's show. Our heart and soul is with our loyal guys, our local comics that are super talented guys that are -- when you're a comic, you're funniest before you get famous. You do 45†minutes and you're amazing, and somebody says oh, my God, that's great! And we want to you do another 45†minutes now. And that 45-minute system not as good as that first 1. You're the best when you're unknown. And San Diego has just an extraordinary amount of really talented stand-up comedy performers right now. It's great
CAVANAUGH: We have a caller on the line. Dewey is calling us from Spring Valley. Good afternoon, Dewey, welcome to the show.
NEW SPEAKER: What's going on? Hey rob
KRAMER: Hey Dewey
CAVANAUGH: Now, you're performing tonight at the mad house?
NEW SPEAKER: Yes, I am. I'm very honored that I got that spot a lot with so many other talented guys. Rob is right, it's like -- man, there's so many talented guys out there it's great to be part of everything that's going on right now
CAVANAUGH: So are you nervous?
NEW SPEAKER: Oh, no, I'm not nervous. I was born in Texas. That has nothing to do with nothing, does it?
KRAMER: No, he'll have a gun with him, though. I'm nervous.
LARIVIERE: We just opened radio the right now, and I'm not there. I'm terrified. Dewey, you should go over to the club right now and make sure everything's okay.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much for the call, I appreciate it. Now -- you know, isn't it true that stand-up comedy, people need a forum, a venue in order to be able to work on their craft, to work on their perform skills.
LARIVIERE: That is absolutely true. That is what kind of pushing comics out to -- when you're new, it is so -- it's really difficult to get stage time. When I first started out, I was at every bar, gig, every horrible place you could do comedy. I wore a sandwich board trying to get people to come to my show. I'm not lying about that. I had a sandwich board that said free tickets get them from these idiots. And that would make them laugh, and here I am.
CAVANAUGH: Do they think of themselves as actors first or comedians first?
KRAMER: I think probably both. But a comic more than anything. So comedic actors, it depends on who you ask. That are some that are really pursuing the acting career heavily, and some that have other careers and aspirations that happen to be naturally funny.
CAVANAUGH: Now are people when they come in continually -- are they surprised by the kind of things that you can do on the spur of the moment?
KRAMER: Yeah, I think that's the whole thing about improv. That's what makes it work so well. Of the no one expects what happens to happen. And we don't. And I think that's why we've been able to do it so many years. And we've done over 3,000 performances in San Diego alone. And we're continuously surprising ourselves. . We'll finish a show, and go, oh, my God! Did we just do that?
CAVANAUGH: Do you see a new club opening up like mad house? As a thet?
>> Ure kidding me? Yeah, I saw their kitchen. I wouldn't go there! No, we were talking before, and we're such different animals. It's not like one restaurant that serves thigh food competes with a restaurant that serves American food. They're both food, and that's it. But we're such readically different animals that we don't compete. And our performers don't overlap either.
CAVANAUGH: It's interesting, though, somebody has a taste for comedy, that's nice to have kind of duty, when you can either go in for a traditional stand-up or see it as something that's a little bit more theatrical. I'm wondering, Robert, can you tell us a little bit about where the mad house is and what it look like?
LARIVIERE: Oh, boy. It is gigantic. Big enough to scare me. We've got a big open show kitchen, a climate controlled wine am radio, we've got downtown views. It's at the top floor of Horton Plaza. And we seat about 200 people, maybe more. Our code is 263, which we would never break, ever, ever.
CAVANAUGH: Now, I heard that local comedians helped you get this place up and running.
LARIVIERE: There's probably about 60 comedions listening to PBS right now for the first time in their lives. And they are there, working, they are cleaning --
KRAMER: Does that double the audience for KPBS right now?
CAVANAUGH: Yes is it does!
LARIVIERE: So we're open right now, but there's a bunch of them if there making sure the lights and the sound, and everything, that they're performing -- this could be an '80s montage if it was on film. We were there until about 2:00†AM last night
CAVANAUGH: There are other comedy venues. Why this emphasis on getting this one up and running do you think?
LARIVIERE: I think -- well,, the push behind it, the reason that everybody is excited is this is a different kind of comedy club because it's run by comedians. Everybody that's working there is a comedian. The people booking and that own the club are comedians. And that's a first. So that is kind of what we're trying to tell everybody. Eat with the locals eat. Fundament to see something really funny, come to the place where the comics are working and picking who's going to be on stage
CAVANAUGH: Right, yeah. I can understand that. My question -- last question to both of you. Upon Gary, what kind of an audience is a San Diego audience?
KRAMER: They're great. They're so -- and I'm not saying that to pander to the hundred people listening to this. Our audiences have a pretty wide demographic. Everything from college students up to senior citizens coming to the show. And they're laid back, relaxed. I contrast that to our New York crowds, which are the total opposite of this, which are prove it to me, make this work. And they're difficult to work with. The San Diego show is so easy to do. It's a very enthusiastic audience, they're happy to be there. They're not mad, and they don't want us to fix their day. That's not how they approach -- as you can imagine, that's sort of the San Diegan motif. But that's what our crowds are like
CAVANAUGH: And really short, would you agree?
LARIVIERE: I would totally agree.
CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you both very much.
KRAMER: Thanks for having us.