A brand new comedy venue is opening its doors this month to showcase some of the best talent in Grand Rapids, as well as provide education to up-and-coming comics and performers.
Labeling itself a “comedy and cocktails theater” on its website, The Comedy Project offers “improv, sketch and comedy variety shows, a comedy training center and private event hosting.”
The planning started a little over two years ago, with locals Joe Anderson and Ben Wilke. Anderson said he saw other venues in other cities, and with a lot of growth happening in Grand Rapids, he thought he could bring a comedy club here.
“Our goal is to essentially ramp up the showmanship of a comedy show,” Anderson said. “That, for the most part, has never existed in Grand Rapids.”
Anderson wants to see something more clean cut and professional, and less of getting a “suggestion from the audience.”
“I think the theater person in me really enjoys the idea of, yeah, we’re going to do some interactive stuff, but we also want you to sit back and watch all the stuff we worked really hard on to make sure it was funny for you,” he said.
Founders of The Comedy Project take pride in a performance that takes work and is backed up by state-of-the-art technology — lights, stage and sound.
The venue is approximately 5,000 square feet, with the main attraction being a stage with audience space for 85 seats. Seating will be table and chair style, with a bar and kitchen in the venue space as well.
Programming occurs five nights a week. Weekly shows — the sketch revue — will take place on Friday and Saturday nights. A season typically lasts 6-8 weeks and there are currently three casts rehearsing; two improv and one sketch.
Anderson said the best comparison to the work they want to do is Saturday Night Live. It’s the kind of well-rehearsed, live sketch comedy performance that’s not seen much on a local scale.
“It’s a form of comedy that people clearly really like,” he said. “It’s a different experience when you’re there in person. We have higher aspirations than the content and quality of SNL, but the live experience is part of the hook.”
While the group behind the project is bringing a new level of performance standards to the community, they are also bringing in members of the community that are already performing and working in town.
“There’s no other place that’s like, all it is is comedy,” Anderson said. “I want it to be a place where, if you’re there, it’s because there’s comedy happening and whenever you come, there’s comedy happening.”
MAKING A COMIC
There’s not much education and training available locally for aspiring comedians and sketch comedy writers in Grand Rapids. That’s the other component of The Comedy Project that Amy Gascon is taking charge of.
“It’s building a culture where people respect the craft and work on the craft,” Gascon said.
People can study comedy, acting, improv and sketch writing. Each discipline has four different levels. Students will have the choice to follow one path or take various classes to complete the certification. They are even hoping to offer college credits in the future. Gascon, who has been performing for years, has decided to take her next step in the direction of more teaching. She said she wants to open doors for women in comedy.
“I think it’s important that we get that representation and young people see comedy as a tool or a skill that is valuable,” she said.
Gascon and Anderson both have years of experience in comedy. Other key players include Wilke, performer and marketing director; Stevie Sahutske, performer and technical director; Cara Powell, bar and house manager; and Eirann Betka, performer and theater manager.
Look out for The Comedy Project’s opening on March 8, with the first show being a Comedy Project original and debut, Ctrl Alt Deflect, a sketch comedy revue.
The Comedy Project
540 Leonard St. NW Suite B