By Patti F. Smith
Quotes about the power of laughter are plentiful. From Madeleine L’Engle’s “a good laugh heals a lot of hurts,” to Mark Twain’s “against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand,” to a Jewish proverb that states “as soap is to the body, so laughter is to the soul.” One sure way to get an ear full of laughter is to go to Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase, a staple in the local comedy scene since 1984.
Claudia Neeb started working as an accountant for the business in 1989 and is now the sole owner of the comedy club.
“I worked for the previous owner, Kirkland Teeple, for about 10 years and when he got ready to sell in 2000, I made a pitch to purchase it,” she says.
Neeb credits the “grandfather of comedians” Roger Feeny as her mentor and inspiration. “(Feeny) was one of the original owners in what was then called Mainstreet Comedy Showcase. I saw all of the things he did and had my own ideas of what would contribute to ongoing success.”
After selling out his partnership in 1987, Feeny returned to the business in 1989. He handles the booking of the comedians and management of employees.
Neeb laughs, “I do the boring part of the job—the accounting and the business side. Roger has the fun part!” She stresses that Feeny is her right hand person at the comedy club. “All decisions are made between us. I tend to look at the numbers of everything and sometimes Roger has to remind me to not be pennywise and pound foolish.”
On a weekly basis Neeb gets to meet and mingle with comedians from household names to those just starting out and everyone in between. “I’ve met some very nice people along the way,” she says. “Even though we aren’t the biggest club in the Michigan we have a good reputation so we can get bigger names. For example, right after Joe Rogan finished Fear Factor, he was doing an event up at the Palace of Auburn Hills and said he wanted to perform standup…so he did a show for us on a Friday night.” Comedian John Heffron, now based in LA, started in the showcase. “He literally said to me that this room ‘brings me down to earth’,” Neeb shares. She adds that Rogan and Heffron are two of the nicest, most down to earth performers she has met.
Familiar faces have also come to see shows, especially when Michigan offered monetary incentives to filmmakers. “Emily Blunt was in town filming “Five Year Engagement” and came to see Aziz Ansari’s show.”
Another cool aspect of Neeb’s job is featuring newcomers to the comedy scene via the open-mic nights. Neeb explains that comedians traditionally go from the Detroit market, to New York, and then to Los Angeles. For instance, “Matt McClowry was one of our open-mic performers who now lives in LA and is making a name for himself.” (He performs at the club this month).
Open-mic nights are extremely competitive. “We have 12 spots and each comic gets 5 minutes. They sign up on Thursday and Friday and we draw names on Friday night for the next week…we often have close to 50 people signing up for those slots.”
Prospective comics find out if they have mic time on Saturday. “Roger runs a short list that is first come, first serve for comics who didn’t get selected. “We have people who start waiting in line at 3 in the afternoon to get onto that list…if someone selected doesn’t show up, then that comic can take their place.”
One of Neeb’s many points of pride is that the showcase books more female comics than anyone else in the area.
“There are a lot of clubs that don’t bring any women comics in…we have at least four to six every year. We featured Tina Giorgi last Mother’s Day, Tracy Smith on Sweetest Day, Connie Ettinger, Karen Rontowski as well as Kira Soltanovich,” who is a fairly big name in the comedy world.
“In the industry it is hard to find female comics,” Neeb says. “It’s not gender discrimination, there just are not as many women out there. Fortunately, we have some local female comedians who are wonderful, such as Nicole Majdali and Brandi Alexander.”
Perhaps one of the few less cool parts of the job has to do with the ongoing construction on Fourth Avenue. The club’s first location was above the Heidelberg on Main Street; after two years, they moved to their space at 314 E. Liberty below Seva’s and ultimately to their current location at 212 S. Fourth Avenue.
Ongoing construction in the block have led to some frustrations. Neeb says that they haven’t had signage since 2014 and the sidewalk wasn’t visible for a time. Then there’s that construction crane that’s been in front of the club for months. When people call and ask for directions, Neeb jokingly tells them to “aim for the crane.”
Despite the construction, Neeb loves her very cool job. She says, “If you live to laugh, life is here!”
MAIN PHOTO: Claudia Neeb, Emily Blunt and Roger Feeny
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