David Rodriguez first climbed onto stage six years in the past at Hodi’s Half Notice, a Fort Collins music venue that occurred to carry open-mic comedy nights.
“After that, it was off to the races,” stated the lanky, bearded 35-year-old, who went on to run showcases, ebook nationwide comics at Fort Collins’ Aggie Theatre, and in any other case assist flip the house of Colorado State College right into a comedy scene of its personal.
“I’ve all the time tried to champion it as a spot you may keep,” stated Rodriguez, who has introduced names equivalent to Hannibal Buress, Maria Bamford and Nick Swardson to Fort Collins. “Folks say, ‘It’s a must to transfer to Denver if you wish to do comedy full-time!’ And I’m like, ‘No, it’s 60 miles away. It’s not essential.’ “
What is important, nevertheless, is having a dependable place for comedians to carry out in Fort Collins — a spot of their very own that isn’t only a rented-out bar, or a stage that can be stuffed with musicians the subsequent day. Town hasn’t had a standalone comedy membership in three a long time, based on The Coloradoan.
That’s why Rodriguez started elevating cash final 12 months for The Comedy Fort, a everlasting, Fort Collins-based comedy membership within the model of Denver’s nationally famend Comedy Works in Decrease Downtown. By means of crowdfunding and personal traders, he assembled $200,000 and started in search of buildings with basements “to mannequin after Comedy Works as a lot as potential.”
However even earlier than the pandemic, Rodriguez bumped into obstacles. Basements require entry for the handicapped, and Rodriguez couldn’t afford the full-sized passenger elevators town mandated he construct. So he turned again to Hodi’s, the 167 N. Faculty Ave. venue that for 13 years welcomed a wide range of performing artists — together with Rodriguez and his first-ever comedy set.
“We checked out it after I heard it was turning into available for purchase, however ended up not taking that route at first,” Rodriguez stated. “Then the proprietor (Dan Mladenik) stated, ‘That is simply sitting empty and I’d love for it to go to any individual who will do one thing within the arts.’ “
Hodi’s closed completely in July, owing to the pandemic but in addition to Mladenik stepping away to affix Bellvue-based Mishwaka Amphitheatre’s board of administrators. Immediately, renting the 5,000-square-foot area appeared like an excellent possibility.
“We got here to phrases on a extremely pleasant and versatile lease that allowed me to nonetheless have some cash left over for renovation and paying individuals,” Rodriguez stated. “We plan to open early subsequent 12 months, so now I’ve bought just a few months to assemble up the entire handiest comics on the town.”
Opening a comedy membership, or any stage-based leisure venue, throughout this pandemic appears greater than dangerous. However Rodriguez’s optimism about crowds returning to indoor venues early subsequent 12 months is shared by others within the Entrance Vary comedy group.
“I’m assured we’ll make it. I can begin to see the sunshine on the finish of the tunnel,” stated Nick Armstrong, co-owner of Denver’s Rise Comedy. “Even now we are able to do some indoor courses, however the restrictions the place performers need to be 25 ft away from an viewers are unattainable for a small membership like ours proper now.”
Armstrong, a Los Angeles-based actor and improviser, purchased Rise in January 2019 when it was nonetheless known as Voodoo Comedy Playhouse. Regardless of reliably internet hosting courses and performances from native and nationwide comics since opening in the Ballpark neighborhood in 2011, the Voodoo identify had been sullied by sexual misconduct allegations towards Voodoo’s former majority proprietor, Stephen Wilder, and sure employees members in 2017.
But it surely wasn’t till the pandemic arrived that Armstrong and enterprise companion Josh Nicols, Rise’s creative director, bought critical about rebranding the membership. They’d already moved their courses on-line, offering useful income to assist pay their $10,000-per-month hire at 1260 22nd St., and re-written all of their coaching supplies for would-be comics to suit the brand new digital setting.
Armstrong and his companions had additionally held a public assembly after taking up the venue to deal with Voodoo’s previous troubles, hearken to considerations, and lay out a clear plan to make performers and audiences really feel protected and welcome, Armstrong stated.
“We aren’t afraid to pay attention, get educated and make adjustments to be the very best house for followers and college students of comedy,” Nicols stated in a press assertion.
However with well-known, nationwide comedy theaters equivalent to iO Chicago and Upright Residents Brigade closing because of pandemic restrictions — and others like Denver’s Bovine Metropolis Theater pivoting to on-line — Armstrong determined it was time for an even bigger change. On Aug. 18, Voodoo formally grew to become Rise.
“We’ve needed to reinvent the enterprise, and the identify change was within the plans all alongside. However the good factor is that we’re improvisers, in order that’s type of the place we reside,” stated Armstrong, who previously performed Voodoo as a part of his nationwide touring and has appeared on exhibits equivalent to “The Workplace” and “Gray’s Anatomy.”
“Sadly we’ve needed to lay off our employees, however we’ve tried to care for them for so long as we are able to,” he added. “And we don’t have $8,000 for a light-up signal that claims ‘Rise Comedy’ proper now, so the constructing nonetheless says ‘Voodoo Comedy Playhouse.’ “
Nevertheless, Rise is producing reside exhibits at Stem Cider Denver, Zeppelin Station and Station 26 Brewery within the meantime to get the phrase out. (Go to risecomedy.com for the forthcoming dates.)
Comics and bookers hope that when coronavirus restrictions raise, the pent-up demand for reside leisure — and comedy particularly — can be so nice that they received’t have the ability to sustain. The work Rodriguez is doing on The Comedy Fort proper now, for instance, will repay tenfold sooner or later, from forging relationships with liquor distributors to constructing a brand new stage, he stated.
“Ultimately, I’ve egocentric motives,” Rodriguez stated with fun. “I would like to have the ability to produce exhibits in a room the place I don’t need to fold up the chairs afterward. I’m making stage time for myself, however in a approach that advantages all people. I’m optimistic we’ll nonetheless be round when the doorways are lastly allowed to open.”
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