Thursday, June 13, 2013

A Room That’s Just Right: Rob’s Comedy Playhouse

When I have the pleasure of listening while comics talk shop, I hear a lot about bookers, managers, crowds in different parts of the country; I hear details of the business side of stand up that remind me how much of my experience of a particular show has nothing to do with the comic or his/her material. Going to a live performance of any art, I’m aware how important the setting is to my enjoyment. I’ve seen comedy in large auditoriums and college activity rooms, in VFW halls and cruise ship theaters. I’ve watched in brick-and-mortar clubs built for 24/7 stand up and hotel conference rooms converted for Thursday-thru-Saturday laughter.

Space matters to me.

Over the years, I’ve been in crowds that felt too big and clubs that felt too small. It’s so subjective and I can only explain how it affects me personally, but I think it’s worth discussing.

I’m 5’1” on my tallest days. I can easily get lost in standing crowds and flat-floor cafeteria-style seating. I don’t carry my own booster seat, and I am officially too old to flash my tits to get to the front of the stage (where I wouldn’t be comfortable, anyway). If I am so desperate to see a comic that I’ll go to a standing show, I prepare for a less-than-awesome time. I know I’m going to miss all the visual cues of the performance, that the audio could be muffled depending on the height of the people around me. I know Randy Newman will be singing softly in my brain all night: Short people got no reason, short people got no reason to live….

 Naturally, you’d think I’d love the intimacy and great visuals of the 60-seater, the room where anyone in the front row can tie the MC’s sneakers and play grab-ass with the comic without leaving their seat. But, no. That kind of room freaks me out unless I’m sitting in the very back. Because I never want to be part of the show. I don’t want you to know if it’s my birthday, I don’t want to talk about why I’m there alone. Hang out with me later, in the bar or at a diner, and I’ll be your straight woman all night. I’ll take your bait, laugh at all your throwaways and maybe give you a giggle in return. Not during the show, not in front of your audience. I’m pretty certain you had jokes prepared when you booked the gig, and that’s why I’m there. I am enjoying, analyzing, comparing, reminiscing, absorbing, processing – I am doing more than just listening to you, and I don’t move in and out of that state well when I’m really into the act.

Don’t misunderstand why I’m sharing this. I’m not complaining that I need optimal conditions to want to attend a show. I don’t. I just want to remind everyone that the environment plays a part in the live show experience, and it’s good to know your own personal biases. Because I know mine, I want to tell you how much I enjoy Rob’s Comedy Playhouse, in Williamsville, New York.

I’ve only seen a handful of shows at Rob’s, maybe three as a general audience member, and two as a guest of the comic. Still, every experience has been good for me because Rob’s is the “just right” for my Goldilocks syndrome.

 The room itself sits in an enclosed space next to the bar at dandelions, a great place to grab food before a show. Check out their menu at

Rob’s, as a room, has a pretty simple set up: a small stage in the front, tables flowing out in three directions, a sound system that doesn’t overwhelm the space. There’s a feeling of comfort, like you’re about to hang out with a bunch of your best friends and watch another of your friends put on a show. I don’t mean that in a Little Women or Garland and Rooney way; this isn’t homespun, bed sheet curtain entertainment. The quality of the comics at Rob’s is worthy of your attention. With shows on Saturday nights only, the talent runs the gamut from local acts on the rise to popular road dogs passing through. Rob Lederman has drawn on his own years of experience as a comic, club owner and radio personality to create a space worthy of the very affordable $10 ticket.

I have watched Dan Pordum and Rob (and, on a few fun nights, my friend Chet Wild) warm up the crowd or transition between acts with improv games that, hit or miss, always allow for safe audience participation. I’ve watched Steve Burr keep the room in stitches for an hour, while I sat on a stool near the bathrooms off stage right (your left, audience). I’ve watched Austin Lafond and Chet both kill from seats along the back wall. And I’ve had the most unique, and therefore special, experience watching Paul Hooper from behind the black curtain that blocks light from the walk-in closet within the room that houses the sound system and glassware. I will tell you all about that in my continuing series of blogs about Paul. In the meantime, go to and find out what’s coming up. Take a Saturday to check it out.

I like this room.

And, though it shouldn’t have to be said, let me just add that liking this room doesn’t imply or suggest that I dislike another room. I love the Comedy Club in Rochester. I’ve enjoyed shows at Wise Guys in Syracuse, Comedy Zones in Harrisburg, PA and Charleston, West Virginia, Nietzsche’s and O’Connell’s in Buffalo, some bars and VFWs in random towns. I’ve seen Denis Leary at Harro East, Penn and Teller at the Auditorium Theater (or was it the Eastman?) and A. Whitney Brown at Yuk Yuk’s. I had the first greatest comedy weekend of my life at the Comix CafĂ© in Rochester with Tom Rhodes, and the most recent greatest comedy weekend of my life at the Comedy Zone, Charleston, with Paul Hooper. I shared some of my favorite laughs with one of my favorite comics in the basement of Edgerton Community Center, in a booth at the Liberty Diner and under a tree in Riverside Cemetery. Diner booths have also brought me wonderful comedy conversations with Theo Von and Carl LaBove, to namedrop just a few. Some of my favorite local shows happen at The Space, Dub Land, Boulder, Acanthus and even aboard the Mary Jemmison while cruising down the Genesee River.

I am not trying to start a riot, Laugh or otherwise (yes, Dario and Kevin! You’re welcome!).

I just wanted to get you thinking about the things that make a show memorable to you, that go beyond who is performing. Maybe it’s the free parking, the comfort you have with the wait staff, the friends who meet you there for shared laughter, the wing sauce and the funky cocktails. Maybe it’s the fact that you can see over even the tallest person in the room because that’s how the place is laid out. Maybe it’s not having to be pulled into a show because the comic’s knees are almost touching your nose and it seems antagonistic not to talk when you’re practically licking someone’s leg. We bring a lot of expectations with us to live shows, we bring habits and preferences and height – well, not so much, in my case. Every now and again, it’s important to acknowledge the role those expectations play in our enjoyment of a show.

 And, to my dear comic friends who love to believe that the whole thing rests on their shoulders, that they should be good enough to rise above a bad floor plan, an over-served crowd, a poor sound system or a table full of girls sucking more happily on plastic penises than they ever will the real thing, keep on usin’ the illusion. Do your best, adjust however you see fit. But don’t accuse me of trying to placate you when I say some of the responsibility of the show rests with the audience, the space, the universe. Live performance is like life, it’s a coming together of a number of elements to form a glorious, amazing whole. Like it or not, we’re all part of the show.

If your merch sucks, however, you can take all the blame yourself. Proofread, for God’s sake.