ALL JENNY ZIGRINO WANTS is more stage time. “Have you ever done stand-up? It’s like a drug,” she says. “It’s like cocaine. All you want to do is get onstage.”
Zigrino, who is 26, has been honing her craft in Cambridge and Boston for five years. She’s gotten really funny and has developed a warm, weird comedic voice that doesn’t sound like anyone else’s. One time she got to open for Tom Green at the Wilbur Theatre. Other than that she’s mostly played tiny rooms that don’t pay, and the occasional Elks Lodge that does.
Lately Zigrino has been on the edge of her seat. Like a lot of young comics in Boston, she is awaiting the coming summer with a mix of anxiety and anticipation, wondering whether everything that’s been wrong with the comedy scene here is finally about to change.
What those young comics have been waiting for is the arrival of Laugh Boston, a comedy club that will host stand-up five nights a week when it opens in June in the Seaport District. Conceived by John Tobin, a booker at Nick’s Comedy Stop in Chinatown, and Chet Harding and Norm Laviolette, owners of the North End’s Improv Asylum, the new club’s defining feature will be nothing more complicated than its size: With a capacity of about 300 people, it will be able to attract national acts that for years have not had a place to perform in Boston because they’re too big for small rooms like Nick’s, which seats 140, and not nearly big enough for the Wilbur, which seats about 1,100.
The fact that there’s nothing in between — and hasn’t been since the nearly 500-seat Comedy Connection closed in 2008 — has meant that rising stars from around the country who have built national followings but aren’t yet household names just don’t come to Boston. As Sean Sullivan, 29, explains it, the economics of playing a room like Nick’s just don’t make sense for people from out of town who could fill twice as many seats. “It’s not that they don’t want to play here,” says Sullivan, who performs regularly in small clubs in Cambridge and Boston, “but no one can take the financial risk associated with it.”
Doesn’t shutting out national acts mean more opportunity for locals like Zigrino and Sullivan? Not really. Getting to open for pros would be a huge boon to the city’s developing comics — not just because it would put them in front of new audiences, but also because it would allow them to learn from comics they look up to. Right now, the absence of a mid-size club means that comics at the height of their powers and at the forefront of the art form — people like Kyle Kinane, Hannibal Buress, and Pete Holmes — rarely venture farther north than the Funny Bone in Hartford.
As a result, comics here — and comedy fans — have become increasingly isolated from the rest of the country. “I don’t even see who’s touring,” says Matt Donaher, 27, who performs around Boston as Matt D. “It’s frustrating. When I go on the road and I work with a comic I like, and then, just as a comedy fan, say to them, ‘Oh, you should come to Boston,’ they’re like, ‘Oh. Where would I play?’ And I realize there’s nowhere.” That yawning gap in the city’s comedic infrastructure trickles all the way down the food chain. Donaher, Zigrino, and their friends don’t get to open for the next as-yet-undiscovered Chris Rock or Jim Gaffigan. So they’re stuck doing the same small shows over and over.
The arrival of Laugh Boston could change that. If it does, the dozens of hilarious, creative young people who do stand-up in tiny venues around the city will finally get to perform for bigger crowds, and alongside comics they care about.
All of which brings us back to that anxiety some of Boston’s up-and-comers are feeling as Tobin, Harding, and Laviolette prepare for the grand opening of their new club. Why are they anxious? Because they don’t want the old guys to screw it up.
BOSTON’S STAND-UP SCENE TODAY bears little resemblance to the golden age of the 1980s, when there were so many successful comedy clubs across the city that comics like Lenny Clarke, Tony V, Kenny Rogerson, and Don Gavin could each do a set at five different places in a night and walk away with hundreds of dollars in their pockets. Over the course of the decade, comedy became a major industry. Hard as it is to believe now, going to see live stand-up was the cool thing to do with your night out. Boston, in particular, became a crucible for talent that would find national recognition — so much so that aspiring comics actually started to move here to try to make it.Continued...