The standup comedy scene in Columbus is growing, but it’s tough to gauge its actual success and progression. There’s an ever-growing number of comedians and shows (especially open mics, but also booked showcases), and some very funny people who’re consistently getting better.
Unfortunately there seems to be a problem growing an audience, and too often quality shows go defunct due to poor attendance. (Local comedian Justin Golak published a thoughtful commentary about this in December on Columbus Underground.)
There’s probably not a definitive answer as to why audiences aren’t coming out in droves to local comedy shows — they’re populated by talented and funny performers, for Christ sakes! — but one solution may be inventive concepts for standup shows. The latest example of an intriguing standup event is Saturday’s The Laugh Rumble organized by Sumukh Torgalkar.
Torgalkar has been performing standup in Columbus for eight years, becoming one of the funniest folks to pick up the mic in town. Lately he’s taken to participating in alternative, conceptual comedy shows.
Torgalkar was a regular performer at “15 & Killin’ It,” a monthly show that required participants to come up with 15 minutes of new material for each show — no jokes could be repeated, ever. Unfortunately “15 & Killin’ It” is done, but Torgalkar (and most likely other local comedians) have embraced novel ideas for shows and events.
“The first few years it was all about just getting good at standup and running shows that were conventional,” Torgalkar said. “As standup developed in the city, and the country in general, the more unique and outside-the-box approach … the audiences that appreciate comedy grew to like those types of shows.”
The Laugh Rumble is an inventive approach to a comedy showcase that also incorporates elements of a traditional open mic. Basically, The Laugh Rumble is structured like an open mic, only with aspects of professional wrestling’s Royal Rumble.
Comedians get five minutes of time on stage, maximum, but there’s a twist involving an air horn. Comics have only two minutes to make the audience laugh. If not, they will be “air horned” off stage. And if they go over the allotted five minutes, you guessed it, air horn.
“I like that it is brutal and that if you’re not doing well, you’re going to get air horned, get thrown off stage. It’s really about bringing your ‘A’ game and doing your best,” said Nickey Winkelman, who’s been doing standup since 2005 and is a staff writer at Shadowbox Live.
Danny Stratton, who runs a weekly Thursday night showcase at Sidebar 122, loves the uniqueness of The Laugh Rumble and will make sure to be at his best, “The idea and fear of getting an air horn is enough to motivate you.”
Dan Loper has recently organized a monthly event (Strange Loop Comedy Showcase) that’s of the traditional format, but in a nontraditional venue (Strange Loop Records in Grandview) — something common around Columbus. He likes unconventional shows and venues because it tests a comedian’s dexterity.
“I feel like it makes you stick to your five minutes very tight and concise; you can’t really play around a whole lot,” Loper said.
While the WWE-esque concept is intriguing — adding an element of air horn anxiety — and fun — the jokes will surely be at their rapid-fire best — there’s a structural element too. Torgalkar, like most local comedians, attends a number of open mic nights a week. Too often he sees people go over their five minutes.
“There’s the concept of ‘lighting’ comedians [so] they get off stage, and sometimes they don’t — especially inexperienced ones,” Torgalkar said. “Let’s use this concept to get back to the way an open mic should be; everybody gets five minutes and that’s it … and to enforce that, here’s an air horn and you’re getting off stage.”
While The Laugh Rumble has many veterans among the 22-comedian lineup, less experienced comedians were welcomed too. Torgalkar invited any comedian who was interested, really.
By vehemently sticking to the five minutes, experienced comics with more material must curate it down to the best; a comedian who’s used to doing longer sets may find it challenging to shorten setups and punch lines. Greener comedians may not have tons of jokes, and need to make sure they can fill out the time with consistent laughs.
“It’s a level playing field for everybody no matter how long you’ve been doing comedy. It’s really about proving yourself as a comedian, more than it is about seniority,” Winkleman said.
The Laugh Rumble is a creative approach for a standup show that should result in an entertaining and hilarious time for all those in attendance. Make sure you’re one of them.