CHAPEL HILL — With no shortage of aspiring comedians in the Triangle, the stand-up comedy scene grows night by night. Chapel Hill-Carrboro businesses are taking heed.
Once a month, from February to November, University Mall’s City Kitchen holds “Comedy in the Kitchen,” wherein a handful of local comics perform for the Saturday dinner crowd.
On a small Marshall amplifier, area comic and host Michelle Maclay introduced four comics one night last fall. The event was held in the restaurant’s balcony area, with more than a dozen audience members for the hour long show.
“This is one event we hope will catch on around here,” Maclay said. “There are a lot of venues like this in the area with little comedy or improv shows here and there. And there are really funny, wonderful people who not only perform, but also go out and support local comedy as well.”
Comedian Jenny Chalikian, a Guilford College grad and one of the City Kitchen performers, said restaurants and bars that allow comics to come in and perform provide an atmosphere that lets “the audience do their thing without feeling trapped with the comic.”
General manager Emma Dunbar said City Kitchen wants to suppport local talent.“We like to do something different with our restaurant whenever possible, and it works very well,” she said. “Customers always enjoy it.”
Despite supportive venues, some local comics say they could use even more performing opportunities.
“From what I’ve heard from other former comedians is there used to be a lot of comedy open mics in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area, but they all died off a couple of years before I got here,” stand-up newcomer Matt Adam Houser said.
“The comedians need the support of the local businesses,” he contnued. “We can do this punk rock thing until our teeth fall out, but at the end of the day the businesses are the gate keepers. There’s a lot of talent in the Triangle, but it needs soil to grow in.”
Dirty South Improv
Aside from open mic or comedy nights at area businesses, there are a few comedy and improv-specific venues throughout the Triangle: Raleigh’s ComedyWorx, LOL in Clayton, Duke University Improv (DUI) in Durham, and Chapel Hill Players (CHiPs) and Carrboro’s prominent Dirty South Improv (DSI), an 84-seat black-box theater that nurtures aspiring stand-up performers and holds weekly shows.
“I think the scene is growing for new comics,” said local comedian Virginia Wallace, who has been performing for about two years. “There are many more showcases than there used to be, even in the short amount of time I have been performing.”
DSI Comedy Theater opened in 2005, following the success of 2001’s Dirty South Improv Festival, originally held on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus, said founder and owner Zach Ward, who has performed across the country for 20 years. DSI has produced shows in North Carolina featuring comedians such as Steven Wright, Emo Philips, Louis CK, Mike Birbiglia, Margaret Cho and Second City.
In 2003, DSI began teaching students the art of improv and stand-up comedy. To date, it has graduated approximately 2,000 students between the ages of 18 and 60, with most in their 20s and 30s.
Between open mic nights and comedy-dedicated venues, the scene won’t be going anywhere, Ward said.
“It often seems like every bar in the Triangle has run a comedy show or open mic at some point, which has been an amazing resource and opportunity for comics, even if the shows are short-lived,” he said. “The scene has been growing for a long time now.”