Within the mid-Nineteen Nineties, the Comedy Cellar was in a hunch. One evening there was only a single individual within the viewers — a vacationer from the Netherlands who barely spoke English.
Comic Gregg Rogell was set to go on, however when he noticed how empty the room was, he determined to skip telling jokes on stage altogether. As a substitute, he sat down with the vacationer and had a dialog for 20 minutes.
That was his set.
Right this moment, the Greenwich Village sizzling spot is without doubt one of the most well-known comedy venues on the planet, internet hosting names comparable to Kevin Hart and Dave Chappelle and turning away 1,000 folks on a mean Saturday evening earlier than the pandemic. Its historical past is detailed within the e book “Don’t Applaud. Either Laugh or Don’t. (At the Comedy Cellar)” (Scribe), out now, by Andrew Hankinson.
“It was like an extended, sluggish in a single day sensation,” the Cellar’s present proprietor, Noam Dworman, tells The Put up.
Situated on a MacDougal Avenue block whose bohemian cool way back gave strategy to trashy NYU bong shops and low cost pizza, the darkish, subterranean venue actually doesn’t seem like a lot. It’s additionally small in comparison with many different golf equipment, with a capability of round simply 150.
As soon as a music venue owned by Dworman’s father, Manny, who died in 2004, the Cellar’s comedy roots began in 1981, when a comic named Invoice Grundfest walked in and requested if he might begin utilizing the room for his standup act.
“I walked previous a few instances as a result of I simply saved this dank staircase and, ‘Oh, it’s simply so icky,’ ” says Grundfest within the e book. “However then I stated to myself, ‘Locations that aren’t icky, you’re not going to have the ability to get.’ ”
Grundfest (who later wrote for the 1992 sitcom “Mad About You”) got down to create a “heat and welcoming” ambiance for the comedians performing there.
“Once you’re within the uptown golf equipment, you needed to be in your A recreation. You needed to hit it each single time,” Hankinson tells The Put up. “On the Comedy Cellar, comedians had extra leeway. They might attempt jokes which may not succeed.”
Those that ran the membership, and its longtime booker, Estee Adoram, additionally felt strongly that the comedians ought to be allowed to say no matter they favored. They didn’t censor the acts — although that typically meant taking warmth from offended patrons.
“We must take flak on the door typically from prospects that weren’t proud of what the comedians stated,” Manny Dworman’s widow, Ava Harel, says within the e book. “We’d say properly, , ‘We perceive, however that’s the artwork of comedy.’ ”
Then within the mid-Nineteen Nineties, curiosity in stand-up comedy dwindled, and several other golf equipment went bust, together with landmark venue Catch A Rising Star. The Cellar held on, however comedians like Rogell have been pressured to carry out for a single viewers member — in the event that they have been fortunate.
“On a couple of event I needed to actually begin the present with no viewers,” comic Mike Royce says within the e book.
One issue that helped the Cellar rise out of the hunch was its MC, Lewis Schaffer, who was adept at standing exterior the membership and steering passersby into it.
Then, within the early Nineteen Nineties, comic Nick DiPaolo requested Manny if he would put aside a desk within the Olive Tree Cafe upstairs (which he additionally owned) to function a greenroom for the comedians. This grew to become generally known as the well-known “comedians’ desk,” the place comics might collect, commerce views and bust balls.
That desk helped set up the Comedy Cellar as a clubhouse for comedians. Comics like Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld began dropping by, and regulars like Jim Norton and Invoice Burr plugged the membership whereas showing as visitors on radio’s “The Opie & Anthony Present.” The Cellar was additionally featured within the 2002 Jerry Seinfeld documentary “Comic.”
The Cellar bought one more increase when it was featured closely within the 2010 FX collection “Louie,” starring Louis CK, then one of many world’s most revered comedians.
“We noticed lots of people coming in, lots of people filming themselves doing the identical opening that Louis did in his present,” Dworman says within the e book. “The best comedian on the planet had given his stamp of approval for this small membership.”
Main comedians attracted well-known viewers members to the membership, together with Katy Perry, Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro, and out of the blue Noam Dworman had cash to develop. He now additionally runs close by spots Village Underground and Fats Black Pussycat.
Though the Comedy Cellar was hit exhausting throughout the pandemic (“We took an amazing monetary hit,” Dworman says), it survived primarily by means of Paycheck Safety Program loans.
Additionally, “My landlord was very affordable with me, so we weren’t on the verge of being evicted,” Dworman provides.
The Cellar reopened in April, and Chris Rock, Dave Attell, Ray Romano and Amy Schumer have already dropped by.
No shock, Dworman says that now, “Enterprise is at capability.”