Small Town, Big Laughs


Albany, NY. The capital of New York State. It seems like there is little known about this city. Bill Burr referred to Albany as “a city where nobody goes” in his most recent special. Albany sits in the shadows of Manhattan, even 150 miles away. But, over the past 5 or 6 years, a movement has been taking place inside this small city. A boom. A stand-up comedy boom, to be exact, that can be felt even within that great city that overshadows Albany. It all started in Albany’s Lark Tavern, a bar near the corner of Madison Ave. and Lark St., which still thrives on stand-up comedy to this day.

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Six years ago, local stand-up Greg Aidala began his comedy showcase / open mic, “Comedy on the Park”. Before this, there had only been a handful of aspiring comedians in the small city. However, once this mic began, comedians from all over made the trek to get on that stage to work out material and try to get laughs. It became a huge hit with civilians as well, attracting up to 70 or 80 comedy goers to the Sunday night showcase.

Shortly after the start of “Comedy on the Park”, similar open mics began to pop up throughout the surrounding area. Funnyman Dave Kanyan, who would become respected amongst his peers for his ability to do hilarious crowd work, seemingly effortlessly, as well as his great skills as an emcee, started up his own Saturday night mic / showcase “Duke’s Last Laugh”. It was met with a very similar result, bringing in many of the same Lark comedians and large crowds of civilians who loved a good laugh.

As weeks went on, word had spread that there was “something happening” in Albany. Comedians from almost every state of New England, as well as the Hudson Valley and New York City, would appear on stage at these shows. The list of comedians, or at least those hoping to earn the title of “comedian”, noticeably expanded. Networking began to take place. New comics would feel a need to learn other aspects of the business. They would approach establishments. Bars, coffee shops, any place that would let them set up a sound system. They would make deals with the venue owners, so that they could offer a paid gig here and there to small rosters of comedians that they found impressive at these weekend rooms. Most of these comedians would happily work for gas money and a beer. Surprisingly, sometimes they found themselves getting paid exceptionally well considering their time served as a comedy newb.

The original Lark Tavern mic would close as other showcases would open throughout the city, as well as neighboring cities Troy and Schenectady. Mics would start up and close down, for various reasons. Mostly, they would close because all parties involved would discover that not every venue is ideal for trying out jokes. But they would try! At one point, there was stage time available to anyone who wanted it every night of the week. Sometimes, multiple stages would be open. Some comedians, hungry for success, would do their set at a bar in Albany and immediately jump in their car, after their set, to get to another stage in Troy.

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Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to witness the comedy scenes in other states along the east coast. But nothing seems to have matched the standard set by Albany. So, could this town become for comedy what Seattle was for grunge? The boom continues, with more and more stages opening up to talented comedians. More and more people are coming out, seeing if standing on stage and making people laugh is for them. There is no end in sight for this comedy boom. It doesn’t seem like Albany will ever go back down to just a handful of comedians. And, that’s good. We can all use a good laugh, and there’s plenty to have in this town.

Albany is a city that is filled with talent. I am hoping to highlight some of these performers over the next few months. What’s the local comedy scene like in your area? Send me a tweet or an email!

 

– Jason Smith

Twitter: @ComedianJasonS

Email: JasonSmithComedy@gmail.com