The Funny is Everywhere 

Why Cleveland kicks as for up-and-coming comedians -- and the audiences that love them

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"That's so valuable for an up-and-coming stand-up," he says. With a wide smile that flashes intermittently, he explains that this sort of middle-of-the-road market is fertile ground for anyone looking to get involved with the performing arts. Look closer: Funny is everywhere in Cleveland.

One of Zumock's recent endeavors, The Scumbags of Comedy, comes complete with a booking angle that highlights one of the more interesting aspects of working the Cleveland circuit. Namely: Hard-working comics have to think outside the city as the end-all, be-all.

The Scumbags take their show to the farther reaches of our borders - gigging in places like Barberton and Lorain. It's mandatory work, Zumock says, because it gives comics the chance to stretch their legs and audiences the opportunity to let the show come to them. Also, more often than not, it gives comics that *big-time* opportunity to perform for free beer and/or sandwiches at the bar.

Rivas chimes in and says he's spent many nights working for no pay, aside from tall boys of PBR on the house. He doesn't drink, though. So, literally for free.

Reddstone, in Cleveland's yuppie-but-not-really Battery Park neighborhood, attracts quite a gathering during the week with the Chucklefck open mic night gigs (Mondays) and recording sessions for the Awkward Sex Show podcast with Carey Callahan in tow (Tuesdays).

On the one hand, you've got the premier independent stand-up room in town. On the other, you've got a quirky-meets-emotional live audio recording. And both events are thriving.

"It's indicative of a healthy comedy scene that there's a place for that type of weird show," Rivas says, referencing the Awkward Sex Show. "In years past, there would be no audience for that."

Along with comedian Dave Flynt, Rivas has conjured up a sustainable turntable of local and regional comics during Chucklefck's open mics. They've bloomed into standing-room-only, pack-'em-in-like-sardines affairs. The explosiveness sorta reinforces that very real sense of community.

Reddstone - and Chucklefck's other hideout, West 6th Street's The Blind Pig - is yet another outlet, a little incubator of humor.

"It's been cool to see that kinda develop and congeal over the years," Rivas says. The room is packed. Some nights less so, but often enough the sessions at Reddstone attract hordes thirsty for the type of interaction that only a comedian can provide.

"There's a young nucleus of people who are all at the open mics," Rivas says. He elaborates, saying that Cleveland is home to a multi-tiered house of comedy. You've got the names like Polk, Squire, Ryan Dalton, et al. Then there's this aspirational subset of young guns working the microphones across the area. As he's scheduling out the next few months of shows, Rivas says there are always several people he's never heard of or met before, all requesting a slot on an upcoming evening. New comics trying to break onto the stage.

A decade ago, the influx of talent certainly wasn't as noticeable - when it was happening at all. The rooms just weren't there to support such a movement. Now, with actual opportunities and engaging audiences awaiting, you've got outlets for comedy on a level Cleveland had never before seen.

"You need those rooms to be able to go and develop that new stuff," Rivas says. Breeding grounds are essential for any endeavor based on creativity and performance. Zumock stopped by the Chucklefck gig recently to flesh out his latest gags. He dropped in to throw down a quick set alongside others who were just getting started in the game. It's that multi-tiered structure at work.

Brown, three years into his own comic journey, explains that you've got to stay on top of the open mic schedule. He co-hosts a show Thursday nights at Sachsenheim Hall over on Denison Avenue, but he's hit the local circuit over and over again, becoming a regular at some of the area's best rooms.

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