No comedy club? No problem. Since the 2014 closing of Connxctions, the de facto Lansing comedy headquarters since 1984, local comedians have survived off support from fellow performers and a cavalcade of comedian-run standup nights at bars and concert halls.
“People put on all kinds of different shows that reflect their style. If you want a specific kind of comedy, you can find it within this city,” said Pat Sievart, a Lansing comedian who hosts shows at BAD Brewing Co. and Mac’s Bar.
Attempts to replace Connxctions, which hosted comedy titans such as Drew Carey and Kevin Hart, have proven unsuccessful. The biggest push thus far, Tripper’s Comedy Club — an addition adjoined to the Tripper’s Bar launched in 2015 — closed down with the rest of the restaurant in 2016. Funny- Business Agency, which has long booked acts in the Lansing circuit, has a 2016 posting on its website seeking out somebody brave enough to open a new comedy club in Greater Lansing.
But Lansing hasn’t yet crept into a laugh-dystopia. Without a city-defining comedy haunt to call home, comedians have consolidated into a tightknit circle of performers. The scene is interconnected with gigs hosted anywhere from the Unicorn Lounge to private homes bearing catchy names such as the Salsa Parlor.
Michigan Comedy Co-op is a name oftfound on fliers for Lansing comedy shows.
It’s organized by three independent comedians — two of them transplants from Portland, Maine — trying to keep Lansing’s wheels turning.
“In Maine, we had the same problem as Lansing. There was no comedy club. We had to put on and promote our own shows,” said Will Green, one of Michigan Comedy Co-op’s promoters. “Instead of listing our names, which no one knows, we decided to put all of the shows under one name. And hopefully, we can get that name out there.”
The group splits responsibilities. Members aim their sight on different regions of Greater Lansing. Green promotes shows at Windwalker Underground Gallery in Charlotte, while Nick Leydorf and Aharon Willows-Hebert put on shows at the Fledge, a newer venue near Sparrow Hospital described as an “incubator” and “maker place.”
“When you have one club, everyone tries to get into that club. When you don’t have that one club, everyone just kind of goes off on their own,” Green said. “Everyone is trying to make their own stage time, so the city ends up with more shows.”
Michigan Comedy Co-op hopes the DIY spirit of its shows signals the door is open for anybody seeking a make a stab at live comedy.
“We’re trying to make it as welcoming as possible for people that want to participate and help each other out,” Leydorf said. “I don’t know if the lack of a club makes the scene stronger or not, but when everyone’s working to help each other out, it definitely makes it easier to welcome new.”
The Lansing comedy includes more than prototypical “that’s my life” standup. The Comedy Coven, which began as a house show in 2015, made a name for itself with regular performances — blending improv and sketch comedy — at the Robin Theatre.
Formed as a haven for some of Lansing’s women comedians, the Comedy Coven is a refreshing juxtaposition to male oriented stand up comedy, a la countless imitators of Louis C.K. and Bill Burr.
“We wanted a social space where we could talk about our experiences as women in the scene. It very quickly developed into us planning and organizing the show,” Comedy Coven member Emily Syrja said.
Comedy Coven members say they view comedy as an easy way for ideas to permeate one’s mind.
“Maybe you’re not a feminist; maybe you don’t understand these issues. But if you hear someone talk about them in an enlightening and hilarious way, you tend to listen,” said Comedy Coven member Tricia Chamberlain.
Despite its sometimes provocative political nature, the Comedy Coven’s members said the group is hardly just doing political comedy.
“A lot of the things we do are absurd. Not everything has a political statement attached to it,” Chamberlain said.
What makes comedians stay once they’ve dug their heels into the Lansing? Aaron Putnam, who makes his living off comedy, spends his time frantically traveling between Chicago and Lansing — booking shows and performing as a standup comedian. Despite dabbling in markets as large as New York City and Los Angeles, he still returns to the Lansing scene.
“It’s special. There is just a bunch of people just really going after it. There is a passion for it. Honestly, it’s not about where you’re at; where you’re doing it — it’s all about how you’re putting down the work.”
While Putnam argues the lack of a flagship comedy club hasn’t negatively impacted the spotlight on local talent, he said it’s made attracting to stars to Lansing daunting.
“Since Connxctions closed, you can’t get headliners from other parts of the country. There’s no place for them to perform,” Putnam said. “They’re going to Detroit or Grand Rapids, and there’s no reason for that, considering Lansing’s the capital and home of a large university. If there was a club again — and it was done right — I think it would do well.”
With much of the control over booking shows spread between different local comedians that double as promoters, small names and first time performers are finding ample opportunities to get on the mic.
Mac’s Monday Comedy Night is weekly, free and invites a wide variety of sometimes completely unknown comics up to the stage.
“It seems like maybe there’s more opportunity. The show we do at Mac’s has a good audience. I think having a strong show like that is a marker, or a flagpole, for people to see and gravitate toward,” said Robert Jenkins, one of Mac’s Monday Comedy Night’s organizers.
Comedians say a diverse cast of comics provides more fodder for laughs.
“I’m part of a show that’s run by four people — two of them are people of color and one of them is a woman. I think that’s important to have that representation,” Jenkins said. “The more diverse your lineup is, the more diverse your crowd is. When you open up the pools of comics you book, you’ll have a bigger number of performers that are good. It’s that easy.”
Putnam said he has the same consideration when he books his shows.
“Nobody really wants to see a lineup of back to back white guys in hoodies,” Putnam said.
But nothing’s ever perfect, and some comedians have experiences that suggest Lansing needs some improvement.
“When I was doing standup, I did feel like I wasn’t part of this sort of boy’s club. I always kind of felt like a little sister,” Chamberlain said. “If you didn’t fit into that little sister role, people would say, “Oh, well I’m going to teach you. You can’t be better than me and you can’t try these things.’” Lansing comedians attest there’s a special energy to live comedy you don’t get from taped performances, whether you’re watching a comic bomb disastrously, or skillfully slay their audience with laughter.
“The comedians are being their true selves — they’re working things out. It’s fun to see people grow over time,” Sievart said. “You can get on the ground floor, see where they started and watch them evolve. What you’re getting on Netflix might just be the end product of all of that work.”
Jake Ford, who helps run the Unicorn Lounge’s weekly Wednesday comedy night, agreed.
“With the live aspect you get hecklers and other weird things that can happen. It’s a much more uncontrolled environment, which makes for a completely different experience.”
And above all, Lansing’s comedians just want you at their shows. “There’s a lot of good opportunities to see comedy in Lansing, and people should check them out,” Sievart said.