ComedyWorx, the city’s oldest improv comedy club, is looking for a new home.
The club’s building on the corner of Peace and West streets on the northern end of downtown Raleigh will be demolished soon to make way for a new project that will feature retail space and apartments.
Now ComedyWorx is trying to raise $40,000 through an online Kickstarter campaign for a new location.
The club, which formed in 1989 and has had more than 500 performers over the years, is seeing other changes, too.
Owner Richard Gardner is converting ComedyWorx to a nonprofit community theater, a move that will allow the club to apply for grants to perform and teach improv at local schools.
“We think there’s an opportunity for students to learn valuable skills and have fun,” he said.
Gardner also plans to step down as sole proprietor of the club within the next five years, and he is looking for a group of members within the club to take over management duties.
Gardner saw an improv show while on vacation in 1988 in Kansas City, Mo. He worked as an environmental engineer, but he was interested in breaking into the comedy business.
“I could do this in Raleigh,” he thought.
Back home, Gardner put out an ad looking for performers. Thirty people responded, and he held auditions. The group performed its first show at a North Raleigh restaurant in 1989.
When the restaurant closed six months later, Gardner penned a tongue-in-cheek letter to former mayor Smedes York, whose company managed City Market downtown.
Help me keep my performers off the streets, Gardner begged. We’re doing the city a favor.
His pleas worked, and the group began performing in City Market’s food court before it landed a long-term lease. ComedyWorx moved in 2000 to Peace Street, where it performs five shows a week and offers workshops and corporate training sessions.
Over the years, the club’s biggest challenge has been competition from similar groups. When ComedyWorx formed, the Triangle had only a few other improv comedy clubs, Gardner said.
Since then other clubs have opened, including Transactors Improv Comedy and the DSI Comedy Theater, both in Chapel Hill.
ComedyWorx only performed family-friendly shows its first 20 years. But seven years ago, the club added adults-only shows to bring in crowds.
When Philip Boyne joined ComedyWorx as a freshman at Broughton High School in Raleigh, he was afraid of public speaking.
He enrolled in an improv workshop and gained the confidence to overcome his fear.
Fourteen years later, Boyne performs in ComedyWorx shows at least five times a month. He met his wife, Stefanie, a fellow performer, through the club.
“Doing improv has completely transformed me,” Boyne said. “I think every high school student should do it.”
The club doesn’t do any marketing or advertising. Performers and visitors often hear about it through word-of-mouth.
What keeps them coming back?
“We put on very funny shows, and our audience is often astounded by how clever, quick and creative our performers are,” Gardner said. “It leaves them rolling on the floor laughing.”
Madison Iszler: 919-836-4952; @madisoniszler
Want to help?
ComedyWorx is raising money to move to a new location through an online Kickstarter campaign. To donate, go to http://kck.st/2d064HP.