By Jillian Owens
When John Gibson took over the Red Door Tavern in 2010, he knew he wanted to foster an environment that would help grow a local standup comedy scene.
At first, the idea seemed laughable — and not for the reasons he might prefer. At the time, Columbia simply didn’t have many standup comedians. When people thought about going out for an evening of comedy, they would go catch a touring comedian at the Comedy House Theatre or maybe the Township Auditorium.
Undaunted, Gibson partnered with longtime friend and professional Columbia comedian Jenn Snyder to get the scene jump-started. Snyder has been pursuing her career for seven years, performing in clubs and at events along the East Coast.
“It’s been a slow, smoldering fire for years,” Snyder says. “When John and I met up, we knew we wanted to make Red Door Tavern the spot for comedy. It all started with open mic nights, then John came up with the idea to host featured comics.”
This small tavern has already booked such names as Doug Stanhope (who performed at the larger New Brookland Tavern), Dave Stone, Shane Mauss and Ben Kronberg, just to name a few.
But their vision isn’t just about bringing in big names. They’re also growing new talent right here in Columbia. Gibson himself is a newer comic, with two years of experience.
“Every Monday at 9 p.m., we host an open mic night where anyone who wants to perform four to five minutes for an audience can show up and get feedback. Then we host Feature Fridays where a couple of our best local comics will open for a touring comedian. As the newer folks get more experience, they get more stage time.”
“We’re like a family,” Snyder explains. “In a lot of other areas around the country, you’ll find infighting, cattiness, and competition in the standup scene. It’s not like that here. We all want to put Columbia on the map, and we all want each other to succeed.”
This incubator-to-performance approach appears to be working.
“We’ve been selling out every Friday,” Snyder says proudly. “At first, our audiences were just friends and family members. But then we started seeing people we didn’t know who had just heard about what was going on. And they aren’t just here to heckle: They’re smart, cool people who want to see great comedy. And that’s why we’re growing.”
Gibson, Snyder and other local comics have also formed a group called Soda City Standup, and they now perform beyond the stage of The Red Door. Now you can also catch live, local comedians at venues like Art Bar, The Sand Bar, River Rat Brewery and The Hookah Spot. They’re looking to expand out into Lexington and are also working on an October tour that will take them throughout the Southeast.
But are they any good?
At their monthly Craft Comedy After Dark performance at River Rat Brewery, the brewery’s patio transforms into a makeshift stage.
Gibson plays the role of emcee and icebreaker. After him come Topher Riddle, Wayne Cousins and Joey Massaro — all locals. They’re funny, as the small crowd acknowledges. And they haven’t even been at it that long. Snyder takes the stage as the featured act, and is absolutely hilarious. With snarky wit and charm, she rocks it.
Asked about the future goals of Soda City Standup, Gibson doesn’t need to pause to think of his answer.
“We’re trying make a name for ourselves,” he says. “This town has talent, and this is a place to show it off. We just want more people to know about us. We’re putting on killer shows, and there’s no reason for us to not have a bigger scene.”
The Red Door Tavern (134 State St., West Columbia) hosts an Open Night Mic for standup comics on Monday, May 19. Call 764-5196 or visit reddoortavern.net for more information.
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