Flappers Comedy Club: How Did a New Standup Venue Take Off Despite Down Economy?
"In a city that is mostly 'showcase' clubs, it's a nice change of pace to be able to do a full hour-long headline set in front of good, appreciative crowds."
So says comedian and podcaster Jimmy Pardo. He was talking to us about Flappers, a nightclub that opened in September 2010. Over the last year, comedians have indeed responded to the availability of a new venue that offers hour-long sets. So far, Flappers has featured performances by Pardo, Maria Bamford, Christopher Titus, Tom Green, Jackie Kashian, Bil Dwyer, Doug Benson, Judy Tenuta and Bobcat Goldthwait, among hundreds of others.
Flappers enjoys a prime location at the gateway to downtown Burbank, where Magnolia Boulevard intersects 1st Street. Despite the fact that Flappers has already built an audience as well as its own comedy community, the question remains: In a down economy, how does one decide to embark upon the tricky nightclub business in a high-rent commercial district? According to co-owner Dave Reinitz, it took a combination of tenacity, good luck and local government assistance.
Reinitz and business partner Barbara Holliday spent more than two years planning and searching, having at least one prospective location fall through after the stock market crashed in 2008. As Reinitz puts it, "I looked at every restaurant carcass from San Diego to Santa Barbara." The space in Burbank was formerly a Macaroni Grill. It was going for $30,000 a month at the time Reinitz and Holliday got word that it was available. But, Reinitz says, the high rent prevented him from even looking at the space.
In a strange way, the bad economy wound up helping to bring Flappers about. One day Reinitz finally decided to check out the Macaroni Grill husk. The restaurant chain's parent company was losing money on its long-term lease, and decided to sub-let the space to Reinitz and Holliday at a deep discount. The nascent club also received an economic development loan from the City of Burbank.
The '20s theme suggested by the club's name comes off with a light touch -- a flapper girl is depicted in the logo and ragtime music plays over the PA. Reinitz, who has a restaurant-business background, gave special attention to the food, an effort that has not been lost on the comedians who play at Flappers.
"The food is awesome," comedian Maria Bamford told us via e-mail. Bamford is scheduled to return to Flappers this Friday and Saturday, Nov. 11 and 12. She says things like Napa chicken, Caesar salads, and chocolate chip cookies compare favorably to good restaurant meals, "not just in comparison with regular comedy club food like deep-fried pickles, hot fudge brownie towers, and aged popcorn."
Bamford is also thankful for Flappers' "traditional comedy club format, with opener, middle, and hour-long headliner. It's awesome to have a way to earn as a comedian in Los Angeles -- which, outside of corporate, TV, and maybe $25 at the showcase clubs (Improv, Laugh Factory, and Comedy Store) -- is unusual."
With Flappers as a hub for comedians, Holliday and Reinitz are building community as well.
"We're an easy-access club," says Reinitz. "We have an open audition show each Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at 6:00 p.m. And it's organized as a show."
Like many comedy venues, the club also has a range of classes, on topics like honing a short set for late-night appearances, and another called "Set List," in which Troy Conrad assembles a list of topics, and each comic then improvises a set based on that list.
Against the odds of the current economic climate, Flappers offers a convivial, creative, party-like atmosphere -- even while its very name wryly nods at the Great Depression of the past.
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