Bringing laughter to Cape Girardeau

Friday, October 22, 2004

When it comes to nightlife, downtown Cape Girardeau offers live music ranging from blues to punk, a wide variety of alcoholic beverages -- from cheap Stag beer to $8 martinis --and even a place or two to hit the dance floor. Live comedy, however, has never become a permanent part of downtown's late-night landscape.

This void is something that Jeremiah's is attempting to address yet again by a new partnership with Hyena's Comedy Club based in Benton, Ill.

The club will bring in comedians to perform for two shows on Saturday nights throughout the fall.

But three weeks after the first show, the jury is still out on the success of the venture.

The owner of Jeremiah's, Donn Ganim, said the shows will likely continue into November and possibly beyond that if it becomes successful.

"I think it will become a winter thing," Ganim said. "I don't think you'll see it in July."

Jeremiah's has also been working with the Funny Bone based in St. Louis off and on for over a year. The Funny Bone comedy shows started in spring 2003 and lasted a few months before returning for a few months at the begining of this year.

"It was hit or miss. Some weeks we made money and some weeks we didn't," Ganim said. "That's the nature of the beast."

During this month, comedians from the Funny Bone have been performing at 8 and 10 p.m. Friday nights, although that will likely end when October does.

Ganim said he thinks Cape Girardeau is not a large enough city to have two nights of comedy, and he enjoys working with Hyena's.

"Hyena's supports us a lot," Ganim said. "They do it right -- they come in and take over the whole place."

That includes providing a master of ceremonies for the night and an opening and main act, as well as providing marketing for the shows and setting up the stage. Hyena's brings the feel of big-city comedy shows to six venues in western Kentucky, central Illinois and Southeast Missouri.

"We operate them like they're real comedy clubs and make sure they're done professionally," said the man behind Hyena's, Jeff Batts.

A former comedian himself, Batts thinks that comedy in Cape Girardeau should be a good fit.

"I knew that it was a perfect city for Hyena's," he said. "It's a big enough city to have a couple of nights of comedy, but not big enough for a comedy club. Plus, you have the university and the hopping place to go in Southeast Missouri is Cape Girardeau."

Many of the roughly 20 people who showed up for the 10 p.m. show on Saturday featuring comedians Jeff Bodart and Wynn Reichert were Southeast Missouri State University students.

Most of the audience laughed throughout the more than hour-long show and were open to teasing from the comedians. But the problems inherent with a small crowd become apparent when Bodart asked how many people in the audience were married and nobody raised their hand, meaning the bulk of his material on being married will be lost on the audience.

Toward the end of Reichert's performance, the audience thins as some people leave Jeremiah's or wander over to the bar.

One person who stayed for the whole show was Charles Blumenberg, who came with several friends.

"Other than this, there's not a whole lot of new things to do [in Cape Girardeau]," Blumenberg said. "It was a change of pace."

Blumenburg has lived in Cape Girardeau for 10 years and said live comedy in the city is "something out of the norm." And while he would like to see it suceed, he thinks it will take the right marketing and a good variety of comedians that will appeal to different people.

The first two comedy shows of the Jeremiah's and Hyena's collaboration featured Chicago comedian and author Paul Frisbie, Jeff McDonald, a comedy writer from Indianapolis, and J.T. Thomas. This Saturday, St. Louis comedian Chris Smith and Arkansas-born comedian Brian Archer will perform.

"The level of talent has been incredible," said Jeff Batts, Hyena's booking agent. "I don't think the people in Cape realize the quality of comedians coming down there."

For comedian Reichert, Jeremiah's provided a good venue for his stand up routine because of its small size. "It's very intimate, which is good for stand-up comedy," he said. And Reichert believes that the success of comedy shows at Jeremiah's will grow over time and with positive word of mouth.

"There is no question a town the size of Cape Girardeau can support standup comedy on a weekly basis," Reichert said. "I've worked many rooms in smaller towns that have been very successful. And with Hyena's at Jeremiah's new to the Cape, I think they're doing very well."

For Ganim, the test will be trying to bring in a mix of people to the shows.

While he wants to see students at the shows, Ganim is looking to reach a slightly older crowd than would normally come to Jeremiah's.

"If I can get a good mix of college kids and the people who live in town, that will it make it work," he said.

As to why he keeps bringing live comedy back to Jeremiah's even when it does not seem to be an overwhelming success, Ganim said it is because he believes in it and thinks it can catch on.

"How many times do you hear that there's nothing to do? Live comedy is something to do and it's good for downtown," he said.

kalfisi@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

WANT TO GO?

hat: Comedy at Jeremiah's

When: 8 and 10 p.m. Saturdays

Where: 127 N. Water St.

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