There’s something funny going on at The Empire Concert Club and Bar…or perhaps I should say someone funny? Once a month, The Empire hosts a comedy night at 1305 E. Tallmadge Ave.
As one comedian points out, this venue offers a comfortable mix of rock club and comedy club, placing audience members close enough to enjoy the contagiousness of their laughter.
I had the opportunity to experience Comedy Night at The Empire when May headliner Matt Farkas invited the Akronist to the show. While I had never been to The Empire before, I’ve heard positive local buzz about the venue. I had also seen several of May’s scheduled funny men perform at The Electric Pressure Cooker Open Mic at Pub Bricco and I knew that they had the potential to deliver lots of laughter. I wasn’t disappointed.
The monthly event is produced by comic Matt Brady and features several local comedians. Brady, in addition to producing the show, is also the emcee. He has been putting together comedy shows at Akron venues for about three years. “I started (producing) my first comedy show at Annabell’s in Highland Square. I ran those shows for 27 months, one show a month. I did that to build a comedy scene in Akron to hopefully encourage new people to come out and try it, and also to bring comedy to Highland Square.”
The comedy scene Brady envisions is growing, and it turns out he is not the only comic in Akron with big ideas about building the funny business in our city. There is a growing number of men and women who, rather than leaving Northeast Ohio for bigger cities with more established opportunities, are choosing to stick around and build something here, in the city they love.
On the evening I spent at The Empire, Brady emceed the show, Farkas headlined, and Eric Brewer, Chris Clem and Erik Cribley were featured performers. The show also included short bonus performances by Tommy Eckel and Kent comedian and producer Anthony Savatt. With that lineup I was expecting a good time, and each of these performers, in their own unique way, brought the fun.
Matt Brady started off the evening, bringing his intense energy and an edgy vibe that would be the common thread in a diverse lineup of comedic styles. When we talked later he spoke of that vibe, and of the “science” that we mere mortals do not realize is being employed around us as we watch the show. “The lights have to be dark but not too dark, the seating has to be comfortable for both the audience and the comedian on stage. Seating should be claustrophobic feeling, close to the stage and to each other because laughter is contagious. The sound has to be that right mix of loud but not too demanding, and The Empire gives me all that. During comedy shows at The Empire, I like it to have that punk rock look but a comedy club vibe and they have the ingredients for that recipe.”
Comedian Erik Cribley, a fellow who is compellingly both odd and entertaining, has an undeniably unique brand of humor. He shares observations of his world with an endearing complete lack of self-editing. Cribley has an impressive grasp on nerd culture, and his act clearly reflects his ability to laugh with, and not at, fellow nerds.
Eric Brewer is a funny guy who also happens to bear a striking resemblance to actor Bradley Cooper. Brewer uses that similarity to his advantage in a charming and self-deprecating way that lets the audience know that looking like a movie star, in the wrong hands, can go from charming to creepy in a hot minute. Brewer has been performing standup comedy for about five years, and for now is committed to the Akron comedy scene. “I’m happy here, and I really enjoy being in a mentoring position for the younger comics. I really don’t want to leave Akron for a bigger stage until the Akron comedy scene is thriving. I want to leave knowing that I helped build something special in my hometown.”
Chris Clem, a former Who Wants to be a Millionaire $100,000 winner, humorously shares his stories in an “everyman” style. Clem is both relatable and funny. Whether he is describing his embarrassment at seeing himself interacting with Meredith Viera on national TV or discussing his sleep apnea, Clem manages to “find the funny” in, for most of us, life’s ordinary indignations. He has been doing standup for about eight years and has toured extensively in Northeast Ohio and beyond. He likes The Empire because “…clubs like this are perfect for independent shows, as well as material that’s a little edgier or rougher around the edges. It’s ideal for comics who like to push boundaries or have different sensibilities. The more alternative venues for comedy, the stronger the scene.”
After the featured acts and a brief taste of the comedy of Anthony Savatt and Tommy Eckel, the packed house was ready for its headliner. Brady announced Matt Farkas and he made his way to the stage. As I mentioned earlier, I had seen Farkas perform before at an open mic. His open mic performance was really entertaining, but this night was different. The people in this audience were there to see comedy…his comedy. On that particular May evening, there was a camera crew in the audience filming the show for a DVD Farkas will soon be releasing.
There was palpable energy and tension in the space, and Farkas knew just what to do with it. He was clearly confident and in his element. Farkas connected with the crowd, landing punch after acerbic punch in an act filled with social commentary and personal reflection. Whether he spoke of politics or being “friend zoned,” he managed to find the humor in some very unfunny truths.
A couple of days after the show, I had the opportunity to sit down with Farkas to talk about himself, his act, and the Akron comedy scene. I assumed I was going to have a nice conversation with a funny guy and find a quote or two for this article. By this point in my life I should know better than to assume anything about anything. Matt Farkas IS funny, no doubt about it. He is also a really smart guy who is as passionate about the world around him as he is about working with his colleagues to build something lasting in Akron: a comedy scene that speaks to topics as diverse as those covered by himself and those he shared the stage with the week before at The Empire. For a guy whose humor can be bitingly honest, he has only positive things to say about Matt Brady, Anthony Savatt and the other architects of comedy in Northeast Ohio. “Anthony is kind of the king of producing Kent comedy shows, and Matt Brady is really doing a good job of that here in Akron.”
Farkas saved his highest praise for The Empire Club’s owner, Eric Soudry. “The Empire Club lets us run comedy nights every month and they take care of their artists. Eric gets it, and he found a way to run his club that takes care of the performers, the audience and the club at the same time.” That sentiment has been echoed over and over by the comedians I spoke to for this article, as well as musicians and other artists who have graced The Empire’s stage.
My takeaway? Akron is a city jam-packed with talented artists of all sorts. Akronites already know that. What I didn’t know was what a strong foundation exists in our city’s comedy scene. I plan to support it, and I hope you will, too, and that is no joke.
For more information about shows at The Empire Concert Club and Bar, find them on Facebook at .
For information about The Empire Club’s next comedy night, click here.