A Williamsburg comedy theater shuts down, but its community does not

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Dogslam at Brooklyn Bazaar. Photo courtesy of Justin Linville

In the more offbeat Brooklyn comedy scene, I have consistently noticed a tirelessness – these people are always doing shows!

Never was this more clear to me than after alt-comedy haven The Annoyance closed their Williamsburg location in late March. Comedy shows popped up elsewhere. In fact, they seemed to proliferate.

This was equally apparent when a fire broke out in Park Slope space Union Hall (the venue set to reopen on the 21st!). The shows themselves proved scrappier than any pesky flames, and venues like The Bell House became temporary homes until the space got back on its feet. Similar show-relocating was done when Shea Stadium first closed temporarily.

The Annoyance isn’t the only comedy show hub in Williamsburg to depart; many would flock to the Experiment Comedy Gallery and Over the Eight (I even did my own show there once), but they both shuttered in December.

However, it’s clear there was something special about that place on Bedford Ave. Comedian Joe Rumrill characterizes it as feeling like, “if the Little Rascals ran a comedy theater.”

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RUDE. Photo courtesy of Ian Lockwood
RUDE. Photo courtesy of Ian Lockwood

“I remember just being in gleeful awe of how far they were willing to take aggressively dumb ideas,” he says.

Though its physical space is gone, that’s about the only thing to vanish. In early April, Annoyance regular Ian Lockwood began a weekly series called RUDE at South 4th Bar on Tuesday nights. Located just a block from the former comedy theater, the bar had previously been a post-show hangout spot.

“I was a bit distressed that there was no longer a home for this kind of comedy,” he explained. “I wanted to preserve that ‘We all hang out at the theater, we all watch each other’s shows, we all put shows up’ feel that the Annoyance had.”

Curating 4 shows a week for RUDE, Lockwood says he’s intentionally making space for experimental and diverse programming instead of standard improv shows.

At Greenpoint’s Brooklyn Bazaar, there’s Dogslam, a three-show series on Thursday nights created by Danny Groh. It consists of an improv jam, longform improv show Michael Jordan Steakhouse (previously seen at The Annoyance), and stand-up showcase In the Sauce hosted by Joe Rumrill and Nick Naney.

Rumrill knows a bit about venue-hopping. Cartoon Monsoon, the show he began with Mary Houlihan, Tim Platt, and Steven DeSiena, originally happened at Over the Eight and moved to The Annoyance. Rumrill tells me they may continue at Union Hall, where they’ve done holiday specials in the past.

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Last Cartoon Monsoon at The Annoyance. Photo by Roberto Tobar
Last Cartoon Monsoon at The Annoyance. Photo by Roberto Tobar

However, he says, “it’ll always be an Annoyance show at its fuzzy googly-eyed little heart. They let us do whatever we wanted. Anywhere I put on a show from now on, I feel like I’m over at someone else’s house.”

Brian Fiddyment, who participated in the first show I ever saw at The Annoyance, just began his own monthly multimedia-based comedy show and open mic, Prayerz, at Title:Point’s East Williamsburg theater space Vital Joint.

“I think even though the ‘home’ is gone, I still want it to feel like the general community [is] going, that we could take over a place and make it into a home for weird stuff we like, even for just a night,” he tells me.

Michael Bertrando took classes at The Annoyance’s first location in Chicago, and began putting up shows at the Brooklyn location upon realizing it had opened a mere block from his apartment. He explains he relocated his show Game Show to Threes Brewing at the suggestion of Stephen Sheffer, a former Annoyance student who does booking for the Gowanus bar.

Though he feared his porn-laden show would be “too dirty” for a new crowd, he says “the transition has been great, and I think the show is actually better now because of the new space.” What was meant as a one-off turned into a monthly engagement at the bar.

Anthony Oberbeck is another longtime Annoyance fixture and one-third of improv group Postmen, with Matt Barats and Carmen Christopher. The trio began in Chicago, and were one of the first to perform at The Annoyance upon moving to New York in 2014.

“It was an opportunity to help set a tone and create a community, rather than try to fit into someone else’s scene. And then I think it became that for a lot of people,” he tells me.

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Dogslam at Brooklyn Bazaar. Photo coutesy of Justin Linville
Dogslam at Brooklyn Bazaar. Photo coutesy of Justin Linville

The Postmen now do their show weekly at The Cobra Club in Bushwick.

“I guess part of doing this show is continuing that feeling of different voices coming together to make a night that’s unique and fun and exciting,” Oberbeck says. “We hope that with a new venue and neighborhood we can get people in there [who] haven’t seen anything like it.”

Though there is no lack of shows, they are more spread out. Extra effort was needed to get everyone on the same page.

Ground Floor Comedy is a online space for comedy videos, but they’ve also developed a newsletter that lists shows and profiles comedians. In June, they began doing their own live events.

“I think the closing made a lot of people realize if they really want to do comedy, they would need to really hustle for it,” says Thomas Fricilone, who runs the newsletter with some others. “What I’ve found is a lot of performers making their own shows and own opportunities, and it’s really great.”

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