July 17, 2008

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Celebrating a year of funny
Club Comedy’s renewal keeps the scene going
By Brian Early bearly@hippopress.com

It was right before Christmas last year when a comic who was supposed to headline at the Amherst Country Club called in and said his car had broken down on Interstate 495 in Massachusetts.

Bil Downes, the booker for the Country Club, told him to find a ride and call back in short order, as the show had already started. The comic, Larry Myles, called back.

“Bil, I’ve got a friend, but he’s drunk,” Myles said. Downes passed on the idea.

Jimmy Tingle was doing a series of shows before the primary called Jimmy Tingle for President, and was doing an opening act of that material at Club Comedy at the Country Club that night. When Tingle got off stage, Downes asked Tingle if he had enough material to headline. At that point the comic called back to check in on the situation, and Tingle got on the phone.

“I’m going to do the set,” Tingle told Myles, Downes recalled. “I’m going to have Billy send you the money.”

It was good news for both the comic and the booker. “Larry couldn’t believe it. He bailed me out, he bailed you out and everyone’s happy,” Downes said.

After a 20-year hiatus, the comedy club at Amherst Country Club seems to be in working order. It celebrates its one-year anniversary with a two-show performance by funny man Bob Marley on Saturday, July 26.

For eight or nine years, the Amherst Country Club was one of the satellite clubs for the Boston Connection, which Downes co-founded. It ran until the venue burned down 20 years ago.

Downes remembered when Adam Sandler did a gig in Amherst, and Sandler brought many of his rowdy Manchester friends, Downes recalled, who started a fight that night at the club.

“It was getting ugly,” Downes said, and the club didn’t want Sandler back.

“They love you but they don’t want you back,” Downes recalled telling Sandler. “Your friends [messed] up the joint.”

While he was uncertain what would happen at the club with the return of comedy, he’s not anymore.

“It’s like turning a switch right back on,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of good experiences.”

When the comedy club operated before, it was during the golden years of the Boston comedy scene, Downes said. He was booking seven nights with 30 to 40 shows a week at the Comedy Connection and the various satellite clubs like Amherst around the greater Boston area.

“By the end of the ’80s, early ’90s, everyone jumped on the comedy bandwagon,” he said. “It kind of got saturated.”

Amherst used to have shows on Wednesday and Saturday during the comedy heyday, but now it’s just on Saturday, and during the summer it’s every other Saturday. The demographic is also changing.

“It’s more of an older crowd, 30s and 40s,” he said. “They’re very open and very easy to play to.”

The comedy world has changed, Downes said. There was a time when comics could do gigs in the greater New England area for most of their shows to make a living. Now, he said, most comics have to make a living doing shows on the road instead of locally. When the scene first started, it was a new thing, and more people went out then.

Still, he says, “Comedy is still comedy. Funny is funny.”


Bob Marley
Where: Club Comedy, Amherst Country Club, 72 Ponemah Road, Amherst.
When: Saturday, July 26, at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Tickets: $25. Call 673-9908 for tickets.