Hilarity at the Heidelberg: Tony Klee's Something to Do Comedy Night at Club Above

THEATER & DANCE INTERVIEW

Something to Do Comedy night at Heidelberg's Club Above

I found out about Something to Do Comedy Night at the Heidelberg's Club Above when its organizer, Tony Klee, bought me a shot of tequila last summer and I joked about doing the show one day.

Recently, Klee put out a call for comics, especially women comics, and when I asked him if I could go up, he said yes.

I had about five days to come up with a five-minute set.

I needed to write some jokes.

That part wasn’t so hard. Having written stories, I was served by an understanding of narrative arc. Having written poems, I know how to remove extra words. Having written informational text for work, I know how to get to the point. A journal keeper, I have a record of observations. 

None of this, however, prepared me for the experience of showing up.

I walked into the Club Above, scanned the crowd, and was taken aback by the sheer amount of butt cracks before me.

There was a one-inch crack peeking out, almost shyly, as if welcoming me. Later I saw one that exposed about four inches of wintertime flesh peeking out to greet spring. There was one that reminded me of proofing dough rising above the lip of a bowl. And there was even a delicate lady-butt crack.

I panicked briefly wondering if I had missed a message, if that bare stripe of flesh was the key to success.

Were my shorts too high-waisted to have success in this environment?

I will neither confirm nor deny breaking into a very mild sweat over this. 

I had a seat on a couch, which reminded me that the season where your skin comes into contact with more surfaces is upon us, and I was wearing shorts. I had fretted more over my outfit than I did the actual jokes I wrote. Should I worry about makeup? Hair? What would I wear? Eventually, I went with said shorts and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle shirt I had sewn.

All the comics’ names were recorded, the lineup was determined, and I soon found out I would be third, a rather humane placement for a first-timer. I nursed a drink as I waited for the show to begin and then watched the first two comics. As the second one exited the stage, I stood, ready to make my way to the stage when someone else’s name was called. Confused, I sat down and was informed I would be fourth. I watched the third comic. He was funny. Very funny. Too funny for a first-timer to follow. I was still laughing at his jokes a bit when it was my turn.

I walked to the stage holding onto the hot pink sticky note that showed the words that would help me should I forget my plan. But I didn’t need it. I worked my plan -- and it worked out. A jape example on the hot-pink sticky:

When leave a relationship you’ve been for a while, I’ve come to believe that you need to be recertified. You need to get your license back. I was out there operating without a license when I met Pretty Face Messy Life.

He was about 6’4” he had this dulce de leche tan skin and gorgeous green eyes, but he was a mess. And I was hypnotized. So I overlooked some things. Like his trash bag window treatments. You can’t do that when you’re 40!

I got off stage and was able to relax into the rest of the evening, more appreciative of the art form than I would have been under other circumstances. 

As I laughed at what just happened, my questions for Tony Klee began to write themselves for the interview I had scheduled for the next day.

Q: Tell me about Something to Do Comedy Night. What is the origin story? How long has it been going on? If I talk about this to other people, what should I be telling them?
A: Tell them Something to Do has been going on for almost a year. June 20 will be one year. I got a job at the Heidelberg and they have this open venue up there and I love running comedy shows.

Q: Have you run other shows before this one?
A: I've done a lot of work before. Actually, the girl who got me into comedy, she passed away, and I ended doing a bunch of lupus awareness events and things like that in comedy that spread all the way to Chicago. I've been in comedy for about six years. 

Q: How does your show work? Does it work like other comedy shows?
A: it depends on styles and things like that. When I first started Something to Do, it was just an open mic that anyone could attend. That became a little bit problematic because we drew so many people that we were putting up 30 to 40 comics a night. So, now I narrow it down to 15 or 20 a week and then I also produce professional comedy shows on the side

Q: Is that new?
A: Yeah, the pro show started over underneath the Blue Leprechaun at the Study Hall Lounge. I've decided to move them over to The Club Above. It's going to be a monthly event. I haven't decided when I'm going to kick it off yet [at The Club Above]. When I was doing it at Blue Leprechaun, I was primarily using students. Ann Arbor has more of a professional scene downtown, so I want to advertise it more toward tech companies. 

Q: Where do your comics come from? Who are they?
A: I get comics from all over the state and all over the country. I've had guys come from California before. I've had guys come from New York. I've had people come from Canada. It's considered one of the better types of shows in the Midwest because we work hard at promoting a crowd without comedians having the misfortune of inviting friends.

Q: The misfortune of inviting friends? Tell me more about that.
A: There's like a rule in comedy that your friends are stupid. It's not because your friends are stupid for having you as a friend. So you invite a bunch of friends and let's say you go early in the lineup, you got half the room full and as soon as you perform they leave. They're not there to see comedy; they're there to see you. So, if you get a crowd who is in there to look at comedy, you end up creating an environment much like you saw last night where people were laughing and getting into it. The week before some guy lost a fantasy football bet and he didn't tell me this. He reached me on the [Facebook] page. Next thing you know the place is completely packed, and afterward, he said, “Yeah, I'm never going to do this again. I just lost a fantasy football bet.” The whole crowd leaves. I don't ever want to use a comic to exploit their friends. Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase has been in business for 40 years and they've been doing that. They don’t ask comedians to bring their friends.

Q: What is the general comedy scene like around here? There’s your show. There’s Comedy Showcase. What else is there in this area?
A: Every other Monday there's a show at the Tap Room that's hosted by two good friends of mine, Felicity Blue and Alan Black.

Q: Did she perform yesterday?
A: Yes, yesterday she was the other lady in the lineup.  That show is every other Monday. I believe it is a 9 pm show.  So, grumpy old ladies like you can make it.

Q: Yep. I had to, like, take a nap. I had to fortify myself. I overslept this morning. That never happens to me. I put a lot on the line to try this out.
A: I’m glad you did. With the Showcase you call in, like, the week before, they select 12. Tap Room Comedy night you could easily get ahold of them. They’re right on Facebook. 

Q: I just wanted to get an understanding of the local scene.
A: Michigan has a big scene.

Q: Really? Why is that?
A: I think we just have nothing to lose. The advantage to a state like Michigan's comedy scene is that a lot of people will move out. They'll get big here and then they'll move out to the big three market so they move to Chicago, L.A., or they'll move to New York. But what happens is that Michigan comics end up getting a lot more polished because of the stage time that we offer. 

Q: Is that what people are doing? Do people have kind of a game plan?
A: I think so. I think that any time there’s a Republican president, two things flourish. You got comedy and you got punk rock.

Q: So, was last night's event pretty typical?
A: Yeah, it was. It was good though because the weather finally broke and I got to work with my sponsor, Boober Tours. Boober Tours, of course, is a bicycle taxi company. They supply me with megaphones and they drive me around Ann Arbor and I'm screaming at people promoting the show and I got about 10 people who came just from the Boober promotion last night.

Q: So of the people we saw last night, how many of those people are regulars? Are there regulars?
A: Yeah, yeah. The Heidelberg is an institution all on its own. It’s Ann Arbor’s oldest bar. But we get a lot of service industry business. So you know if it's a Tuesday when they're getting off of work, they're actually still pretty fresh when they go in there. It's mostly a service industry clientele, which works to the advantage of us running a late night show.

Q: What's your strategy? What's your game plan? Five years from now what do you want to be doing?
A: I want to run, like, 30 rooms, do about 30 different pro shows. There are big comedy bookers in the state, but I don't think that they can pay the kind of attention that I can. They basically take people who are coming into town, put them in the computer, and then place them somewhere. I think that if I get 30 well-placed shows, Something to Do Comedy Nights, I'll be able to hit each and every demographic perfectly of the rooms that I'm trying to set up.

Q: What are the differences between a show here and some other show you’re trying to do?
A: It just depends. Ann Arbor, you almost have to have a very intelligent, politically correct kind of comedy that may not work in Detroit. Where in Detroit, the comedy tends to be a bit edgier. Now, you get into some of the urban rooms and you're talking completely different things.

Q: So would you call what happened last night politically correct comedy?
A: For the most part, yeah. I don’t think that we had a really uptight audience. But if you go to the showcase sometime and check out their open mic on a Thursday, you might see people getting offended. Ann Arbor is a little bit of a challenge.

Q: Tell me more about that. Ann Arbor is a little bit of a challenge because …
A: I’m not saying that the people are uptight in Ann Arbor.

Q: So, what are you saying?
A: They tend to be so much into the bubble that it’s hard to point out race. Or it’s hard to point out different things because the average Ann Arbor citizen is going to look around and say, “OK ... am I supposed to laugh at this?” 

Q: I noticed yesterday that the first guy went, he was not a white dude. Then the second guy went and he was an Indian dude, and then the third guy went and he was a black dude. And I almost said, “Oh my god! All of the race jokes are gone. What am I supposed to do now?" 
A: I try to set up as much as a cosmopolitan lineup as I can.

Q: Is that unique to your show do you think?
A: No. I think it’s appreciated by the audience. I think it keeps things in check. And I think it keeps people laughing because they get to see a diverse thing.  

Q: What does a good show look like to you?
A: That’s a full room and everyone laughing and having a good time. 

Q: Tell me your comedy origin story. You told me that you’ve been doing comedy for about six years. 
A: It’ll be seven on May 5. 

Q: Were you always a comedy consumer? What happened?
A: Like any other crazy decision a guy makes, it involved a lady. I met an artist. She lived in Chicago. She was a part of the Chicago comedy scene. We watched all sorts of live performances. She took me to my first comedy show, TJ Miller. It would have been 2010 or 2011. It was about three or four months before I started comedy. I got to know the scene a little bit. I started going to this place called Club Bart, which was in Ferndale where I was living. She passed away about a year later due to complications from lupus and now comedy is just something that I do.

Q: What do you like about it?
A: The freedom. I like the fact that I can go up on the stage and say whatever I want. 

Q: What does creating comedy look like for you?
A: When I first started, my comedy wasn't the most mature comedy in the world.

Q: What does that mean?
A: Most new comics, especially when they’re male, don't really joke outside of their pants. One time I had to do this weekend show, and I told an oral sex joke in front of a really Christian crowd. I thought they were going to kill me. 

Q: What was the joke?
A: I don’t even really remember the joke. After I told the joke, I just heard all of these white conservative Christians [shriek].

Q: There was a sound? Like an audible sound?
A: Yeah. That was the sound. They were just horrified. After that, I cleaned up my writing a lot. It really made me focus on things outside of the pants. I’m glad that I experienced that like a year and a half in. 


Sherlonya Turner is the manager of the Youth & Adult: Services & Collections Department at the Ann Arbor District Library. She can be found diving headfirst into all sorts of projects over at sherlonya.net.


Something to Do Comedy Night happens every Tuesday at the Heidelberg's Club Above, xxxx. The show starts at 10 pm and there is no cover.