Duluth nurtures comedy-club trade

By V. Paul Virtucio

Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH -- Three Duluth nightclubs have turned to funny business to make more money.

Stand-up comedy has been moving into the Duluth nightclub scene since the Tap Room started bringing in weekly acts in September. Since then, the Duluth Athletic Club and the NorShor Theatre also have begun offering comedy shows.

While the genre is not as big a moneymaker as music, comedy increases a club's exposure and helps bring in money on what might usually be a slow night.


Comedy is seen as a sure thing at the city's biggest indoor venue, the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center. You have to work really hard to lose money on a comic, said Craig Samborski, the DECC's entertainment director.

The DECC hosted the biggest comic to hit the Twin Ports on one of the biggest weekends of Duluth's summer season: Jerry Seinfeld performed for 2,382 people in the DECC Auditorium on June 21 -- the day of Grandma's Marathon when 40,000 runners, spectators and tourists milled around Canal Park and downtown.

Seinfeld's Duluth debut sold out in fewer than 10 days. The usually frugal market was ready to pay for tickets that cost $46, $61 and $76. In 2001, Rod Stewart set the DECC's record for most expensive music act at $69.50.

Seinfeld was the second of four comics to play the DECC this year, the most comics in one year at the Duluth venue. Deadpan comedian Steven Wright drew 1,600 people in January. Bill Cosby and George Carlin are due in August and October. Samborski is also trying to nail down a summer show with Rodney Carrington, a favorite on radio's "Bob and Tom Show" and a rising comic whose acts require parental advisories.

"There's definitely a comedy market (in Duluth), but it's got to be the right comedian," Samborski said. "I think it's great, but I think it's going to have to be a name comedian."

Andrew Gamache, owner of the Tap Room, started hosting touring comedians in September to drum up business on Sunday evenings, his slowest night of the week. He ended up drawing an average of 30 people per night and losing money.

Rather than give up on comedy, Gamache moved the night to Tuesdays. He's now breaking even -- about $600 a show -- and drawing more than 70 people.

Comedy night draws a broader age of customers, from 21 to 65, compared to the 20- and 30-somethings that come out for live bands, he said.


Gamache brings in fairly well-known acts that work the national comedy circuit. He books acts through a North Carolina agency that also books for Knuckleheads Comedy Club in the Mall of America in Bloomington. Many have done stints on late-night television and comedy specials on cable networks.

The newly opened Duluth Athletic Club also tapped into the comedy circuit by bringing up comics from Acme Comedy Club in Minneapolis. The local club has been offering comedy on the first Sunday of each month since April.

Duluth Athletic Club owner Mike Emerson said he's averaged 50 people a night, which covers what he pays the comics. Even though there's more money in music, there's also more risk, he said.

"The concept we're trying to pull off is a little classier. Comedy is more of an adult entertainment. There's enough bands in town," Emerson said. "There is an audience for comedy in town. It should be a pat on the back for (the Tap Room) that they can put on a show every week."

At the NorShor Theatre, owner Rick Boo occasionally hosts comedians. Duluthian-turned-Los-Angeles-comedian Maria Bamford recently performed before 350 people and Sean Morrey brought in about 200.

What To Read Next
Get Local