The first Chucklefck evening six years ago was nothing to laugh at. It wasn't that funny: a coffee house grab-bag of poetry, music, and only fitful stabs at comedy. That changed when Ramon Rivas II took the reins. A stand-up with a motor geared for promotion, Rivas quickly turned Chucklefck into Cleveland's most reliable up-and-coming comedy brand outside the traditional club circuit. Chucklefck gives locals stage time and Rivas rounds out the bills with national acts just beginning to float onto the comedy fan's radar. Currently, Rivas hosts a Monday open mic night at Reddstone and a Tuesday showcase at Grog Shop.
You're getting guys like Hannibal Buress and Neal Brennan to do your shows. How do you collar these high-profile names for basically underground gigs?
All the people that I've had I've mostly sent messages saying, "Hey, I'm a fan, I do shows in Cleveland, if you're ever working the area or state." I sent Hannibal a message, "I see you don't have an Ohio date." The next month Neal Brennan was looking for a place to do shows because he was going to Montreal to do a festival. He sent out a tweet. So I've been able to get guys like that Mondays, Tuesdays, or Wednesdays when the clubs are closed.
When you truck in the out-of-towners, what do they think about working here?
I feel good because I'm always able to get comics to say, "Man, Cleveland is kind of awesome." Everyone from Chicago likes it. Hannibal said this show and the one he did in Columbus on his tour were his favorites. It can be real hard in the bigger cities. There are a lot of shows, but they have no audience at them. It's 25 comics, so 25 for the first comic, then 24 for the next, because people leave after their sets. And then they come here and even our real shitty dive bar shows have 12 to 13 people watching. Even some of the "cooler," "chic-ier" shows I got to do in New York — there's only 30 people there, no bigger than what I have at Reddstone.
Some of the names you book — like Hannibal or Rob Delaney — seem to show up on your bills right as people are starting to know who they are. How do you keep the line-up fresher than the main comedy clubs?
I'm a fan of comedy, so I know who people want to see. Whereas the clubs are real reactive. Probably next time Hannibal comes through, the clubs will try and get him because he just got named Club Comic of the Year at the Comedy Central awards, his hour special just premiered on Comedy Central, and he has a late night show on Adult Swim. But he might come back and do my show because he likes the underground vibe . There's a lot of comics who are just tired of the way the clubs do business. You'll call a club to try and get booked, and they'll be like, "Oh, you want the booker? He isn't here." It's such a runaround.
How do 216 audiences stack up to other cities?
You always want more consistent audience. I've found the general public likes comedy but they can't name many comics off the top of their heads that they enjoy. Cleveland is a good city as far as people will come out, but it's hard to get them aware. So many people complain that there's nothing to do in Cleveland. Well, I've been doing this show here [Grog Shop] Tuesdays since December, and the audience is still up and down. It's anywhere from 20 to 100-some people.
Who's the funniest guy or girl in Cleveland?
Probably [Mike] Polk. He's just so aloof and doesn't care, and that helps so much. But it's close. I had a show last night with Bill Squire and I had my old Adidas track jacket on. He said I looked like the Mexican Chris Penn. It was so funny. Everyone has such a different sense of humor.
Tell me a joke.
The shows I run are at Reddstone and Grog Shop, so there's a lot of hipsters in the audience. I've learned that when hipsters think something's funny, they don't always laugh out loud, a lot of times they just change their posture.