Greetings, Cleveland. This is standup comedian and eminent Latino Ramon Rivas II. I'm writing you from New York City. I've been sleeping on couches and floors of friends and peers all of November because I was selected as one of COMEDY CENTRAL'S COMICS TO WATCH. By the time you read this, I'll be back home living with my dad and working at the Improv with Deon Cole.
I'm also thrilled to say that comedy in back home in Cleveland has NEVER been more abundant. Hilarities and The Improv still maintain their status as nationally renowned clubs, while a crop of B/C-level rooms like Bonkerz + Club Velvet at the Rocksino continue to offer professional-level work to emerging locals and national acts of varying skills. Add in the Funny Stop down in Cuyahoga Falls, and you have a network of actual comedy clubs that rival some of the densest locations in the country. Expand your drive by a few hours, and you can be at nearly 100 comedy clubs playing to paying audiences.
It's been great watching shows, comics, and satellite people (photographers like Rustin McCann, Laura Wimbles, Chelsea McKee) begin to pop up in the Cleveland comedy scene over the past few years. The emergence of accidentalcomedy.com helped develop comedic ambassadors like Jimmie Graham, Mary Santora, John Bruton and Brian Kenny as they produce live series around the city. Through those endeavors, they and others are able to perfect their skills and work toward becoming regulars at the plethora of comedy clubs in town.
A great "farm system" has developed for people to matriculate through on their way to becoming comedians. From open mic Wednesdays at Lakewood Village Tavern, Monday showcases like Hilario at Barrio Lakewood, and Make Em Laugh Mondays at the Grog Shop, Modern Kicks, to Keep Talking-A StoryTelling Show at Happy Dog on Wednesdays, there's high quality spots to watch/work on performing outside of the club system every night. With a vast number of open mics starting (and honestly, stopping), newer comics have an abundance of stage time that would be scarce or miserable in a bigger comedy scene. Open mics in CLE have audiences and generally a 5-8 minute time limit. NY mics are 2-3 minutes with 50+ comics slowly leaving after their sets.
There are more people trying comedy than any point before. This is a beautiful and horrible thing.
I love Cleveland. It's an amazing city. Yet, people constantly ask, "Cleveland, huh? What comics are from there?" I rattle off some names; they don't register any of them. We move on with our conversation or they blatantly walk away from me. Or I from them. However, I've been able to grow and fail anonymously in this great town among a group of artists with their own distinct POVs that are on par with those I come across in my travels. No one knows them, but they're my comedy family, and they're dope.
People may never respect and revere Cleveland the way I do. That's ok. If you take the time to experience a comedy show in the city and catch some of the homegrown talent, you'll start to understand. If you become a regular, you'll get invested in their growth and development over time. Then when they make a move and start getting noticed by people, you'll feel a sense of pride similar to how you feel during a deep Cavaliers playoff run, or the moments of a Brown's season when you trick yourself into thinking they have enough talent to contend.
The scene is in a good place. Years ago, I did a lot of comedy stuff on my own and felt that if I left, it may not continue. That's equal parts vanity and fear on my end. Today, I'm proud to say that Cleveland comedy has grown to a place where it will not only sustain if I leave, it will flourish. My only fear is that I'll miss when everyone hops on board to support Cleveland's comedic arts with the same vigor that they have for our sports teams, makers marts, and craft breweries. All you need for a successful and emerging comedy scene are shows, audiences, and artists. All the ingredients are there. Just mix it up.