New comedy venue debuts downtown
Empty storefronts are the things dreams are made of, blank canvases upon which artistically minded, would-be entrepreneurs imagine fully formed and successful rock clubs, record stores, coffee shops and all manner of cool undertakings. Unfortunately, few of these endeavors ever pass the fantasy stage, their architects failing to move past the “if onlys”—“If only I had the money, time, friends, business sense, etc.”—to make it happen.
Local comedian John Ross didn’t allow such doubts to overcome his dream, actualized last weekend with the opening of The Last Stand comedy venue. A relative newcomer to Chico by way of Sacramento, Ross landed in town less than two years ago with a marked determination to pursue his comedic muse in a town ill-equipped to accommodate his craft. In that time, he’s started a stand up-based variety show at the Blue Room (Comedy From the Couch), hosted a pair of locally produced specials for PBS, and won the support and respect of other movers and shakers in the local arts scene. The Last Stand is a hard-earned feather in Ross’s cap.
The venue’s kick-off weekend consisted of four shows, two each on Friday and Saturday nights. I attended Saturday’s late show with a group of friends. Though scheduled to start at 8:30, the last comic from the first set was still on. But spending a few extra minutes with friends while waiting to have drinks and have people make us laugh is fine, the slight scheduling snafu forgivable, particularly on opening weekend. Comedy shows ain’t trains.
It also allowed me a few minutes to chat with Corbin Quintrona of Bonetown, the venue’s resident five-member improv troupe. Quintrona said the young troupe started working with Ross at the Blue Room and has blossomed under his tutelage. He also said the improv players and comics nailed both Friday shows. As the first audience filed out, it was apparent they’d scored a third kill. Everyone leaving, save one couple who just looked confused, was smiling.
This storefront-of-dreams is essentially a deep, high-ceilinged, concrete rectangle. A counter near the entrance serves as a refreshment bar/ticket stand. Ross joined a few others behind the bar, frantically taking tickets, selling drinks and greeting patrons and well-wishers. Comfortable tables and chairs and a large black booth comprise seating in the house and paintings line the otherwise white sidewalls. An enormous, painted pair of Chuck Taylors frames the mid-sized stage set against the far wall.
In the light, the interior is still a work in progress, but a certain magic happens when the house lights dim and all that’s left is flickering table-top candles and the stage lights; suddenly, Chico has its own, legitimate comedy club.
The show kicked off with an instructional video dealing with certain logistics of the new venue (apparently it’s a trek to use the restroom) hosted by an undead Gen. Bidwell. For his opening Ross, who often mines his own personal tragedies and travails for comic value, related a true story about getting the family vehicle repossessed so he could open the club.
The Last Stand’s format is to kick off with some improv, and Bonetown joined Ross next. While each of the members was responsible for some very funny moments, improv is a fickle beast, and there were some brief lulls. Bonetown has a strong foundation, and the venue plans to do shows every weekend, offering them ample future opportunity to sharpen their chops in front of a live audience.
Filling the rest of the bill were four out-of-town comedians—Josh Vigil, Chazz Hawkins, Bryan Yang and Nick Aragon (my personal favorite)—all of whom were very funny. Stand up is a rare—if not the only—avenue where people can speak publicly the way normal people talk privately without judgment. The night’s comedy was edgy and not for the easily offended, and it is—thankfully—likely to continue that way at The Last Stand.
Altogether, The Last Stand made for a great, refreshing night out. Watching Ross and company hustle to get this gem running and seeing what they have to offer, it has the potential to be very successful. That said, its fate relies entirely on community support, so go have a few drinks and a laugh.