Did you hear the one about the Northwest Arkansas comedy scene? The one about how they are growing.
It’s not a joke, actually.
Now six years into its current era, the Northwest Arkansas comedy scene continues its goal of providing laughter. While the group Comedians of Northwest Arkansas has hosted an open mic night weekly since 2010 – give or take an inactive week or two – they have now re-entered the market as a provider of big-ticket shows, too. The first of those events, Doug Stanhope, takes place Thursday night at Mermaid’s Seafood Restaurant in Fayetteville to a mostly sold out crowd. The next marquee act, Bert Kreischer, comes to the same venue Oct. 28. Those shows, and some to follow, group members say, mark a return to those kind of events after a hiatus of several years. Previously, Comedians of NWA had booked shows by acts such as Bobcat Goldthwait, Tom Green and Carlos Valencia, among others.
There are other groups and promoters working to make comedy a thing in Northwest Arkansas. But certainly, Comedians of Northwest Arkansas plays a central role in the comedic activities in the area, particularly as the keepers of the weekly open mic on Thursday nights at Ryleighs on Dickson Street in Fayetteville. Troy Gittings, a Northwest Arkansas resident who doubles as a touring comedian when he’s not teaching at Bentonville High School, calls the open mic night “the backbone” of the local comedy scene.
That’s certainly where Stetson Banks got his start. He calls himself a wannabe musician who never quite made an impact. But after attending a comedy festival in Oklahoma, he had a fire lit inside him. He googled for comedy events in Northwest Arkansas, where he had recently moved. He found the open mic and attended the next Thursday. The Thursday that followed, he took the chance to have a few minutes at the microphone.
“My material was pretty good,” Banks says. “But I lacked a lot of the things I needed to be a good performer. It was more like giving a speech that you read.” Repeated trips back to the open mic nights have helped him develop the skills he lacked in terms of stage presence. He’s now touring the region with Gittings and other Northwest Arkansas comedians. Considering he’s also one of those involved with booking national talent for Northwest Arkansas venues, that makes him part of all three of Comedians of Northwest Arkansas’ main goals: hosting the open mic, giving local comedians a chance to showcase their talents regionally and bringing in major talent.
It’s part of the dream for him.
“For any comic in the middle part of America, you either tour constantly, or you have a day job. I have a day job, and I’m a couple years away from being able to step away from it,” he said.
Comedian Kaia Hodo is currently going through the same internal discussion. Just recently, Hodo was added to the roster of comedians touring under the Comedians of NWA banner. That came after working through the open mic scene, and after six months of watching friends participate before ever attempting an open mic set.
The turning point, Hodo said, was a brief stint in an inpatient clinic for a mental issue.
“I just figured that I’m crazy, so I might as well do comedy. I felt like, at that point, I knew I was qualified. It’s become this cathartic thing to do. My material is very personal,” Hodo said.
Hodo encourages others to try their hand at the open mic. Hodo also encourages people to learn the difference between nervous laughter and more genuine laughter. No matter the kind of laughter, Hodo said there is a place for comedians in the local scene.
“There’s a progressive trend. I know I’ve talked to some people, but they aren’t quite sure if they’d fit in with the crowd. But if they show up, and they are funny, people are going to notice that,” Hodo said.
Upcoming Comedy Events
- Sept. 29 – Doug Stanhope at Mermaid’s
- Oct. 2 – Krish Moran at LalaLand
- Oct. 6 (and most Thursdays at 7 p.m. ) – Open mic at Ryleighs
- Oct. 11 – Comedy Night benefiting Big Brothers, Big Sisters at George’s
- Oct. 28 – Bert Kreischer at Mermaid’s
Note: There is no open mic at Ryleighs on Sept. 29 due to the conflict with the Doug Stanhope event.
And the scene is growing, Hodo said. There are several venues open to having comedy in the community. In addition to the weekly open mic nights at Ryleighs, venues such as Mermaids, with the big-ticket shows, and Nomads Music Lounge, with monthly showcase events, regularly host comedy. And indie space Lalaland, normally a space for music, has been hosting comedy shows. Touring comedian Krish Mohan performs there on Oct. 2 as the venue’s first headlining event.
George’s Majestic Lounge is getting back into the comedy game, too. The venue has previously hosted a few comedy events. Raj Suresh, who is organizing a show there Oct. 11, hopes it will become a more consistent venue. He normally books shows in Benton County. He had several venues at one point, but now likes to focus on smaller, intimate bookings at places that he likes. Basically, that means he books at places that serve beer and tacos, he said. Suresh hopes to expand his market south. Just like he’s excited to expand into West Siloam Springs, where the Cherokee Casino there is starting to book comedy acts. Suresh opens on Oct. 8 for “Inside Amy Schumer” writer Mike Lawrence, for instance.
“The comedy thing is new for [the casino], and they are really knocking it out of the park with who they are booking,” Suresh said.
And he’s excited for the return of marquee acts courtesy of Comedians of NWA.
“It’s encouraging to see they are going to start doing that stuff, because this area needs it,” Suresh said.
Because the area needs a laugh.