Jokes on the Beach Wants to Revive Miami's Comedy Scene, But Can It Deliver?
Courtesy of Jokes on the Beach
After last week's article on Miami's comedy venues closing en masse, New Times thought the scene needed some comic's relief. But just as both of Miami's comedy clubs closed, a new one emerged: Jokes on the Beach, located inside Trio on the Bay on the 79th Street Causeway.
Was this business savvy or luck? What role will this new club play in our fractured comedic landscape? We spoke with one of the owners, Lenny Moore, to get the inside story on what Miami's newest (and currently only) stand-up comedy club has in store for us.
The word on the street was that major comedian Mike Epps was backing a new Miami club. The street was partially right, because Jokes is backed by Epps' back; Lenny Moore is Epps' manager and touring opener for the past three years. After years running successfully salacious adult clubs like Black Gold and King of Diamonds, Moore wanted to switch focus from butt cheeks to face cheeks.
"Comedy is more universal. Five percent of the population will visit an adult club, while 95% of the population will visit a comedy club," Moore explains. (Who's more high maintenance, comics or strippers? Moore's longtime general manager Ben confirmed: It's comics for sure.)
Moore carried around his desire to start a comedy club for three years before hearing of the Miami Improv's close a month early. He pooled his connections, formed a corporation, and turned what would have become another liquor store and mini mall into Jokes on the Beach. Timing is everything, in comedy and in clubs.
The original plan, Moore says, was to open a comedy club in South Beach's Fontainebleau Hotel, following the Las Vegas model in which hotels provide entertainment to "keep their guests on property." But there was no permanent space available. "Miami needs something better... we are trying to take it up to a higher notch. When you're walking into the Improv... it's kind of like walking into a movie theater. Basically you're selling popcorn and selling candy and so forth. We are trying to give you a complete experience. You can come in, you can dance, you can dine, drink and you can have comedy. And then afterwards you have a complete after party until five in the morning."
The location on the 79th Street Causeway between Miami Beach and the mainland fits the dual role to which the club aspires. Moore definitely emphasized courting the South Beach crowd. He generously used words like chic, sexy, and upscale. He spoke of five-star dining. He wants the elite, and the tourists: "Between 6 and 10, after they get out of their conventions... they have nothing to do but walk up and down South Beach, window shopping or get something to eat. They have no form of quality entertainment."
He also casually name-dropped rappers including Lil Wayne, Drake, Trick Daddy, and Flo Rida, as well as Miami Heat stars. He hinted that LeBron was curious about stand-up. The venue is definitely working the celebrity angle.
As Moore smothered on the SoBe glitz, this reporter looked down at his wine glass full of water and wondered how many comedy articles I'd need to write to afford a night here. Moore immediately switched gears and reassured me the club will be "a house for the locals," performers and patrons alike. Expect free parking, no cover (except for A-list shows), and a two-drink minimum that is "moderately priced." Twelve bucks for top shelf ain't bad. (Well, it's cheap for the beach and pricy for the locals.)
The look of the venue reflects Jokes' location between beach and mainland, too. The space is open and malleable. Moore says he wants the room to be used for weddings, music videos, hair shows, political events, and whatever else you'd suggest. There's a huge back area showing off the spectacular Biscayne Bay panorama that made Shuckers a destination.
Jokes on the Beach opened on New Years Eve. Right now, only major weekend events are listed on its website, but this is the tentative weekly schedule from Larry Moore himself:
Monday - Open mic, all arts, anybody can perform anything.
Tuesday - No comedy; club night.
Wednesday - Amateur night. Not quite an open mic. Comics don't need to bring people but the club will need to see you perform first. Comics will be able to walk-in audition every Sunday from 2-4pm.
Thursday - "Unique and Unusual Talents" He is selling this as a South Florida "America's Got Talent" hosted by local celebrities. No stand-up though.
Friday-Sunday - Main A-list shows, with two performances on Fridays, two on Saturdays, and one Sundays. The first show will be more "PG," so you know the late show won't be.
This upcoming weekend (Jan 10-12) features veteran Tony Woods. The following has Huggy Lowdown with a special event roast of Ronald Isley of the Isley Brothers. Purported upcoming acts include Carlos Mencia, Mike Epps, Rodney Perry, Tony Rock, Charlie Murphy, and Chris Tucker. These are big names but not unattainable, like the names mentioned in the venue's grandiose press release (Chris Rock, Kevin Hart, Katt Williams).
Additionally, the club will collaborate with April's South Beach Comedy Festival, teach beginner comedy classes, and make every first Sunday of the month a showcase for teenage performers. "A lot of these kids want to see big name comedians, but they're serving alcohol and have to be 21 to get in [to other venues]." Because Jokes is a restaurant first, they don't have to restrict a younger audience.
Moore, a 30-year resident of Miami, says he wants South Florida to be a destination for comedy. "Other people come in from out of town and take over our city, and we can't even do it ourselves... We want local comedians to say, 'This is my home, I got some people in town that want to see me' and if you give us a heads up, we can make sure that we try to get you in on the show so you can show your talent."
To a comedian, this sounds too good to be true. Could Jokes really be the oasis in our coastal comedy desert, or just the mad hallucinations of a dehydrated jester? Will they succeed in pleasing anybody, if not everybody?
Time will tell. In the meantime, there is a shiny new comedy club in town that is excited to be here. Asked if Jokes on the Beach is embracing the role of Miami's comedy savior, Moore said, "Of course... we're not trying to save the Miami comedy scene, but it seems like that's an answer to it." Right now, that's good enough.
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