Comedian Eliot Chang warmed up to the Monday-night crowd at RedBar in Brickell. You might have seen him on Chelsea Lately or his episode of Comedy Central Presents. Chang had headlined a show at the Open Stage Club in Coral Gables the previous Saturday but opted to stick around a few more days to enjoy the Miami weather.
Like any traveling comic, he wanted to squeeze in a little stage time. After all, performing is to comedians what exercise is to athletes — practice.
“This morning, one of the comics texted me sort of like, ‘Hey,
Miami Comedy is the business enterprise of Miami-based marketer and comic Manny Garavito. A marketing major from Florida International University, Garavito worked in banking before pursuing a career in comedy. There was just one problem.
“Places to go up just got very limited,” Garavito says, referring to the demise of a few notable rooms, including Miami Improv in Coconut Grove. “I was finishing up my degree in marketing, and I told myself if I could apply marketing to my career, banking — selling lines of credit for hundreds of thousands of dollars — I can use marketing to sell a $10 ticket.”
Garavito purchased the domain name miamicomedy.com for $1,700, a hefty sum for someone who had just quit his day job. He was trying to create a comedy ecosystem in a harsh business climate. He began by propositioning bars and restaurants to host comedy showcases and open mikes on their slow business nights. It wasn’t lucrative, but he was making a name for himself.
“The first time, I got paid like $22 to do a show at a sushi lounge. We would do it every Wednesday, and I kind of started realizing, even though it was very little pay and very little turnout, they would still do it. I think I was onto something,” Garavito says. “If these bars or restaurants are open, then they would rather have some business than no business.”
Garavito was starting to build an audience, but he needed some established comics. Bigger names equal bigger crowds. A fan of the comedians coming out of New York, he cold-emailed a few of his favorites until someone responded. He heard back from Keith Robinson, a comedy veteran whose most recent standup special featured the three most powerful words in modern comedy: "Kevin Hart presents."
“Keith Robinson was kind enough to give me his number so I could give him a call and further discuss that he’s not going to do it,” Garavito says with a laugh. “And he then said, ‘Why don’t you contact Kyle Grooms?’”
A seasoned New York standup with a few TV credits under his belt, Grooms was moving to South Florida. Coming from the comedy mecca of New York, he was on the lookout for venues in Miami to workshop material.
“When I’m here and I have something I want to work on, I could go up maybe four or five nights a week, especially if it’s Manny’s rooms,” Grooms says over the phone. “It’s like a gym — you need a place to go get sharp.”
Grooms is the definition of a working comic. He’s done shows everywhere from Def Comedy Jam in New York to de Komedie Fabriek (the Comedy Factory) in Holland. Funny enough, one of his most recent gigs was also one of the nearest — opening for Amy Schumer at the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood last month.
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Garavito and Grooms began doing a run of shows together, and it was through Grooms’ industry connections that word of Miami Comedy spread. The enterprise started attracting established comics, such as Jim Florentine (VH1’s That Metal Show), Luis J. Gomez (NBC’s Last Comic Standing), and Mo Mandel (Chelsea Lately), whenever they were in town.
With an eye to the future, Garavito believes Miami could be on its way to a comedy renaissance: seven nights of comedy showcases and open mikes for amateurs and professionals alike.
Garavito hasn’t reached his goal of seven nights of shows yet. Right now he has regular events scheduled Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays at RedBar, Sweet Caroline, and the Craftsman, respectively, along with Thursdays at the Hideaway in Broward. But audiences are hungry for more, he says.
“When I put Kyle on a flyer and sent it to my mailing list, there was a big reaction,” Garavito says. “Maybe Miami was looking for an opportunity to see a working comedian in their neighborhood.”