When people think of entertainment in Sacramento, few might think of it as a thriving comedy scene.
That notion is nothing but a tired joke to some of the upstart comedians who toil away in smaller venues sprinkled throughout the Sacramento region.
One of those is Sacramento native Austin Hodge, who runs his own open mike night at On the Y nightclub in the Arden Arcade area. Hodge contends that there are roughly 120 to 150 comics in the area, and he's intent on giving them a forum.
"When I first started out a few years ago, I was amazed at how many comics there actually were in Sacramento," said Hodge. That was back in 2010, when Hodge took to the stage for the first time during an open mike night at Sacramento's Comedy Spot.
He found a venue from which to offer his wares, but it was frequently the audience that was wanting.
"I've found that your average Sacramentan isn't really interested in stand-up comedy unless it's someone they have heard about," Hodge said.
Established nightclubs like Tommy T's Club and Dinner Theater, Laughs Unlimited and the Punch Line take the lion's share of the comedy audience in Sacramento an equation that Hodge would like to change.
"I encourage people to take a risk and go to the smaller comedy clubs because there are a lot of talented comedians in the region," he said. "Most people don't realize that a lot of the comics that perform here are actual working comics."
Hodge said he believes that catching a set of upstart comics at one of his open mikes, as opposed to a big-name comedy club, is about as low an entertainment investment as can be had in Sacramento.
"A night out to a comedy club can be expensive," Hodge said. "Ticket prices plus a two-drink minimum add up quickly. A lot of people in their early 20s just don't have the resources to afford that."
At Tommy T's in Rancho Cordova, the talent pool and ticket prices fluctuate. At that venue, it's possible to pay high ticket prices and see a big-name comic like Sinbad or D.L. Hughley, but you can also catch a fledgling comedy routine by a local up-and-comer, said Ruben Mora, who has been the house host at Tommy T's since 2011.
"We have an open mike as well as our regular headliner for that week," Mora said.
Depending on who is performing on any given night, ticket prices at Tommy T's can range from $5 to $30.
"We're fortunate to have three comedy clubs in the area," said Mora. "So, stage time is available for the talented comics."
As a host for an established club, Mora has seen a lot of comics excel at their craft. Many have been and continue to be local performers.
"The local talent to watch right now is Diego Curiel and Emma Haney," said Mora. "Both started two years ago and stand out from the rookie class."
One of the downsides Mora sees in the upstart comedy scene is the unreal expectations of new comics.
"I've noticed that some of the newer comics are delusional thinking they can appear on paid shows within only a few months of performing stand-up," said Mora. "It takes two years-plus to develop your comic material."
Local comic Chad Meisenheimer believes that you can chance upon good comic material at his Wednesday Night Comedy showcase at the T2 nightclub just north of Loehmann's Plaza.
"When audiences think about open mikes these days, they think of amateurs or really bad guitar players," said Meisenheimer. "I want to change that perception."
Meisenheimer said the biggest obstacle to developing a thriving comedy scene in Sacramento is not a lack of talent but a lack of savvy and seriousness among local comics.
"A big thing with Sacramento comedians is the lack of determination in promoting their shows," Meisenheimer said. "Also, venues here don't take comedy as a serious business. Very few venues actually pay their hosts to put shows together."
Meisenheimer, who grew up in Suisun City, believes success comes not only from comedic talents but from taking an active approach in developing a career.
He has pulled together a "Sanity Not Included" comedy tour featuring himself and five other comedians who will pile into a van this September to travel throughout California, Nevada and Oregon.
The comedians going with him include Hodge, Brett Mann, Alec Hamlin, Megan Covarrubias and Jason Violation.
"A lot of comedians believe it's hard to book shows," said Meisenheimer.
Some of the venues he has booked on that tour are not easily had, he contends.
"We booked this big comedy club in Los Angeles called Flappers. A lot of people try to get a booking down there, but we got it."
When: 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays
Where: T2 Nightclub and Lounge, 1443 Fulton Ave.,
Tickets: Free (two-drink minimum)
Information: (916) 978-9000; www.t2nightclub.com
AUSTIN HODGE OPEN MIKE NIGHT
When: 9:30 p.m. Sundays
Where: On the Y, 670 Fulton Ave., Sacramento
Information: (916) 487-3731
When: Next one 7 p.m. July 11
Where: Tommy T's, 12401 Folsom Blvd., Rancho Cordova
Information: (916) 357-5233; www.tommyts.com