Comedy Spot taking money out of being funny
It’s not that Brian Crall hates capitalism, it’s just that he likes community more.
Ten years after the Sacramento State theater arts graduate formed the Sacramento Comedy Spot as a for-profit business, Crall announced earlier this month that he is handing over the business – for $1 per year – to a newly formed 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, the Sacramento Comedy Foundation.
The Sacramento Comedy Spot has never operated like other comedy clubs. While others like Laughs Unlimited and Punch Line focus on bringing in big name touring standup comedians, the Comedy Spot evolved out of Crall’s original improvisation group the Free Hooch Comedy Troupe. Modeled after Second City and the Upright Citizens Brigade, Crall and his team spend as much energy training new performers as they do on stage themselves. The Comedy Spot, billing itself as Northern California’s largest comedy school, teaches classes in standup, improv and sketch comedy.
On Friday, the Comedy Spot will kick off its three-day Sacramento Stand-Up Competition, with comedians from all over the country vying for $2,000 in cash prizes.
Crall, 41, said the business has been profitable since 2013 – the same year it got a permit to sell beer during performances.
He said his experience running it as a business will help in the operation of the nonprofit. Crall will serve as president and CEO.
“We don’t have to spend a lot of time figuring out what works ... we’ve already done that with my money,” said Crall, who said he subsidized the business for years working a day job.
As a nonprofit, the Sacramento Comedy Foundation can go after grants and raise money in ways the operation could not as a for-profit business.
“We’ve been a nonprofit for years,” Crall said, “We just haven’t been a nonprofit.”
The short-term goal is to fund a series of youth improv comedy classes and a summer camp. The long-term goal is for the foundation to own its own theater and classroom spaces. Every available training room at its primary location within the MARRS building at 1050 20th St. and its satellite classroom 1812 J St., are booked throughout the week, Crall said.
Wednesday nights you’ll find three dozen mostly 20-something improv performers refining their craft before they step on stage for another “Harold Night” performance. The first order of business is training the brain with a series of games aimed at practicing the fast thinking needed on stage. They then break down the previous performance before more acting and improv exercises. These performers work their way up through comedy teams with the hopes of being invited to perform with Saturday night’s long-running Anti-Cooperation League.
Skip Cappawana, a vice president at Laughs Unlimited, said he wishes the Comedy Spot well.
“It seems like it’s in their best interest. Their business model is completely different than ours,” Cappawana said.
Laughs Unlimited, Punch Line and Tommy T’s are all operated as for-profit businesses. Crall said the new model will foster a more collaborative approach, which he said will take the club/school to the next level.
Long-time business partner Ron Dumonchelle will be serving as the foundation’s chief technical officer. Also serving on the board are long-time Comedy Spot performers Mel Gelbart, Greg Sabin, Tiffany Shultz and Chris Emery, as well as television’s Mark S. Allen.
Formed a year ago, the foundation won’t just run the Comedy Spot, Crall said. It’s already being used to operate Sac Comedy Fest and Sacramento Improv Marathon. To help fund these new endeavors, the Comedy Spot announced two upcoming fundraisers. On July 16, the theater will be home to 24 hours of karaoke – think jog-a-thon but bad singing. Then on Aug. 13, the foundation will host a cardboard sculpture contest it’s calling Cardboard Fest.
Crall has made it a point – even before the foundation – to try to elevate Sacramento’s place in the comedy world.
“I want people to come here to do comedy like people go to Chicago to do comedy,” Crall said.
Chicago’s The Second City – which is operated as a for-profit business – helped train some of the world’s best comedic performers including, Alan Arkin, Dan Aykroyd, Amy Poehler, John Candy, Stephen Colbert, Chris Farley and Tina Fey, among many others.