In the mid-Nineties, the Comedy Cellar was in a stoop. One night time there was only a single individual within the viewers — a vacationer from the Netherlands who barely spoke English.
Comedian Gregg Rogell was set to go on, however when he noticed how empty the room was, he determined to skip telling jokes on stage altogether. Instead, he sat down with the vacationer and had a dialog for 20 minutes.
That was his set.
Today, the Greenwich Village scorching spot is among the most well-known comedy venues on the earth, internet hosting names similar to Kevin Hart and Dave Chappelle and turning away 1,000 folks on a mean Saturday night time earlier than the pandemic. Its historical past is detailed within the ebook “Don’t Applaud. Either Laugh or Don’t. (At the Comedy Cellar)” (Scribe), out now, by Andrew Hankinson.
“It was like a long, slow overnight sensation,” the Cellar’s present proprietor, Noam Dworman, tells The Post.
Located on a MacDougal Street block whose bohemian cool way back gave method to trashy NYU bong shops and low cost pizza, the darkish, subterranean venue definitely doesn’t seem like a lot. It’s additionally small in contrast to many different golf equipment, with a capability of round simply 150.
Once a music venue owned by Dworman’s father, Manny, who died in 2004, the Cellar’s comedy roots began in 1981, when a comic named Bill Grundfest walked in and requested if he may begin utilizing the room for his standup act.
“I walked past a couple of times because I just kept looking at this dank staircase and, ‘Oh, it’s just so icky,’ ” says Grundfest within the ebook. “But then I said to myself, ‘Places that aren’t icky, you’re not going to be able to get.’ ”
Grundfest (who later wrote for the 1992 sitcom “Mad About You”) set out to create a “warm and welcoming” ambiance for the comedians performing there.
“When you’re in the uptown clubs, you had to be on your A game. You had to hit it every single time,” Hankinson tells The Post. “At the Comedy Cellar, comedians had more leeway. They could try jokes that might not succeed.”
Those who ran the membership, and its longtime booker, Estee Adoram, additionally felt strongly that the comedians ought to be allowed to say no matter they favored. They didn’t censor the acts — although that typically meant taking warmth from offended patrons.
“We would have to take flak at the door sometimes from customers that weren’t happy with what the comedians said,” Manny Dworman’s widow, Ava Harel, says within the ebook. “We’d say nicely, you know, ‘We understand, but that’s the art of comedy.’ ”
Then within the mid-Nineties, curiosity in stand-up comedy dwindled, and a number of other golf equipment went bust, together with landmark venue Catch A Rising Star. The Cellar held on, however comedians like Rogell have been pressured to carry out for a single viewers member — in the event that they have been fortunate.
“On more than one occasion I had to literally start the show with no audience,” comic Mike Royce says within the ebook.
One issue that helped the Cellar rise out of the stoop was its MC, Lewis Schaffer, who was adept at standing exterior the membership and steering passersby into it.
Then, within the early Nineties, comic Nick DiPaolo requested Manny if he would put aside a desk within the Olive Tree Cafe upstairs (which he additionally owned) to function a greenroom for the comedians. This grew to become often called the well-known “comedians’ table,” the place comics may collect, commerce views and bust balls.
That desk helped set up the Comedy Cellar as a clubhouse for comedians. Comics like Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld began dropping by, and regulars like Jim Norton and Bill Burr plugged the membership whereas showing as friends on radio’s “The Opie & Anthony Show.” The Cellar was additionally featured within the 2002 Jerry Seinfeld documentary “Comedian.”
The Cellar obtained yet one more increase when it was featured closely within the 2010 FX sequence “Louie,” starring Louis CK, then one of many world’s most revered comedians.
“We saw a lot of people coming in, a lot of people filming themselves doing the same opening that Louis did in his show,” Dworman says within the ebook. “The greatest comic in the world had given his stamp of approval for this small club.”
Major comedians attracted well-known viewers members to the membership, together with Katy Perry, Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro, and out of the blue Noam Dworman had cash to increase. He now additionally runs close by spots Village Underground and Fat Black Pussycat.
Although the Comedy Cellar was hit onerous through the pandemic (“We took a tremendous financial hit,” Dworman says), it survived primarily by way of Paycheck Protection Program loans.
Also, “My landlord was very reasonable with me, so we weren’t on the verge of being evicted,” Dworman provides.
The Cellar reopened in April, and Chris Rock, Dave Attell, Ray Romano and Amy Schumer have already dropped by.
No shock, Dworman says that now, “Business is at capacity.”