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Triangle music clubs take breaks from bands to embrace stand-up comedians

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Lately, more and more stand-up comedians are choosing to perform in rock venues rather than traditional comedy clubs, telling jokes in front of crowds that'll treat them like rock stars instead of being heckled by loutish frat boys or drunken bachelorette parties. Just ask Adam Cohen.

The Raleigh-based comic is the co-host and co-organizer of The Dangling Loafer, a monthly stand-up showcase that happens every third Friday at downtown Raleigh rock club Kings.

Instead of Goodnights Comedy Club in Raleigh or DSI Comedy Theater in Chapel Hill, Kings has been the Loafer's home ever since it moved from The Morning Times Café;, its original location, in January.

"We chose to do The Dangling Loafer at Kings because it gave us the opportunity to maintain control of the show while giving us access to audiences we thought would appreciate the kinds of comics we put up," says Cohen. "We love Goodnights and DSI, and perform at both places a lot, but the Loafer is kind of our own thing."

If comedy in rock clubs is a trend, it was started at the turn of the century by anti-comic Neil Hamburger, who began touring as an opening act for rock bands. Alt-comics such as David Cross and the Comedians of Comedy (a stand-up tour featuring Patton Oswalt and Zach Galifianakis) followed suit. As more comics started using music-booking agents, venues such as Kings started getting calls from them about welcoming comedians.

Kings already had a history with comedy—DSI performed at the club's former McDowell Street location before the troupe found a permanent home. In the opinion of Kings' owners, giving stand-ups a place to perform makes their venue more eclectic and versatile.

"Our history has always been more than just live music," says Kings co-owner Steve Popson. "We always wanted to explore other options, and comedy is one of the most natural fits for our space because we have a stage, lights and a PA."

Kings is just one of several music venues around the Triangle that brings in local and touring comics on a regular basis. Carrboro's Cat's Cradle has been doing it for years. Local 506 in Chapel Hill and Motorco Music Hall in Durham have also been booking stand-ups lately. Before it shut down to reopen as Social Games and Brews, a game-centered bar, Durham's Casbah was home to the monthly Bulltown Comedy Series.

Not too far from Kings, the Lincoln Theatre has booked comics such as Hannibal Buress, Doug Stanhope and Chelsea Peretti. "We already had relationships with the agents and they started asking us about doing some of their comedians," says Lincoln Theatre owner Mark Thompson.

Marc Grossman is the owner of Goodnights, the kind of traditional comedy club that some comics are bypassing for music venues. Grossman says these comics are trying to attract the right audience, basing the decision on stereotypes of comedy clubs.

"There are certain comics that prefer rock clubs because they feel that those clubs attract only their hardcore fans," he says. "Many comics are used to comedy clubs that do not have great audiences, [which] often include comps, loud groups and drunks. It's a shame that this stereotype impacts comedians to sometimes make the decision to play a rock club."

But rock clubs bringing in comedians for one-night gigs doesn't faze Grossman. As someone who owns not only Goodnights but also the Helium Comedy Club chain (with locations in Philadelphia, Buffalo, N.Y. and Portland, Ore.), he says his rooms are not disrespectful environments. "That's why many of the comics that choose rock clubs will play our rooms, generally during the week, since they know they can get the audience they want in a setting more conducive to comedy," he says.

In other words, for proprietors such as Grossman, even when comics stray to other venues, they can always come back home.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Guitar zero."

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