Local comedians are bringing comedy back to Northern Kentucky—specifically, the Bellevue/Dayton area.
The closing of the Funny Bone on Newport on the Levee in 2016 left a comedy drought in the area.
“Nothing ever went back in that spot (where Funny Bone was), and it’s a shame because you would think an improv would come down or a Laugh Factory—like a big-name comedy club,” local comedian Adam Minnick said.
The Commonwealth Sanctuary in Dayton, which opened in July, is the only coined comedy club on this side of the Ohio River, owner Shawn Braley said.
The Commonwealth Sanctuary is in a 150-year-old former church building that Braley purchased four years ago. Having just opened last month, the comedy club is dipping its toes into shows with regional acts on Friday and Saturday nights and hosting its free Comedy Lab open mic night on Sundays.
Braley said they intend to bring in folks with some bigger credits in the coming months.
“We just wanted to start the first few months off a little slower,” he said. “But we’re going to be bringing through people that have HBO specials and Netflix specials that are coming from LA and New York and Chicago and other parts of the country to tour through, which is pretty exciting to be able to bring them not just to the Cincinnati area but specifically to Northern Kentucky. And even more specifically to Dayton.”
The comedy club also hosts what they call their Comedy Lab every Sunday night, which is a free open mic night. They get ten comedians to register and then offer four available spots for people to sign up at the event. Braley said the night typically ends with a regional headliner to close out the show.
This Sunday’s Comedy Lab on Aug. 27 will kick off with comedian Geoff Tate, known for his comedy on “Comedy Central” and “The Late Late Show.”
“We call it a comedy lab because it’s just a place for comedians to work out jokes, experiment with jokes, and everything,” Braley said.
Before opening the Commonwealth Sanctuary, Braley formerly hosted comedy shows at The Garage in Dayton, but those ended last fall. He said he knew he wanted to keep producing comedy shows after an event with Tate headlining in March 2022.
Before the show, they had sold 20-30 tickets and expected it to be fine, as The Garage was a small space, but on the day of the show, Braley said 30-40 extra people showed up wanting tickets.
“It was the edge of winter and spring, so we had to shut the door because everybody was like, ‘It’s too cold,'” he said. “So, we shut the door and were just crammed in there like sardines. But it was a blast. Everybody loved it.”
Braley said he was apologizing to people because they had to stand, and he said they didn’t care.
“They were just having a blast, and that was like one of those moments where I was like, ok, this is something I want to keep doing in terms of producing shows because people want to be able to forget their life, their problems and the issues that they’re dealing with in life and comedy is one of those ways that can happen,” Braley said.
Down the road in Bellevue, Minnick has started hosting shows at Darkness Brewing and, most recently, Three Spirits Tavern. Minnick, who worked at the Funny Bone at Newport on the Levee, now commutes to Liberty Township, where the club moved.
Minnick said he started hosting some shows at Darkness Brewing, and they would sell out. Then, this past winter, Darkness Brewing Co-Founder Ron Sanders began renovating their backroom to have the events.
March of this year was their first gig, and they are now held every other month on the last Saturday of the month. The night consists of two one-hour shows for $20 a ticket, including a beer.
Sanders said they have had a great reception at their events.
“Our first two shows were sold out, and we had a lot of supporters come,” he said. “A lot of people said they had a great time. One couple pulled me aside, and they said, ‘We will come to every one of these programs; we’re following you on social media now so we can come to every one of them.’ It gave us hope for shows in the future and to inspire other businesses down the avenue to host comedy shows.”
The next comedy night at Darkness will be this Saturday, Aug. 26, but they will be experimenting with a variety show of music and comedy.
Three Spirits Tavern is one business down the avenue from Darkness that was inspired to start hosting shows. Minnick held his first show there on Aug. 2 and said it went well. He said he expects to host another show at the tavern in September with the idea to alternate months with shows between them and Darkness.
Minnick said that selling tickets to a comedy show is different than other events. Before the show at Three Spirits Tavern, he said few tickets were sold because people tend to show up and buy them on-site—as with what happened with Braley’s event at The Garage. Minnick said that they had to start turning people away at the door at the first show at Darkness because they were sold out.
Sanders said the show’s crowds are about half Bellevue residents and half people who see the flyers and decide to stop by. He said their separate room allows people who want to hear the comedy to be engaged while separating the show from other people in the brewery who may be less interested.
“The comics can really work the room,” Sanders said. “These guys are pros in there, and they really engage the crowd, and we’ve been told that it feels like a comedy club.”
As a comedian, Minnick said you become addicted to comedy and the laughs.
“It’s the most amazing feeling like when you write something from scratch, and it just hits, it just works so well,” he said.
Besides the events that Minnick is organizing in Bellevue and what the Commonwealth Sanctuary is doing in Dayton, Minnick said he doesn’t see a comedy scene throughout the rest of Northern Kentucky.
“It’s been going well with the sanctuary,” Minnick said. “They seem to get a lot of people in there. But this area now, there are three places for comedy in Northern Kentucky within a mile.”
Braley said people in Dayton are excited about the Commonwealth Sanctuary.
“We’ve had some folks that live in the community that have come out to the Comedy Lab that try comedy for the first time—that’s really exciting to me to think maybe they would have never tried this if they thought they had to drive out to like Go Bananas in Montgomery.”
Braley said his hope with the comedy club is to draw in people to the Dayton area that they may not have visited before and have them come back to support other local businesses.
“We also hope that people realize there are great restaurants in Dayton, great bars; the Lodge is a really hip, cool place,” he said. “A lot of good coffee shops and some cool stuff is popping up around Dayton. So, hopefully, folks don’t just come back to more comedy shows, but that helps the entire local economy.”
Braley said the Northern Kentucky comedy scene is fledgling but growing. He said around 60 or 70 actively working comedians in the Greater Cincinnati area are getting up on a stage.
“It’s just exciting to see,” he said. “The more we have places for them to work, the more people feel like, ‘oh, I can go try that there,’ and then it continues to grow.”