Grandma’s Basement Comedy Club Eulogy #6: My Neighborhood Comedy Club – by Phoebe Angle
One of our favorite comedy clubs in Boston will be closing its doors in a few short days. As such, we’re having a few comedians write eulogies about their beloved, Grandma(‘s Basement Comedy Club.) This is the 6th…
What if I told you that a place existed where everyone was welcome, even if you didn’t like each other, but everyone got their turn to speak? A place where everyone waited their turn. A place where everyone knows your name. You would say, that’s a pretty crazy thing to make up, you god damn weirdo.
Well, here is the thing, it did exist. Somehow, in the jock strap of Boston, Fenway, a part of the city void of culture and humor, in the last Howard Johnson known to mankind, there was a Tiki Bar, and in that Tiki Bar there was a stand up comedy open mic, and then later, weekend comedy shows.
This was the place that hundreds of hopeful stand-up comics over the years called home.
I would not consider it so much a comedy club, but a comedy entity.
The place was a tree house, some kind of anything goes social club. It is the only honest to god underground alternative comedy club I have ever been to. Run by the very comics who played there, and frequented by only people in the know. Only the dimly lit marquee said “comedy night”, other than that, it was just known as Grandma’s Basement, and it just closed.
I can’t claim to know the full history, as jumped on the comedy wagon just over 3 years ago. What I do know is the room was started by a comedian, and former radio host, Benny Bosh. A tortured soul with a unique life perspective. Then further cultivated by his roommate and friend, Tom Dunlap. Benny has since moved to China in pursuit of new adventures teaching English, and Tom moved to New York for comedy. These days it’s run by a truly captivating young comedian named Gary Peterson. The format for booking has changed a lot over the years, but it always remained the place to go to get your feet wet doing stand up. It was the first place I was ever asked to show.
The open mic on Thursdays was a show and go with no cap. Some nights I would walk in at midnight to see the list still going. Having begun at 8, with people arriving at 6 to write their names down. It would have 50 names on it by now, and who ever was hosting it that night, probably John Paul Rivera, would be powering on, like that was a normal thing to do.
Hosts would joke that there were three shows in a night. The first the earliest of the early birds when up, open mic comics who arrives around 5:30 or 6 in hopes of getting a spot before 10. The second people who showed up around 8 when the show stared, and were lucky to get their stage time before midnight. The third brought the liquored up wave of comics back from booked shows, determined to bring the stuff that the best comedy memories are made of. you never knew who would come through the door.
Weekends were showcases of comics performing not for money, but the love of the game, maybe a couple dollars if the door made anything that night. The talent range was anywhere from an open micer who had been at it for three months (who had 2 minutes of material if they had an hour) to national headliners (Pete Holmes being one of them.)
Me and Grandma:
I stated doing stand up because I had wanted to since I found out what it was. I would go to stand up at the Comedy Connection in Portland Maine starting at age 15. Through college I would drag my friends to shows, and watched every Comedy Central stand up special that came out. But for what ever reason, probably the same reason I don’t pay my bills on time, or maybe the same reason I hit snooze on my alarm clock even though I’m wide awake, I didn’t.
I thought you needed to take classes, I thought there was some sort of approval system you had to go through. It turned out baptism by fire is perfectly acceptable. A year after I moved to Boston, in 2010, I reconnected with a high school friend who had just started doing stand up, and I began going to his shows. I caught a couple open mics, and came as a bringer to bringer shows. The whole time thinking “do it, do it, DO IT!” then one day I did.
My first open mic was Sally O’Biran’s. The host at the time, Josh Gondleman, (side note-the nicest person on the planet possible), let me do it. After weeks of stalking preparing to pounce, I flung myself on the stage. I got a laugh in my two minute set at open mic at Sally O’Brian’s. Two weeks later, I did it again, then a week later again, and then I was hooked.
I lived in Fenway, due to a very unfortunate dumping incident in 2009 that involved crying in a Uhaul, and drunk Red Sox strangers helping move my mattress into my building (… but that is a different story for a different blog.) I would walk by the Howard Johnson sign that advertised “Free Comedy Thursday Nights 8pm”… and think about it.
That and the free continental breakfast, maybe I could sneak some Cheerios and save some money.
Back then the list would make it to around 20. I would get there at 8:30 after work, sign up 18th, and watch as the list whittle down as my name approached the crossed out ones. The first time I took the stage, I was terrified. This was not two minutes, this was 5ish, and my third time telling jokes. Comics I had been paying to go see, and scared to talk to were watching (Well, probably not, but I thought so.)
Every Thursday, like clockwork, I took a nervous two block walk from my apartment thinking:
Is this funny?…What if I say it like this?… How did I want to say that? That’s not funny… yes it is, I think it’s funny,
I’m in charge here.
I hate myself. This is the best. I’m happy. WHY AM I SO SAD?!
I thought of that! That’s mine, awesome. I thought of that, but it’s someone else’s? Who am I? Who are these people? We are… this…thing…
There were times when I pounded that pavement 4 nights a week, sometimes 5 to stop in and say hi to Benny on a jazz Tuesday. Who gets to have that? Nobody.
It was like high school except we felt like we had a purpose in life.
I truly love open mics. I love these little baby jokes that aren’t quite ready to walk on their own. As a non-comic comedy enthusiast you never get to see the raw sincerity and excitement of a brand new joke. A year ago I took a mic over in Charlestown, Tavern at The end of the World.
Grandma’s felt more like home then my 100 square foot apartment that was a short walk away. The space felt like a friend. A friend I couldn’t wait to cozy up to, have a drink with, and gush my secrets.
This is the place where you met your peers, where you got your ration of shit for being new, where you later dealt it out.
It was self governing, ruled by our peers. Our successes and failures on us.
After I had my own mic, I started to get regular bookings around New England, and had to pay more and more attention to my damn day job. I couldn’t come around as often. In September 2013 I had to move, and could maybe make it by once every other week. Every time I came back I would see more new faces. Just like I popped out 3 years ago, Grandma was having more kids.
The changing neighborhood pushed me out, my building had been raising the rent for a while, and letting me slide, but not anymore. I had to move. Not too long after, this place had to go too. The city is changing and growing, like it had been for years, but this little HoJo had made it. It had years of exciting history before us, and during our haunt, the time finally came.
There is no use in getting upset, Boston Comedians are no stranger to loosing our comedy homes. Mottley’s would be the example prior to this that comes to mind. Also, Dick’s Comedy Vault which has since relocated. The powers that be at this Howard Johnson gave us an incredible gift. Letting these guys run this place how they wanted to for so long was nothing short of amazing.
Like a good friend or loved one, we hope that they live their life in love and happiness.
This was the place in Boston to which if you wanted it, it was yours.
A club house for a talented group of strays, and dreamers.
Grandma’s was an enigma, wrapped in humor, stuffed into the scrappy lone surviving member of a closed hotel chain.
Right now there is a city full of eager comedic youth of all ages that is collectively crossing their fingers hoping that this will not
be the last.
Grandma’s was my friend, and I will miss her.