A Bonne Terre man who has dreamed of bringing St. Louis stand-up comedy acts to the Parkland has found a way to live that dream while at the same time raising money for good causes.
Nate Barron, a self-described “stand-up comedy nerd,” explained that there’s never been an outlet for stand-up comedy in the area.
“You could only find it in L.A. or New York, but in the last three years it’s really started to blow up because of the internet, podcasts, streaming, Netflix, comedy specials,” he said. “Now there’s comedy everywhere, including St. Louis where I took part in an open mic at the Heavy Anchor. It took me a long time to get the courage to get up on stage that first time.
“My friend pressured me for at least two years. He knew I wanted to do it, but it was one of those things where I said, ‘I’m not any good at it’ — all that stuff — many excuses essentially. So, I just got up there and I didn’t try to be funny the first time. Just find a subject you can talk about for five minutes. So, I talked about my mom and dad being divorced. I made little jokes here and there, ya know.”
Barron admitted that open mic nights aren’t usually very funny — instead, they offer comics a chance to “figure it out and get on stage.”
“My biggest fear was taking the mic out of the stand. The comedy scene in St. Louis includes places like the Helium Comedy Club, who I work for off and on; The Improv Shop; an organization called We Are Live which is hosted by Farmington’s Chris Denman, Funny Bone… and a lot of these little Indy art avant garde clubs that put on open mics. It’s just like every night there’s a microphone you can go talk into and practice in. I lived in ‘South City’ for 10 years and I moved back three years ago and that’s when it all started.”
Barron admitted that after returning to the Parkland he became frustrated with the lack of comedy clubs in the area.
“You know what? There’s no stand-up,” he said. “It’s non-existent. I made an appointment with Chris at Spokes Pub & Grill to talk to him about it. I told him that stand-up comedy is huge right now. I mean, it’s the golden age. It’s bigger than it was in the ’80s — and that’s saying a lot. I told him he had an untouched market.
“I know all the comics in St. Louis — and it’s not just guys who are hanging out with their friends and make people laugh. They’re hired to open for the national acts. They’re good. They’re really good. I presented the idea to him — let’s do a little show — because Spokes has a nice little room there for a comedy show.
“He wanted to go bigger and do it in the banquet hall, which scared me. I told him that something I’d like to do would be charity-involved. That’s a big part of it. Yes, I want to make people laugh, but it’s kind of nice to make people laugh and also know you’re helping out. Camp Hope was suggested. I know Camp Hope and it’s one of the best organizations around — a beautiful, beautiful organization.
“So, we went ahead, and I booked the comics. Andrew Frak was the first one. He tours nationally. He’s not a name, but I wasn’t worried about that. My main focus was to get good quality — people that can put on a show. Funny is funny. You can have somebody famous come in and they’ve got about 10 minutes of that fame before, ‘OK, what do ya’ got now?’”
Barron said he was ecstatic when they sold 80 tickets.
“I was hoping we’d sell 35 or 40 tickets for a first-time show,” he said. “Eighty tickets — that was like Busch Stadium to me! It was a perfect night — the money we made for Camp Hope! Then the manager, Chris, comes up and asks if we can do it again. I was like, ‘I’ll make the calls and start booking some new ones tomorrow.’ There’s a pool of great talent up there to choose from.
“Spokes is awesome. Their generosity to put that on and take that chance… I was a little nervous because you don’t see comedy in this area, but at the same time, there’s no overhead. There’s not much you’re going to lose. All you need is a mic and a P.A. If you get five extra people to show up, you’re winning.”
The next time, Spokes gave away free tickets for a Christmas show.
“That was a great success because we had bigger names,” Barron said. “We had Rafe Williams. If I were going to say there’s going to be someone who is going to go on and do something, he would probably be the guy. All the big names, he’s the one opening for them. I’m in awe of the people he’s opened for. We also had Tina Dybal — she’s great, she’s hilarious!”
After the two shows, Barron realized that he’d come up with a great idea that actually worked.
“We took a break from Spokes because we didn’t want to be too frequent because then it loses its mystique,” he said. “So, I kinda waited a little while. We’re going to do another one at Spokes in April but (tonight) I have one at Laz’s Bar & Grill, 5089 Flat River Road. They have a big room and when booking a show, I’m always wondering what the room looks like. Some places don’t work.
“Again, I booked from that pool of talent. I’ve got about 10 headliners on my mind that I’ll go through that I want down here. The one who’s headlining this show is Nathan Orton He is hysterical, and I cannot wait. I did my open mic last night and he was there. He thanked me for booking him and I said, ‘No, thank you.’ He’s going to be great! This one we’re doing for pancan.org — a research organization for pancreatic cancer. I’m big on research fundraisers. It’s not a job. I want laughs and I want to help.”
Call 573-300-0735 to reserve tickets for the show or purchase at the door. Tickets are $5 each with 10 percent going to pancan.org.
“I told him that stand-up comedy is huge right now. I mean, it’s the golden age.” — Nate Barron
Kevin R. Jenkins is the managing editor of the Farmington Press and can be reached at 573-756-8927 or firstname.lastname@example.org