I don’t take much in the way of breaks these days to ask for help from my readership, or to “promote” someone or something in general. Today is one day where I’m going to do all of that in the interests of saving a great place to see the genesis of new art in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Nestled in the heart of the Old City neighborhood is a bar called Carleo’s. It’s actually a nice place to go have a drink during the week–extremely clean, with great bar staff, and great music videos (yes, those still exist) playing on a large projection screen near the back of the room. On Tuesday nights, Carleo’s becomes the venue for “Old City Comedy,” the second longest running open mic for comedians in Knoxville. Old City Comedy is run by J.C. Ratliff, a touring comic with a style that’s been compared to a young Bill Hicks. Ratliff just finished recording his first album, “Hope is a Virus” which drops sometime in the very near future. Despite his somewhat curmudgeonly stage presence, he’s also one of the nicest guys out there you’ll ever meet and always willing to share an insight or two on how to make a comic’s untested material better when asked. I even have it on good authority he’s done nice things for kids in need as well.
Open mic nights are ridiculously important to comedians. It’s comparable to band practice for musicians, with the caveat that comics need diversity in rooms to see what material works where. That’s why it’s so great Knoxville has places like Carleo’s, where comedians can test out their edgiest material without fear of major repercussions. Every time I’ve walked into Carleo’s on a Tuesday evening, there’s been nothing but a warm atmosphere of collaboration and support from the most seasoned comedians on down to the nascent individuals taking their roughest first steps in the art of standup.
Another reason open mic nights like Old City Comedy at Carleo’s are so vital is they give people in Knoxville more choices of stuff to do during the week. When you support an open mic like Old City Comedy, you’re supporting artists who have worked hard on their craft beyond spinning records or loading songs on a laptop. You’re supporting diversity in the arts. You’re showing people who own businesses like Carleo’s that it’s a good thing to keep different activities for locals and visitors available so there’s always “something to do” in Knoxville.
Keeping alternatives for activities in Knoxville comes with a price, though, and that price is proving the events are money makers for the businesses that have the good sense to support them. Recent business during the week on Tuesday nights have been slow at Carleo’s, so the next two weeks worth of open mic nights are the most important in recent memory for this room. They’re so important that J.C. Ratliff has told me if tonight’s open mic (November 11) and next week’s (November 19) aren’t profitable for Carleo’s there’s a good chance Old City Comedy will be shut down.
So if you’re reading this and are in or near Knoxville, I’d like to ask a favor of you. On behalf of Old City Comedy, please go to Carleo’s tonight and on the 19th. Bring your friends. Buy drinks. Laugh heartily and loudly. If you can’t make it, share this blog post on the various social networks and ask others come. If you KNOW someone in Knoxville, tell them to come to Carleo’s at 8:30 tonight and next Tuesday to support local comedy. You just may be the tipping point that will help save an important room for comedians in Knoxville.
The best part of all this is that it’s FREE TO GET IN. ONE HUNDRED PERCENT FREE. You are seriously out only the cost of parking and drinks to come laugh at new and old jokes from the best comedians you’ll be seeing soon on Comedy Central and HBO. You have literally nothing to lose by coming out tonight and next Tuesday, so start making plans to get out tonight.
Old City Comedy’s doors open at 8:30 and the show starts at 9:30. It’s at Carleo’s, which is located at 117 South Central Avenue, Knoxville, TN 37902. Parking is available in numerous locations around the venue.
Show up tonight, show up the 19th. Laugh local, and help save Old City Comedy.