This past weekend, Comedy Showcase off 45 South at Fuqua closed its doors. The owner, Danny Martinez, wants to retire, and his wife Blanca Gutierrez looks forward to them both jumping into being grandparents full-time. The changing market and low attendance, plus the lagging economy, also contributed to the closure.
The venue hosted comedians and hypnotists on Friday and Saturday nights, along with defensive driving classes on Saturday mornings. The traffic school will continue to hold classes until the end of April.
Martinez liked to think of the club as a sort of "university for comedians," for newbies and seasoned acts to learn from each other. The couple doesn't own the space, so they are not sure what will become of the location.
The club posted this message on the venue's Facebook page last week:
After 30 years in the business of laughter, The Comedy Showcase is presenting it's last shows this weekend March 29th and 30th, 2013. The club has been producing comedians for the last 3 decades many of whom have gone on to achieve national and international success and recognition. This weekend we present the best of the new and veteran comedians of the industry.
Martinez hopes to continue doing his own guest spots here and there, including casino and club work, while acclimating to semi-retired life with Gutierrez. Martinez is a professional comic in his own right.
Over the phone, Gutierrez rattles off a list of comics who've played the Comedy Showcase, including Ralphie May, Thea Vidale, Bill Engvall, Rodney Carrington and others who are still bubbling under or holding down steady comedy work all over the country.
She's excited to see what is in store for Houston's comedy scene even as she and Martinez bow out. They have no regrets.
"It just felt like it was time, and there is hope for the future. Things go in cycles, but we always expect there to be an upturn in live comedy [clubs], so they can thrive the way they did in the '90s," says Gutierrez.
There were four comedy clubs in Houston when the Showcase opened in 1983. By the end of the decade, Gutierrez says, there were at least nine in the greater Houston area including the Laff Stop, Spellbinder's, The Punch Line Comedy Club near the Galleria, and of course Comedy Workshop in Montrose, which helped birth the genius of Bill Hicks.
Hicks played the Comedy Showcase -- the old location -- while on his way up the comedy-club food chain. Gutierrez remembers their time with him fondly.
"He paced around alone, as if he was bothered by others, but he was a comedic genius. Other comedians could barely speak around him, and just stood in awe watching him," she says of Hicks, who passed away in 1994 at the age of 32.
"He would stoop over and look up at you while he was talking to you. He was a presence, with such artistic depth, but he was very respectful," she adds.
The Improv, on I-10, is now the last full-fledged comedy club in Houston. Pretty rough stuff for such a large and diverse city, and frightening for local comics, who long for at least one or two other alternatives to the corporate Improv, which they are still fans of.
Local comic Owen Dunn played the Showcase on Saturday night. He and his brethren are hungry for more places to practice their craft, and not just the stray open mikes that dot the city, which are at least fostering a new comic population in town, however small.
"Houston needs more clubs, especially a privately owned club that allows the flexibility to develop comedians sort of like a baseball farm system," says Dunn, a scene vet of the past few years who is part of the Whiskey Brothers collective.
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"The Improv is the major leagues. Everyone wants to get there, but they need to develop first. Also, people need to come to open mikes and show their support," he adds.
Gutierrez is proud to say that she and Martinez owned the longest-running comedy club in the state of Texas, one that was proving to be less than profitable the past five years or so.
"We hung around for the craft and the people, and not for money as the economy tanked. Hurricane Ike didn't help; NASA cutting heads over at Johnson Space Center wasn't good for crowds, either."
She says that after some downtime and some refocus, she and Martinez may look back at starting anew in Houston.