When asked probably the worst, most trite question one can direct to a new business owner, The Secret Group’s Reed Marshal Becker handles it with comedic sangfroid. The question: Where do you see The Secret Group ten years from now?
“Ten? Stalin only asked for five,” he quips. “Truly, we see great things ahead. We aren't like anyone else, and that mind-set has created a unique aesthetic that carries through in everything we do.”
In its brief existence, The Secret Group’s primary objective has been to give shape to Houston’s comedy community, one that is overrun with rising talent and itching to return Houston to hilarious prominence. Part of molding the scene into shape includes building the mold, a club located at 2101 Polk. It opens this weekend with a free show starring We Were Wolves, Guilla and the multi-talented headliner Andrew W.K.
Yes, those acts are musicians and not comics. As Becker suggested, The Secret Group isn’t like your standard comedy club. It’s more a venue that will feature art of all kinds, music included, that’s owned and operated by and for comedians. Until now, the concept has been housed in venues like Boondocks, Beta Theater and most notably Warehouse Live, which has staged The Secret Group’s Come And Take It Comedy Takeover Festival the past two years. Now, the notion has a permanent home nearby (2101 Polk), and Andrew W.K. makes the perfect housewarming gift. Because he is also a motivational speaker, actor, partier extraordinaire and political-party founder, people have asked whether W.K. will perform music at the grand opening.
“Yes, he will sing and he will be incredible," cautions Becker. "He will be representing his political party, the Party Party, making this, technically, the Party Party Party. Take naps beforehand."
Seeing a live Andrew W.K. performance is a treat and seeing it gratis is a no-brainer. His energy and charisma is pharmaceutical in the sense that it’s something that should be formulated, branded and marketed as an antidepressant, sans the long list of negative side effects.
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“We love his philosophy that we all have the potential to enjoy our lives at all times by spreading positivity and working towards what is meaningful to you," says Becker, who noted the show became a free event when permit delays arose. “A sort of big thank-you to Houston for all the love it has given us that helps set the tone for the kind of community we aspire to create.”
The group’s principals are Becker, Andrew Youngblood, Stephen Brandau and Jack Watkins Jr. They came together quickly, Becker says, and about 18 months ago created the business. Youngblood was having success developing CATI and the Houston Whatever Fest. Brandau, the group’s general manager, and Watkins, a pharmacist by trade who once took a year off work to travel the world with his wife, brought their talents and perspectives to the project. And Becker said he had the “general, unshakeable idea to build a comedy club in Houston — an area that's vastly under-served considering its storied history and size — since I began comedy almost five and a half years ago. I even took work at The Improv part-time to see behind the scenes of a real, top-notch club. I can't thank them enough. You could say that everything I learned there was responsible for my drive to create The Secret Group.”
Building a business from the ground up has tested their collective strengths, Becker offers.
“Any and all challenges that you can imagine when excitedly stepping out into the unknown wilderness of American business — permit issues, delays, negotiations, building an audience for comedy,” he says. “We have a wide range of experiences, but none of us had ever been a small business owner before. We weren't prepared, but we knew we weren't. Like anything, as clichéd as it sounds, it's step by step and learn as you go. Concerning the build, Stephen and Andrew have been nothing short of exemplary in their ability to make it happen regardless of the obstacles.”
There’s still more they’d like to add to the experience, so the group has set up a GoFundMe page with rewards as interesting as you’d expect from a group of entrepreneurial comics.
“For $300 we will name a toilet stall after you,” Becker says. “For $500 you get to go on a date with Gabe Bravo and Andrew Youngblood. For $1,000 you get your own comedy show at your place! You can even pre-purchase this year's CATI tickets at a deep discount. Every $10 and up donation gets to attend our Donor Party, which will be excellent. If it's like our other parties, 50 percent of attendees will find their soul mates. These are facts.”
Becker says sharing much more of what’s to come from the group would make it “'The No Secrets Group.' Imagine what we've done in the past year with a logarithmic jump in excellence.” Already penciled in for approaching shows are Brooks Whelan, the Sklar Brothers and Christina Pazsitzky.
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“We love this town and are committed to it on all levels. Houston is an exceptional place that deserves the best. It's built on hard work and people who don't understand how to quit,” Becker offers. “Because of our ethic, we know it can be done. There's a reason Howard Hughes, Bill Hicks and Beyoncé are all from the same place. We are a town of builders and creators.
“It's that same creativity that drives our comedy. Houston's comedic talent is off the charts. I feel bad for so many Houstonians, that they have no idea how good it is,” he says before reeling off a litany of the city's best, names like Chase Durousseau, Gabe Bravo, Dale Cheesman, Jaffer Khan, Dusti Rhodes, Ali Siddiq, Bob Biggerstaff and Matthew Broussard.
“What we want, most of all, is to launch a generation of Houston comics into national prominence. We want to return Houston to its rightful place as the Mecca of comedy, as it was with the Laff Stop,” Becker says. “We want to make The Secret Group a place where Houston can be part of the mystery that comes with laughter. To sit with us within that moment where all potential exists, the inception of greatness. To see the art beyond the show. It deserves to have that once again.”
The Secret Group's Grand Opening, featuring Andrew W.K., Guilla and We Were Wolves, is Saturday, June 25 at The Secret Group HQ, 2101 Polk. The event is free, with general admission RSVP through Ticketfly; doors open at 6 p.m.