Things are changing over at The Laff Stop – again.
The fate of Houston’s longest-standing comedy club is now in the hands of Don Learner, owner of The Laff Spot in Willowbrook (note the "Stop" and the "Spt" -- they're two different entities). “I started my stand up career at The Laff Stop so I certainly wanted to see it continue to be a first class club,” he says. Learner signed on recently as the manager – for now – and has already made some big changes.
“We put in place a new staff,” he says. “There’s only one remaining [staff] member.” Learner revamped the food and drink menus and doubled the number of waiters. “Nothing is more frustrating then wanting to have a drink and not being able to get one,” he says. Yeah, it’s almost as frustrating as the two-drink minimum imposed by comedy clubs. (Zing!)
But seriously folks, Learner is also tweaking the most important aspect of the Laff Stop – the laughing.
“We’ve restricted the open mikes to about 24 comics,” Learner says of the Stop’s Monday night installment. In the past, the night ran with everyone who signed up getting five minutes onstage, regardless of experience level.
“Frankly, there were people getting onstage that really didn’t even need to be onstage,” says Learner. The new system will be more selective and will also give amateurs only three minutes and with experienced comics still getting five minutes.
Learner says the new format is more audience-friendly and we think he may be right. The Laff Stop’s open mikes – and any local open mike, for that matter – can get a little, um, inside-jokey. It’s nice to know comics can make each other laugh, but Learner seems to realize the other people buying drinks – i.e. the fans – should really be the focus. The restrictions aren’t meant to discourage up-and-comers and Learner says that showcases for first-timers are on the way.
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Learner also intends to bring in stronger national acts and offer a nice mix of local talent for the weekend shows. But this will all take time. The club wasn’t exactly in good shape when Learner took it over – in fact, it was on the verge of closing.
“If a club closes nobody can work there, that’s a guarantee,” says local comedy veteran Bob Biggerstaff, who you might have seen recently on the Houston edition of season six of Last Comic Standing. Biggerstaff has worked at the Stop both onstage and as a receptionist and says he’s just glad somebody saved it from failure – and the fact that Learner has run a club before is a definite plus.
“Don’s had The Laff Spot and obviously it’s a successful business. I mean, this is the first time ever that’s somebody is coming into run the place who has had that experience,” he says. So, you know, how can it not be good?”
-- Dusti Rhodes