The Comedy Cabaret has been serving up laughs in the Northeast since the ’80s and helping aspiring comics get their feet wet.
The club, inside the Ramada Inn at 11580 Roosevelt Blvd., features shows every Friday and Saturday night, but what makes this place so special is its Wednesday open mic night.
Veteran comedian Patrick O’Donnell of Wilmington, Del., has been helping newcomers by running the open mic nights, along with fellow Kensington comedian John Kensil. O’Donnell has written for Jay Leno, was a winner on “America’s Funniest People,” and has been seen on Comedy Central. He makes stops in Atlantic City Las Vegas to do stand-up.
“People come in and new comedians come in each week and try out five minutes of material and try to build an act,” O’Donnell said. “They can then use that to audition in front of a full crowd or for somebody who might hire them to do a show.”
O’Donnell explained that the process for an amateur comedian is very simple. All a person has to do is to go in and sign up.
The Comedy Cabaret in the Northeast is not the only one of its kind. Weekend shows are featured in Doylestown, Pa., and Marlton, N.J., along with occasional shows in Levittown, Pa., and Delaware.
Weekend shows start at 9 p.m. and can run for an hour to an hour and a half. Saturday nights can sometimes feature two shows for audience members. The cost for a show can range from $10-$25. A purchase of two drinks is required. To attend a show at the Comedy Cabaret in the Northeast, you must be at least 18 years and carry a photo ID.
Well-known comedians like Jerry Seinfeld, Kevin James, Ray Romano and Bob Nelson have made stops at the Comedy Cabarets along their careers. Mitch Fatel still makes stops at shows.
O’Donnell said he feels that having the open mic not only helps newcomers, but also the comedians who perform on the weekend shows.
“This (Wednesday) is raw,” O’Donnell said. “It’s basically like rehearsal. It’s the building of an act.”
The open mics aren’t as outlined as the weekend shows, as O’Donnell explained.
“They work during the week to hone their act, so they can get to the weekend.”
“I actually think it’s a really good spot for newcomers to come out,” comic Tony Viejo said. “It’s unpredictable from time-to-time. Some nights, I’ve seen about 25 people here for an open mic and then other nights you see seven.”
Viejo takes advantage of the Cabaret’s open mic night — and not just for the great beer specials, Viejo also comes out because of the core group of comedians who performs at the Cabaret.
“If you want to work on new material and see how it tests out,then it’s always good to get up with a core group,” Viejo said. “If you can make them laugh at something, then you can make a room full of 50 people laugh at something.”
Marc Kepo, who also performs a lot on Wednesdays, is getting ready to be featured for a Friday night show at the Cabaret.
“I started coming out on Wednesday night and I’m coming here on Friday for the first time,” Kepo said. “So it’ll be nice to see how that crowd reacts.”
Kepo said he sees the open mics as a great tool for newcomers and regulars alike, and believes that there should be more around.
“I definitely think more venues should open up open mic opportunities,” Kepo said.
The Comedy Cabaret also features comedy classes for anyone interested. O’Donnell helps students with writing, delivery, structure and many other things a new comedian needs to know. They are held on select Wednesday nights before the open mic.
Over his eight years emceeing at the Cabaret, O’Donnell has seen new comedians start out on an open mic night, transition to master of ceremonies and then start to be featured as weekend headliners.
O’Donnell said believes in what the Cabaret has to offer and stresses that every comedian had to start this one at one time or another.
“Any comedian has started at an open mic,” O’Donnell said. “Not this, one but somewhere.”
Steven Mitchell and Raymond Boyd are students reporting for Philadelphia Neighborhoods, the publication of Temple University’s Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab.