Comedy spin-offs tend to be hit-and-miss. For every Frasier, there’s a The Tortellis. For every Mork and Mindy, there’s a Joanie Loves Chachi. So forgive us for being a little apprehensive when we heard that the Comedy Cellar, the beloved Greenwich Village stand-up institution, was getting its own spin-off—a new location at MacDougal and West Third, mere stumbling distance from the original.
On Saturday night, the Transom swung by the soft opening of the new space—working title: “the Comedy Cellar at the Village Underground”—located in the basement of Noam Dworman’s live-music venue. The larger room provided an upscale twist on the Cellar 1.0, with a lounge-bar vibe, leather booths, and a menu complete with sliders and martinis.
While lacking its older sibling’s grungy intimacy, the new room did borrow some of its more recognizable features, including the iconic brick-wall backdrop, the stained-glass signage and the constant anxiety of a basement-ceiling collapse.
And Mr. Dworman did not skimp on the talent. The lineup for Saturday night included a bunch of Cellar mainstays, including Gary Gulman, John Joseph, Robert Kelly—most recognizable from his turn as Louis C.K.’s television brother—and Jeffrey Ross, the “Roastmaster General” and host of Comedy Central’s The Burn.
Along with the usual quotient of fart jokes (Mr. Kelly) and aging jokes (Mr. Joseph), the festivities abounded with jabs at the new venue, albeit lighthearted ones—boss-man Mr. Dworman was prowling around the audience throughout the show.
“Holy shit, this looks just like the other fucking place!” said M.C. William Stephenson as he walked out onstage.
“It looks like the room Anne hid in from the Nazis,” offered Mr. Ross. And then, referring to the unfinished ceiling: “This room’s pretty cool. What time’s the electrical fire supposed to break out? I want to make sure I get out before then.”
After the show, we asked Mr. Ross about the recent shock of discovering that he had been singled out in LAPD cop-killer Christopher Dorner’s manifesto. Was he, as he had joked in his routine, a little bit flattered at being labeled a comic genius? Mr. Ross demurred. “I was freaked out. It was creepy. Thank God he’s dead,” he said. “Roasted. He got roasted.”
We then headed over to the Cellar 1.0, where we finally caught up with the man of the hour, Mr. Dworman. “The Cellar’s doing very, very well, and we had this other room around the corner, which is doing okay,” he explained.
So, the Transom wondered—temporarily forgetting our manners—was this primarily a financial decision? “Yes,” Mr. Dworman responded, after a brief pause.
Right now, he said, the new room is a work in progress, and he has been tweaking the formula week by week. “We’re going to make the stage smaller and lower the stage a little bit so we can make the comedian seem really more right in the middle of all the people,” he said, adding that he plans to redecorate the new lobby with blown-up photos from the Cellar archives of celebs who have dropped in over the years.
As if to prove that the Cellar hasn’t lost its groove, Estee Adoran, the club’s booker, whipped out her cellphone to show us photographic evidence of the cosmic event that took place two weeks back: Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Kevin Hart, Marlon Wayans and Questlove all stood together on the Cellar’s diminutive stage. “This is the kind of thing we live for,” cooed Ms. Adoran like a proud parent.
Our evening was sadly lacking in Chappelle sightings, but we did bump into Judah Friedlander of 30 Rock fame, who was fresh off a set at the Cellar 1.0 and was holding a skateboard, for some reason. We asked if we could buy his skateboard, but Mr. Friedlander wasn’t in a bartering mood. “That’s not for sale, baby,” he said. Baby? Sure, we’ll take it.
We then asked Mr. Friedlander about his post-30 Rock agenda, and he assured us he is keeping busy with plans to release a stand-up DVD and launch a big stand-up tour. “And I’m hosting a show on National Geographic about mythological creatures,” he added, proving our hypothesis that Judah Friedlander is a total badass.
Oh, and he’s also running for president. “Here, baby, take a sticker,” he said, handing the Transom a sticker with his face on it.
Mr. Friedlander Goes to Washington? Now that’s a 30 Rock spin-off we’d like to see.
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