Chairs fill a small room, along with a couple booths and a handful of seats at a bar. An audience waits to be entertained, given a reason to smile, even laugh. Their eyes are fixated on the entertainer on the stage. The crowd is silent for a moment while they digest the comedian’s carefully crafted words. Soon, the audience erupts into laughter.
This may sound like a Netflix comedy or Comedy Central. Don’t be fooled, though — this scene is taking place at bars, comedy clubs and theaters throughout Akron.
Marv Conner left teaching about 20 years ago to pursue his dream of doing stand-up. At first, he performed at the Funny Stop, a comedy club in Cuyahoga Falls. Since then, he has performed at a variety of venues and open mics in Ohio. He was even on the road for a while.
“When I was young, I had hopes and dreams of becoming a comedian,” Marv says. “I tried going on the road and it wasn’t for me. I went to Kentucky, Detroit, Pennsylvania… It just wasn’t for me. I didn’t like being alone.”
But the local comedy scene has grown significantly since he got his start 20 years ago.
“[There are] way more spots, but now comics are more spread out,” Marv says. “[There were] more clubs back in the day, and they needed comics. Now they have their pick and say.”
“And, better wings now,” he adds.
The Funny Stop still has comedy four nights a week, and many area comedians still get their start there. Miki Janosi is one of those performers.
Miki, unlike Marv, has only been part of the comedy community for about a year and a half. He is making a name for himself at open mics and local venues.
“I tried my first time for the amateur contest. Since then I’ve been trying to keep it steady. There are times where I’ll go out and do it four or five times a week,” Miki says. “I always try to stay writing.”
Katrina Brown has been performing stand up comedy since 2007. She got her start at open mic nights and since then, The Funny Stop has been her “home club.”
For her, comedy is an outlet.
“I find honest and truthful comedy to be what I personally laugh at most. I’ve tried making stuff up but those jokes never stayed in my set. There’s enough humor in life to just sit back, observe, let the material live out in front of me,” Katrina says.
Much like other entertainment industries, stand up comedy has also become more inclusive.
“I know some people think women aren’t funny, but that’s their issue. No one will be loved and embraced by all,” she says.
Late Night Laughs at Cheese and Chong’s in Highland Square offers a new place for comics to practice their craft. Every Tuesday night, comics perform short sets in pursuit of laughs through a haze of draft beer and gooey macaroni and cheese.
The other thing that’s changed from Marv’s time to Katrina’s and Miki’s is that new comedians get discovered online.
“Technology has changed everything. We used to talk to each other more, but if you didn’t have an ‘in,’ so many things were not possible. Now you can be judged based on your social media footprint. How many Twitter followers really matters,” Marv said.
As new spaces continue to open up — live venues and online channels alike — amateur comics can perfect their sets and get as much experience as they want. One such comic is Brett Thomas.
In the spring, Thomas was awarded Rookie of The Year by Comedic Cle, an organization that works to enhance and promote Cleveland’s comedy scene. Thomas also won “best joke short form” from Comedic Cle this year.
“There’s only a few nights out of the month where I’m not doing an open mic or a show,” Brett says. “I drive like an hour to Cleveland all the time to perform in Lakewood, because there’s lots of shows there. There’s a couple shows in Kent I do and there’s a couple shows in Akron I do.”
Another recent addition is a production company: Funny Noizes Productions.
Chris “The Bitter Dude” Ketler, a local comedian, started the company last June. Funny Noizes Productions works with Rubber City Sound to put on shows featuring local comedians and talent from elsewhere. They perform at None Too Fragile Theater, Rialto Theater and, in the near future, the West Theater in Barberton.
“What we are now is basically a small group of people that are working to contribute to the culture of our community,” Chris says. But as they grow, “We want to be the premier comedy-producing company in the area.”
Despite the changes Marv Conner has seen in the last two decades, he says the intention behind the performances remains the same. Comics step on the stage with one goal: to make people smile.
Brett Thomas agrees. His favorite part of performing is “telling a joke and getting a laugh. When people see me perform, [I want them] to forget about their problems and for me to forget about mine.”
Allyson Smith is a senior at the University of Akron, studying media production. She aims to incorporate her passions of traveling and drinking coffee into a prolific and fulfilling career in the media industry.