According to Adam Nover, SEAS ’10, the “best and weirdest New York things happen underground.” In the case of his comedy show, one of the funnier things in New York happens on the corner of 107th Street and West End Avenue at the Underground Lounge.
Nover and his co-producers, Pete Kuempel and Dan Goodman, have put together the “Happy ‘Happy Hour,’” which takes place every Thursday at 9 p.m.—the perfect time and place, the three say, for Columbia students to begin the evening.
“Our show is at 9:00 on a Thursday, everybody at Columbia goes out at, like, 11:30 on a Thursday after our show ends—it’s ideal,” said Nover, who cut his teeth in comedy as editor of The Jester of Columbia magazine. He, Kuempel, and Goodman hope that “Happy ‘Happy Hour’” will both bring more comedy to the neighborhood and nurture new talent within the University itself.
“We’re trying to get a mix of people who have been around for a while and people who are just starting up,” Nover, now a Ph.D. student at SEAS, said. “There is a small and distinct scene [at Columbia], so we’re trying to get some students on our show. That way they get to see whether their stuff is funny outside the Columbia bubble. It’s good to take them out into the real world, even if it’s only 10 blocks away.”
As the youngest and least experienced performer on the production team, Nover is experiencing his own transition into the real world of stand-up, which, his co-producers will admit, isn’t always that funny.
“Adam’s still a ripe young man—he’s not sad. We needed him to even out Dan’s and my sadness of 10 years,” Kuempel said jokingly. For someone who began performing in Chicago almost a decade ago, he sees himself and Goodman as seasoned veterans. “We’re cranky old men as far as comedy goes. This is a super unrealistic thing we’re pursuing right now.”
“Compared to them I look like a sprightly wood nymph,” Nover said.
Comedy, it seems, is often an uphill struggle. The three tell tales of half-hour sets that pass in absolute silence and the bleak wilderness that is the mandatory circuit of open-mike nights for a beginner comic.
“When you bomb, that’s exactly what you’re terrified of,” Keumpel said. “Your whole first year is a horror story.”
So why be a stand-up comic? All three laugh at what must be a familiar question, albeit one that Nover said they “usually have to pay a therapist about $50 to answer.”
“The money’s not awesome, and there’s so much rejection,” Goodman said. “I don’t think a comic really has a handle on why they want to keep doing it. It’s fun to be funny. It gives you some kind of external reward.”
Kuempel nodded approvingly as Goodman spoke and added that the “girl I’m dating is a psychiatrist. She doesn’t understand why I do comedy ... I keep doing it because I love it. Ultimately the clichés are true—nothing’s better than commanding a room full of people and making them laugh.”
There is a sense of quiet optimism shared by the producers—a satisfaction at being around people who (and things that) make them laugh, and an ability to see the funny in everyday events.
“People on the street in New York make me laugh,” Goodman said. “I don’t think I could do comedy in a city where I didn’t get to watch people on the street being ridiculous all day. If I didn’t talk to deli dudes, that would be a big loss.”
Goodman also thinks a dose of absurdism could be good for the stressed-out, goal-oriented students who come to the show.
“The students show up and you ask them questions and they answer like they’re in school,” he said. “I’m like, people, don’t raise your hand—this is a comedy show. This is the only comedy show where I have to do biomedical crowd work on a consistent basis.”
“Happy ‘Happy Hour’” runs every Thursday at the Underground Lounge, 955 West End Ave. at 107th Street. Seating starts at 8:30 p.m., show starts at 9:00 p.m. Admission is $3 with college ID.