A Brooklyn-based showcase is bringing stand-up to movie theaters.
Thu Mar 29 2007
Photograph: Aaron M. Cohen
When comic A.G. White decided to establish a live comedy showcase in his native East New York, he knew one obstacle he’d need to overcome was the gritty neighborhood’s tough-as-nails reputation. If the “grown and sexy” crowd was going to attend an event in that much-maligned part of Brooklyn, White and his Live Stand-Up Comedy @ the Movies cocreator, Ray Dejon, figured the location needed to be safe, secure and familiar. Fortunately, the solution—Linden Boulevard Multiplex Cinemas, the only active movie theater in the sizable chunk of Brooklyn to the north and east of Prospect Park—was staring them right in the face.
“I basically reside less than half a mile away from the theater,” says the 36-year-old White, a self-professed “ghetto white boy,” whose TV appearances include Showtime’s recent stand-up series White Boyz in the Hood and HBO’s Snaps. “Being inside a movie theater creates a certain level of comfort: Everybody goes to the movies.”
Veteran comedy promoter and MC Dejon fleshed out the concept by recruiting corporate sponsors, such as FUBU, before taking the idea to Dedham, MA--based National Amusements, which operates the Linden Boulevard Multiplex. The Sumner Redstone--owned cineplex chain warmed to the idea of collecting rent on top of concession receipts. In spite of occurring just two weeks after the September 11 attacks, the inaugural event sold out the approximately 400-seat theater in advance, prompting the last-minute addition of a second show.
“It wasn’t really sold on the comedians, who were all local, it was sold on the concept of having a show in a movie theater and making people feel like they’re at a concert, with programs, comfortable chairs and no drink minimum,” says Dejon, a Park Slope native who is also the longtime cohost of WNYC’s Video Music Box and a part-owner of the newly opened Inkwell Jazz Comedy Club in Prospect Lefferts Gardens. “People said, 'You can’t do comedy without alcohol,’ but we proved you can.”
Donnell Rawlings, Bill Bellamy, Sommore and Bed-Stuy native Tracy Morgan, who will make his second multiplex appearance Thursday 29, are a few of the more notable comics who have headlined the theater since that first night in 2001. Paul Mooney has performed each of the past three Februaries, as a tie-in with Black History Month.
While White and Dejon severed ties in 2004 due to differences over business models, the Linden Multiplex comedy shows continue at 7:30 and 9:30pm on the last Thursday of every month, with the two event producers alternating months (Dejon, who’s behind this week’s Tracy Morgan appearance, now calls his events “Stand-Up @ the Movies”; White, working with fellow comic Drew Fraser, retains the “Live Stand-Up Comedy @ the Movies” moniker, which Dejon coined).
Dejon has expanded his platform to include monthly showcases at AMC Magic Johnson Harlem 9 on 125th Street and the Jamaica Multiplex Cinemas in Queens, along with a bimonthly edition at AMC Bay Plaza Cinema in the Bronx. He has also introduced the concept to theaters in Newark, Boston and Philadelphia; recently purchased an RV for a nationwide movie theater tour; and is in talks with several networks about a weekly television show. Katt Williams, Bruce Bruce, D.L. Hughley, Charlie Murphy and Mike Epps are all slated to appear on future Stand-Up @ the Movies bills in New York.
Comics, meanwhile, respond to the focused attention of movie theater crowds (i.e., no distracting cocktail waitresses). “The majority of the people really come to laugh, whereas at a lot of black venues, the club is just having comedy on that particular night and it’s not really conducive to doing stand-up,” says Bronx-bred comic Rob Stapleton, a frequent guest on Dejon’s Stand-Up @ the Movies bills and a cohost of the events at AMC Bay Plaza.
For both established and local comics, the “realness” of a location such as East New York can also create a more meaningful experience. “Everyone’s used to performing in Manhattan when they come to New York; Brooklyn is an entirely different animal,” White says. “Somebody like a Tracy Morgan, who started out in Brooklyn, is able to really let loose, as opposed to [performing for] an audience that knows him from SNL.”
Tracy Morgan performs Thu 29 at Linden Boulevard Multiplex Cinemas, 2784 Linden Blvd between Drew and Emerald Sts, East New York, Brooklyn (718-277-0303). 7:30, 9:30pm; $20-$30.