Comedian Big Al Goodwin inaugurated the stage at the new Riot Act club in Penn Quarter during a soft opening event. (Photo by Matt Hagan)

Riot Act Comedy Theater, a new two-story comedy club and bar whose owners include the entrepreneur behind Buffalo Billiards and Rocket Bar, opened last night in Penn Quarter to a nearly full house of curious comedy fans.

Riot Act is a stage for national comics working the club circuit, including Dick Gregory and Paul Mooney, putting it in direct competition with the D.C. Improv and even Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse, which has cornered the market on alt-comics such as TJ Miller and TV-show sidekicks including “Flight of the Conchords’” infatuated fangirl Kristen Schaal.

Riot Act partner John Xereas says national comics are only part of the equation, however: It will also be home base for a comedy school (the Improv also offers classes) and will host a regular open mike on Tuesday nights that Xereas hopes will lure top local comics looking to work on their acts. (I’m pretty excited to see there will also be interesting showcases that should set the club apart from others in the market; one dubbed Gay-larious will bring together comics for a series of topical shows.) Ticket prices will start at $10 for the open mikes and run to about $20 for better-known comedians. As at many other comedy clubs, there’s also a two-item food and drink minimum.

Speaking of food and drink: Because of its location in a pristine new building, the club doesn’t have permission to fry food, so this may be the first comedy club to pledge to serve “healthy” eats. On the limited, temporary menu being served right now: quesadillas, a sandwich and a hummus plate, as well as braised short ribs, while the cocktail menu is pretty basic fare (it includes straightforward versions of a Manhattan, a Cosmo, and a margarita).

Back in March, another one of the owners, Geoff Dawson, the owner of Buffalo Billiards, Iron Horse Tap Room and Rocket Bar, told Capital Business a comedy club was “way out of my comfort zone.” (Translation: There won’t be any skeeball machines at Riot Act.)

His partner may have a better handle on that aspect of the business: Xereas used to run a little club himself.

Its name? Riot Act.

That Riot Act opened in the basement of HR-57 back in 2007. And it was a nice little place while it lasted — a little less than a year later, it seemed to have outgrown the space, which had a capacity of just 100. It took some time for Xereas (who counts the D.C. Improv among his former employers) and his new partners to find a place large enough to open a club of their own, but they’ve done it: The current space has a capacity of 500 over the two floors. Xereas says he thinks the club will work synergistically with Dawson’s other projects, Rocket Bar and Iron Horse, both of which are nearby: Go to a bar for happy hour, go laugh for a few hours, then meet your friends at a bar for a drink.

Tonight, Charles Fleischer performs the second of his three-night stint at the club. Tickets are $17-$20. For a full schedule of upcoming comics, check out