“There’s a ton of people in D.C. that just won’t cross the [Potomac River] — I jokingly call it the ocean,” Godbout says. “So comics we’ve booked for years … they go, ‘I’ve got a lot of fans in D.C. who don’t have a car and they’re saying, When can I see you in D.C.?’ ”
His solution? The Drafthouse Comedy Theater, a narrow, bare-bones black box space in the heart of downtown D.C. that opens this weekend after two months of construction- and liquor license-related delays.
“I don’t view this as a comedy club,” says Godbout, who also works as the chief technology officer at the Environmental Protection Agency. “I think the comedy club model is dead, actually. We’re a black box art theater that’s specifically doing comedy arts.”
Loosely modeled after the Upright Citizens Brigade’s New York theaters, the Drafthouse Comedy experience will differ from what comedy fans might expect from a trip to Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse or the DC Improv.
First, on most weekends, there will be two headliners a night and three shows on Fridays and Saturdays, unlike the traditional one headliner doing two shows a night. Most shows will sell out at 155 seats (some high-profile comedians may push capacity to 175) and the staff plans to experiment with different seating arrangements. (Chairs will usually be lined up next to each other in rows with no tables.)
Stand-up shows will run about 80 minutes and often feature a local opening act, and doors will open 20 minutes prior to showtime. (One exception: Doors will open 45 minutes before shows this weekend to help the venue’s staff work out any kinks.) Drafthouse Comedy won’t serve food, but Godbout says it will offer “high-end concessions” and a full bar, including three local draft beers.
“It’s a very different model,” he says. “I want people in and out. I want to be part of their night, not their whole night. … Everyone thinks it’s crazy but our goal is not to over-serve everyone inside the theater. We literally want them coming in, seeing a show [and] then leaving.”
Besides stand-up, Godbout plans to book long-form improv, one-man off-Broadway shows and even carnival-style sideshows at the new space. (Godbout handles the booking; his sister, Christina Godbout, manages the place.) Local comics and promoters can rent the room to put on their own shows as part of the Drafthouse Comedy Arts Cooperative.
The venue is the first comedy club-like space to open in the city since the Riot Act Comedy Theater closed in 2012, less than a year after it opened. Godbout doesn’t buy the argument that D.C. can’t support two comedy rooms.
“[Riot Act] didn’t have a clear segment that they were specifically selling to or carving out as a space,” he says. “It’s a little different for us. I already have those locked-in relationships and I’m just increasing my volume.”
Now, Godbout can bring those comics he’s been booking in Arlington to D.C. One idea is to have a higher-profile comedian play the new venue on a Thursday, then do Arlington on Friday and Saturday.
“Inevitably what will happen [at Drafthouse Comedy] is there will be a pressure for bigger comics to play here,” Godbout says. “Hopefully — and this is a good problem to have — we’ll find that in five years we’re crowding out this space.”
Want to go to there?
Here are five acts to check out at the new Drafthouse Comedy Theater.
Byron Bowers: An L.A.-based comedian who has opened for Dave Chappelle, Hannibal Buress and Eric Andre, Bowers headlines three of the venue’s six opening-weekend shows. Fri., 9 & 11 p.m., $25; Sat., 7 p.m., $25.
Rachel Feinstein: The Bethesda native is good friends with Amy Schumer and will soon appear alongside Pete Holmes in Judd Apatow’s next HBO series, “Crashing.” April 28 & 29, 7 p.m., April 30, 9 & 11 p.m., $25.
‘Hooking Up With the Second City’: The venue won’t just book stand-up; this revue-style sketch and improv show takes a modern look at love and romance. May 26 & 27, 7 & 9 p.m., May 28 & 29, 4, 7 & 9:30 p.m., $35.
Ali Wong: A writer for ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat,” Wong mixes raunch, pop culture and stories about growing up with Chinese and Vietnamese parents in her energetic stand-up. June 16, 7 p.m., June 17 & 18, 7 & 9 p.m., $25.
Todd Barry: Originally set to open the venue in January, low-key New York comic and “Louie” regular Barry will finally bring his deadpan humor to the new space this summer. July 1 & 2, 7 p.m., $30.
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