Producing stand-up comedy is like growing an orchid: You’ve got to get the lighting just right or it will wither and die. That’s why, just minutes before a show last month, comedy producer Brock Snyder was still moving lamps around the common room at 70 Capitol Yards, a swanky apartment building in the Navy Yard neighborhood of D.C.
This wasn’t the first time Snyder had brought stand-up comedy to a condo or apartment building, but the stakes were higher than usual. Sprinkled among the 40 or so residents who showed up for the show were a handful of property managers from around the city, there to decide whether to bring stand-up to their buildings as well.
“There is a little buzz going around. Everyone is interested in how it might be received by the residents,” said Tiya Kassa, who manages the adjacent building, 100 Capitol Yards.
At precisely 7 p.m., the lights dimmed and the show began. A former competitive baton twirler, Snyder jogged to the makeshift stage — really just a bare patch of floor at the front of the room — and pepped up the audience up by telling jokes while doing splits.
“We have 11 comics for you tonight, because I want you to see just how diverse the comedy talent is here in D.C.,” he said.
As promised, the comedians who followed encompassed a wide variety of styles, perspectives and topics. Kicking off the show was Tok Moffat, a wry joker. “Where are you guys from? I want to hear you shout out apartment numbers!” he quipped. After him, Dana Fleitman took the mic and told a very funny story about birth control. More than a half-dozen comedians later, Kevin Tit wrapped up the show with a pun-peppered set and a lengthy joke about classical music.
The show’s unorthodox location tripped up some of the comedians, who found that stock banter honed in bars may not translate to living rooms. “Who’s here with a date tonight?” one of the comedians asked. “We’re all married,” a guy in the second row responded.
Other comedians used the setting to their advantage.
“This is a pretty swanky building,” said Chelsea Shorte, who noticed some people coming to the show directly from the building’s gym. “You guys don’t need to work out. You live here. That’s enough. I have to work out to get a date because I live in a basement.”
The idea of putting on free stand-up comedy shows in condo and apartment buildings came to Snyder about a year ago, when he was trying to think up new ways to reach D.C.’s ever-transient population. The concept: small shows, mostly on weeknights, staged just for a building’s residents and owners and their friends.
“There are so many great comedians here breaking new ground and trying new things, and a lot of people just have no idea,” he explained after the show. “How do they know we’re out there? Are we going to put it on public access TV? No, we’re going to bring it to their homes and serve mimosas until it runs out.”
A potential downside of D.C.’s comedic talent: When good stand-up comedians notice something awkward that people would rather not talk about, they can’t help but to point it out. As a result, several of the comedians brought up the Navy Yard neighborhood’s recent rapid transition from low-income housing to high-end condos and apartments.
“This is a nice building. It’s in Southeast. I don’t know…” said comedian Dylan Meyer, trailing off. “I do know all of you are new to Southeast. There’s not a lot of lifers here.”
This quip got a big laugh from the crowd, and no one seemed chagrined.
“I thought it was a great show. I was really impressed with the quality of the comedians,” said Kevin Hinton, 50, who runs an education nonprofit.
The building managers who attended the show must agree, because Snyder has since been invited to produce about 20 more shows at condos and apartment buildings around the D.C. area, including the luxurious Residences at CityCenter.
“Brock brought such a diverse group of people, there was a comedian for everyone’s sense of humor,” Kassa said after the show last month. “A lot of people I talked to said that it was their first show and that they’d definitely be interested in going to see more comedy.”
As far as the comedians were concerned, they said that doing a show in a condo common room — especially one where free drinks are being served — has some clear advantages over the usual dimly lit bar.
“People paid attention and stayed for the whole show — you don’t get that a lot in bars,” Tit said. “Maybe they were more willing to sit through the whole show because they were already home.”