Improv closes door on laughter

Comedy club owners complain of rowdiness, noise in Power Plant

August 30, 2005|By Jill Rosen | Jill Rosen,SUN STAFF

Laughter stopped abruptly at the Baltimore Improv comedy club this weekend, when owners closed the downtown venue without warning after an evening show.

Though comedians were booked through the end of the year, Improv officials said rowdy conditions at Power Plant Live!, the popular city party spot the comedy club has called home since 2001, made it impossible to continue doing business there.

Improv spokeswoman Melinda Drysen said yesterday that some Improv customers complained of having to walk through young and drunk revelers to get to shows.

Also, she said, music from Rams Head Live, the new concert venue next door, seeped through the walls, distracting comedians during their acts.

"It seemed that because of the atmosphere, we had a lot of one-time customers but not a lot of returning," she said.

Zed Smith, managing partner of Power Plant Live!, disputed Drysen's accusations.

Her comments, Smith said, "are utter nonsense."

Open not quite four years, the Baltimore Improv is one of 22 Improv locations across the country, including Washington, Pittsburgh and Hollywood, Calif. The first Improv opened in New York City in 1963.

The venues are known for booking some of the biggest names in comedy as well as up-and-coming amateurs.

Baltimore's club attracted such comedy stars as Richard Lewis, Bob Saget, Lewis Black and Kevin Pollock. It also allowed locals such as Larry Noto to get some jokes under their belt.

After Noto performed Friday, he said Improv managers called him and the night's other comics aside. "They said we had just performed the last show at the Baltimore Improv," he sadly recalled yesterday, adding that when they starting packing up food and supplies that very minute, it reminded him of the Colts pulling out of town in the middle of the night.

Noto and most other comedians contacted yesterday said they had never heard music coming through the walls when performing, nor did they experience - or hear of others experiencing - trouble from parties in the Power Plant courtyard.

"It wasn't profitable, that's what they said," Noto added, describing what the staff told the comedians Friday.

Added Hyattsville comedian Erin Jackson: "I don't see [the revelry] as an issue - I think that's one of the cooler areas of the city."

Dave Siegel, a New York comedian, said that though he'd never had issues at the Improv, he'd heard other performers complain of bass notes "thumping" through the walls.

"I did have a rat run across the stage when I was there," he said. "The crowd said, `Welcome to Baltimore.'"

Bill Muehlhauser, owner of Rams Head Live, said no one from the Improv complained to him about sound emanating from his concert hall, which he said is soundproofed.

"If there was a problem, it was never brought to us," he said. "There is no perforation. That's a fabrication."

In addition to Drysen's complaints about the atmosphere at Power Plant Live!, the club is apparently engaged in a financial dispute with its management company, Al Copeland Investments, a New Orleans firm, as well as Baltimore developer David Cordish, who owns Power Plant Live!

When Copeland workers arrived in Baltimore on Saturday with moving trucks to pack up club belongings, Power Plant Live! officials locked the club, Drysen said.

She declined to comment further on the nature of the money problems.

"We're not able to make any comments on financial issues regarding the Improv and the management company," she said.

Management company officials in New Orleans were not available for comment because of Hurricane Katrina.

Drysen said Cordish did not respond to the Improv's "repeated" requests for more security in the common area and for better soundproofing. She said Cordish "was not supportive."

"This is all fine for certain areas, but our audience is a little different. We don't really cater to the beer-swigging audience."

Officials at the Downtown Partnership, an advocacy organization for downtown, also heard nothing about unsavory conditions at the entertainment complex. Spokesman Mike Evitts called Power Plant Live!'s combination of clubs and restaurants positive for an area of downtown that wasn't always so busy.

"We encourage businesses to contact us if they're having issues," he added. "We don't want anyone to be closing out downtown."

Though the Bob Sagets and D.L. Hugleys of the world might not miss Baltimore's Improv, local comedians will miss the performance outlet; there's just one other in the city dedicated to comedy, they say.

When the club first opened, Noto said he had tickets for five weekends in a row, just taking it all in and hoping someday someone would be buying a ticket to hear him.

He compares the loss of his home club to losing a friend or a family member.

He and Odenton comic Michael Aronin commiserated last weekend about the Improv's closing. They compared it to a funeral.

"It's like a death," he said, "Like grieving a loss."

In other words, not funny at all.

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