A city’s comedy scene is much like an ecosystem. They both rely on the dynamic of producers and consumers. The only difference is Mother Nature doesn’t have a two-drink minimum.
And as with an ecosystem, if one component were removed from a comedy scene’s natural habitat — such as the closure of the Fort Lauderdale Improv in 2017 — it could disrupt the entire system. Or it could pave the way for a new one.
“The closing of the Improv was definitely a blow to Fort Lauderdale’s comedy scene,” says Fasil Malik, a Fort Lauderdale-based comedian and coproducer of Spill the Beans comedy shows, “but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a demand for seeing live comedy.”
Malik was one of the many comedians who was affected by the Improv's closure. He began trying to organize shows in the area to give local talent a place to perform. During that time, he crossed paths with fellow comic Tim Kirby, who was also attempting to put some shows together.
“We both had the same needs and figured this whole thing would be easier as a partnership,” Kirby says. “There was one room close by, and we thought, Let’s combine our powers.”
That room was located in a separate area of Undergrounds Coffeehaus on North Federal Highway. It fits about 30 people and has a small stage front and center, which makes it impossible for anyone in the audience not to see who’s performing. It's a lot like the tight, intimate setting of New York’s Comedy Cellar, which has popped up numerous times in the projects of Chris Rock and Louis CK. Undergrounds Coffehaus became the flagship for Malik and Kirby’s partnership, Spill the Beans Comedy.
“It’s an ideal room for performing comedy — low ceiling, professional sound and lighting," Malik says. “It’s in a closed-off space, so you can’t hear the coffee machine in the other room.”
Comedian Steve Miller, known by SiriusXM listeners as Moonshine Miller on The Bubba the Love Sponge Show, relishes performing in such a claustrophobic setting. He says performing at Underground Coffehaus versus a typical theater is like performing in a living room versus a convention center.
“At comedy clubs, you’ll see front tables are empty because audience members are terrified of what a comedian will say if they do something like get up to go to the bathroom. I won’t do that to you,” Miller laughs. “But in these types of settings, audience members can feel part of the performance because the comedian is right there. Everyone can feel and experience the moment together.”
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Audiences are responding favorably to Spill the Beans.
“Two years ago, our shows used to be once a month," Malik says, "but our demand increased — tickets were selling out — to the point where now it’s once or twice a week.”
Spill the Beans Comedy Show. With Steve Miller. 8 p.m. Friday, August 23, at Undergrounds Coffeehaus, 3020 N. Federal Hwy., #5a, Fort Lauderdale; 954-630-1900. Tickets cost $15 via eventbrite.com.
With Rudy Wilson. 8 p.m. Saturday, August 31, at Undergrounds Coffeehaus, 3020 N. Federal Hwy., #5a, Fort Lauderdale; 954-630-1900. Tickets cost $15 via eventbrite.com.