The jokes cover topics you might find at a comedy club anywhere: relationships, drug use, politics, masturbation. But the venue is a bit unusual. It's Friday night and only standing room remains at the Flat12 Bierwerks tasting room, though not very much of it.
A receptive crowd sips on pints of brew while listening to comics presented by Rocketship Comedy, the brainchild of local standup Cam O'Connor. O'Connor, 34, says he "was a comedian that wasn't getting enough opportunities" when he founded Rocketship three years ago. The goal: to put together a showcase where touring comics who might not otherwise stop here could share the stage with up-and-coming locals. "If you're a painter, you want to be around other great painters." O'Connor says.
Rocketship became homeless earlier this year after a successful, several-year run at The Sinking Ship. James Wuerch, one of the Ship's owners and the bar's general manager, said the establishment had to stop hosting live entertainment when they learned the bar didn't have the appropriate zoning after the city received complaints. "Our hands were tied," Wuerch said.
Despite Rocketship's departure, Wuerch remains glad his business helped give O'Connor a bigger toehold in the local comedy scene, allowing him a space to establish and grow the event through hard work and judicious planning.
"He did it really smart — he didn't book the same comics every week," Wuerch says. "If you change it up, people want to come out every week to see what's different. Just like a rock club — you don't book the same bands every week or no one will come."
Valerie Green, events marketer for Flat12, says the idea of bringing Rocketship to Flat12 germinated among staff who were already followers of the showcase. "We used to all go to the Sinking Ship," Green says. "We were already big fans."
And, she adds, Flat12 makes a perfect venue for an indie comedy event with its minimalist décor, casual vibe and flowing taps. "This environment is perfect material — it's a rustic barn, a hipster VFW," Green says, recalling quips made by past acts. Green and Wuerch mention Kyle Kinane, Sean Patton, Stewart Huff and Geoff Tate as top draws at Rocketship shows.
O'Connor says the transition to Flat12 has been easy.
"It works when the staff is on board," he says. "Everyone I'm dealing with likes standup comedy."
On a Friday in July, Daniel Altom and Erin Castle wait in the second row of seats positioned around a makeshift stage for O'Connor to start the show. The pair began attending Rocketship events early on, and say they prefer the atmosphere to more traditional comedy clubs like Morty's and Crackers.
"The whole two drink minimum gets old, and the business aspect," says Castle, 30. "There's a lot more heart when you come to things like this — all the comedians are friends."
Altom adds that he learns about new talent in the comedy world each time he attends a Rocketship show, and attributes the event's success to O'Connor's passion and dedication.
"He's really into the scene," says Altom, 29. "He loves it and it shows."
O'Connor hopes the intimate, indie vibe, combined with the ever-changing panel of rising stars, keep devoted fans like Castle and Altom coming back.
"They know all I give a shit about is comedy and not about making money," he says.