by Chris Dolan
On Saturday, February 23rd, Comedy Corner at Broad Axe Tavern in Ambler hosted another show in its ongoing series of comedy showcases featuring regional comedians. The show, a sellout, was headlined by Andy Nolan, and featured performances from Jim Ginty, Caitlin Feeney and host Alex Pearlman. Each month also features a performance from Dave Topor, the show-runner of Comedy Corner at Broad Axe. A highlights reel of the show is available here.
Dave Topor sat down for a conversation the week before the show to talk about the evolution of Comedy Corner at Broad Axe Tavern and his personal comedy.
Chris Dolan: Talk about how you got started with shows at the Broad Axe.
Dave Topor: I guess it just stemmed from an idea that there just wasn’t enough comedy in the suburbs…at least, a traditional show that’s [performed] the way it’s done in [Philly], just, outside the city. I looked around and knew Broad Axe had done some renovations and got lucky.
CD: So do you know anybody at Broad Axe..?
DT: I didn’t. I saw the third floor [where the shows are performed] and kind of knew that was a space I didn’t want to pass up, and I set up a showcase before I set up an open mic. [Author’s Note: 'Comedy Corner at Broad Axe' has also hosted periodic open mics.] [Broad Axe management] were cool with it…luckily enough, they were like, “we’ll try it out,” and then, from there, it worked out really well.
CD: How long ago was the first show?
DT: April 27th of last year …and then the idea behind the first show was that it was gonna be a [one-time] thing and we’d see what happened. Just because of the success and the popularity, after I saw it come to life, I said that this is something I need to continue.
CD: Who was on the first bill and how did the show flourish?
DT: I was just getting back into comedy myself, and my network was actually smaller, so I had to do a bit of research. So I went to Helium, and at that time they were having the finals of the March Madness competition. I saw Alex Grubard there, Gordon Baker-Bone…I picked them up. And I was going to open mics so [I approached] some people that I saw who were working consistently and had a polished look to them…again, a lot of luck involved, but the ones who I picked were able to bring it and did really well.
CD: How involved was the venue in terms of promotion and getting the word out versus you and your network getting the word out?
DT: At first, [Broad Axe] was kind of just “do your thing and we’ll see what happens.” I think when they saw what was developing, it didn’t take long for them to move quickly in terms of their involvement. They saw the benefits of having a show—a good show—and I think the first three shows they were letting me do my thing, then they started to do small things like put up table tents, send their own email…but they definitely are involved, they promote the show and they like it.
CD: How big was the audience for the first show?
DT: To capacity. We sold out the first show; I would say we probably had about 95 people in the room. Y’know I’m always fiddling with the seating and stuff, trying to get it just right.
CD: Any particular shows that stand out?
DT: I learned a lot after the first show. And maybe stuff that I knew but it wasn’t [top of mind]; I learned about what makes a strong line-up. Positioning comics…how positioning comics can make them have a better chance for success…the way you seat the room. Little things like that, that maybe audience members don’t really notice, but it really adds to the show. Once I was able to seat the room better, put my comics in better spots in a line-up to really make them succeed and really make all of the stuff run smoothly. Every show from there on was really great. Not that the first show wasn’t, but every show…I was lucky to have some of the best comics in Philly do the show. Tommy Pope, Chip Chantry…now I’m just trying to continue to grow, ’cause it’s gained a lot of momentum.
CD: Talk about the crowds. What do you notice about variability in age—local versus coming from a ways away…
DT: I’d say I’ve definitely been surprised. One thing stands out, I tend to tag a lot of the comics in posters and things like that. And David James had some fans that followed him out from Jersey. That was pretty cool. And there are a lot of people that attend from [the local] area. Some people have told me they’ve seen the promo inside [The Broad Axe], wanted to make it out to a show, and are glad they did. One lady came in September, October, November [...and all subsequent shows].
CD: So talk about your own comedy…you’d mentioned that you were in it for a while then got out. What took you away and brought you back in?
DT: I’ve been back at comedy now for about a year…putting a lot of work in since last February. And before that I’d been on hiatus since, like, 2006 or 2007. I’ve been on stage since then, but no real commitment. Between ‘04 and ‘06 I was on a real strong run, doing a lot of clubs and [performing] with a lot of guys like Chip [Chantry], Pat House and Aaron Hertzog. I guess the moment that got me to stop comedy at that point was I lost a booking, my first major booking. I got booked to do five shows, and the club I got booked at got closed down. And that took the wind out of my sails. I dropped out for a little while—well, not a little while [laughs]—came back last year and I’m glad I did. I started this show, and it started the gears moving quickly too. It gives me stage time, and allows me to perform with some of the better comedians in the city, see what they’re doing. If you’re on a great show it’s always a great experience.
CD: How has your material evolved from your first run at comedy to now?
DT: I think as a more mature comic now I try to pay a little more attention to joke structure. As a younger comic, I think my material was a little more all-over-the-place. Now I pay more attention to premises and punch lines…the science part of it. As well as staying outside the lines when it’s appropriate.
CD: What I’ve found is a lot of guys will—while it’s important to find your own voice—want to tell a story the way that you would standing around having drinks…versus developing the science, as you called it.
DT: I’ve tried to pay attention to how concise my ideas are, and that’s something I try to alert myself of, when I see an idea start to run on too much…and that ideology has allowed me to get better jokes, and I’ve even “refurbished” some old jokes.
CD: Cool. Anything else you want to say?
DT: Just thanks to the whole Philadelphia comedy community for supporting the Comedy Corner at the Broad Axe, and me…and I think this show is good for everyone; I’m excited to have a bunch more people come and perform.
The next ‘Comedy Corner at Broad Axe Tavern’ is March 23rd at Broad Axe Tavern (901 W. Butler Pike, Ambler). Doors open at 7:30pm; show starts at 8:30pm. Admission is $10 online in advance; $15 at the door.
Chris Dolan is a comic who lives in the Philly burbs. He’ll be performing at the Taproom Sportsbar in Morton PA on Thursday, Feb 28th as part of the Trulove Entertainment Totally Free Comedy Show II. Follow him on Twitter @CMDolan99.