The Bay Area has been a prominent stable in comedy ever since the early 1970s. The legacy of iconic comics like Robin Williams, Dana Carvey, and Ali Wong lives on, as hungry standout stand-up comedians continue to tickle funnybones at legendary comedy spots all over the soil. Comedy fans in the area may recognize rooms like Cobb’s Comedy Club and Punchline SF as places where comedians can perform and become instant legends. Veteran comedian Patrick Ford is looking to add his own chapter to the legacy of the Bay Area comedy scene with the opening of his new comedy club. The Alameda Comedy Club is anticipating becoming the ideal spot for guests to blow off steam after hectic workdays and enjoy incredible laughs in a humorous and diverse environment showcasing regional and national talent nightly. Patrick sat down with We Own The Laughs.com’s Tyson Paul to talk about his grand opening, new businesses during the pandemic, and why he has high expectations for comedy in Alameda. Get to know the man behind one of the new hotspots for comedy in the Bay Area.
Hello Patrick! How has your week been going?
The week has been going great! Very hectic as we work to finish our construction and equipment setup. We just hired our chef and are working on the menu for the club and are getting our final electrical and plumbing inspections so we can move on to the final finishing steps.
How long have you been in the comedy business?
I started doing standup in LA in 2007. I took a comedy workshop for 8 weeks and we had our graduation show at The Hollywood Improv, one of the most famous clubs in the world. It was quite a rush! I did OK for my first time out and got my 2nd booking right after I walked off the stage. I made it back to The Improv a year later when I made it to the auditions for Last Comic Standing. I was still pretty green and didn’t go further. I got “You’re very likable, but we’re going to pass… reluctantly.” That was good enough for me. At least I wasn’t featured in the “worst of the worst segment”! I got my first steady gig hosting the Tuesday Night Show at the Ha Ha Café in North Hollywood for a year in 2008 and that was a great learning experience. I took every spot I could get for the next six years in LA and got to perform a lot in all of the rooms at The Comedy Store as well as every bar and bowling alley in SoCal. My wife and I moved back to the Bay Area in 2013 and I performed a bit around SF and the East Bay but slowed down the pace while I pursued other things like mentoring students in web development. I’m really looking forward to focusing my full attention on comedy again.
What are some of your favorite moments from your experience in comedy?
The biggest rush was getting to perform on Saturday nights in the Original Room of The World Famous Comedy Store on the Sunset Strip. You just think of all your comedy heroes who walked that stage before you. I’d be nervous from the moment I woke up in the morning until I heard them announce my name “Give it up for your next comic, Patrick Ford!” At that moment the adrenaline kicked in and all fear and nervousness disappeared. I relished the time in the spotlight. It would take me several hours and a few drinks to come down from that!
How long have you been working on acquiring your own comedy club?
I toyed with the idea about ten years ago in LA and did some planning but didn’t really decide to pull the trigger until two years ago. My wife has spent her entire career as a restaurant general manager and was considering opening her own bar. I said, “What’s a comedy club but a bar with a stage?” Let’s do it together. She originally wanted to downsize her responsibilities and just open a small neighborhood bar with no kitchen, but when we found the location we’re in now I talked her into it. It has a full kitchen, bar, showroom, and outdoor patio so she’s back to running a full-scale restaurant.
Give us some details on the Alameda Comedy Club venue?
The club features a 150-seat indoor showroom (closed for the time being due to the pandemic), and a 40-seat outdoor patio. When the pandemic hit we were halfway through our renovation and pivoted our attention to making the patio a full outdoor showroom. We added a stage, built out the side and back walls, and wired them for lights, heaters, and fiber optic cables for video. We will have a three-camera 4k video recording system for live streaming shows and added a video projector to feature remote performers as well. We added a wheelchair lift, ADA-compliant bathroom, and ramped stage to make the club fully accessible for guests and performers. We completely remodeled the interior of the club with the theme of “classic showbiz elegance”. The stage and windows have lush red curtains. The walls have half-height wooden wainscoting with oxblood-painted upper walls that will be decorated with about 60 framed classic comedy albums from all the greats (Carlin, Pryor, Dangerfield, Lenny Bruce, and so many more). 27 pendant lights will cast a warm golden glow in the room. The stage features a hardwood floor with a custom cast bronze star at center stage, as well as a ten-foot video screen behind the motorized curtains and great theatrical lighting and sound. We also upgraded the HVAC system to bring in the fresh air that will completely replace the air in the room about every four minutes.
How often will the comedy club be open?
Initially, we will be running 5 nights a week on the patio showroom but will increase that to 6 nights a week when we can open the main showroom.
Will the venue mainly focus on stand-up comedy or will there be other different comedic events set to be showcased?
While we are primarily a stand-up comedy room we will also have improv, drag shows, sketch comedy, poetry slams, and even musical acts on occasion.
How has the Bay Area comedy scene responded to the information that Alameda will be getting a new home for comedy?
It’s been great! I’ve been giving local comics sneak peeks at the club throughout our renovation and I’ve been attending other shows and open mics all around the area to get to know everyone better.
A comedy club is only as successful as the young talent that emerges in between the big-name comedians who visit the club. Who are some comedians that may not be well-known to the masses right now, but once you open, their comedic talents will help turn you guys into one of the best comedy clubs in the state of California?
I don’t want to play favorites right now as we’re just getting started and I want to give everyone a chance to make their mark. I have a list in a spreadsheet with several hundred local comic’s names and have about 30 of them highlighted for showcase spots this fall. The club will have a development path for comics starting with an open mic, then an auditions show, guest sets, showcases, and opportunities to host and feature on the weekends working the way up to being a headliner. We will also be offering workshops from time to time.
Major sports are being allowed to play, film production has begun to operate again, and comedy clubs in Arizona and some southern states are still operating with no major problems. Should California allow comedy clubs and small performance theaters to be considered and allowed open at full capacity?
As long as they can do it safely. We’re lucky that we have an outdoor space to start with and expect that when we are allowed to open inside we will do so at reduced capacity. It will likely take a while before we can get back to the good times of a tightly packed club, but we’re in this for the long haul.
Due to the pandemic, this year is extremely different from others because of the risk regarding public safety. Are you nervous to open during these hectic times or do you see this opening as a blessing in disguise during the pandemic?
I think people are just itching to get out and have some fun. Binging on Netflix can only take you so far.
Virtual comedy shows are extremely popular during this period. Now virtual shows may never come close to the excitement of being at a live show, but will you be using this new form of comedy to help with the marketing of your new comedy club?
Like I said earlier we will be live streaming our shows with a three-camera setup. Some people still might not be comfortable attending public events by October so this will give them an opportunity to enjoy our shows from home. I’ve been supporting the comedy community watching Zoom shows but even the best ones with comics I love and respect are a bit flat without that live audience interaction.
Early October 2020, you opened up with a Letterman legend in Eddie Brill. After Brill, you brought in talented comedians the likes of Taylor Tomlinson, Hal Sparks, and Adam Hunter. Who are some other incredible talents that you can let us know about that will be making an appearance in Alameda?
We will be announcing our schedule of headliner shows in September but they feature some great comics that you’ve seen on TV. We have a bunch of comics that I know from working in LA who will be coming up as well as some of the Bay Area’s best talent. As things start getting back to normal we will bring in more talent from the East Coast and all around the country, and the world for that matter.
Who are some notable comedians on your venue wish list that before it’s all said and done you would like to bless the stage at Alameda?
Well, let’s just say Dave Chappelle is welcome to stop by any time he’s in town!
Just by the opening of its doors and beginning operations, is the Alameda Comedy Club already a success in your eyes, or do you have certain expectations that you would like to meet before you consider yourself to be satisfied?
As I said, we are in this for the long haul. We have been sweating every detail to design a classically elegant nightclub with all the modern high-tech features, along with a first-class bar and menu. We have a lot of work to do to make it great every night and keep the bills paid given our limited capacity, but we know we can do it.
Before we end this interview, WOTL would like to say congratulations to you Patrick and we wish you nothing but the best for many more years to come. Would you like to send out and special thank yous to anyone who may have helped you along the way to make this comedy club possible?
First and foremost I’d like to thank my wife and business partner Lori Theis who has been working with me side-by-side every step of the way. She’s opened nine restaurants during her career, including some of California’s top places and this is the first one she’s done for herself. I’d also like to thank my brother-in-law Scott Vail who is our third partner and has taken some big financial risk on us during this perilous time.
Checkout major talent and events coming to the Alameda Comedy Club right now at www.alamedacomedyclub.com