Why the Comedy Cellar Spent 20k to Move a Table About 33 Inches (Updated)

A story from the latest issue of The New Yorker documents the outrage among New York comedians who found out that a table they love to sit at had been moved a few feet.

According to the New Yorker, the story goes like this: The Comedy Cellar, owned by Noam Dworman, is one of NYC’s most beloved comedy clubs, a home to the likes of , , , Bobby Kelly and a host of other big acts. The venue is in the basement of a restaurant called the Olive Tree, also owned by Dworman. Since Dworman’s late father, Manny, opened the club and restaurant in 1981, the comics have taken to spending time upstairs both before and after their sets. To accommodate them, Manny Dworman pushed a couple tables together some years back and permanently placed a sign there reading “This table is reserved for Comedy Cellar comedians only.” The table, from that day forward, became a place of honor for comics who frequent the club, a place where they could sit and ponder, debate, or just generally bullshit with one another. “It feels like a backstage area,” said ’s Michael Che of the infamous table. “People will look over, and they’ll instantly know, ‘okay, we shouldn’t bother them.’”

Some of the comics were apparently very unhappy when renovations caused the table to be shifted a few feet. Dworman extended the restaurant’s kitchen space to provide for better quality food for the comics, but when the additions were done, the famed comics table had been moved about 4.5 feet; more like 33 inches by Noam’s calculation. Dworman apparently got a lot of negative feedback from the comics. Bill Burr ranted on his podcast that Dworman’s changes “literally fucked with the whole aura of the place.” Bobby Kelly said “More comics could sit there, but it wasn’t the table.” Chris Rock, when asked by Mark Normand about the change, said simply “This place is over.”

But Cellar owner Noam Dworman said the New Yorker got part of the story wrong.

We reached out to Dworman about the story who told us that it was never his plan to move the table.  He got it- the history, the comfort, everything. In fact, he said, “the truth is that the only requirement made of the architect was that the table NOT be moved.” He told us, this was repeated at least 10 times.  “I didn’t take a “chance” as Colin thought. On the contrary, the intention was to take no chances. But somewhere along the way, we were told we’d have to bend on a couple of feet.

When the table wound up in the wrong place, he said they tried to find a way to live with the mistake by closing the bar and various other band-aids, but he said nothing felt right. “So I bit the bullet and had another contractor move the table back to exactly the same location it had been in (give or take fractions of an inch). In fact, if it’s anything, it’s a bit further away from the bar than it used be – but I think it’s exact,” he said.

To make that change, Dworman dished out another big chunk of change (20k according to the article).

“In the midst of our struggles to undo the mess the contractors made, we started getting flack from some very important comedians.  That’s when Burr made his comment.”   Burr’s comment that Noam “literally fucked with the whole aura of this place!” was because Burr had no idea Noam was aware of, and desperately trying to fix the problem.  Dworman said his original unedited text to Burr was:  “Yo, we moved the table over 4.5 ft in order to double the size of the kitchen, so the fucking comics can have steak and pasta instead of falafel every night. Lol. I’ll get the kinks out. Who likes to be criticized on material they’re working on?” 

Ultimately, it wasn’t a story about trying something and failing, but instead, according to Dworman, just a bad contractor.  And when they realized there was no other solution, they bit the bullet, and re-renovated.

Be sure to check out the original story over at The New Yorker, which has some more quotes from the likes of , Chris Rock, Rachel Feinstein and more.

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Bill Tressler

Bill is a writer and comedy enthusiast from New York. An avid gamer and podcast fan, he strives to always toe the line between charming irreverence and grating honesty.