It feels like yesterday when we first met Emilio Savone and Scott Lindner who took an ailing New York Comedy Club and built it up to become one of New York City’s best clubs. Not only have Emilio and Scott worked miracles with their 24th street club, they’ve expanded with stages in Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania as well. This week Savone, Lindner and their entire team are celebrating an achievement that takes them to a whole new height- the opening of a second New York Comedy Club in Manhattan. They’ve taken over the space previously occupied by Eastville Comedy Club on 4th street and Second Avenue, and have big plans. I spoke with the two right before their official grand opening about the new location.
They have accomplished so much, but Scott and Emilio say they are still having a hard time believing they are veteran club owners. According to Emilio, even after four years he has to be reminded that he and his business partner own a comedy club. He still seems himself as the same guy who was hustling to produce and promote shows before buying New York. “We have to get butts in the seats. We are producing shows and booking shows and so, you know, we’re still getting comfortable with this whole notion of being an owner of a comedy club, whatever that means. To us, it’s about putting on a good show and treating comics well.” And that philosophy- comics first- has helped them transform their first club into a room that attracts first-rate talent. But it took time to rebuild their reputation.
“New York Comedy Club, when we took it over,” Savone said, “it was very much under the radar. We were taking over a brand that no one really cared about to be quite frank. So, we couldn’t really come out and be like, “Oh, we’re the new …” Everything was very much done kind of on the fly. Let’s slowly methodically build this. This [new] club gives us an opportunity to almost do a whole new, it’s almost like a launch or a grand opening of the brand itself.”
Team NYCC has proven themselves, not only re-energizing and expanding the name New York Comedy Club, but they’re doing it at a faster pace than even they expected. Their new club opened ahead of schedule, resulting in multiple launch parties, grand openings and celebrations. “Our contractor we worked with was really amazing and we actually finished the job almost three weeks ahead of where we thought we’d be done. So, we were like, okay, we can stick with the target date of August 28th, but why? Then it’s just sitting there for three weeks, that makes no sense.” So even though they had given their GM and their booker vacation time in mid August, they went ahead and opened early. “We had planned it to be like, ‘everyone go away before August 28th because when the 28th comes things are going to get real.’ Then we decided to open it on the 14th and honestly Scott wasn’t even here from the 16th to like the 23rd. Drew was gone for a week. So, we said we’ll do a soft opening for a few weeks we kinda limited capacity, we were totally understaffed, so we ran it just to get the kinks out of the way. And then last night was really a party more than anything. We had an 8:00 show followed by a party just for all the comics to come check it out, any other people wanna come by, our pal Jeffrey Gurian was here of course. We got a lot of love and support from the comedy community which is great.”
Nobody is exactly sure whether they are the first New York City club owners to be running two completely separate locations under the same name at the same time. Lindner noted that the Improv opened up a second location in NY at one point, but he believes that was about the time when Budd and his wife had a big split, so they weren’t being run by the same teams. And of course the Comedy Cellar operates three rooms simultaneously, but all three rooms are essentially in the same location. “So I think we are, I think we’re trying something that is definitely different,” Scott said. “And it was a big conversation. Do we call it the same name, do we open up a completely different brand? I mean, we labored over that for a really long time, but it just came back down to us not wanting to compete with the brand New York Comedy Club. I think we really wanted to empower it, expand upon it.”
Emilio agreed. “I feel like in New York, the brand New York Comedy Club is bigger than a 90 seater. So, we wanted to really kind of grow it and build on it. We really think 4th Street has the potential to be a really special place. We think Gramercy’s a really special place. Me and Scott did not want anyone to prefer one or the other. If they do now it’s not a big deal, it’s still New York Comedy Club.”
The renovations were significant but still simple, with the intent being to recreate the look and the feel of their Gramercy club. Scott said they had contractors in the space for weeks. “The club is pretty much exactly the same as the other club. It’s exactly the same bar top, everything is the same as far as color schemes, we have some of the same head shots up on the wall. The brick wall is the same on the stage, the sign is exactly the same on the stage. So, we were replicating Gramercy just a little bit, we still wanted to have that intimate feel, so we built steps around the stage so it’s a little bit more like Black Box Theater, that it was before. So, we did make a lot of changes, but it was all in an effort to sort of replicate the feel of Gramercy. Just a lot bigger,” he said. “Fourth Street definitely has its own feel, which we’re still trying to navigate, kind of find what it is, you know what I mean? Physically, it’s exactly the same as Gramercy. We added platforms, we painted the room black and you’d be surprised how if you just make some subtle changes– like the second this room became all black, it looked totally different. Because before, it was like a bright green color.”
Finding 4th street seemed like it was meant to be, Emilio said. There were connections and signs and coincidences that kept adding up. “I’ll never forget a few years ago, I’d never even been in the Eastville. And a few years ago I was wandering down Second Avenue with a friend of mine and I ran into Gary Vider and Andy Fiori. They’re all hanging outside of Eastville and it was pretty full and I was like, “Wow they’re packed.” And Gary was like, “This place does great business on the weekends.” He’s like, “It just needs someone, it just needs a group of people to really take care of it.” He’s like, “If you guys took over this space and did what you did in New York, here …” He’s like, “It would be one of the best clubs in the city.”
“So, you know, that really kind of stuck with me. And then, when we walked in here, it almost just kind of happened very, it was all like very … I don’t want to say … it just seemed like something was pulling us here. We had a realtor showing us spaces in East Village. He showed us the space right next to Eastville, not knowing that there was a comedy club here. We were like, “Whoa, this isn’t going to work, there’s a comedy club right there.”
But they liked the area, and never forgot what Gary Vider had said to them, and so they left word around that if Marko, the owner of Eastville was ever looking to leave, they would be interested in taking over the space. They had heard rumblings now and then that maybe he was leaving, maybe he wasn’t. “Two months later we heard from another person that he was leaving the space and that’s when we jumped on it. Not to sound like a drama, but, it was like destined for us to be here I felt like. It’s really weird.” Scott agreed. “It was a train that was on its own path, or whatever it’s called. What is it? Like in, where is a train going? Whatever, I don’t know. Whatever. It was a moving train. We were just passengers on the train.”
The coincidences went back even further. Marko, who owned Eastville, used to work with Al Martin, who was the previous owner of New York Country Club. “That’s what’s weird,” Emilio explained. “That space that we have next to New York Comedy Club, Marko used to run. He used to run that space. When he left, he built Eastville. He said Eastville was set up to look like New York Comedy Club. So, there’s all these weird little things between the two rooms. You know, and also, this is a little nuts too but, OCD wise, we’re on 24th Street and 2nd Avenue. We are literally 20 blocks down the street and in the same hub of the street. It’s like the numbers are similar, 4th Street, 2nd Avenue, 24th and 2nd. Again, there’s just all these little weird things. There’s a lot of strange weird coincidences between the two rooms. It just seems to compliment, the rooms seem to compliment each other really, really well.”
Wishing the best to our friends at New York Comedy Club which you can now visit at 241 East 24th St. (original location in Gramercy) or 85 East 4th St (the new location in the East Village), both off Second Avenue. Visit newyorkcomedyclub.com for listings for both clubs.