An Oral History of a Buffalo Comedy Institution: Nietzsche’s

Buffalo Oral History Map

10 Years of Comedy at Nietzsche’s in Buffalo – An Oral History

In 2006, when started the Doin’ Time Comedy Showcase at Nietzsche’s on Allen St. in Buffalo, there were about 8 comics in town and no comedy scene to speak of.  Now, 10 years later, Nietzsche’s is one room among many.

Buffalo has its own club, a Helium. There are open mics and showcases and themed comedy nights and other assorted gigs almost every night of the week, and there are 30, 40, 50, maybe even more comics filling those slots and slinging jokes for love and (sometimes) money. (Sometimes.)

But none of it would have been possible if Kristen Becker hadn’t started that first open mic in a divey music venue in Allentown.

Becker int still wide

Full disclosure: I’m a comedian, and I got my start at Nietzsche’s. Nietzsche’s is special to me. It’s special to everyone I spoke to for this story. As you read this, you’ll see superlatives like “the best show in town” and “a Holy Grail” and all sorts of other praise you might read as hyperbole. But to the comics who came up through that room, all of it is true.

I did my first set there. (My wife, who was still my girlfriend at the time, brought some of our friends even though I told her not to. Their opinion of me wasn’t irreparably damaged, so I guess I did OK.) I got my first MC gigs there, working with heavyweights like and . I got to watch my friends work with other heavyweights like Todd Barry, Judah Friedlander, and . I dealt with my first heckler there. I filmed the snazzy demo reel I put on my website there. I met some of my best friends there. One of them, Mark Walton, was in my wedding party.

Everyone I spoke to for this piece has similar stories. Nietzsche’s was our CBGB. Our Comedy Cellar. Our UCB Theater (the original one, not the new one, or the other new one, though those are still great!). It was our everything.

Yes, things have changed. Nietzsche’s is no longer the sun around which the entire Buffalo comedy scene orbits. The big name headliners go to Helium now, or to the theaters who saw that there was a market for comedy and decided to get themselves a piece of the action. The Doin’ Time Comedy Showcase has gone through a couple of name, host, and format changes – now, it’s the Rust Belt Comedy Showcase, hosted by Brian Netzel, and it’s an actual showcase, not an open mic – and audience attendance isn’t always what it used to be.

But on the right night, you can still feel the old magic.

On Tuesday, March 3, Nietzsche’s hosted the 10 Years of Comedy showcase to celebrate 520 straight Tuesdays of comedy – minus a few Fat Tuesdays, as Tyrone Maclin pointed out during his set.

The lineup spanned “generations,” as it were. There were brand spanking new comics, freshly graduated from Kristen Becker’s comedy class. There were some newer, but slightly more seasoned comics like B.C. Garvey and Don Johnson. There was Brian Netzel, who, if we’re going to use a school metaphor, would be one grade-level lower than me. There was Rick Mathews, who graduated from Kristen’s class 7 years ago and went on to become what I guess would be considered an elder statesman in such a young scene. There was me. I also started around 7 years ago, just after Rick. There was Josh Potter and Tyrone Maclin, who have been around since the beginning. And the host was Kristen Becker, back in her old post, holding it down like she’d never left.

It was a good show. Not the hottest night we’d ever had, but good. The crowd was classic Nietzsche’s. Tough, but fair. Serve up the right joke and they eat it up. Serve up the wrong joke and they send it back.

In a way, it’s more fitting that it was just good than if it was a house-on-fire, call-911, four-alarm banger. It was like a regular Tuesday from back before Buffalo comedy was “a thing,” plucked out of the past and plopped down into 2016. Old-school Nietzsche’s. Just like we remembered.

Nietzsches sign

Part 1: The Beginning

Kristen Becker (founder of the Doin’ Time Comedy Showcase at Nietzsche’s):

When this started there was Comix Cafe for a little while, but there were no amateur stages. No one was doing a mic. You could go and get a guest spot at the Comix Cafe on the weekend every other month, maybe. There was just nowhere to work out material. I had moved back here and thought I was going to leave. I started a room just out of needing a stage and not getting stale, and then people started getting interested, and it just kind of took over. And then it ruined my plans to leave. And here I am.

Shaun Murphy (stand up comic, currently living in New York City, once played a dead body on a TV show):

I first started at Comix Cafe right before Nietzsche’s started – Christ, I’ve been doing this for a long time Eric – and it really can’t be overstated how important that room was. Once Comix in Buffalo and Rochester closed there was nothing. I don’t mean “clubs.” I mean, nothing. As far as I knew, Nietzsche’s was the only regular comedy show or mic within at least an hour’s drive. It was a great room that came around at exactly the right time.

Greg Bauch (stand up comic, former on-air personality on WGR 550 Sports Radio):

I was there the year Kristen Becker started the room. At the time, it was really the only place to do standup. There was always a good crowd. Sometimes it was a little weird, like the time a drunk guy just wandered up on stage and stood behind me for three minutes, but the seats were always filled.

Dan Fisher (stand up comic, currently living in New York City, but is probably behind you right now)

I had performed once in 2006 in Rochester, but I didn’t get up again until that next year in 2007. I’ll never forget how drunk I got to work up the courage to perform there. I walked up to Kristen Becker and asked if I could go up and she excitedly said, “Absolutely!”

When I started, it was Kristen, Mark Walton, Kevin Carlin, Shanin Allen, Kuz, Matt Bergman, and a smattering of others. I couldn’t miss a week and the thought of Tuesday put my stomach in knots. I’d write all week and pace around my room nervously until going there. Within a year, Tyrone Maclin, Rick Matthews, and Josh Potter started, and Matt Wayne moved back from Chicago. Wayne’s return seemed to up the ante there. I’m not ashamed to say I wanted to do well when he and Bergman were in the room. The crowds were hit or miss early on. Some weeks in the early days it would be just me and Walton going up in front of 4 non-comics, who had probably read about comedy in the paper or something. It was tough, but it really got you ready for comedy. Small crowds are way harder.

Tyrone Maclin (stand up comic, current host of the Milkie’s Comedy Open Mic in Buffalo, can get you a great deal on Bluetooth headphones)

When I first started it was a thin crowd most nights, but they were attentive. I remember the regulars my first month: Dan Fisher, Mark Walton, this guy Pat O’Keefe, who did guitar comedy. His big closer was a song about his cat called “Fat Lazy Pussy”.

Matt Bergman (stand up comic, currently living in Washington, DC, probably just got off stage at the Des Moines Funny Bone at the time I’m writing this)

It was small. Like to the point where we thought we might have to go up again to fill the time, which seems crazy, considering what comedy is now in Buffalo.

Mark Walton (stand up comic, former host of the Ubermensch Comedy Showcase at Nietzsche’s, once acted in a movie with Michael Madsen that will probably never be released):

When I first started there were maybe 6-8 people who would be there weekly, that I thought were really funny, and I wanted to impress them as much, or maybe more, than I wanted the audience to like me. Because there were so few comics, I tried to write new stuff for every time I performed, and cycle it in with the stuff I had done before that I was still working on.

Some nights there was a lot of audience, some nights, like during hockey season, there was very little, but you always knew Kenny the sound guy was going to bring you up to one of the 7 intro songs that he always uses, and it was always going to be a fun hang, and you were going to be able to do comedy.

Shaun Murphy

When I moved, I had Kenny burn me all of the music intros he uses. That shit’s almost iconic to me.

Josh Potter (stand up comic, on-air personality and producer for 103.3 The Edge, could probably out-beard the Duck Dynasty guys if he put in the time)

Those first 6 years or so, it was the only game in town. I would pray to get a spot on it because if I didn’t that means a whole week of not performing. Anyone who is trying to make this their life and profession knows that stage time is important and getting up once a week for 5 minutes is nothing, but it was all we had for so long and it meant the world to me. I looked forward to with an intensity that i can’t even describe. If I didn’t get on the list that week, it was so depressing. Same goes for the actual sets. You could ride the high of a good one for a week, and a bad one would crush me for a week.

There were maybe 8-12 regular comics hanging out and they were very judgmental, as comics tend to be. Getting accepted into that initial “inner circle” felt amazing but I didn’t feel like it was anything bigger than that. It didn’t feel like a “scene” was building. I just wanted respect from the other comics and of course validation through laughs from the crowd. In those days, it being the only game in town, the crowds were always packed and it was a great way to learn who I was and how to do comedy. The amount I learned there can’t even be quantified.

Rick Matthews (stand up comic, former host of the Rust Belt Comedy Showcase at Nietzsche’s, Fun Dad)

This was it. Nietzsche’s was the only place to do comedy. You’d come every single week, just hoping somebody would drop off so you could hop on a spot. Just hanging out and waiting for Kristen to say, “You know, blah-blah-blah couldn’t make it,” and trying to steal it.

Shanin Allen-Carlin (stand up comic, currently living somewhere in Colorado, voted Best Hair in Buffalo Comedy by me just now):

Back in late ’06, Doin’ Time comedy showcase definitely had a more close-knit, friendly feel to it. People were pretty supportive of you if they saw you had talent, even if you were just starting out. If it weren’t for that atmosphere, I probably wouldn’t have gone up there for as long as I did.

Mark Ciemcioch (former stand up comic, head writer and former cast member of Kristen Becker’s Dykes of Hazard Variety Hour, Even Funner Dad (sorry, Rick))

I think I started performing there 07-08 probably. At the beginning, it was mostly comics like Dan Fisher, Mark Walton, Tyrone Maclin, Kevin Carlin and a few others standing around. We were probably mostly terrible, but if we can pop that room – especially during the winter when everybody’s miserable – then we knew we had something.

Brian Brady (stand up comic, current host of the Green Gorilla Comedy Showcase at Magruders in Depew, pharmacist by day, so drinks are on him)

It was this amazing group of comics – Kevin Carlin, Shanin Allen, John Marren, Mark Walton, Shaun Murphy, Marc Dombrowski, Dan Rice come to mind – and my schedule then allowed me to go every week, and for a while a handful of comics went every week, and wrote new jokes every week, and offered each other real feedback, and it was really inspiring and had a real feeling of worth. And so much fun. Everyone gets into comedy for that reason initially. And here we all were, doing our thing, with pro lights and sound to boot. Thanks Kenny!

Rick Matthews, Dan Fisher and Shaun Murphy

Rick, Dan and Shaun

Part 2: The Venue

Kristen Becker

I was dead set on this room. A lot of people were like, “That’s an awful idea.” You gotta pay the sound guy, this isn’t a low-profile stage. My point was, in order for people to take comedy seriously, it needed to feel like a big deal. That, to me, negated the idea of just going to a coffee shop and putting it in a corner. All those sorts of stages are necessary, but for me to make something that I thought people would latch onto and think was a cool thing, I wanted the people who were trying it even once to get this really high feeling, where there’s stage lights, and there’s great sound, and there’s a balcony. Like you’re on a real stage.

I had known Kenny, the sound guy, because that’s really where you gotta start. You gotta convince the sound guy that he doesn’t need his normal pay to do this. But you can do that because you just need a microphone. I don’t have a backline, I don’t have any of that stuff.

Joe, the owner of Nietzsche’s was like, “I got nothing going on on Tuesdays anyway,” and that was really how it started, but he said, “If you want to do it in the back, you gotta talk to Kenny,” so I talked to Kenny and was like, “If we did this every week, and you made X amount every week, would you take 35% of what you usually make? Because if you add it all together…”

And so that was really the start of it. Kenny was on board. He knew me from doing some work with The Stripteasers [Buffalo’s most popular burlesque troupe], and we had done some bigger shows here. So that was the first step.

And then the second step was getting enough talent to maintain a stage on a weekly basis. You have to have a weekly stage to build a scene, but you have to have a scene to maintain a weekly stage. Otherwise it’s the same six people telling the same shitty jokes, because everyone’s new.

So I would bring in guys and girls from Toronto. I started there and luckily, because I’m close to a major market like Toronto, I can go, “Hey, guy who’s two years in, wanna work out a 10 minute set? Because I know you’re only getting four to five minutes on every stage you go to in Toronto. But if you drive down to Buffalo with some friends, I’ll buy you some chicken wings and I’ll give you ten to twelve minutes. And if people show up, I’ll give you some gas money, too. No promises on the gas money.”

And that’s what we did for the first few years while we were going from 8 to 10 guys to 25, 30 people. Some who are coming every week, some who are coming twice a month, some are showing up every three months, whatever it is. There was starting to be a comedy culture, where people would come hang out.

We had some hardcore regulars back at the beginning. I almost started a Lifer Card, because it was Doin’ Time at the time. And in order to do the kickoff, I was gonna sell them for like $100. And if you got this, you’d be able to come forever. But no one really thought it would last. So it would seem like I was just ripping people off. And now, 10 years later, I’m like, “I bet you wish you would have bought that!”

So it just took a lot of people willing to help, honestly. A lot of people had to pitch in for it to happen. And here it stands.

Dan Fisher

Nietzsche’s is different than other venues because that stage is so high up. It takes like 4 minutes to get up there. The crowd respects the show and the performer, and you just have to be funny. There’s also plenty of room in the back for people to just hang out and drink and not disrupt the comics. I think that makes it a better experience for everyone there.

Mark Walton

Nietzsche’s has that old school music venue vibe, which made it fun to perform and hang out at. It’s just a cool place, with all the band names written on the ceiling, it’s just cool to perform there. Other places are usually a little more sterile, or don’t have a sound guy, or aren’t as fun to hang out at. Also, audience. Now that I am in NYC I miss having civilians at open mics to work stuff out in front of. Here all mics just have comics at them.

Kevin Carlin (former-ish stand up comic, currently living somewhere in Colorado, Mr. Shanin Allen-Carlin)

After moving to New York and seeing what an open mic was there, I realized just how badly I had taken Doin’ Time for granted. An open mic with paying audience members? Insanity. The Doin’ Time open mic was better than so many booked shows in New York, and yet we constantly found ways to not appreciate it, to complain and have silly drama over nothing. I know that’s inevitable with the egos and large personalities of folks who want to do standup, especially when a lot of them are really bad at it, and I know we always romanticize the past, but we had it pretty good. I hope the folks at the Nietzch still have it good, whether they realize it or not.

Rick Matthews

Even when it wasn’t the only show in town, it was still the best show in town. Even when a Wednesday room would open, or a Sunday room would open, Nietzsche’s was still the best one.

Mark Ciemcioch

Nietzsche’s just had the coolest vibe. Unlike a lot of bar open mics, the stage was basically a separate room from the bar so people hanging around the stage were there for the jokes. It probably wasn’t as critically awesome as legendary rooms like the Comedy Cellar, Largo, or even Studio 8H for SNL, but it felt like those places to me and other performers. Doing well at Nietzsche’s mattered.

Clayton Williams (stand up comic, current host of Uncle Jerry’s Comedy Attic at Mr. Goodbar in Buffalo, in love with the coco)

Nietzsche’s was like a holy grail when I started. I would email and email to get on there and would be turned away. I didn’t get go on stage there until maybe 3 months into comedy, and when I did, it felt special because it felt like being accepted into club. You felt good doing well at Nietzsche’s because it was harder there and had this aura around it. I think it’s how intimate Nietzsche’s feels compared to other places. You’re very close to the audience and you feel it.

Kyle Turner (stand up comic, currently living in New York City, subletting Dan Fisher’s butt)

In my opinion, Nietzsche’s is the most difficult room in the city. But it is rooms like Nietzsche’s that make comics better. Laughter is not given away there, you really have to earn every laugh you get.

Matt Bergman

I think it became a room where you had to step up your game the later you went. The list of comics performing became stronger and stronger, which made everyone work harder. And the venue is called Nietzsche’s, which makes it bad ass.

I also liked how every now and again that goddamn pay phone would ring. Why was that there? Seriously.

Greg Bauch

Nietzsche’s is the last place on earth where you can sit and drink a beer and hear a pay phone ring.

Kevin Carlin

It was such a great place to cut my chops, and it made me so much better. People always talk about how the really terrible shows make you better, and I’m sure that’s true to an extent, but I think having a comfortable room with a good audience where I could always try new stuff made me way better than bombing at a fire hall or terrible bar show did. The audience at Nietzsche’s was great, but they held you accountable. They still made you work for it, so just because you didn’t bomb every time doesn’t mean you weren’t improving.

Katherine O’Hanlon (Kat Horan) (stand up comic, currently living I don’t even know where, left Buffalo for Ireland to work on a farm)

I think I started in 2010 or maybe 2011. I just thought everyone was so funny. I felt like it was really supportive, but still pushed me to get better. I had some of the worst, most embarrassing sets of my life at Nietzsche’s, but I seriously don’t have a single bad memory about that place, cause as bad as those sets were, I was having too much fun to really get down about it.

I have traveled a bit since leaving Buffalo and been a part of quite a few different shows and scenes. Nietzsche’s is different. I find it hard to describe, but I think all the people involved with Nietzsche’s, from the comedians to the audience, are just a little more open to the experience of stand up, if that makes sense. A lot of the places I go, you feel this pull back when you first go on stage or even talk to other comics and you have to convince them to “come with you.” But at Nietzsche’s, it felt like they were already there. It was also an incredibly supportive place, but still pushed you to be better. It taught comics some important lessons about putting in time and being respectful. I am so grateful for everything I learned at Nietzsche’s.

Shanin Allen-Carlin

I really felt at home. I never got the traction at other places like I did at Nietzsche’s. Plus, it seemed grittier and more genuine. Trying out jokes in front of an audience that’s 75% comics really pushes you to cut the bullshit out of your act and hone your craft a lot faster than you would if you started out in a more well-known club.

Shaun Murphy

Nietzsche’s is just an amazing place to do comedy: great stage, the bar is far away from the comics, Kenny is a great sound guy. But the thing that really made it great was that everyone was there. It’s probably what everyone in Buffalo has now with Milkie’s – it’s the only mic on Wednesday so everyone is going to be there. Now imagine if that was the only mic period – it became a hugely important thing for most people. That’s what I miss the most: driving to a bar and knowing all of my friends were gonna be there telling jokes.

Part 3: “The Hang”

Brian Brady

Without question, my favorite thing about Nietzsche’s was “the hang.” Ask any comic that has ties to the scene, and has made real friends in it. Hanging out and just shooting the shit with the other comics before and after the show, reliving moments, or how jokes killed (or missed) that night – that part is really cool, and I was lucky enough to hang a bunch early on, and make a lot of great friends, who have shared a lot of cool nights from it.

Kyle Turner

My favorite thing about going there was honestly the hang with everyone. When I started comedy, there was only one other mic, so everyone came out on Tuesday to hangout, even if they weren’t on the show. It was like a party every Tuesday, that was a lot of fun.

Dan Fisher

My favorite thing about Nietzsche’s was the hang out. Not to be cheesy about it but those really were the most fun years of comedy for me and I miss it a lot. You’d go up, do your shit, get off stage and start drinking with the guys talking about how the show went. We’d stay there a bit and move across the street and drink until late. Tuesday was the best night of the week.

Josh Potter

My favorite thing in those early days was the hangs. Everyone went out, every one would hang on the patio talking about their jokes. It was electric. We’d meet girls there, we’d discuss new jokes.

Matt Bergman

I enjoyed waiting to see if a cute girl would walk in and watching every comic who was single change their set list from new jokes to tried and true material to hopefully stand out and impress the new girl.

Josh Potter

Most Tuesdays after the show we’d go across the street to Staples and sit in a booth and just ride the high. Some of my favorite nights were because of those shows and I’ve made some of the best friends I’ll continue to have for the rest of my life in comedy and out. Matt Wayne and I used to treat Tuesday nights like New Years Eve every week. We’d be on such a high from the shows we’d party until the sun came up. Others did too. That vibe kind of wore down as people spread their mic time out more, and of course many of the original people moved on from the city, growing their own careers.

Nietzsches

Part 4: Growing Pains

Kristen Becker

The first four years were great. Then there was the first exodus of comics, when Matt Wayne left, and Kevin Carlin left, and Shanin Allen left. Then it was regrouping, but then you [Eric Lingenfelter] popped up, and Brian Herberger got back involved. He had been involved for years and kind of ducked out and came back in.

I think the one thing people don’t realize is how much I strategized the entire scene. I used to piss people off. I would go to people and say, “You have no business running a room.” And who the fuck was I, right?

But people would see me do this, and I was charging $5, and maybe 30 people would show up, and they’re like, “Becker’s making money, and now we’re all gonna do a room.” And everyone was well-intended, but I was like, “If you suck…”

Remember, when I came here, I was already five years in. I really thought, I’m the best person to fucking do this, because at least if they come to a show, I’m the host, and they’re not gonna get this awful impression of Buffalo comedy. And everybody else can figure it out, and once they do, they can do their own rooms.

I discouraged some stuff. I was concerned that the idea of Buffalo comedy was so new that if people went to a show and saw someone who just sucked, they would be so turned off that it would be counterproductive for all of us. It’s like when you’re starting to date somebody. You don’t fart until the eighth month. You get them in and you really get to know them before you give them your shit, right? And so it was kind of like that.

Brian Brady

As time went on the room grew and people started coming to the show. More comics, and really good comics, were coming up into the scene and it changed, got a little shinier. Spots became coveted and you had to push to create and write better stuff. All good things.

Clayton Williams

I think it became easier performing there as the years went on. When I started, we had all these heavy weights that I would watch go up and it was just intimidating having to go up before or some times follow them. You wanted to do well so that you would be accepted there and it’s kind of lost that vibe a little. I think with most of the older guys leaving and me kinda becoming an older guy, the pressure isn’t on as much.

Shaun Murphy

It’s really amazing how the scene has changed. When I started there was maybe twelve comics – including some of the older veterans – and one weekly show at Nietzsche’s. Now there’s probably close to 100 people in Buffalo who do comedy along with Helium and a mic almost every night. It’s crazy. And Nietzsche’s has really reflected that change. At the beginning of its cycle, there were like seven people doing the show. I mean, I remember nights where shows went short because there weren’t enough comics. So every time a new person came out it was a big deal.

Dan Fisher

Around summer of 2009, it started to happen. There’d be 60-80 people there some weeks. It was absolutely insane. I missed a few weeks because I wanted to play beer league softball, which was pretty stupid, but when I got back, it was like doing a club or major show. Making those crowds laugh was our reward for gutting it out every week in front of 3 drunk guys and 8 comics.

Rick Matthews

I saw it go from being the only show, and it wasn’t always highly attended, to a run there where it was just bombed every week. There were 50 people here and they were all into it.

Kevin Carlin

Sometimes it felt like it was growing and growing, and then other times it felt like it was about to peter out altogether, and then it would explode again. I think I finally figured out that that was more to do with the seasons of the year, and I stopped panicking when it was light, and stopped being delusional about it becoming something more when it was packed.

Josh Potter

As more comics started coming around and things started growing, Nietzsche’s continued to be the “marquee” showcase in Buffalo. Those who had a hard time getting on stage there started their own mics and rooms, which was great, but fleeting. Soon, other viable mics cropped up which was welcome because it meant more stage time during the week, which was a necessity, obviously. But it took the electricity away from Nietzsche’s a bit.

Part 5: Changes

Kristen Becker

I had been doing it for six years, and I was miserable in life. I think the entire fifth year, I don’t think I hosted. I just got drunk. I’d host the first two or three spots. There was a lot of guest hosting popping up. Because after a while, we all evolve.

How often do you want to sit through an open mic? It can be fun. But when you have to run the clock… I was sitting here watching this class [the graduating class at the 10th Anniversary Showcase] and I was dreading it for tonight! Like, shit! I gotta time people and pay attention again! Because you just reach a point where you’re beyond it in your own creative process. And while you know it’s a necessary evil, it just got to where I was so sick of hearing shitty jokes.

I think that’s when I kind of started to lose a little bit of interest.

My fiance got sick and lost her job, and I was a touring comedian at the time. Right before that I’d opened up for Ani DiFranco like three times. Comedy was actually doing alright by me. I got named in Paste Magazine as someone to watch in 2013. It was me and James Adomian and Sean Patton [also and Mary Mack]. But in 2013, I had signed a contract to open up a comedy club [Helium, where she worked as General Manager for a time]. So I got this big press, like, hey, check these comics out, this is one of them, and I was like, “Actually, no, I’m just gonna sign contracts all year.”

That came about when I started producing bigger shows here. I did that first season. It was Maria Bamford, Todd Barry, Rich Vos, Chris Porter, Doug Stanhope, and Judah Friedlander.

I was trying to figure out a way to make money without selling my soul, and to me that was a big comedy show once a month to build the Doin’ Time brand. Mark Grossman [owner of the Helium comedy club chain] saw those shows, and then he called me and asked me how I was ticketing them, because he had his own ticketing site, because he’s not stupid and he knew he was talking to a comedian, he mentioned that he owned a club. Because if you’re trying to cold call somebody, you give them the information that they want to hear. “I’m a club owner, I have a club here and a club there,” and I’m like, “Alright, yeah, yeah, yeah.”

And so I asked him if he wanted to open a club a couple of times. He said no. Many times. I think he said no three or four times. And then about a year later he said he was coming to visit with his brother, and then the next morning, he sent me an email saying, “We think we like that space.”

It took a lot of nagging. I took videos of places. I was obnoxious. I went to the Showplace Theatre when it was for sale. I took video of that. I took video of Ya Ya Brewhouse, I called these real estate agents and was like, “Just let me shoot video and send it to this guy.” And I would.

Helium’s bringing in people who are on television on a regular basis and they’re really getting a mainstream mass audience excited. And they’ve got hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend on marketing, which I could never do. I could never do for comedy what Helium did for comedy here. Even though I’m not a club comic, I’m not stupid. There’s economics involved.

I mean, I could take out a small business loan and open up my little comedy garage or whatever, but I’m not gonna have the money to have an ad in the paper every single week, and a radio ad, and all of the things that are really required to build a scene in the way a giant club can.

When Helium came about, I basically was doing everything in my power to keep this room. That was my goal. Because I felt like a comedy club just wants to make money. I wanted to develop a comedy scene. And to develop a comedy scene, and to develop an industry and a market, you have to have a variety of stages. You have to have people who have this sort of a stage, and a Milkie’s sort of a stage, and a Goodbar sort of a stage, and a coffee shop stage, and you have to have all of these things to make people really viable. That’s why the Helium open mic was on Wednesdays, that’s why Mark Walton was chosen as a successor, because I wanted to not screw Mark Walton, I asked Mark to move Goodbar to Sundays, Mark to take here, Helium would take Wednesdays, and I moved all of the pieces around so that all of the stages would stay intact, and the entry of this club wouldn’t destroy anything.

[Mark Walton took over hosting and booking duties at Nietzsche’s for a time, during which the showcase was renamed the Ubermensch Comedy Showcase. After a few months, Mark handed hosting and booking duties to Rick Matthews, who christened the room The Rust Belt Comedy Showcase. Shortly after Rick took over, Helium moved its open mic night over to Tuesdays to make room for additional shows on Wednesdays.]

kristen and doug stanhope at nietzsches

Kristen Becker

Everyone knows that I didn’t hand it to Rick, and there was always a little bit of a question why, but it was purely business. He had just found out he had a kid and another one on the way, and to me it made more sense to move Goodbar and give Walton something and just move those pieces instead of being like, “Here’s a guy who already has too much on his plate! I should hand him this!” But sure enough, it ended up in his hands anyway, and he held on to it, but I know it was a little touch and go for a little while when the club opened.

Rick held it down at the worst time possible, as far as I’m concerned. The club was opening, rooms were popping up everywhere, it was a thankless job to run it at that point. I did my best with Helium.

I knew eventually that Helium would shift to Tuesdays. That’s their business model. That’s what they do in every other club. They were just being nice to me because I was a stubborn asshole.

I still stand by that. If this room would have gone down, it would have been a detriment to the overall scene. If any of the rooms would have gone down, it would have been a detriment.

Rick Matthews

When I was running it, I didn’t want it to die with me. Running it for two-and-a-half years was scary. I didn’t want to be the one to sink what was at that point an 8-year-strong ship. I’m really glad it’s still happening right now.

Being new, I wanted to make it different. I don’t know why. In retrospect, I should have just left it. So I started the showcase format, and then the cards format, Setlists Against Humanity [comics would draw three Cards Against Humanity cards and improvise a set based on the topics on the cards].

Kristen Becker

I think it [Setlists Against Humanity] was a great idea. Maybe just a hair ahead of where the scene was. He could probably try that again in a year and people would be like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah!”

He held on during the lean years.

[When he found out that he was going to have a third child, Rick decided to hand off the room to a new host and booker, Brian Netzel.]

Brian Netzel (stand up comic, current host of The Rust Belt Comedy Showcase at Nietzsche’s, believes that gloves with fingers are for the weak)

When I first started going there to tell jokes, the comics were mostly guys that came up together for the last 10 years and got regular paid gigs at the club. I was really envious of their talent and am still jealous of how good they are and how easy they make it seem.

As time went on, especially in the last year, there was an influx of newer comics like myself who were putting in as much work as possible into comedy. The foundation that the veteran comics laid down really made it easier for the rest of us to have more stages to get on. I really feel blessed that there’s so many places to perform and craft jokes. And the amount of new comics being able to find their voice tells me I’m not the only one that feels that way.

The history of that room has seen a few Buffalo comics move on and achieve success that all of us newer guys are in awe of. Comics like Kristen Becker, Josh Potter, Mark Walton, and a bunch of other comics I genuinely respect, honed their craft at Nietzsche’s, and left a legacy that makes me realize how far I have yet to go.

Brian Netzel

Brian Netzel

Kristen Becker

Brian Netzel right now is on fire. Rick called me and asked me… It’s like a little bit of a comedy mafia. Rick called and was like, “I just wanted to ask you if you had any suggestions before I pass this off.” I thought Netzel and he thought Netzel, because he’s new and he’s working real hard, and he’s promoting the heck out of it, and he’s excited about the history of Nietzsche’s, and he’s not too cool for it.

Comedians can be assholes, and sometimes we don’t want to get too excited about something being successful. Netzel doesn’t give a shit. He’s throwing everything into it and he recognizes that with a little bit of effort, it can make you a little money every week.

Rick Matthews

Handing the room over was terrifying. If it would have died off in the first month… It’s the room I started in, so it has that sentimentality to it, because it’s the first place I stepped on stage. And then for two-and-a-half years, it was my room. I was here every Tuesday. I was having the fun, the good times, the bad times, and the craziness. It was my baby. And then I had to give it away again. So I did, and I was scared. And it seems to be going well, so I’m relieved.

Brian Netzel

Taking this room over was a mixture of pure excitement and absolute terror. Every week, the phrase “Don’t drop the baby, don’t drop the baby, DON’T DROP THE BABY!” plays over and over in my head until it’s stage time.

Rick Matthews

That feeling never went away for me. Once I realized that I didn’t care if the baby fell anymore, I was like, “Uh, oh. Better hand it off.”

Brian Netzel

It’s massive waves of anxiety and adrenaline mixed together when a bunch of successful, veteran comics hand you the room that they cut their teeth in. It’s been great so far though, so hopefully I can keep the torch lit. It’s a huge responsibility.

Part 6: Favorite Moments

Kristen Becker

The first Doug Stanhope show will always be one of my favorite nights here. It was the first time we really unwrapped what could happen. I really liked the Don Paul roast. We roasted the weatherman [from Channel 4 in Buffalo] and that was real fun. Not a lot of people showed up.

When we started doing this stuff, no one really wanted to publicize it, because no one knew what we were doing. We did the Roast of Rob Ray before WGR was roasting sports celebrities, but no one really wanted to promote it, because they were like, “Who the fuck are these comedians that we’ve never heard of?” And it was a great show!

I loved Bamford. I loved Friedlander, even though I lost my ass. I should have only done one show. I don’t know why I did two shows. I got a little big for my britches. But he was awesome.

That was a really good experience for me to prep for becoming a GM. Because Friedlander wanted to go thrift shopping. So you drive around with Friendlander and then you go to dinner and you hang out and it’s really fun and it’s like, “This is really cool! I like comedians. I like hanging out.”

I like the first night you [Eric Lingenfelter] ever got pissed [at a heckler]. It’s still a favorite moment of mine because you were so mad, but you were so good. And it was like, great! Perfect! Crack that open!

Eric Lingenfelter (stand up comic, the guy writing this thing you’re reading)

I remember I stormed off stage, I stuck both of my middle fingers in that guy’s face, and I think I literally kicked the door open. I was like, “I gotta take a fucking walk!” And I remember you [Kristen] came out and said, “I don’t know what that guy said to you, but that was the best set you ever had!”

That was the first night that I didn’t write every word of what I was gonna do. So I was already in that headspace anyway. I was like, “I’m gonna write bullet points on this sheet of paper and see what happens.” And then this fucking asshole starts yelling stuff at me. And I just realized, “OK! I can go off-script and it’ll be OK!”

maria bamford at nietzsches

Kristen Becker

You’re a good student. You could tell you’d done the work, but that cracked open something raw in you. And I was like, that’s what we want right there. That guy.

Kyle Turner

My favorite moment at Nietzsche’s is when I hosted and got really drunk and was cut off from free drinks forever. The next time I hosted, Dana did not allow me to drink. Another time, was the very first Tuesday we did Setlists Against Humanity.

Greg Bauch

One night, Mark Walton was doing Setlists Against Humanity. Mark turned a card on necrophilia into seven minutes about Macaulay Culkin getting killed by bees. It made me realize there’s good in the world.

Mark Walton

Matt Bergman’s ex-girlfriend texted him minutes before he got on stage to let him know that she was fucking some new guy, and he had a 15 minute fight with her via text message on stage. The only part that wasn’t amazing to me is that as I was watching it, I realized I had to follow him.

Dan Fisher

An older man whose name I’m forgetting was on stage and a young couple was talking while he was bombing. He threw a napkin at them and the guy starts climbing up on stage, and the comic jumped over the railing to avoid him. I laughed so hard and sometimes when I think of it I laugh even today. I also laughed a lot when Tyrone sold purses on stage during his set.

And also when that kid on meth assaulted Shaun Murphy. I had no idea Shaun could take a punch.

 

Shaun Murphy

Good memories include being punched in the face by a stranger in his underwear and Rick’s goodbye show.

Josh Potter

It’s tough to pick a favorite moment. Rick’s final show – The Rust Belt Red Wedding – was pretty special because it brought back that old vibe and electricity again. We just soaked it in, and no matter how far some of us have come since those earlier years we all were reminiscing and excited to have that feeling again.

Rick Matthews

My last show here was amazing. The last one I ran here, just because it had all of the old timers. All of the guys from when we started were here.

There was a comic who moved away, she ended up moving to Ireland [Kat Horan] And we did her last show here. It was a going away show. And she just got up on stage and she just had this set that was so good, and I remember her first starting out as being this really shy, really timid, very withdrawn girl, and then all of a sudden she’s leaving us this confident powerhouse. That was cool. That was one of my favorites ever.

Eric Lingenfelter

I remember she had this joke, I think she riffed it, where she was like, “Yeah, I realized that I had to lose weight, because I figured if none of these guys want to fuck me…” I think I jumped in the air and pumped my fist when that happened.

Rick Matthews

It was so back of the room, but the crowd could like it to, because they got it.

Katherine O’Hanlon (Kat Horan)

My favorite moment was when Tyrone did his Doritos bit. I think it was after someone famous died, I can’t believe I forgot who, maybe an astronaut or Steve Jobs, and he went on this rant about the man who invented Doritos. Because this Doritos inventor [Arch West] had just died too and no one was talking about it because of this much more famous death. He was talking about how Doritos was a much more important contribution to the world than whatever this other guy was peddling. Anyway, it was obviously new material, but it was so funny.

Brian Netzel

My favorite Nietzsche’s moments are when you see a comic who only has about 6 months of stage time under their belt have a really dynamite set. Watching them turn the corner is like watching a home run happen. Maybe they were having a terrible comedy week up until that point, and to watch them un-bury themselves and have a monster set is one of the most beautiful sights to experience.

Kevin Carlin

I never told anyone this, but there was this one time a guy I didn’t know, but who came out to the shows a lot – not a comic – told me he comes just to see my comedy, like a legitimate fan. A couple weeks later I went up early and he showed up a few comics later and asked me if I had already gone up, and I when I told him I had he was like really bummed. That made me feel like a big shot.

There was also a time that I hosted, it was either Kristen’s birthday roast or the one-year anniversary or something, but it was a bigger show. The show was great, and then after the show Kristen told me two girls has asked her if she thought I was too shy to have a threesome with them, and she told them I was in fact probably too shy. I agreed that she was probably right, but it’s hard not to regret demanding that she go back and find them right away and correct her statement to them. It’s probably for the best. She was probably protecting me from crazies and diseases.

Shanin Allen-Carlin

The friends I made there are definitely my favorite thing about Tuesdays at Nietzsche’s. I was in my element among funny folks. I even met my husband there. So that worked out for me.

Part 7: Thoughts On the 10th Anniversary

Kristen Becker

I love it. The last couple have been a little bit of a blur for me. I’ve been traveling a lot, but I think it’s great.

I love that the same crew is still here from the beginning, as far as the staff. We haven’t dealt with the venue changing hands or someone trying to shut it down. Joe gave us a chance a decade ago and it’s done exactly what it was supposed to do.

Shanin Allen-Carlin

I’m proud that it’s still going strong after all this time. It’s nice to know that a place I thought of as my comedy home is still just where it’s always been.

Clayton Williams

I think it’s pretty crazy to think that people have been doing comedy there for a decade. I always knew it as the place to see comedy here in town so it’s cool that it’s still kind of that place.

Brian Brady

I think its really cool that the show has had that staying power. It is a testament to all of the folks who have hosted and produced the show, and have done a great job, for that run. It is truly an iconic event and room thanks to them, and the comics and audience alike who know its there for them.

I think the fact that the show has run for 10 years makes doing it even more unique and fun. You want to do great every show but if you’ve ever been lucky enough to get that feeling on stage at Nietzsche’s, where you had ’em just laughing, you don’t want that to end.

I wish I could go more often. I am grateful to everyone who’s ever put me on a lineup there. Congrats to all and hoping for 10 more years.

Greg Bauch

When that room is packed, there’s no place that’s more fun. 10 years makes me feel kind of old though.

Matt Bergman

It makes me feel closer to death. I was actually surprised it’s been ten years. I know there’s been some ups and downs with the showcase the past few years but I think it reaching ten years puts it in territory so it’ll never go away now.

Katherine O’Hanlon (Kat Horan)

I can’t believe it’s 10 years old! I wasn’t there from the start, but I know it was pretty new when I first arrived on the scene. I’m just glad it has continued to grow and evolve and I hope the people involved are proud – especially Kristen – because they have been a part of something really special.

I am just so grateful to have been a small part of the comedy scene at Nietzsche’s. It truly changed my life. Thank you!

Mark Ciemcioch

I want to thank Kristen Becker for setting up a warm place for us to play weekly when there wasn’t anybody else offering it to us. The comics who started in that room – or played there early in their careers – became the comics who opened the weekends at Helium for the first two or so years. It may not be the go-to room in town anymore, but it’s still revered by many and the producers do a good job of keeping it relevant.

Kyle Turner

It’s pretty crazy that Nietzsche’s has survived this long. Considering the bar itself is not the friendliest looking bar. Although it is once you get in!

I’m glad that Nietzsche’s is still going strong in Buffalo and I’m proud to say it is one of the rooms I got my start in. I hope it continues being successful and I can’t wait to continue to perform there in the future.

Shaun Murphy

It was just a great mixture of people with the same stupid fucking dream getting together every week to have fun and try to do better than they did the week before.

Dan Fisher

Overall, Nietzsche’s was the best way for a comic to start stand up. Sure, we didn’t have a club right away, but Nietzsche’s was better. There was support, both inside and outside of comedy, and the crowds were always tough but fair. You’d get a good laugh on a good joke, a great laugh on a great one, and you’d bomb when you deserved it. I love doing stand up in New York but those early days of comedy at Nietzsche’s were the most fun. I met the funniest comics I know there, and I’m still friends with them today. I’d put Buffalo comics against any in the country.

dan fisher onstage

Kevin Carlin

I haven’t done standup in years, but I recently got reacquainted with the Moth storytelling show, which I love. The theater seats 300 and the tickets sell out almost immediately every month. Last week they let me take a shot at hosting it, and I had such a blast just riffing with the audience. The producer here is getting the green light from New York to let me do it regularly. It’s kind of the perfect place for me to be right now, with a once a month show to get to be a big shot on and have that creative outlet, but without having to worry about the politics of getting booked on shows and doing promotion and all that. After having taken a few years off from performing, I feel like I’ve come full circle. I wouldn’t have been able to snag this spot if I hadn’t had such regular stage time at Nietzsche’s back in the day. I certainly owe some gratitude to Kristen, Kenny, the fellas, Chico, and of course Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche.

Tyrone Maclin

It’s family. It has always been family to me. Love or dislike, anybody that has done stand-up at Nietzsche’s is my family.

Brian Netzel

I think it’s amazing when any artistic endeavor can hold up for 10 years straight. The fact that comedy has existed there on a weekly basis speaks volumes about what a perfect marriage between comedy and an establishment should be. Without the venue and the comics caring so much about each other, I’m not sure it would still be going.

Josh Potter

Now that there is a new guard running the show, my only wish is that they understand what that room meant to a lot of comics who started there. Now newer comics in Buffalo are lucky and a bit spoiled with having an A Club [Helium] in town and mics and showcases almost everyday of the week at various places.

I hope the work ethic doesn’t wane, because I can tell you everyone was hungry and the competition brought us all to a higher level week after week because it was all we had. I just hope comics don’t take the venue for granted with all the other wonderful things going on along with it because it was supporting comedy before everything.

Anyone who performs in Buffalo owes that place for sticking with comedy and giving opportunities when literally no one else would. It deserves to be revered as a venue. So many great comics started or performed there. It’ll always be a special place to me and I want the new comics to feel the same way about it, while also trying to get better and get work at Helium and other clubs. They’re very fortunate to have all of this new opportunity, opportunity I’ve benefited from a great deal. But I couldn’t have done it without Nietzsche’s.

Kristen Becker

I’m just proud. I’m proud of the people who left, I’m proud of the people who are still here, I’m proud that Buffalo comedians are getting out, and when people ask them where they’re from, they can say they’re from Buffalo. And they’re funny, and they’re doing well. That represents all of us really well. I like the idea of the comedy brethren. I like the idea of being from a scene. And I don’t want one that’s all the same.

I want some guys who are in New York, and I want some guys who are in L.A., and I want me and my stupid tour bus doing equality shows. I want everybody doing their thing. Ultimately, we all get to open doors for each other and be what a mafia’s supposed to be.

Rick Matthews

Long live Nietzsche’s. No signs of slowing down yet. That’s it. Long live Nietzsche’s.

oral-history-nietzche-s

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