Todd Barry, Neil Hamburger, Johnny Hugel, and RVA’s comedy scene

This weekend, two well-known comedians will stop in Richmond as part of their national comedy tour. A look at RVA’s comedy scene.

If you hate to laugh, Saturday night is gonna suck for you, because comedians Todd Barry and Neil Hamburger will perform their Summer Value Tour at Gallery5, twice! With two of stand-up comedy’s major acts coming to town, has RVA’s comedy scene finally arrived? If it has, it’s thanks in part to Johnny Hugel.

Founder of Hit Play Productions, Hugel has worked the past several years to produce and organize a variety of events in Richmond, including the Summer Value Tour. “The first comedy show I attempted to organize was in 2005, when I contacted Zach Galifianakis through his website and offered to do a show for him,” said Hugel. In 2005, before becoming a household name with films like The Hangover and Dinner for Schmucks, Galifianakis was a popular comedian. “Unfortunately, that show for Zach never happened; as luck would have it his show, Dog Bites Man, took off that summer and we had to postpone our show a number of times to accommodate his filming schedule, before becoming the mega-star he is today.”

Despite his effort to bring in a famous comedian, Hugel said that Hit Play was initially focused on music, particularly indie rock. “We were mildly successful, at least in terms of bringing bands to Richmond that hadn’t had an outlet in town for quite some time. Members in the group moved on, and we all ended up with other jobs and lives that took precedence over booking music.”

Hugel relaunched Hit Play in 2010 with eyes set on “any film, music, or comedy event I wanted to produce.” In February 2011, Hugel and Marty Key from Steady Sounds started to collaborate on a reoccurring comedy show called The Midnight Suggestion, held in Steady Sounds’ six-foot rear loft. It brings in national performers like James Adomian, Sara Schaefar, along with local talent like Corey Marshall and The Checkout Girl. The event is now one of several comedy showcases in RVA.

“When I first started trying to book Zach in ’05, the 9:55 Comedy Club was the only show I was aware of,” said Hugel. “I had seen some comedy at Chuggers too, but 9:55 was the only non-open mic I knew of. Now there’s one or two open mics for every night of the week, so there’s much more awareness for comedy.” However, Hugel said that while he’s seen an uptick of local comedy events, the scene is still inconsistent.

“The RVA comedy scene seems to ride the same ebbs and flows as the other arts culture within the city,” he said. “There seems to be an upward trend in terms of events and involvement, but I fear that it isn’t yet established enough that it could withstand a massive blow, as tends to devastate us from time to time. As people move up or move on, certain shows or events die and you find yourself back to square one.” However, major acts coming through the city both buttresses and inspire the scene.

For one of Saturday’s headliners, it will mark his first appearance Richmond. “I’ve never been to Richmond!” wrote Todd Barry, who will celebrate his 25th year as a comedian in November. “I bet it’s going to be good. It’s the fastest selling date on the tour”–so much so that an additional 10:00 PM show has been added to performance. Barry recently released a comedy album, Super Crazy, which has been reviewed well on Amazon and iTunes. Despite his success as a stand-up comedian, Barry said he’s still recognized from his role in Flight of the Conchords as well as the current FX series Louie.1 Hugel hopes that a steady stream of notable comedians like Todd Barry will help RVA’s comedy scene catch fire.

“I have, in my dealings with those I’ve booked thus far, heard nothing but supportive things back from them and others within the comedy community, and have reason to believe that what we’ve got going in Richmond is truly special,” said Hugel.

“I hope that we can continue to build on the hard work that everyone is doing these days and continue establishing a scene that could be recognized nationally as being supportive for all types of comedy, and something that would have the potential to sustain itself long term.”

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Todd Barry will perform with Neil Hamburger on Saturday, August 18th at Gallery5. The first show begins at 8:00 PM followed by another at 10:30 PM. Tickets are $20 in advance, $22 at the door.

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  1. He also had a role in the Daren Aronofsky film The Wrestler
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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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