College students might hardly have money for a nice dinner, let alone fancy entertainment. But recent trends show that in the Triangle they are more willing to dish out for a laugh.
Despite financial pressures of the times, comedy troupes and theaters in the area have seen a surge in audiences and revenue in the past few years.
“People are more discerning with their entertainment dollar these days,” said Zach Ward, a UNC alumnus who graduated in 1999 and executive director of Dirty South Comedy Theater. “With comedy, people know they’ll be actively experiencing something together — it’s a guarantee.”
DSI, which is located in Carrboro, saw an increase of almost 25 percent in audience members from 2012 to 2013. The theater hosts classes, several shows a week, a large-scale festival and tours with its own company of comedians.
Ward said the consistency that came with moving to the theater space in 2005 has allowed DSI to build a community and grow its audience. The company also aims to create a sense of community by donating about 15 percent of its profits back to various organizations in Chapel Hill and Carrboro.
This weekend, DSI will be continuing its Carolina’s Funniest Comic competition, in which comedians from the Carolinas compete for audience votes to win cash and other prizes.
DSI’s success can partially be attributed to the fact that a large part of its audience is made up of college students.
“Students here are in this bubble. People in the community face certain economic pressures — maybe because they lost their jobs or they have family expenses — and students don’t face those same pressures,” Ward said.
“So they are able to spend more freely on entertainment compared with those who really have to budget every dollar.”
Ward said he sees a desire in people to actively engage in entertainment. During his time at UNC, he founded an improvisation and sketch group known as the Chapel Hill Players, or CHiPs, and brought comedy to campus.
Junior journalism major Kenan Bateman recognized a higher demand for comedy and founded UNC’s newest comedy troupe, False Profits, with two other students in the spring of 2013. Bateman said the troupe’s first show last semester brought out an impressive audience of about 80 people.
“Everyone might not like a cappella. Everyone might not like theater. But I’ve never found someone who doesn’t enjoy watching good comedy,” he said.
Comedy groups outside of Chapel Hill are seeing increasing popularity as well. A small Raleigh-based troupe, The Dangling Loafer, has become increasingly more popular in the two years since its founding that it was forced to move locations.
Casey Torn, manager at The Morning Times Coffee Shop in downtown Raleigh, said she saw a substantial increase in revenue at the cafe on nights when the group had shows. In order to diversify their lineup, bring in bigger name comedians and earn profits, The Dangling Loafer moved to a larger venue downtown.
“They outgrew us,” Torn said. “Legally, I can only say that we were above our capacity.”
Adam Cohen, co-founder of the troupe, said performing on Fridays in downtown helped attract more people to their shows.
“We kept building up our audience and eventually, we had to turn people away at the door,” he said. “But we have a surprising number of new people at every show, too.”
Although comedy troupes and venues around the Triangle are seeing great success, there is still more work to be done for some.
Bateman said that a lot of people still don’t know that comedy exists at UNC.
“In the future, I want the comedy scene to be as notable as the a cappella scene here on campus,” he said.
Bateman plans to expand False Profits, starting with comedy auditions this Sunday.
“I want more shows and more opportunities for people to perform and enjoy this, because everyone likes to laugh,” he said.
“You might not be a ‘comedy fan,’ but no one dislikes it once they come and they laugh and they have a good time.”
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