Is there a place for comedy in a City where music is king?
It’s a Saturday night in the Summer of 2019. I’m standing on the corner of Cookman and Bond, next to Playa Bowls, looking across the street at where the Upstage Club once stood. The former mecca representing the sound of the Jersey shore, now a rehabbed apartment building.
There’s music coming from every single bar up the street. A woman walks up to me and says, “Is this the town that Bruce Springsteen is from?” I say, “Na, he’s from my hometown, Freehold. This is the town where he started his music career.” She says “Oh, are you doing the same thing?” I toss the harmonica I’m playing into the street, “Not exactly.”
Music is usually the first thing you think of when you hear the words “Asbury Park.” There’s incredible musical history here from the beachfront, to the downtown, and up Springwood Avenue on the West Side. Legends like Fats Domino and Chuck Berry stopping off in the 1950’s to jam on their way up to New York City.
However, another form of entertainment has begun to emerge in the backstreets of this music town; a rawer, more risky form – Stand-up Comedy. It’s something we could all use a bit of right now, laughter.
Stand-up comedy came onto the AP arts scene nearly 10 years ago. Local comedians like Angelo Gingerelli, Taylor Allen, Jess Alaimo and Joe McAndrew have been key leaders at the forefront.
It’s July of 2013. Angelo Gingerelli, a comic who started out in New York City, is new to town and putting together a brand-new show – “Comedy on Cookman” at The ShowRoom. He booked three comics from New York and packed the house. Soon after the first show, local comics began to emerge on the scene. He then started an open mic at the Bank On Mattison to coincide with the show. That’s when the magic all started.
“I think sometimes I get kind of lumped in like being the first guy to do it, but other people were trying to do open mics,” said Gingerelli. With the help of social media along with promotions in the triCityNews and the Asbury Park Press, “Comedy on Cookman” was a big success. Both the show and the open mic ran for two years.
Soon after ‘Comedy on Cookman,’ other shows began to pop up around town. Taylor Allen started “The Spelling Bee” at The Saint and a monthly comedy show ran at The Wonder Bar. There was also an open mic at the Crust and Crumble Pizzeria, hosted by Rob Avon, and local comic, Alyssa Stevenson began an extremely popular open mic that ran at Porta.
Allen also put together some bigger shows, like the innovative “Brew Ha-Ha” held at the Asbury Park Brewery, where comics got a chance to deliver just one joke each. And the “Super Duper Bowl,” a live podcast during the Super Bowl at the House of Independents. These were all successful events and comedy really seemed to be taking off in Asbury Park.
Music & Comedy: Artistic Fusion
Finally, the longest-running stand-up comedy show, beginning in the summer of 2016, was “HAGS,” (named after the ever-popular yearbook saying, ‘Have a Great Summer’) which also ran at The Saint; a perfectly constructed site for raw entertainment, right in the middle of town, yet somehow tucked away and hidden.
HAGS was a monthly show hosted by local comedians Joe McAndrew and J.C. Hendricks, it featured a live musical act followed by a killer lineup of stand-up comics from all over the tri-state area. It was always a great time with some incredibly memorable anniversary shows. HAGS quite literally ran right up until the pandemic forced a shutdown of the legendary venue.
“If COVID was completely gone, I’d probably try and start a show again but it’s a lot of work to produce a fun, quality show every month. Tons of work. If I was trying to do HAGS now, I’m 90% sure The Saint would still do it, but I think most venues would be like ‘I’m good. We have six cover bands this weekend.’ Also, please strike this from the record.” said McAndrew.
With the success of HAGS, local comedian and activist, Jess Alaimo, put forth a chance for comics or “comedic hopefuls” to sling some jokes and make locals and visitors remember a night in the famed Convention Hall. With help from the venue, (then Anchor’s Bend) Jess began a brand-new comedy open mic in the spring of 2017. Sure, it wasn’t always pretty, but neither was 2020. The open mic continued to keep comedy alive, especially after the unfortunate closing of Bank on Mattison and the cancellation of “Comedy on Cookman.”
“It’s always been an uphill battle to book comedy. You have to sell them on it and prove its worth, because people will always come out for music. Ultimately, it’s up to the town and venues to give comedy and other art a chance.”Jess Alaimo
Asbury Park seemed a little different ten, even five, years ago. Artists and performers were fluxing into the town for the sole purpose to create and entertain.
“I don’t know if people moving to Asbury now are necessarily the arts type people that were moving here ten years ago, but why can’t you have a show that entertains a broader audience? I’d like to think you can do that,” said Gingerelli.
When I asked Alaimo if she plans to bring back any potential open mics or shows, she says she is currently in talks with a brand-new art space that just opened on Bangs – Ghost Harbor Creative, but nothing is concrete yet.
Living in the shadow of one of the greatest music scenes in history, the fact that comedy made its way into a city where music will always be king, is quite the feat. With real estate growing and the constant hope for a run in with the “Boss,” there are definitely people still flocking into town, maybe more than ever…
And maybe one day again soon they will be heading out for a hilarious night in Asbury park: a legendary place overflowing with artistic vibes and creative people. Hopefully that’s how it will stay.